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Italy 2004 – Day 6


We were going to try to climb the dome again. We wanted to be there around 8:30, so I had set the alarm for 7:15. It was tough to get up, but we made it. We put on reasonably nice clothes (since we were going to a church), ate breakfast, and headed towards the Duomo.

As we entered the piazza, my phone buzzed. It was Theresa. She and Christian had been by the Duomo, and the sign said it didn’t open until 10:00. We joined them at Piazza della Signore (near the Uffizi) instead. We all walked across Ponte Vecchio to check out Palazzo Pitti. As we crossed the bridge the shops were starting to open. All of the windows that had been so full of jewelry the previous day were now empty, and store clerks were stocking them with trays of merchandise from the safes in the stores.

We noticed shipping boxes sitting in front of some of the closed shops. They had been delivered earlier in the morning and were just sitting on the sidewalk. We wondered if they were full of gold jewelry, but we refrained from checking.

Palazzo Pitti is a big palace with a very large entrance yard. The yard has a couple of carriage paths through it, but the rest is paved with small stones set in concrete. It seemed a very unwelcoming place. We checked out the entrance to the building with its huge doors, then decided we should get in line for the dome.

Chris and Theresa went back to the Theresa and Christian’s room at the Di Lanzi to freshen up. Christian and I continued to the Duomo to get in line. As we passed the front of the church, Christian asked where I was going. I said, “The entrance to the dome is back here,” pointing to the northeast corner of the building. He and Theresa had thought we would enter at the main door in the front.

When we got to the dome entrance, the door was open, even though it was only 9:30. A sign just inside the entrance said it opened at 8:30. Our guidebook had been correct, but Theresa and Christian had checked the wrong sign. I called Theresa at the Di Lanzi and let her know. She and Chris hurried down, and we all went inside. There was no line, and we were quickly on our way up to the dome.

The route to the dome followed a series of staircases that spiraled more and more tightly as we approached the base of the dome. Near the base, we passed through a room with a sign on the wall that said – in multiple languages – “Do not write on the walls.” Every square foot of the walls in the room displayed evidence that thousands of visitors had grossly misinterpreted the sign.

At the base of the dome, we were directed out to a balcony/catwalk around the dome. From there, we got a nice, close look at the artwork 100 feet above us. On the opposite side of the dome, we went through another door that took us to more steps. Finally, after 463 steps, we found ourselves on a platform around the cupola of the dome. The platform is about 25 feet in diameter, but the center is occupied by a structure about 10 feet in diameter, leaving a ring about 8 feet wide for everyone to stand on. Some of that room was taken up by columns; more by scaffolding for the restoration work that was going on. There were about 30 people crowded onto the platform vying for space at the rail to take pictures.

It was worth the climbing and the jockeying for space, though. The view was spectacular. The only landmark I couldn’t see was the Duomo. We spent about twenty minutes up there taking in the view and getting pictures, and then we headed back down. Most of the way down was a different route from the way up. If it weren’t, we would have been waiting for climbers to come past, and it would have taken an hour to get down.

The first set of steps took us along the profile of the very top of the interior dome. The steps started out steep and got noticeably steeper as we descended, the ceiling getting lower and lower. We were soon back on spiral staircases, though. I had thought we would circumscribe the dome at the same balcony we had used on the way up, but we found ourselves about 30 feet above that level, right at the base of the ceiling frescos themselves.

The paintings, when seen close up, seem very crude, the smallest details are still wide brushstrokes. But when we looked at the work across the dome, we could see how effective the large detail was from a distance. Lines that looked rough and rudimentary close up became perfect renderings of marble or hair from a distance. Michelangelo knew there was no need for small detail when the paintings would be viewed from a floor hundreds of feet below.

We descended the rest of the way to the ground, getting there hot and tired. We decided to go back to our hotels to rest, change, and cool off. We would meet at 1:30 at Di Lanzi to walk to the Accademia to see David.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to get cash. We had been getting nice round amounts, and we had always gotten €50 bills from the machines. After the problems we had had getting change, I wanted to try to get smaller bills. To do so, I asked for an amount that wasn’t divisible by fifty – €240. Success. I got four fifties and two twenties.

Back at the Alba, we showered, then relaxed in the air-conditioned room. I made reservations for that night at Sostanza, then Chris closed her eyes while I read aloud from our guidebook. I read about what we would/should see at the Accademia and the Uffizi.

At noon, we headed out again. We wanted something besides sandwiches for lunch, so we stopped into La Strada, a popular restaurant that was on our route. Chris had insalata mista and rigatoni al greco, pasta with olives and tomatoes. I had insalata verde and pollo arostico, roast chicken. My chicken was a little dry, but otherwise the food was quite good.

We finished our lunch in good time and were at Di Lanzi at 1:20. Theresa and Christian joined us in the lobby, and we walked to the Accademia, about 10 minutes away. We got there 20 minutes early for our reservation, but we were allowed in right away. We had walked past a line of about 50 people who hadn’t made reservations, apparently.

Inside, we paid for our tickets and walked straight to Michelangelo’s statue of David. We had all seen pictures, and we had all seen the copy in Piazza della Signore, but we were still in awe of the original marble statue before us. Chris and I spent about 15 minutes taking in the amazing detail of the sculpture from every angle.

After we had feasted our eyes on David, we walked around the rest of the museum, checking out plaster models that had been made by other sculptors. Those models helped the sculptors make the rough cuts on the stones and provided measurements for the detail work. Seeing these detailed models made Michelangelo’s work all the more amazing. He never used plaster models and only worked freehand.

We also checked out other areas of the museum: Byzantine art (blech!), other statuary, and a section on musical instruments. The instruments were interesting, with Stradivari violins, ancient horns, and even a pair of hurdy-gurdies. I asked Chris if she was ready to leave. She hesitated a moment, then said, “No. I haven’t finished looking at David.” She had suddenly realized that she may never see it again, and the emotion of the moment was very strong. We went back to the hall with David and gazed at him for another ten minutes or so.

At 2:45, we met Theresa and Christian in the gift shop and headed back toward the Duomo. They hadn’t eaten lunch, so they stopped for a gelato. Chris and I were thirsty, and I almost bought us each a Sprite – until I found out they cost €2.10 each! I figured they must be cheaper elsewhere. We decided the lobby of the Di Lanzi would be a nice place to cool off and rest before the Uffizi. I bought a pair of Sprites at the snack bar next door (for a mere €2 each) and we headed up.

After a pit stop in Theresa and Christian’s room, we headed to the Uffizi at 4:00. We were early again, but were admitted after a very short wait. This time, we bought our tickets, then had to walk across the piazzale to another entrance, where we presented the tickets, walked through a metal detector, and headed up 3 flights of steps to the gallery.

Based on the advice in our guidebook, we skipped the pre-renaissance work in the first room and went straight to the early renaissance art. In the Botticelli room Christian and I looked closely at every painting, looking for the foot Terry Gilliam used for the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We were both suffering from the misapprehension the foot had come from a Botticelli painting. In fact, it came from Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time.

The museum has two Leonardo Da Vinci paintings, but somehow Chris and I missed them. We kept looking for them, though. As we went further and further through the museum, we became saturated with the artwork. We decided to choose one or two pictures in each room for closer examination. We were quite impressed by the size of many of the paintings, especially the Peter Paul Rubens works.

By the time we finished the last gallery, we were very footsore and tired. It was about 5:00.

Earlier in the day, Chris and Theresa had window shopped at a tee-shirt store south of Ponte Vecchio. They wanted to go back and buy some shirts, so we walked across the bridge and found the store. Our ladies found shirts they liked and tried them on. The “dressing room” was a corner of the room with a curtain hanging around it. Christian held the curtain closed for Theresa and I held it for Chris. They each ended up buying shirts, and we headed back across Ponte Vecchio.

Parked at the apex of the bridge were two carribinieri motorcycles – both BMW R1150RT models, like mine, only newer. I had to get a couple of pictures of them. Right across the bridge from the bikes Chris pointed out several iron rings hanging from the wall. Both rings were covered with padlocks, many inscribed with names and dates. I guess it must be a custom to leave a lock there. We didn’t have any locks, so we didn’t leave one.

We wandered the crowded streets back to our hotel, stopping briefly at the leather market where Chris had bought her jacket. When we arrived at the Alba we all freshened up in our room. Around 7:00, we walked across the street to Bar Sandra e Claudio for a beer. At first Claudio didn’t want us to drink the beer at their tables, because he was closing at 7:30. I told him we had a 7:30 reservation at a restaurant, and he said “OK.”

We arrived at Sostanza just before 7:30, and the place was open. Once again, we were the first patrons there. We started to sit at the table Chris and I had eaten at two nights before, but the waiter steered us to a different one. Our previous table was set for 6, and they didn’t want a party of 4 to sit there. We sat at a table for 4 instead. The reservation list must have been full.

Christian ordered the bistecca alla fiorentino on my recommendation. Theresa ordered the same to share with me. Chris ordered the filet mignon. Everything was just as good as we had remembered it being. We had nice conversation and really enjoyed our dinner, staying until about 8:40.

Back at our street, we said goodbye to Theresa and Christian for a couple of days. They were heading to Rome the next day, spending the night somewhere in between. We would see them again on Saturday.

Chris and I walked the rest of the way to our hotel where we read for a little while, then went quickly to sleep.

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