Saturday, August 1, 2015

First Stop in Our Italian Vacation - FLORENCE

Florence, the birthplace of Renaissance and home to some of the greatest art, paintings and sculptures of the world was the first stop of our Italian holiday.

As we arrived at the Santa Maria Novella railway station and headed to our hotel, we were overwhelmed with the infinite number of tourists teeming on the Florentine streets and even more so by the hundreds of Chinese tourists that almost for a blink of an eye, we could easily trick ourselves to be in China and not Italy.

But of course the narrow alleys and the small streets having a quaint charm of its own reminded us instantly of where we actually where.

Our hotel- Hotel Alessandra was a family run set-up by a mother and son. We were warmly greeted at the doorsteps by Andrea (a male name in Italy). Inspite of arriving almost an hour prior to the check-in, they had our room ready and we were glad to settle in quickly after almost 12 hours of journey.

We were ravenous by lunchtime and Andrea gave us some suggestions of a nearby restaurant- Hostaria Il Desco. The restaurant was a small family-run restaurant by a elderly lady with stooping shoulders probably hitting 70, who I would like to call NONNA and her son(s).  It was a sheer joy to see a lady of her age buzzing with energy and enthusiasm as she literally ran from one end of the restaurant to the other attending to the guests, waiting on them, serving them food and bidding them farewell as one would deal with guests at one’s own home.

We soon gave into the Italian hospitality and realized that good service here was not about being quick and prompt, but allowing the customer to enjoy each course and conversation at a relaxed pace. Nobody would be rushing you or bringing your cheque without being asked to, in order to clear the table for the next party.

We slowly moved from one course to the other savouring each bite and especially the dessert. It was truly the best TIRAMISU that I had tasted during the entire trip.

Post lunch and after a siesta, we literally ran to the Accademia gallery just in time to collect our pre-reserved tickets as we smugly passed the long lines (All thanks to the obsessive planning  

by yours truly. Cannot hear any complaints now ! ;) ), rented a museum audioguide for TH while I ended up using the Rick Steves app.

The main attraction of the Accademia is Michelangelo’s David, which alone justifies the waiting in long queues and the museum visit. The 14ft marble sculpture captivated me with his penetrating eyes, chiseled chest and the precision of the tightness of the muscles that I could most easily picture an alive David posing in front of us. The sculpture has the capability to surpass even the highest of expectations that one holds.

It was interesting to see a wide range of spectators from elderly couples reading from their guidebooks to artists sketching on notepads to bored kids.

Although I completely got annoyed with some mindless tourists clicking selfies and striking poses as if holding up David undermining this great work of an even greater artist. It appears as if though along with the arrival of mobile photography and selfie culture, people have also lost their mind and common-sense !

As we stepped out of the gallery as contented spectators at 7.30 pm , we were astonished to find the sun beaming brightly which was highly uncommon from the parts of the world we were from. The time seemed just right for our first Italian gelato as we roamed around quite aimlessly along the cobbled Italian streets.

What more pleasant to realize that we had ended up right in front of Brunelleschi’s Duomo. Inspite of having seen the Duomo pictures in practically every article about Florence, no words could do justice in describing its charm and grandeur. What I especially loved was to discover it peeping at the end of almost every alley in Florence.

We continued strolling along watching the several street musicians and the varied kinds of people mostly tourists on the roads. 

As we walked on the Ponte Vecchio, we witnessed a beautiful sunset as if nature welcomed us on our first night in this fascinating country.

We further walked to the Oltarno (Other side of the Arno river) neighbourhood and tried to get into a famous restaurant -Casalinga, which came in highly recommended by both a friend and our hotel. When it appeared that we wouldn’t be able to get seats in the near future, we headed to nearby Osteria (small restaurant) called Gusta Osteria, which we incredibly enjoyed as well.

Post dinner, we again walked back to the hotel and visited the nearby mini-market to buy some essentials where we could smell the Indian incense and hear prayer hymns. There we found a piece of our India right in the heart of Florence.

We also had got a chance to visit the Uffizi Museum where we had booked ourselves a guided tour. To be very frank, I was a person who was hardly into any art and doubted if I would even enjoy the visit. But went ahead, as a visit to Florence would never be complete without experiencing the Renaissance art much of which were on display in the Uffizi.

But on the contrary, I ended up enjoying the museum so much that this was undoubtedly one of the best moments of the entire trip for both of us. But much of the credit goes into Florencepass company who did an excellent job as we got to appreciate great art along with some tidbits of history, anecdotes and interpretation of several of important works in the museum. My favourites were Botticelli’s Birth of Venus with its connotations on multiple levels and Michelangelo’s Holy Family for the amazing light and radiant colours that he brought alive to the canvas, which seemed almost sculpture-like and three-dimensional.

We summarized our trip of this magnificient city by spending a relaxing time on the terrace of the Uffizi, enjoying the view of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall) as we listened to our guide giving us a history lesson on the Florence of the bygone days. 

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