July 26, 2004
Memories of Tuscany
DAY 274: Firenze, more commonly known in the English-speaking world as Florence, lies in the scenic hills in Tuscany, the northwestern province of Italy. Florence has attracted many people for centuries, particularly in the 14th and 15th (A.D.), when it became the center point of the Renaissance, a place where the masters of thought, astronomy, literature, art and architecture came to be. Nowadays, the city of 376,000 residents attracts tourists from all over the world, each bringing home his/her own personal memory of Tuscany.
"What do you have planned this morning?" Val, the Australian novice to the hostel scene, asked me.
"I'm gonna check out the Duomo."
"What is that again?"
"The big cathedral," I answered. "It's meant to be the cathedral. Have you been already?" Val had told me the night before that he had previously been to Florence with a group of others -- including some high-maintenance Australian girls -- but his memory of it sort of blurred in with other Italian places he'd been. I suppose when you get an overload of cathedrals and churches, it's hard to remember if you've seen a particular one.
"I'll know when I see it," Val said. He tagged along.
After a quick breakfast of Italian proscuitto croissant sandwiches and authentic cappuccino, we waited on the long, but not overwhelming line in front of the cathedral entrance. Even in front of the large and impressionable building, Val's memory hadn't been jogged.
"Yeah, I remember. I was here. What do you think?"
"I don't know. I sort of expected more," I said. True, I had seen churches that were more impressive. We left the nave after ten minutes and walked over to the other entrance, the stairwell up the dome at a cost of six euros. Up the staircase of 463 steps we went, like two guys on a Stairmaster that wouldn't shut off. "I definitely didn't do this [before,]" Val said. "The girls wouldn't have allowed it."
The stairwell went up and up, passed small ventilation windows, and led to an indoor walking platform just under the colorful frescos of the dome's ceiling. Down below the not-so-impressionable nave suddenly became something to marvel about. "Okay, now it's amazing," I raved.
"I guess you have to pay to appreciate it."
Our six euros a piece eventually got Val and me not only a good workout of the thigh, leg and butt muscles, but a spectacular panorama from Michelangelo's lantern on the top of the dome, with incredible views of the red roofs of Florence and the rolling green hills of Tuscany just beyond.
Beyond an "old random tower" (as we and some other nearby American girls called it), we walked up a hill to the Piazza Michelangelo where Val and I took more pictures of the incredible view of the bridges across the River Arno and the nearby replica of Michelangelo's David. All impressionable things to behold, but for Val, the sights might one day be forgotten again; a self-proclaimed glutton, it was the finer things in life and travel that stood out in Val's mind instead.
"See, this is what I'll remember of Florence," Val said as we sat down at a fancy restaurant overlooking the city and the countryside for a lunch of risotto, panzerotti, champagne and a fine bottle of classic chianti (picture above). "This couldn't be more perfect; good food, good wine, a nice view, good company. Of course, you could be a girl."
We ate our fancy Tuscan dishes over conversations about life, drank and were merry. A good memory of Tuscany, I agreed.
I had forgotten to bring my map of Pisa with me and was disoriented upon arrival, until I saw the famous tower leaning behind some buildings. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, whose south side started to sink in into shifting soil in 1173, was a lot smaller than I had visualized, but impressionable nonetheless. In 2001, engineers reinforced the structure via cables, retaining the awkward angle for historical purposes -- and so unoriginal tourists could do hackneyed poses as if to hold up the tower. (I thought of photo of a bunch of them doing it was funnier than doing it myself.)
By nightfall I was back in Florence, with memories of Tuscany of my own -- although at the rate I've been zipping around Europe, I'm sure they may just blur in with the other sights I've seen.
I'll always remember that Warner Bros. cartoon though.
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