Thursday, April 15:  Firenze II

A second day-trip into Florence today. We walked to the train station, expecting it to be full of commuters’ vehicles. It was the correct call. The walk was short, but there are few sidewalks and narrow shoulders on busy roads. Purchased round-trip tickets from the ticket office and then saw that the train was in the station. Hustled through the underpass and up to the platform, and the engineer watched to make sure we boarded. Once again, we’d caught the early train and would have to transfer in Empoli. I marveled at how what seemed like a bit of an adventure last week had now become so routine. And in a few days’ time the scenery had become so routine that I choose to read rather than look out the window. I’ve taken the drastic step of ripping the pages out of my 1300-page European History book, or I’ll never cart it anywhere, and it’ll never get read. 40 pages or so, with a single staple, makes for a nice portable booklet spanning a few decades of the Middle Ages.

Changed in Empoli, got rolling again and then had that sinking feeling. In the rush to catch the train in Certaldo, and with computer printed tickets, I’d failed to validate them. I hoped with a crowded weekday train we’d not see a conductor. Wrong. I fessed up right away and tried to explain that I’d simply forgotten in the rush to catch the train. He understood, but couldn’t let it go unpunished, “Its a difficult situation. Norrmalllyyyy, it would be 20 euro since your ticket is for four persons. But I’ll just fine you for one person. 5 euro. Next time, once you realize you have forgotten, come find me on the train and I can validate it.” Should’ve thought of that option. Lesson more than amply demonstrated.

We hit the Science Museum first. Loads of old instruments like quadrants, static electricity generators, Galileo’s telescopes, globes, clocks, and microscopes. There were several devices from Renaissance times to demonstrate simple properties of motion, which were perfect for the boys to benefit from. Physical realizations of brachistochrones and tautochrones allowed Rob an opportunity to lecture. The small room dedicated to medicine had about thirty graphic models explaining childbirth, including about every dangerous aberration that could occur. Not recommended for pregnant women.

Just enough time to load up the boys with some food before our 12 PM reservation for the Uffizi Gallery, so we hit a bar near the Arno River where they offered stand-up prices but we were allowed to sit down. Then, despite having a reservation, we still needed to stand in lines and clear security, delaying us for about thirty minutes before being let in. Boticelli’s, Michelangelo’s, Raphael’s, daVinci’s and many more made for an impressive collection. And at 50 euro for the family it’d better be impressive! daVinci’s version of the Annunciation was my favorite for its deep colors and exacting use of perspective. Rick advised a cappuccino at the bar at the end of the final hallway, on a patio overlooking Piazza Vechio and Palazzo Vecchio, the Medici’s home turf. “Europe’s best 2 euro treat.” It was a good call, though the prices had skyrocketed in the two years since the guide was printed. While the nearly adjacent tower of Palazzo Vecchio was shrouded in scaffolding, the dome of the Duomo, Giotto’s Tower and several other towers were evident above the railing of the outdoor patio.

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Photo 32  Il Latini at Sunrise
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Photo 33  Lucca’s Cathedral

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Photo 34  Certaldo Vineyard
Gelato for all and a small leather wallet purchase for Rob were our next errands, and another sandwich for Pat and Robert back at the lunch spot. We then convinced the boys to take in one more museum, The Duomo Museum, with promises to Robert of some engineering describing the construction of the dome itself. Kids were free (provided you were small enough to scramble under the turnstile) and there were several worthwhile things to see. Donatello’s Mary Magdalene in wood, St. John the Baptist’s finger (missing from Siena), the original Baptistry bronze door panels, and Michelangelo’s final work, another Pieta. There was some material about building the dome but not enough for Rob or Robert.

Pat decided she’d like a simple Florentine gold chain for her birthday present and she’d received from Giovanni the name of the “only” place to go for an honest purchase. So that was our final stop, after a brief bit of local route-finding. She found what she was looking for and it was within budget (though definitely independent of the trip budget) and the boys enjoyed advising her.

Back to the train station, coincidentally the same 5:09 we’d caught before. We got on at the last minute and walked through a few cars until we found one with just four empty seats (though not contiguous). Pat and Robert distributed themselves, while David and I went after the only two adjacent seats free so I could help him with his algebra. We had to ask the couple in the two facing seats to move their stuff, which was greeted with a sneer and a scowl. The pair was in their 40’s, he clad in jeans, a ratty sweater and non-descript down jacket. She had a fur coat, black hair in a tight bun, far, far too much makeup, a perpetual frown and bright red shoes. They began reorganizing their parcels, while she tried to figure out if anything would remain at rest on the incline of her chubby, stubby, uncovered legs protruding from under the fur coat. Eventually, they chucked everything onto one seat and allowed that David could sit in the one they’d managed to clear. I pondered this for a moment and indicated that I was going to sit in the fourth seat. He pulled up a few things and pointed to a small clear plastic case that a schoolboy would use and said it had “documents.” Like they deserved a seat of their very own. Eventually they relented, and eventually everything went on the racks above, including the matching bright red handbag (but placed there very gingerly, of course).

Homework and journal writing back at home, then dinner at the earliest possible moment (7:30 PM). Chiara took good care of us, choosing a nice Chianti, bringing a barley and pine-nut appetizer, the now-standard fried dough balls but covered with lard slices tonight, and after-dinner cheeses (parmesan and mozzarella). While waiting for our food, Robert sketched a warrior with a helmet, inspired by an Etruscan helmet he saw yesterday. A brief discussion on backgrounds, amplified by today’s Renaissance journey through the artworld, and he added a background with Tuscan hills and castles from Assisi. The boys did very well with a full day of power-touring and dinner was enjoyable, so it was a good day all around. Robert did have a brief meltdown when his safe dinner order (spaghetti with just tomato sauce) came with sauce having tomato chunks that were big enough to be noticeable. “Everything I order never turns out to be what I thought it was!” Chocolate cake with coffee-flavored icing solved both the psychological and gastronomical aspects of the problem and then straight upstairs to bed for a much-deserved rest.

We’ll do just a half-day tomorrow at a hands-on Leonardo daVinci Museum close by, then rest-up and prepare for the forthcoming Venice leg.