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Lost and Found Pants

Friday, 09 Oct 2015, 20:42 UTC

On the agenda at the beginning of this day in Florence was a trip to the laundromat. As it happened, there was one just down the street from where we were staying. So before going to breakfast at Caffè Il Sole, we took our bag of dirty clothes down the street to try our luck with the machines.

On our way, we came across a man on a phone pulling a suitcase holding a suit and several shirts over his shoulder. Between the wall of the building and the phalanx of scooters parked along the curb, there was not enough room for all of us. So we waited at the corner. He glanced up and mumbled his thanks and quickly disappeared around the corner. 

We took a few more steps, and then we saw a pair of black pants on the sidewalk. They must have fallen from the load he was carrying. I picked them up and ran back, but he was nowhere to be seen. He certainly couldn’t have made it all the way down the block, it had been only a few moments. I turned back to see if he had doubled back. And then across the street I saw an open doorway. He must have gone in there.

So I trotted across the street and peered into the darkness. There was a vestibule with a hallway and stairs that went up. I took a half step in but could see no one.

At that moment, I heard some yelling back on the street. I turned to see what the commotion was. There was an older woman walking toward me in a state of some agitation. And she was looking at me wagging her finger and waving her hand, clearly telling me to get out of that doorway where I had no business.

She spoke Italian. I do not. I tried to explain, pointing to the black pants I was carrying and trying to tell some kind of sign language story of a man walking down the street and… Well it was hopeless. She was angry with me, and clearly I was not going to find the guy at this point. So I walked back to the corner followed by the woman’s stares, and I folded the pants over a bike rack, thinking that maybe the guy would eventually discover that his pants were missing and, retracing his steps, he might find them there.

Later, after our clothes were washed and dried, we walked back from the laundromat past that corner again.  The pants were gone.

Sadly, I have no way of discovering their disposition. Perhaps the man did retrace his steps and find his pants. Or maybe the woman took them. Or maybe someone else had wandered by and noticed a fine pair of black pants and took them. In any event, the lost pants had clearly been found.

Amazing Day part 4: Dinner

Monday, 05 Oct 2015, 22:35 UTC

Dinner at Ostria Pepò.

Having arrived on American time, before the rest of the city was ready for dinner, we got the best table in the house. We sat up in front at a corner table looking out on the street.

I ordered penne. Trudy ordered chicken cacciatore and a glass of wine. We relaxed in our seats, waiting for our meal as evening began to set in and the restaurant began to fill up.

Now this was probably one of the best places we had been to thus far on our trip. A fancy place, highly recommended. And we were ready for something like that. Although my blisters from the previous days had begun to heal, the climb up the cathedral dome had worn us out sufficiently that we were beginning to dread our upcoming hike in the Alps. So this place was just what we needed. We sat back, smiled at each other and just enjoyed being in that place at that moment, comfortable and comforted that our food was about to arrive.

And the food was great, as the reviews will tell you. When the waiter came to the table to ask if we would like dessert, Trudy looked up at him and said, “No. I would like…” and then she discretely pointed to the couple sitting at the table beside us. “I would like what he’s having.”

A true secondi

The waiter’s eyes widened but he smiled.

“Would you like me to bring two forks?” he asked Trudy, nodding slightly in my direction.

“Oh no thanks. Just one fork.”

And she laughed, comfortable and comforted that her food was (again) about to arrive.

Amazing Day part 3: Climbing Il Duomo

Monday, 05 Oct 2015, 20:18 UTC

When we got to the cathedral, a line of people stretched away from the cathedral and wound around the piazza. Frankly, it was too long to be worth it. But, we had bought Firenze Cards, red plastic credit card sized cards that get you into museums “free” and (bonus!) let you go to the front of the line.

So we walked past all those people to the red Firenze Card sign. We scanned our cards and were waved in just like that. We walked thru a door and began to climb.

And so now what do I tell you? We climbed and climbed.

At times it was more like scrambling, the steps being so narrow and so steep that it was tempting (and indeed in some places necessary) to go on all fours. There were rock spiral stairs going way up.

There were stairs running between the inner and outer skins of the dome with port-hole windows periodically letting in the Tuscan light.

There were stairs upon stairs. And more windows looking out over the city.

When we got almost to the top, we had to wait for a long string of climbers descending back down. We stood aside, pressing our bodies to the stone walls as climber after climber squeezed past us. And when finally it was our turn again, we scrambled the last few steep steps thru a hatch that opened out onto this.

We wandered around and around the walkway, looking north and west and east and south and then doing it all again. We sat with our backs to cool stone and looked out on the city. We took pictures of people who were traveling together. People took pictures of us.

We looked down on the piazza at people milling around on the cobblestone streets, tables being set for dinner and artists selling their watercolors. We looked over at other climbers standing at the summit of Giotto’s Campanile. And on the hour, the cathedral bells in that tower began ringing.

We were, frankly in no hurry.

We stood. We sat. We walked. We held our faces into the breeze. We peered into the hills where Tuscany beckoned. Distant magical places.

And as we were up there, the sun sank low in the west, and the shadow of Il Duomo reached out over the city.

While we were up there, in what now seems mere moments, all of Florence and Tuscany was ours. And then… it was time go go back down.

Amazing Day part 2

Sunday, 04 Oct 2015, 10:21 UTC

Our lunches came with dessert. Mine was a a glass of fruit. Trudy’s was some kind of pudding thing. Afterwards we were rested and quite content, ready to tackle the rest of the day.

“Well, so where should we go next?” I asked.

Heh. Where should we go. The right question would have been, Where are we going next? because in reply to my query, the fair and industrious Trudy immediately pulled out a map and pointed, “Here.”

And with that, we were off to the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

Florence is so small that we had walked by here often, and although we knew we would come back, we had never been tempted to change our plans, because from the outside, although obviously large, the church is … frankly … unfinished.

For all the greatness of the Medici over the centuries, for all their spectacular wealth and for all the centuries of building its chapels and tombs, the place was never completely finished. Michelangelo had a magnificent facade design for the front, but it never got beyond a small-scale wooden model. As a result, the outside of the basilica looks more like a stone fort rather than the magnificent place it is.

Bear with me. Let me take a brief tangent here…

There were several places in Florence where this unfinished nature of some of the spectacular places was a little unsettling. For all the greatness of the Medicis and in spite of their role in ushering in the Renaissance, in the end, the unfinished nature of some of their grand projects seems to be cautionary tale of sorts, a metaphor for mortality, for the inevitable passage of time, for the certainty that things will change and even greatness will fade. This is by new means a new thought. From Ecclesiastes

Vanity of vanities … all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

 Oh for heavens sake. That’s a bit pretentious. But I confess, this is the feeling I was often left with in Florence, especially with this church.

Even the groups of people hanging out on the red-brown steps of the wide stone plaza beside the church looked as if they were waiting for something to happen (unlike the folks hanging out on the Spanish Steps every evening in Rome, where a multitude of things were happening all the time). 

And that’s the end of my tangent.

So now we went in. And oh gosh, the going in part is (obviously) the important thing. In stark contrast to the outside, the inside of the basilica is absolutely stunning. Of course, anyone who does the slightest bit of research on the place would know this, as we did, but the difference was nevertheless shocking.

We saw the old sacristy with Brunelleschi’s have sphere sitting on top of his cube. We saw Michelangelo’s new sacristy. We saw the main chapel with its huge octagonal mausoleum and stunning, multi-colored marbles. But the the truly amazing part was the main interior of the basilica with its pietra serena stonework that has an oddly modern feel to it in spite of the classical and renaissance designs of the place.

I have spoken too long. I leave you with this view of the interior.

The rest of the day will have to come later.

Amazing Day part 1

Friday, 02 Oct 2015, 22:13 UTC


This was to be our big day in Florence. The big day of the trip in a way, except that every day had been so big. It was hard then and is hard now to imagine days so packed with … So packed. Amazing days. And this was to be a big one.

And so, I am not sure how to share it. I cannot tell the story, for that would take too long to write, and you would surely give up before the end. I cannot just paste in a bunch of photos, for you would tire of them, and in any event you would never quite get a real sense of the day from a bunch of context-free pictures.

This is, of course, the dilemma of this medium. Maybe if you were sitting across from me, I could do it all more justice. You’d hear my voice, and I might try to light up my eyes as my father does when he gets involved in telling a story. But you’re not here, and I’m not there, so let’s just get started.

Museo San Marco.

Our first stop was Museo San Marco, walking distance (as was everything) from where we were staying.

The cloister itself was worth the visit. But there were frescos by Fra Angelico. And there was a spacious, quiet library where monks once dutifully copied and translated and illuminated, turning incremental accomplishments into a life’s work and sometimes world’s treasure. (Although for all those treasures, think of the monks, generation after generation, who labored patiently on contributions that have left no trace. Think of them.)

And there were the chambers of Savonarola, which somehow made me think of Ted Cruz, but I get nowhere when I think that way, thinking only of the end and not of the middle.

Museo Nazionale del Bargello.

Here, we saw fleet-of-foot Mercury

whose feet clearly felt better than mine that day (and the preceding). And we saw three Davids to supplement yesterday.


Our midday meal was colorful and satisfying. 

And we were very happy to get off our feet, or at least I was, because (Are you getting a sense of this?) my feet were hurting from blisters, although frankly it’s just amazing what Neosporin can do.

Contented Smiles

Thursday, 01 Oct 2015, 20:40 UTC

1. That Night

We tired ourselves out, me more than her, because I had blisters, which as I have said made us nervous about our plans for Alpine hiking. So after dinner and hanging out around Il Duomo, we found a place to sit in the Piazza della Repubblica not far from an old fashioned carousel that lit up the plaza.

As we sat, we listened to a guy with an electric guitar play five year old American pop tunes, and we bought an etching and a water color from a couple artists who were sitting nearby at their easels making their art and comiserating about the loud music.

And then we walked slowly back across old Florence to our room.


2. The Next Morning

For breakfast the next day, we went down the (cobblestone) street to a place Guiseppe had suggested. He understood what we needed, which makes me think we must have shared some sense of desperation we had years ago on our trip to France when we daily found ourselves in a desperate search for sustenance and coffee. Of course on that trip, we were often catching an early morning train every day, whereas our pace on this trip was substantially more relaxed, perhaps giving places like this a chance to …you know… open?

So we sat at a table on the corner eating our breakfast. They had omelettes. They had yogurt. They had toast. Trudy said, “OMG the yogurt is so good.” David said, “OMG the butter is so good. Are you going to finish yours?” And they had cappuccino in (and this was key) big cups.


We sat. We ate. We drank. And we smiled contented smiles.


And then we were ready to proceed with the day.

Il Duomo

Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015, 20:39 UTC

Well, we all know that ringing is in no way comparable to peeling. And so those bells weren’t peeling, of course, but rather they were pealing. Not only a qualitative difference but a quantitative one, too. My embarassing bad.

And so, onward…

Blisters!? I haven’t had blisters… for ever. Not good if we’re supposed to be hiking in the alps in three days. Better … walk … slowly.  

So we walked slowly to Mercato Centrale and found a place to have an early dinner and let late afternoon turn into early evening. We sat and rested our feet and drank our drinks and ate our simple Tuscan meals: Trudy had a veggie burger of some sort and I had a simple ham and cheese, both on terrific bread. 

Afterwards, we wandered to Il Duomo, getting there just as the sun was getting low in the sky. We found a place to sit, and we watched the cathedral glow.


Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015, 19:06 UTC

In the middle of old Florence, we sat. For a while on a stone ledge outside Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

We sat in the shade. With a gentle breeze blowing up the cobblestone street. And the bells of the cathedral began to ring.

No. The bells did not ring. It is not ringing that cathedral bells do. They peel, which is something altogether different.

Looking Up to David

Tuesday, 29 Sep 2015, 19:46 UTC

He stood there gazing into the distance.


And we, well…

Now I Know

Sunday, 27 Sep 2015, 16:51 UTC

1. Leaving Rome

Our train didn’t leave until the middle of the day, so we had time for one last stop: Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Nominally, our objective was the Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X. But the gallery captivated us in much the same way that the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. captivates: it doesn’t feel like a stodgy art museum but rather is a place where you just want to sit and absorb.

We didn’t have much time to sit and absorb but we did. We spent more time there than we had intended, and when we were done, we quickly returned to Hotel Paba, our headquarters for the last three days, gathered our backpacks and suitcases, took the metro to Termini train station where we had reservations for a high speed Frecciarossa train to Florence. 

2. Arriving In Florence

Now my previous experience with Italian trains was not a good one. Admittedly, that experience is several decades old, and … well, things have changed. We found our seats, we stashed our suitcases and backpacks, and we sat in comfort waiting for the train to leave, which it did … on time, something that my dated impressions had not expected.

Did I say that it was a high speed train? It was. At times, we were racing thru the Tuscan countryside at 240 kilometers per hour (about 150 miles per hour). I had hoped that the ride would offer a good view of Tuscany, but much of it was thru tunnels and between walls or berms as we made a bee-line north. Tuscany passed by in a blur.

We arrived in Florence in the afternoon only a few blocks from the Relais Grand Tour, where Giuseppe showed us how to work the three keys and gave us a few suggestions for the next three days.

With our bags stashed in our room and our cash and passports locked in the safe, we headed out to our only objective for the day: the Galleria dell’Accademia.

3. David

“Look,” said Trudy when we walked in the museum, pointing to the right. 

I turned to the left without looking. “I want to save it for last,” I whispered, which we did — saved Michelangelo’s David for last.

And all I can say is, I had no idea. Really, no idea. I felt like a child eating raspberries for the first time.

I mean, I knew about David of course. And I knew about Michelangelo. I had an intellectual understanding. And I knew what he looked like. But I had no idea how truly stunning he is when you stand directly before him. How the greatest sculpture in the history of Western civilization, carved from a block of marble that no one else wanted, towers over you, captivates you, looks away, draws your gaze, makes your jaw go slack.


I had no idea. Now I know.