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05 July, 2014

Day 2: perfect days

To get to the Uffizi at the opening time, we would need to leave our B&B around 7:45am. Uffizi opens at 8:15am. Without a reservation, there are varying stories of how long one will wait. Some say the wait will be hours, and some say they stroll right in. It depends on the day, the time, the season, the weather, one must assume. I assumed that arriving at opening time could not possibly be worse than a short wait, because tourists are not usually known for being on the ball.
When we woke up, at 6:45am for this departure, I was all ready to bail on the idea. If Allie had even peeped a single hint of lacking enthusiasm, I would have skipped it, and braved the lines later in the day. But when the alarm rang, I said "Are you sure you want to do this?" and she was up and awake. She probably was doing it for my benefit, but it served the purpose of getting us going.
I prepared breakfast for us, with the provisions that Stefania and Luciano provide. Coffee, toast with cheese to spread (Philadelphia herb cream cheese... not exactly amazing, but I told myself that maybe this was the Philadelphia in Greece), a couple of yogurts, some juice. It was enough to get us going.
When we departed, we needed to figure out which bus to take, and where to get it. This is not so simple when the GPS on your phone is wonky and not even giving you an accurate read on which direction you're facing. At times like this, one would be better off with one choice of bus and a paper map, because then you'd just go there and wait. But Google provides us with a million choices of buses, in various locations, leaving at various times, and a GPS that is like a gyroscope. So we'd miss a bus, miss another, and then be confused wandering to where we thought the next bus would be. I was starting to be crabby, even though this series of "setbacks" only spanned about 5-10 minutes.
We eventually found a bus, and it turned out to not stop at the stop we thought it would stop at (Google said it stopped there, but it didn't) so we had to get off at next stop and backtrack. All told, our trip to Uffizi took quite a bit longer than it would have taken if we had just walked there. But we were tired, and didn't feel like starting the day with a walk. We arrived about 5-10 minutes after opening, and there was a line of about 25-30 people. They let the first batch in almost immediately, and then we were allowed to enter maybe 10 minutes after that. So, all things considered, it was just fine.
The Uffizi is sort of exactly what you would expect from a big, famous European museum. The building itself is a work of art, with amazing frescoes on ceilings, and beautiful architecture throughout. It becomes painfully evident how rich the Medici family must be, since they have their hands on so much of value. There is lots of rather uninteresting art by lesser, but probably still famous to the art connoisseur. There are many sculptures strewn throughout the museum with little fanfare, almost like they just had them lying around, but they're all quite impressive. The art that I get least excited about is probably the earlier religious art with all of the very flat depictions of Mary and Jesus and John the Baptist, with lots of gold color, and everything looking quite somber. I don't like religious art, in general, but at least in the later years, they started to make the pieces beautiful.
The highlight of the Uffizi, of course, is the Botticelli work. For that alone, it's worth going.
We decided to have lunch there, even though you always get fleeced at a museum cafe. I suppose it's providing resources to the museum, so it's not the worst thing. We ordered a couple of sandwiches, which were surprisingly good, except for the fact that fierce sparrows attempted to steal our food, divebombing the table with no fear.
There was only a little bit more museum for us after that, before we decided we'd seen enough art.
When we exited, we found ourselves at the entrance to the Galileo Museum, which seemed interesting enough, and a good excuse to avoid the heat a little longer. So we entered. The Museum is a collection of scientific artifacts from as early as the 1400s, including microscopes, physics tools, medical devices, telescopes, navigational tools, meteorological tools. You name it. It's divided into two collections. One is Medici, and the other, I can't recall, but obviously some other rich family. There was one room full of Galileo's devices, including some things he built to demonstrate the laws of physics. Everything there was really impressive. I think my favorite exhibits were some of the maps. There was one map from the mid 15th century, before Columbus had made his trip, before anyone knew there was another side to the world. Did they know the world wasn't flat? I don't think so. The map of the Eastern Hemisphere was rather accurate, and very interesting in the types of landmarks that made their way onto the map, such as castles, etc. And, because they could not have possibly known, the map was upside down, with Africa up, and Europe down. It's funny to think that all these truths we now hold to be self-evident had, at one point in history, not yet been discovered. It often makes me wonder how much of what we believe today will be laughable 500 years from now. And that, of course, makes me regret that there's no way we'll be around to find out. Also in this museum were some interesting and grotesque models of various types of childbirth, from normal to abnormal. They were full-sized cross-sections of the anatomy, in quite graphic detail. The amazing thing is, if I recall correctly, these were from sometime in the 16th century... but I may not recall correctly.
After the Galileo Museum, we made our way across the Ponte Vecchio again, taking many photos at the foot of the bridge. We wandered along one of the streets, and came upon an old clothing store that turned out to be Allie's dream, and one of the highlights of our trip so far. This place was a hoarder's paradise, with clothes piled upon clothes, through narrow passageways into a back room, with hats stacked on top of hats, endless treasures. The woman who worked there, named Vera, was incredibly friendly and had a wonderful conversation with Allie, who bought an amazing hat, made in Italy, and probably who-knows-how-many years old. They became Facebook friends, which is funny, seeing an older woman, in a small via in Italy, with her giant Android phone, friending us on Facebook.
The times have changed.
It was hard to leave that place, and I am sure Allie could have spent hours there. In fact, what she really wanted to do was help the woman organize everything and then help her list it all on Etsy! But the truth is, we aren't sure Vera really wants to sell that stuff. It seems that maybe what she really wants is just to have all that stuff, because those are her treasures, and maybe these interactions with visitors are enough of a highlight. Who knows what the business model is, but right?
Farther down the same street, we saw another museum, called Zoologico or something, and it seemed to have things like skeletons and medical specimens made of wax. It sounded very interesting, but we decided to save it for another day (and it turns out, we never had time to go back, but that's okay).
We wandered some, now starting to get into that "low on energy" phase, not really sure what we wanted to do or where we were going. We thought we'd found some amazing gardens, 17 acres in the heart of the city but, alas, they were private, by appointment only. So we sat in a park and ate leftover pizza. Then we watched a young Italian couple, dressed as if they were going to or coming from a wedding, arguing in the park. The girl was berating him, and began storming away from him, and he called after her "Nooooo! Giulia! Noooooooo!" But Giulia had obviously decided that she was hearing none of it, and she kept storming off with him following her. A few minutes later, he comes back to the park, alone, and sits on a bench, looking exasperated. Far, far down the street in the distance, we could still see Giulia, in her red dress, becoming smaller and smaller as she disappeared into the background.
After that entertainment, there was not much else to do, but walk back to Santa Maria Novella Stazione, and take the bus back to our B&B to relax for a bit, and eventually do yoga.
I'd sent an email the night before to attempt a reservation at a restaurant that got very good reviews. It was called La Cucina Del Garga. I had no idea if this would actually work or not, but their website said it was possible to reserve by sending an email, so I thought I would give it a whirl. It worked, and our reservation was confirmed. We arrived at the restaurant at their opening time, 7:30pm, and we were not the first ones there. It was already moderately occupied. We were greeted by several different people at our table; they seemed to share the service responsibilities. And everyone was extremely friendly. We were given Prosecco compliments of the house. There was a small bready appetizer with tomato sauce, which was very good. The breads they brought to the table were amazing. We ordered wine by the glass. I wanted a bottle, but I think Allie didn't want me to be too extravagant, so I complied, and we had glasses of very good wine instead. I believe I had Sauvignon Blanc and Vermentino, and she had Sangiovese. For appetizer we ordered Buffalo Mozzarella with roasted peppers, and it was probably one of the most delicious things we've eaten in our entire lives. That is not an exaggeration. The main courses... hm... what did we get... I actually can't remember. We both had pasta, that's all I can tell you. It's not that it wasn't great. It's just that the days and the pasta dishes are blending together. I am fairly certain that mine was a red sauce and hers was not. Is that close enough? Wait! The menu has solved the mystery. I had the Fettuccini with Orange and Lemon Zest and . Allie had Ravioli with Spinach and Ricotta with "secret meat sauce" recipe.
After dinner, we ordered cheesecake for dessert. And that was a good choice. Sharon's own recipe is what the menu said. And it was totally amazing, unlike any we'd had before. This place was top notch, and we already thought about going back the next day again (turns out, that was not possible, sadly, since they were closed).
We walked home, after wandering around near the Duomo and Piazza San Marco, and just enjoying the evening. We didn't hurry home at all, and it was a beautiful walk.
The end of a perfect day.

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