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david and carol

Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 1
Europe 1999
London, Paris, Venice, Florence


David and Carol




Day 6

Venice / Florence

Woke at 9 A.M. after a sound night's sleep. It was difficult to get out of bed. Through our large shuttered bedroom windows I watched stray cats playing in a pile of construction material next door. We had a quick breakfast downstairs and then went out to taste the flavors of Venice once more before we had to board the train to Firenze.
Walking once again to the east of the hotel, along the well-worn Lista di Spagna, we passed many quaint shops and cafes, monumental churches and palaces, and crossed several bridges over lovely cerulean canals. The absence of any motorized vehicles is positively refreshing. Only boats' engines can be heard above the murmur of the placid water as it caresses the old stone walls of the canals. Every now and then we hear a gondolier greeting another out in their shiny black boats with the characteristic golden "ferri" prows. In 1562 it was decreed that all gondolas should be painted black to stop people from flaunting their wealth. These slim-hulled craft have been a familiar part of Venice since the 11th century. The past calls out to us at every turn.
We saw our friends Enzo and Vincenzo inside their trattoria once again and waved hello. We sat at a café and had our usual acqua con gas while we people-watched. Tasted more delightful gelato, undoubtedly the very best ice cream in the world. We walked further along this seductive, baroque dreamland until we found a little sunlit square with benches. It was warm, so we decided to sit for a while. At a nearby bench, 5 or 6 elderly Italian women were schmoozing and we heard them talking about us. We smiled back and forth at each other, and they soon realized that we could understand a little of their Italiano discussions about us. We all laughed and waved ciao and went on our way back past shop after shop.
We bought a massive sandwich - a mountain of olives and cheese in a strudel-like bread, and Coke and water. We then stopped at a café to rest and started to eat our immense sandwich. An Italian gentleman began to speak to me in rapid Italian. When I politely stopped him and said "No capiche," he refused to believe that I was not Italian.
We discovered that it was time to walk to the train station, and several minutes and steps later we realized we had forgotten our giant sandwich and Coke and water. We hope someone was able to enjoy them.
At around 1:30 we retrieved our bags from the hotel, said molte grazie e ciao to concierge Mario, and walked the half block to the Santa Lucia ferrovia (train station.) We saw a newly arrived tourist couple loaded down with many, many bags and golf clubs and wondered how they were going to get all their gear to their destination. They apparently were also pondering this dilemma. We suggested the vaporettos and wished them good luck, then entered the train station where we boarded our train to Bologna. With tears in our eyes, we bid "arrivaderci" to the Pearl of the Adriatic. We know we will see her again, someday…

Small Venetian canal
The short ride through the Tuscan hillsides was warm but pleasant. We disembarked in Bologna and walked into the station to inquire about our connection to Firenze. Two armed, kind carabinieri guided us and we caught the train, called The Michelangelo, no less, and were on our way to the Renaissance city of Firenze.
We shared a cabin with a strange older German couple who never really acknowledged our presence. She got a call on her cell phone as the train wound its way south towards Firenze, through some remarkably serene and aesthetic Tuscan countryside.
We arrived in Firenze at about 6:30. As we exited the train station, it quickly became apparent that something was "happening." Helicopters were buzzing overhead, and there were hundreds of people holding banners. The carabinieri were present in great force. It turns out that a day earlier, the Red Brigade had assassinated a politician in Milano, and this was a "peaceful" Italian Communist Party demonstration to inform everyone that they "didn't do it." It seemed that all of Firenze had gathered to either witness or participate.

Communist demonstration in Florence
We quickly found our hotel, the Hotel Romagna (Via Panzani, 4.) Lovely, sweet Eleni, our Greek/Italian concierge, made us feel most welcome. Carol unpacked while I dashed out into the street and up the Via de Cerretani to the immense marble marvel, the Duomo, Cathedral of Firenze, dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, where I took several photos of the exciting "demonstration." After the "parade" passed and the crowd subsided I went back to the room where we changed and showered.

The Hotel Romagna is clean and ideally located between the train station and the Duomo. Many fine restaurants, shops and museums are nearby, as is the Mercato San Lorenzo. Eleni and her husband Giuseppe offered many helpful tips and guided us to several wonderful restaurants. At one point I had to email my office on the Hotel's computer, and Eleni refused to accept money.

Giuseppe and Riccardo
We decided to have dinner at Buca Lapi, a restaurant, that Carol had "discovered" on the internet. Eleni concurred with our decision, so we walked a few blocks south to the unpretentious place and walked down the flight of stairs ("buca" means "cave" in Italian) and were promptly seated. The waiter was aloof, but helpful, and we had a fabulous dinner of prosciutto with melon, an Italian specialty, pasta with sausage and fennel, and the most incredible veal with asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms and gruyere cheese - by far the best veal we have ever tasted. We watched the chefs at their work, pounding the veal thin with wooden mallets and creating some very unusual and colorful dishes. We enjoyed a bottle of the house wine, and a tasty Cuban Montecristo and espresso for desert. The entire dinner cost about $65 U.S., and it was well worth every red American cent.

Buca Lapi
We then walked down several narrow winding old streets towards the spectacular Duomo, the city's geographical and historical focus. The nearby revolutionary 15th century bronze Baptistry doors of Ghiberti overwhelmed Carol with emotion. It is difficult to be in the presence of timeless art such as we see surrounding us in this beautiful Tuscan city and not feel emotional. Firenze is an enduring monument to the Renaissance, the artistic and cultural reawakening of the 15th century. Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Botticelli, Donatello and Michelangelo all called Firenze home. It seemed like we could not resist the magnetic attraction of Ghiberti's bronze doors and their incredible biblical bas relief panels. These doors have exerted their magic since 1430. Michelangelo called them the "Gate of Paradise." The heart, if it feels at all, senses the eternal combined souls of these great writers, thinkers, sculptors, painters and scientists. We are in the midst of one of the world's greatest artistic and creative capitals.
Promising each other that tomorrow we will buy a guidebook to this incredible city full of the art of the Masters, we walk more, past the Medici Palace, into the grand Piazza della Signoria. For many centuries this has been the city's political heart, and here are remarkable sculptures by Michelangelo, Tintoretto, Donatello and others. The Fontana di Nettuno, "Fountain of Neptune," is at the foot of the Palazzo Vecchio and its tall bell tower. Savonarola, a religious leader, was burned at the stake here. Near the Palazzo Vecchio is the Uffizi, one of Italy's leading art galleries, housing works of Urbino, Giotto, Caravaggio, Titian, Boticelli and Michelangelo. All around us are cafes and restaurants. The evening sun has long disappeared, and there is a mysterious green laser beam that originates at the bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio (tall enough to be seen from all over Firenze) and bounces off the reflective ball at the top of the Duomo. It is surreal. Modern technology superimposed on the tapestry of the centuries…
Walking back towards the hotel, we paused in the Piazza della Repubblica where a wiry little fellow with a beautiful dog entertained a crowd of us by eating fire and laying on broken glass and nails. The moon was nearly full as we made our way back to the Hotel Romagna and good night's sleep in the cradle of the Renaissance.

Previous Day

Next Day

Day 1 London/Paris | Day 2 Paris | Day 3 Paris

Days 4 and 5 Paris/Venice | Day 6 Venice/Florence

Day 7 Florence | Day 8 Florence | Day 9 Florence

Day 10 London | Day 11 London | Day 12 London

Day 13 Home | Reflections

 copyright 1998 / david and carol lehrman / all rights reserved

 email david@davidandcarol.com