My last days in Florence….part 1 ………… “The Accidental Criminal”

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As promised, I am here in in my “office” at the National, ready to catch you up on the final week of my Italian adventures. (This is my view. I am tucked up in a cozy corner on the third floor)

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I had a lovely Thanksgiving, if it wasn’t exactly traditional. I met up with my co-worker from Disney, Ken and his wife Jocelyn, for dinner here at the South Bank and then we hopped to another pub nearby that came with a spectacular view of the Thames and an exceedingly friendly drunk named Paul. Paul was a lawyer, and he was oddly eager to inform us that he “…just went to a shitty state school, I’m not one of those posh lawyers.” “Paul the plebeian” also had some very strong views on our recent election and his own country’s recent political upheaval…frequently blurting out…(and I quote)…” Trump. FUCK! What? Brexit. SHIT! What? Trump? CHRIST!” He apparently grew very fond of us during our brief time together as when he was finally asked to leave we all received heartfelt (borderline tearful) hugs. Good old Paul…

I was then lucky enough to have second Thanksgiving!  Two days later my friends Clive and Haven took me along to a Thanksgiving feast arranged by ex-pat American members of a book club that Haven is a member of. So I got my turkey and gravy after all.

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Right! Now, back to Italy. I am going to have to break my last days there into two posts…because I did many things. Now, I already told you about my need for new boots, and I was getting worried because my backup pair are cute but not good for extended pavement pounding. So I went out very determinedly to search for thrift stores…… and promptly got lost. Florence is full of tiny little streets that branch out every which way, and street signs are very hard to read as they are often the exact same color as the wall. It also might have been my tendency to go “Hey, that store/sign/building/ looks neat, I’m going to go that way now!”  So I gave up trying to find them and decided to switch tactics and try to *not* find them. In that I was completely successful! I happily turned down every street that looked like it would NOT have a thrift store on it. Eventually I stumbled upon the “Scuola del Cuoio” which is the “School of Leather’. There was a sign on the street with an arrow pointing the direction, so I followed the signs through three or four twisty little back alleyways until I came to a courtyard…one wall of which was all glass windows looking into the student workshops. I watched the students for a bit as they worked their magic and turned tanned pieces of animal hide into the purses, coats and shoes that Florence is famous for. Eventually though, I started to feel a little weird, as I was the only one in the courtyard staring at these people, so I decided to check out the little shop where the work of the students ends up. Maybe they would have inexpensive boots! Sadly,they did not have inexpensive anything.  While the prices were way out of my range, I enjoyed perusing the shop and spent a bit of time marveling over the unique details and artistic touches on the leatherwork. I’m pretty sure I suggestively stroked about 50% of the coats. (I have a thing for forest green suede. Are suede bed sheets a thing?)When I finally exited the shop, directly across from me was a door and through the glass I could see a painting on the wall of the Virgin Mary. Thinking it was a part of the Leather School, I opened the door and went in. It was not a part of the leather school. As I roamed about inside, I realized fairly quickly I had just gone in the back entrance of the Basilica di Santa Croce…bypassing the 8 euro entrance fee. Whoops! (In my defense, there are Virgin Mary’s everywhere in Florence. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Virgin Mary. She is even occasionally found in the toilet. Not my fault.)

The Basilica di Santa Croce is a pretty big deal. It’s more than just a big ass church. (That is what ‘basilica means in the original Latin…’big ass church’) It is also home to the tombs of some fairly prestigious Italian notaries…such as Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli and is just damn gorgeous in its own right. So I spent about an hour there, ogling the art and marble tombs. Eventually I had ogled everything one could ogle …and finally found the “proper” entrance/exit. I came out into a square and had no friggin clue where I was. No worries though. One nice thing about Florence is that even if you are totally lost… as long as you can find the river Arno, you can sort yourself out. I would have kept wandering longer but it was getting dark and had begun to rain…and I was hungry…so I found the Arno and began the 40 minute walk back to my flat.

Even though I didn’t find any boots, I considered the day an unqualified success! Although, in truth, I think any day that you are alive and in Florence, Italy can be deemed a success. I have pics below from my day. Next post, Part 2 of ‘My last days in Florence”, I shall cover my exploration of the Uffizi Gallery and continue the gripping saga of the “Great boot hunt of 2016”.

Cheers!

Rebecca

Difficult to see street name AND random Virgin Mary.
Difficult to see street name AND random Virgin Mary.

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The leather school shop
The leather school shop. There were rooms branching off of the hallway with the coats and purses.
The Medici Chapel. This is where I walked in.
The Medici Chapel. This is where I walked in.
Crucifix in the Medici Chapel. I really want to call it "MediJesus"
Crucifix in the Medici Chapel.
I really want to call it “MediJesus”
Painting near the chapel
Painting near the chapel
Main sanctuary of the Basilica
Main sanctuary of the Basilica

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Tomb of Michelangelo
Tomb of Michelangelo
Tomb of Galileo
Tomb of Galileo

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Tomb of Machiavelli
Tomb of Machiavelli
Side chapel
Side chapel
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Ceiling
I just really liked this bit.
I just really liked this bit.

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From the altar looking forward
From the altar looking forward
Proper entrance of the Basilica
Proper entrance of the Basilica
View of the Basicica from the street leading to the square
View of the Basilica from the street leading to the square

The rest of the pics below are from my walk home.

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Restaurant in the square.
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Fountain

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Arrivederci Florence….Wotcha London!

Just a quick post to wish everyone a Happy American Thanksgiving!  Its a bit weird, this is the second uniquely American holiday that I have spent in London and I enjoy the personal irony of both July 4th and Thanksgiving basically being celebrations of people telling England to piss off. Friends of mine from the states (co-workers of mine at Disney) are over here on holiday, so I will be meeting up with them tonight for food and shenanigans.

Yesterday morning I was in Florence and it was in the low 60’s…practically balmy. Today I am back in London and it is butt ass cold. (The exact temperature of butt ass cold is 50F according to NWS) It is also dark. My plane landed at Gatwick at 3:15, and when I finally made it out of the terminal at 4:45 it was pitch dark, which was a bit disconcerting. I have been warned….this is London till April.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop up and quickly say hello! Tomorrow I am heading to the National to work and shall give you a proper rundown of my past week in Florence. Till then…

Ciao!

Rebecca

P.S. Travel tip-When exploring an art museum, make sure you appreciate a sculpture from ALL available angles. The artist worked hard on his or her piece and it deserves to be given a proper look over.

Sculpture at the Uffizi gallery
Sculpture at the Uffizi gallery

 

 

 

You just never know what odd yet wonderful experiences are just around the corner.

I am on the balcony of my borrowed flat, as happy as a pig in poo.  You know that rare feeling of contentedness that goes deep down into your gut? Yeah…that feeling. Which is good because yesterday was a little fraught. Before I left Florida I pared my bills down to the bare minimum, but there are still a few I need to keep on top of. And in true fashion, yesterday Verizon decided to throw a kink into my day. After many (expensive) phone calls, I got it partly resolved, but my mellow was severely harshed. But today…ah..today is BELLISSIMO!! The weather is absolutely perfect…sunny and 54 degrees. I am finally becoming acclimated to the season because I am wearing only a sweater and it is below 60. I may survive the winter over here after all! This is my view. See Lemmy peeking out?  I have my delicious lunch and am enjoying a chianti in a Pink Panther glass. Lemmy has now joined me and is doing his best to get me to share.

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I have now been here in Italy for a week. I alternate my days between exploring and resting. I have found that I absorb my experiences and enjoy them more if I don’t exhaust myself trying to do everything at once. My days off are spent reading and working on my stories. A friend of mine introduced me to the works of Julian Barnes, a British author, and when I need a break I curl up with Julian and can rest my fevered brain a bit. I must admit I have fallen in love with Mr. Barnes. I tend to get writer crushes…my last one was Gregory Maguire of “Wicked” fame.  I’ve also started reading Gustave Flaubert, a French writer from the 1800’s. If you are a die hard bibliophile as I am, I highly recommend all three authors. Oh, and I must put in a plug for a friend of mine, the clever and witty British writer Robert Shearman. His short story collections are beyond brilliant. He is also the friend who turned me on (pun intended) to Julian Barnes. When I get back to London I must buy him a pint or two in gratitude. I did get a piece of good news yesterday. My daughter Hannah has purchased her ticket to spend Christmas with me in London. Christmas, in London, with my baby girl! That right there is a dream come true.

After taking a few days to acclimate myself and recover from my travels, the first museum I hit was the ‘La Specola’… the Natural History Museum. Claudia, the owner of my borrowed flat told me about it, and their unique display of anatomical waxes from the 16-1700’s. (pics below) I have a tendency to be drawn to the gruesome, and the museum did not fail. They also had the requisite collection of stuffed creatures from around the world. As I was walking about, I happened upon a Scottish gentleman named Richard and his American friend Cassandra and they invited me to accompany them on the tour of the museum. This proved to be a boon for me, as Richard was very knowledgeable about taxidermy and the various flora and fauna on display. I learned far more about the exhibits than I would have on my own.  The waxes were as stunning as Claudia had promised. The only downer to the day was that as I was walking back to my flat, my boots fell apart. I must say, for a cheap pair of fake leather boots, they have stood me well over the past 5 months. Now, I understand that I am in the perfect place to procure new high quality leather boots, but if you have been keeping up with my blog you know that my budget does not allow for such an extravagant expenditure. However, thrift store shopping was how I acquired my new winter coat so I am counting on my luck to continue as I explore Florentine thrift stores in search of new boots.

Traveling on your own can get a bit lonely, especially in a place as exquisite as Florence.  There is also the psychological component of realizing you are far from home, you do not know a single soul, and you do not speak the language. I found myself longing for a companion…perhaps someone local who could show me Florence as only a native could. So, what is a single woman in my situation to do? There was only one thing I could think of…Tinder. It had worked well for me in Cambridge last year, so I figured what the hell. I was very clear in my profile that I was NOT looking for a ‘hook up’, and that I did not speak Italian. Within minutes, I was flooded with responses from Luigi’s, Paolo’s, Guiseppe’s,..etc.  I was able to immediately rule out anyone who responded in Italian, as that meant they had not looked at my profile. I was further able to clear the field of the men who told me they were married but wanted to give me an ‘Intimate Italian Experience’. One gentleman peppered his responses with kisses and hearts. Not that I would be in any way be against a romantic fling while on this trip…but certainly not in those circumstances. Finally, one man seemed to fit the bill. He replied that he did not know English very well, but that he would be happy to show me around Florence. He was older, in his late 50’s, and a singer with the Opera di Firenze. We chatted for a bit..(thank you Google Translate!) and we agreed to meet for lunch the following day.

I chose well. I met him for lunch and between Google Translate (which we both had on our phones) and excessive hand waving and theatrics we managed to communicate. I allowed him to choose our menu, and I must admit, he did a fine job. I am pretty sure I ate tripe which I found disgusting in the US but here in Italy was delicious.(I also tried liver for the first time in 42 years when I went to lunch with Claudia on the day I arrived. Chicken liver pate. You have no idea the level of bravery it took to try it. Last time I had liver I was 5 and promptly threw it up) We also had fried artichoke, and an odd dish that seemed to be thin, deli style roast beef slathered in mayonnaise with tomatoes and capers on top.

After lunch he offered to take me for a drive. Now…here is when I became a little nervous. Can you blame me? On the one hand, he seemed very sweet and not at all murdery. On the other hand…well, I am sure you know what the other hand was. With my overactive imagination I pictured myself shackled to a radiator in a cabin on the mountains forced to be this mans American red-haired sex slave. But I went with my gut and said yes. (I did take precautions. I texted my daughter and told her what was happening so if she didn’t hear from me she could contact the Carabinieri.) So, off we went! Our conversations in the car were very amusing as because he was driving it was not safe to use Google translate. He would rattle off something in Italian, and I would respond with some smart ass comment in English, such as ” Is that where you are going to murder me?” or ” I have no idea what the fuck you just said to I am going to nod and smile and hope that I didn’t just agree to a threesome.” And then we would both laugh. It was surreal…but also a little bit fantastic.

He drove me up into the mountains above Florence, to the convent of San Francisco in the town of Fiesole. The view of Florence was breath taking. I have a habit of gasping in delight when I see things of great beauty and he found this very amusing. I think it pleased him, that he had taken me somewhere that obviously moved me very much.  The church was small, but had some amazing artwork and a tiny museum. He asked me many times to pose so he could take my picture. (I say “asked”.  What he really did was take out his phone and pantomime taking a photo so I could understand what he wanted. I always feel silly when posing for pictures, so I have no idea what he ended up with. Most likely a series of pics of me looking constipated. Whatever, he seemed happy.)

We left the church and walked down the hill to a balcony overlooking Florence, and I sat on the railing to take in the view. Suddenly I hear a bass voice beginning to sing behind me. I turn around, and there he is…belting out what I assume is a song from an Italian opera. So, here I am, on the top of a mountain in Italy, being serenaded by an Italian man whom I have known for all of two hours. Talk about surreal. (Needless to say, he has a beautiful voice.)

As we were walking back to the car, he invited me to come to his house for dinner. Now… that was wayyyy past my comfort zone, so I politely declined. (By they way, he told me on the way back that he owned a cabin in the mountains.) He drove us back into Florence, but before taking me home we went to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which is a square with a panoramic view of the other side of Florence. The sun was setting and the Duomo was glowing and the lights of Florence were gleaming brightly. It was exquisite.

I am terribly grateful to Paolo for giving me such a lovely day, and taking me somewhere I never would have known about let alone seen. I hope he enjoyed our day as much as I did. He is a very sweet and kind man and I wish him all the very best. He told me he was auditioning for some international tours, so perhaps one day in the future I will be surprised  by a beautiful bass voice singing to me in greeting.

Lunch with Claudia
Lunch with Claudia
That is the liver on the right. Yup, I ate it.
That is the liver on the right. Yup, I ate it.
My sweet kitty companion, Lemmy!
My sweet kitty companion, Lemmy!
Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio
The entrance to the "La Specola"
The entrance to the “La Specola”
Naked man on a mirror in the monkey room
Naked man on a mirror in the monkey room
Aye Aye!
Aye Aye!
Platypus
Platypus
Icky, hateful evil disgusting bats
Icky, hateful evil disgusting bats
One of the anatomical waxes
One of the anatomical waxes

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So incredibly detailed
So incredibly detailed

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Quite beautiful
Quite beautiful
The river Arno
The river Arno

Now we get to the pics of my day with Paolo.

Half eaten roast beef with mayo and things
Half eaten roast beef with mayo and things
On the top of the mountain
On the top of the mountain
Florence
Florence

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The walk up to the church
The walk up to the church
Paintings in the church
Paintings in the church

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Yep, they have a mummy. I think everyone in Europe has a mummy.
Yep, they have a mummy. I think everyone in Europe has a mummy.

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Pre-serenade
Pre-serenade
My view as I was being serenaded
My view as I was being serenaded
Post serenade selfie.
Post serenade selfie

Now, the view of Florence from the other side.

The Duomo
The Duomo

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Statue of David at the Piazzale Michelangelo (not the real one)
Statue of David at the Piazzale Michelangelo (not the real one)
His tush. dont just look at statues from the front., there are great views in the back as well
His tush. dont just look at statues from the front., there are great views in the back as well
Sunset over Florence
Sunset over Florence