Okay, this was our last full in Italy. We could either hop the train to Rome early and spend it there, or spend it mostly in Florence and take a later train to Rome (we were staying our last night in Rome, as we were flying out of there). There was still so much to see in Florence, that we decided to stay longer here, take a later train, and hopefully catch the Christmas tree finally lit at the Vatican.
The day was beautiful! Full sun, no rain, gorgeous city. We checked out of our room and stashed our luggage with the concierge before heading out. We walked down the river to Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge spanning the Arno River with shops all along it. We passed a line of parked motorbikes that seemed to stretch for blocks (between those and the Smart cars, which are all over Rome too, it’s obvious that Italians have fully embraced economical vehicles).
We came to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito, which was rebuilt in the 1400s following a fire. It’s Gothic in design, but honestly since we were prohibited from taking any pictures inside I don’t recall a lot. There were a lot of paintings, and according to the guidebooks they apparently included a Lippi.
We headed toward the Galleria dell’Accademia, but when we got there, we weren’t sure where to enter. We wandered up to the university, located next to it, and asked someone where it was. We were unceremoniously told, “Left! Left!” and shooed out. I will say here that by this point, considering the number of a) snooty, or b) unhelpful, or c) snooty and unhelpful people we had run into in Florence, we were neither surprised or offended by her response. Initially though, we were surprised to find this so common in Florence, as people in Rome had been completely opposite and really pleasant. Maybe it’s the Gothic influence?
So we managed to find the not-so-obvious entrance, and bought our tickets. The Galleria dell’Accademia is the first art school in Europe, started in 1563, to teach exclusively painting, drawing and sculpture. In 1784, it opened its art collection for students and visitors to study and includes Michaelangelo’s “David,” works by Lippi (ahh, Lippi), Botticelli, and the original plaster for Giambologna's “Rape of the Sabine Women” (considering it was carved from a single block of marble I can see how it was considered to be his masterpiece).
In addition to “David,” there are also four unfinished marble sculptures of Michaelangelo’s on display that I really found fascinating. While “David” is stunning and beautiful, these other pieces, “Four Prisoners,” intended for Pope Julius II’s tomb, appear to be walking out of enormous marble blocks, with just their torsos and arms gaining shape.
We also saw some amazing Russian Christian icons, musical instruments, and yes, more “Annunciation” and “Adoration” depictions, just in case we were feeling in need of a re-fill. Overall the Galleria was a really nice museum, with nice displays, interesting and different pieces, and not too overwhelming.
We made it back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, asked the concierge what bus we should take back to the train station, but she appeared to only speak Russian, so we just wandered outside until we came upon a sign. Ron had previously seen that bus tickets could be purchased from meters that also offered parking passes, so we attempted to use one. It took a few tries, and a lost Euro or two, but we finally managed to get it to spit out two tickets. When a bus came, we hopped on for the quick ride to the station, however, as seemed to be our luck in Florence, this bus took us on an hour-tour of the other side of Florence, up into the hills, beautiful views, but as far from the station as could be. (The primary issue here was that we failed to purchase a bus map at the station when we arrived, plus no one we ever asked was helpful or knowledgeable about the busses, and therefore we will not fail to get a bus map next time we head anywhere in Europe.)
We finally managed to get the 5:30pm train back to Rome, although it was delayed until 6:00pm. In Rome, we dropped our bags back at our friendly Monte Carlo hotel (same room even), and dashed out to take one last look at the Vatican in the moonlight and grab some dinner.
As we were walking around the quiet streets around the Vatican, I was taking pictures and Ron was ambling about and was approached by a woman. He then came over to me and said that she had very kindly asked him if he needed a drink or a sandwich, to which he said no thank you, only after which he realized that she was there offering food and blankets to the homeless who were huddled in doorways. We chortled at her thinking we were homeless, but then wondered just how frazzled we looked. Regardless, it’s a perfect example of how nice and kind Romans are.
I was disappointed to see that nine days before Christmas the enormous tree in front of St. Peter’s still was not lit. I mean, Target’s probably had their trees up, decorated, lit and spinning for at least 35 days. And this is the Vatican! Oh well. We walked back over the Ponte Sant’Angelo (bridge) and marveled at Bernini’s statues along the way. We had had a wonderful lunch over in this area last time, so we wandered back there but found the restaurant was closed. Turning around, we decided to try Passetto Ristorante, where we were serenaded by a sweet Italian gentleman who served us while he hummed various selections from the “Moonstruck” soundtrack. It was a nice ending to a wonderful vacation.
The following morning we lugged our bags, now filled with Italian ceramics and biscuits, back to Termini station, grabbed the train to the airport and other than the typical issues on an Egypt Air flight (cramped and crammed in, trash stacked on trays, etc.), we had a nice flight.
We met a young Italian woman who was meeting her boyfriend in Cairo. I gave her some advice for wandering around on her own, how to cross the street, don’t ride the buses, and ignore “helpful” people as they always own papyrus shops, however based on her anxiety over the general chaos of the flight, I’m not sure how she’ll cope with Cairo proper. However, I do have complete faith in Cairo’s ability to suck the type-A out of anybody, so hopefully she’ll relax, step around the trash piles and enjoy herself. She gets to return home to Rome, so either way she’ll be fine. With any luck, I could be a Dip Wife in Rome sometime in the future... one can always dream.