29.04.2006 18 °C
The rail booking system for intercountry travel was 'down' last night, when I tried to organise our next move. A fast train was available to get to Florence for the morning of the 29th, but as to making our way back through France, nothing could be confirmed until this morning. We had already decided that a further excursion to Venice would be stretching ourselves too far, and I had emailed the booked hotel in Venice already to cancel it. Hence, by about 8am I had returned to the railways booking office and at least could confirm passage back to Nice. From there we would have to take our chances on what was available.
The train journey from Rome to Florence was quick and smooth, zipping by forest covered hillsides with the mist trickling through the valleys. On arriving at Florence railway station, the usual battle to find the specifics of which way to go, and how far, to find the accommodation that had been booked long ago. First step, buy a local map - the hotel bookings office at the station having supplies in a range of languages at one euro each. Next, try to find anyone with a smattering of English to show the wanted address to and seek their advice. In practise at this point you usually run into a conveniently located publicist for the local taxi drivers who insists that it is far too far to walk. Eighteen euros, including six to carry our two modest suitcases, seemed a little steep for a three kilometre journey.
Nonetheless, we were faced with but one afternoon to achieve the goal of seeing Michaelangelo's David, so we set about this in a very focussed manner. After briefly glancing at the ancient room in the Annalena guest house allotted to us, we consulted our map and planned the most direct walking route to reach the gallery. Once in the street, we marched at high speed back across the river Arne and by-passed the Uffizi gallery, reaching the Galleria Del' Accademia within a half hour. Here we queued up with a thin band of shade to protect us from the hot sun while an accordion player worked the other side of the street, playing his heart out but raising little interest from the crowd. Though we had been warned of the potential for a long wait, it only took about twenty minutes for us to reach the entrance.
Inside, we first checked out a display of unusual and historic musical instruments from many different countries. Included were some very early guitars that looked singularly hard to tune. Best was the Chinese water bowl, whose handles after being dampened are rubbed to produce an eerie sound.
After a while longer perusing the 12th-15th century religious art, full of suffering saints being martyred in various painful ways, we moved on to see several of Micaelangelo's unfinished sculptures, their forms just emerging from the marble. Exciting to see the rough chisel marks of the master, so firm and assured compared to other works of the era, including one that had once been attributed to M-A but in its style is completely wrong.
David stands proud and tall and every bit as impressive as one would expect. Bathed in the diffuse light of his own skylight his veins stand out in a stunningly lifelike manner. Yet I can't help thinking those hands are a little too large. Still, a magnificent sculpture and quite a different experience to the two inch tall reproductions infesting the nearby shops.
Leaving the museum we wander through the streets and take refuge in a McDonalds. After ingesting some sustaining junk food, we researched the local bus routes, finding that it would be possible to bus our way to the station next morning. Later in the evening, the guy on reception at Annalena gesticulated wildly to emphasise I would have to get down to the tobacconist shop pronto so as to get some bus tickets. You can't just buy them on the bus! So we ventured down the road and after waiting for every local in town to buy their fags and lottery tickets we were equipped with tickets for the morning bus.
While waiting to arrange a wake up call, I flicked through a book in the lobby that gave the history of the guesthouse. It had started as a convent in the mid fifteenth century, then was in the hands of a gentleman and his wife, Annalena. The family fell on hard times and borrowed money from Cosimo, one of the powerful Medici family. Later, Medici foreclosed on the loan and took possession of the house, together with its beautiful garden, which still exists today behind a high fence.
At night we prowl the streets and pass through the ancient doors of the Porte Romana. We find our destined pizzas and local red wine and sleep, tired from our long walks today.