Okay, now the fun begins. Though we had just completed cycling across central Europe, little did we know how many new adventures awaited us in Italy. After searching intensely the last 2 weeks of August for our permanent residence, we finally moved into our new abode on September 1 (between Santa Croce and Palazzo Signoria), right in the heart of the city.
From our central location, we have access to everything that Florence and the surrounding cities can offer. Here are my Top 5 memories for the month of September 2009:
5. Touring the Bargello. This small museum is just around the corner from our apartment and a delightful gem in the city center. One of the things that our family enjoyed the most about this museum was the scale and scope of its displays. The Bargello offers a great mix of fantastic sculpture (Donatello and Michelangelo), ceramics (Della Robbia) and other ancient wares, which could be digested in about 2-3 hours.
4. Day trip to Fiesole. An ancient Etruscan hill town just above Florence, Fiesole is the perfect day trip (accessible by city bus from Piazza San Marco in Florence). We had a splendid time walking through its ancient Roman ruins (including a well preserved amphitheater and baths), traversing across stunning hilltop streets, and exploring its churches and monasteries. Fiesole offers respite from the Florence hustle (dodging tourists and scooters), and splendid vistas to soak up the sunshine and appreciate the magnificent Tuscan colors.
3. Touring the Uffizi Museum. Like the other great museums of Europe, the Uffizi is overwhelming – it holds too many fantastic treasures to appreciate in a single trip (particularly with adolescent boys). However, we set the right expectations for our family when we casually toured this museum in September, concentrating our focus on the evolution of art from medieval (10–12 c) to the early renaissance (13-14 c). Because we have been fortunate to tour many of Europe’s finest museums this past summer (Rijks, Van Gogh, Louvre, Orsay, and British), we were able to readily appreciate the development of art in this period: moving from flat, idealized pictures (2d) to those with depth (3d perspective), the movement of bodies and turning of torsos, and most importantly, art that evoked emotions (rather than idealized portraitures). The Uffizi also boasts a fantastic roof-top café that offers the most splendid views of Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Signoria; albeit expensive, a couple of glasses of wine, sodas for our kids and a cheese plate was a perfect break mid-way through our tour. Don’t miss it!
2. First Day of School at Sacro Cuore. Our boys’ first day of school at Sacro Cuore is one of the most vivid memories from this fall. Not only does it represent our efforts to put down ‘roots’ in a Florentine community, but it is also the culmination of our dream to move abroad as a family. This beautiful school set in an olive grove on a hillside of Florence and run by 17 nuns, promises to offer our kids a unique cultural experience in Europe. Ultimately, we hope that Sacro Cuore will offer a different middle school experience to our boys (than what is prototypical in the US) – so far so good. At a minimum, we know their daily routine of cycling along the Arno, soaking up the Florentine cityscape and immersing themselves completely in the Italian education will open their minds.
1. Weekend Trip to Siena. By far one of the best memories in September was our weekend trip to Florence’s rival in Tuscany – Siena. The city has invested heavily over the centuries in its public spaces, infrastructure and churches. Siena is a classic Italian hill town, perched above the neighboring valleys, with fortified walls and gates, and picturesque streets that traverse across the ridges. The city is spotless, boasting well-maintained building, streets and no graffiti (unlike Florence). The pride of Siena’s neighborhoods culminate in the annual Palio race around the Campo, but is also evidenced year-round in the quarterieres by their respective artwork, flags, colors and street lamps. The Duomo is also quite impressive, both architecturally (a fine example of Arab-Norman influence) and artistically (amazing floorscapes throughout). The hotel where we stayed was also fabulous, Palazzo Mignanelli: located right in the center of Siena, just one block from the Campo with fabulous views of the campanile. We will definitely return for a longer stay.
In addition to the above memories in September, there were several runner-ups: settling into our Florentine Apartment, touring the Borghese gardens, routine soccer practices at Campo di Marte, touring Palazzo Vecchio, and the open tours of private Florence gardens (we walked all over the city).
One other collection of memories that stands out for me (personally) is the number of lines and bureaucratic agencies in Florence that I have stood in for countless hours. Since we are “Elective Residents” of Florence (versus short-term tourists), there is a mountain of paperwork to complete. We are still ‘in process’ so I will spare you the details. Once we are official, then I will detail my travails separately with Italian bureaucracy – believe me it is appalling.
Guess we have to take the good with the bad (yin-yang).