Wednesday 20 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Twenty-Three - Florence and Travelling to Venice

Wednesday was another early morning and jam packed day as we had to check out of the hotel, store our bags and then meet the group for our tour. Since I really wanted to do the Best of Tuscany tour from the day before, I had to cram in sightseeing in Florence. Dad and I had both already seen many of the main Florence sights (and I even remembered some of them!) but Brian hadn't. We only had the morning and early afternoon in the city before having to catch the train to Venice so I found a tour that was another "Best of" and appeared to work well with our schedule. The tour I found combined two individual Florence tours - a morning walking tour of Florence, the Duomo and the Accademia Gallery with the Uffizi Gallery in the afternoon.

I was feeling really sick that morning and would have skipped the tour if we were staying at the same hotel that night. But because we weren't I didn't have much choice. We took a taxi to the square where we were meeting our group and there were many people waiting. The organizers split us up into various groups and handed out audio guides - which I couldn't use. The guide had ear bud headphones and my ear infection was still painful on its own, so when I tried putting the buds in it was agonizing. All I could do was hold the ear bud up to my ear which was annoying. However it didn't matter much as the tour guide was terrible and I couldn't stand listening to her anyway. No word of a lie, every five-ten words she spoke was followed by a "mmmm". Plus, she didn’t just give facts but also offered a lot of far fetched personal theories which seemed silly. It got so annoying I just gave up and took in the sights without any audio commentary. She was also very unapproachable and somewhat rude which helped in the overall experience being negative. 

Honestly this was by far the worse tour of the trip and a company I wouldn't use again. It was a walking tour but the group was too large and she was leading us through crowded areas at a fast pace making it easy to get lost. It would have made more sense if she had handed out maps with our route and gone over everything in case anyone got separated, or went a lot slower to ensure everyone was with her.  

The guide started the tour by leading us to the Academia Gallery where we were one of the first groups inside. Even at the early hour it was packed. Our tour guide led us to specific pieces around the gallery but I wandered around myself looking at the various artwork and sculptures. There was one room – The Museum of Musical Instruments - which was really cool. It had a display the “Grand Ducal” collection of 50 musical instruments which belonged to the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory. These instruments were used in everyday life and celebrations in the Medicean Court.  In the wing there were harpsichords, string and wind instruments like guitars, pianos, and violins.

One of the coolest things was an early piano created by Bartolomeo Cristofori. It was in wood and was interesting to see. They also had multimedia displays that allowed us to hear the sounds of the first piano which was really interesting.

The most famous piece in here was a one-of-a-kind tenor viola made by Antonio Stradivari in 1690. It was built of red spruce and maple and had the Medici crest adorned with beautiful inlays. It was built for the Grand Prince Ferdinand and the museum has it preserved in its original condition. Brian spent a lot of time in here and took a zillion photos. I took a few and probably would have taken more if I felt better.

We spent a big chunk of time in the room where Michelangelo’s David was. It is said to be one of the greatest masterpieces of all time and is the one of the most famous statues in the world. The David was created between 1501 and 1504 and is a 14ft marble statue of the biblical hero David.  It was commissioned for the Cathedral of Florence and Michelangelo was only 26 at the time but was already the most famous and highest paid artist of the time.

We had a bit of time afterward which was beneficial as the line up for the women’s washroom was crazy! After our free time was over we met outside the gallery and begin our walk of the city. We had spent an hour in the gallery so we had about 2.5 hours for the walking tour.  We walked through the small streets and to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore otherwise known as the Duomo. We walked around the inside of the Cathedral which was built between 1296-1436. There are a total of three buildings – the Cathedral, the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile but we only got to see inside the main cathedral.

After we finished at the Duomo we went back in to the streets of Florence which were crowded. It was hard to stay together as a group and Brian and I almost got separated a few times. There were tons of groups and tourists stopped all over the place and because I am short, it was hard to see our group. Our tour took us through the San Lorenzo leather market and past Porcellino which is a piglet statue. You are supposed to rub its nose for good luck but we were rushed and didn’t have time which was unfortunate.  We visited a few main town squares including Piazza della Signoria and Piazza San Marco. We spent a bit of time outside the Uffizi Gallery which had a bunch of life-size sculptures including a replica of the David. This area was also crowded so I couldn’t wander around without losing the group. That was a shame as there were a lot of sculptures I would have loved to look at.

From there we walked to the Ponte Vecchio and walked across it. The crowds were insane, much different from what it was like the night we arrived in Florence. We decided to leave the tour at this point and took a few more photos in the daylight. We had to take extra care to stick together here and it was so busy I didn’t bother looking in any of the shops – plus they seemed insanely overpriced. We walked up a bit further along the side street near the bridge and grabbed a taxi to the outdoor market. Dad had bought a tapestry here a few years back and hoped to find something else. It started to rain so we ducked into a restaurant and had lunch of pizza and pasta. Dad tried the wild boar pasta which is a local specialty and I actually did try it… it was okay, but not a meat I would ever order.

We walked around the market looking at the various leather goods which were mostly shoes and purses. Dad found a few tapestries but there wasn’t anything we wanted. There was also a local indoor market which we went into but it was mostly produce and meats – nothing worth us buying as we were leaving that day. We did find a hot oil I had been looking for so that was great. Dad did found his liquor he wanted but the price was double what it had been it the smaller towns the day before so he didn’t bother getting a second bottle, instead he got Adam to get it when he was in Rome a few weeks later.

We were supposed to go on the second part of the tour which was of the Uffizi Gallery but we had decided to skip it. We weren’t impressed with the morning tour and didn’t want to spend the afternoon wandering around the gallery with the same tour company. Our train was scheduled for 6:30 and it was just before 2:00 at this time. Since we were close to the train station we walked there to see if we could get an earlier train. We had to wait in a long line and pay a fee, but we were able to switch it to the 3:30 train. While I got the tickets, Dad and Brian went back to the hotel to get our luggage. Brian inquired about my sweater which they were able to find – however they now wanted a fee to cover the “express” service. Brian argued with them and they finally relented. Seriously? They lose my sweater and then try and charge me for express cleaning? That’s insane.

We had no problem getting on the train – well, just maybe a little bit of trouble trying to get all four suitcases and six carry on bags on and stored, but we managed. We weren’t able to sit together but we were close enough. The train was quick, just under 2 hours and only made a few stops. We arrived in Venice before we had even been scheduled to depart so that was great. 

Venice was even more beautiful then I remembered with the beautiful canals and waterways all over the city. Luckily our hotel was near the train station so we only had two bridges to walk over. One of them was large with many stairs, so Dad hired a porter to help with the bags. The porter had a cart which was able to get the bags over the stairs with ease so that was helpful. There was no way I could have got my suitcase up them, and saw many people struggling to do so.

The hotel was beautiful – rich colors, luxurious bed and sheets and just gorgeous. It made for a great place to spend our last two nights in Italy. We took an hour to rest and get settled before heading out. I still wasn’t feeling well and hoped for a quick walk, but we ended up walking about an hour to get to the main square – Piazza San Marco because Dad wanted to see it. I will admit I was a bit grumpy at this point. We walked across the main bridges and through many narrow streets and in and out of small shops. We spent a few minutes seeing the square before finding a restaurant on one of the side roads. Venice tends to add service charges/tips into the bill automatically so the service is often horrible. Dad has found that a number of times and this was no different.  The restaurant we went to was terrible. The food was horrible and over priced and the service was the worst I had ever encountered. We made a note to never again eat in a restaurant with the automatic gratuity and made sure to write honest reviews on TripAdvisor to warn others away.

We got back to the hotel just as a massive thunderstorm was starting and made plans for a late start the next day. After 3.5 weeks, we finally had a morning that we had nothing planned and could spend sleeping in which I looked forward to!

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