Six years ago, Mijo suggested we spend my birthday in Rome. We enjoyed it so much that we promised we'll do it again when we get a chance. For my birthday this year, we thought of going to Florence. And what a birthday trip it was! Just like Rome, Florence or Firenze in Italian, is dotted with churches, arts, plazas, cafes and antiquities. I couldn't even tell you my Top 3 favorites because I have so many and I don't even know where to begin.
Here are my favorites.
David. This is the famous David by Michaelangelo Buonarotti. I heard about the long lines at the Galleria dell'Accademia during the peak tourist seasons of summer and fall. I didn't want to take any chances so I pre-bought our tickets without Mijo's knowledge. This decision proved to be a good one because the line to the Accademia was pretty long on the day we went to see the David sculpture. Just like my sister's comment in my Facebook page, David is huge with pun intended. I was in awe and had to stop and stare for several minutes to try to absorb everything around me. Imagine, this guy from the small town of Novaliches, was finally face-to-face with this masterpiece? David was truly a work of art and Michaelangelo was truly a genius! The effect to me was like seeing Da Vinci's Monalisa or Picasso's Guernica in person. I can't help but notice every detail - from his facial expression, to his torso; from his manhood, to his stance. Even his veins and fingers and toe nails were lifelike. On his back, I saw what could have been a sling. We didn't get an audio guide so I guess I'll never know if that thing on his back is a sling or an error. The city is dotted with copies of this David's statue. The photo on the left can be found in front of the Palazzo Vecchio which is the original location of statue before it was moved to the Accademia. I saw another one, a copper one, around the Piazalle di Michaelangelo across from the Arno River. I believe it is the same size as the ones at the Accademia and Palazzo Vecchio. I was told there is another David sculpture at the Bargello Museum. By the way, taking pictures is strictly prohibited inside the Accademia.
Birth of Venus. I am pretty sure you have seen this painting before. It is called La Nascita di Venere or The Birth of Venus by Sandro Boticelli. It is housed at the Galleria degli Uffizi with other famous paintings like the La Primavera also by Boticelli and the Annunciation by Michaelangelo. I guess I wasn't listening enough during my Humanities class at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) because I vaguely remember what the Renaissance was all about. From what I was able to see, it is all about the celebration of the human body. Nudity abounds in the sculptures and paintings. I am not complaining, of course!
Duomo. The Duomo or Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the city's centro historico. The cathedral's dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi and I was told that it is one of the big three in Italy which includes the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Coloseo in Rome. Neo-Gothic style of the marble facade was designed by Emilio de Fabris. Follow the long line to the front doors to get inside the church. There is no charge to go inside the church. I noticed that the interior is not as lavish as the other churches I've seen in Europe. We were told that this almost bare interior reflects the austere spiritual ideals of the medieval and the early-Renaissance. There is a charge, however, to go to the crypt downstairs by the church store. I also suggest walking around outside the cathedral or getting directly under the dome to get a better idea how massive this church really is. There is a campanille on its south side. There is a separate door and a fee that leads you to the top of the dome for a breathtaking landscape view of the city. Going up requires you to trudge 400+ steps and several interconnecting stairs leading to the viewing area. Even late at night, the facade of the church is well lit so you can still admire and take pictures even as late as midnight!
Palazzo Vecchio. This massive fortress is the town hall of Florence and parts of it is a museum. It used to be the home of the influencial families of Florence, which includes the Medici family. I have never heard of the Medici family until I came to Florence. You can think of the Medicis as the Kennedies of the States or the Marcoses of the Philippines. The Medici's legacy lives on today in the form of Renaissance arts and public buildings. The family also produced four Popes and countless political figures. This particular hall on the second floor was once the room of Leo X who was the first Pope from the Medici family. Inside the Palazzo are countless sculptures which border on the erotic side and huge detailed frescoes and panels. I think this is the part where I overdosed on Renaissance arts plus my back was killing me. At night, this palace is well lit on the outside it gleams from afar. You cannot miss it. The piazza where it is located, the Piazza della Signoria, is dotted with other museums including the Uffizi, the Gucci Museo, historic cafes and centuries old ristorantes.
Wine Tasting in Chianti. Chianti is one of the more popular Italian wines and more commercially available in Northern California. Chianti is also a wine region in Tuscany and it is divided into eight regions which includes Chianti Classico and Chianti Rufina. We had originally planned to wine taste in the Chianti Rufina area since this is the closest Chianti sub-zone from Florence. Plus I am not familiar at all with Rufina wines since most of the Chianti wines I've had were all Chianti Classico. So we went wine tasting in an old castle called Castello Trebbio. Still family owned, Castello del Trebbio produces good Chianti Rufina Reserva and good extra virgin olive oils. The barrels of Chianti wines are aged in the family castle's underground cellars. The view of the Tuscan landscape from the castle is absolutely beautiful! During the wine tasting, I truly enjoyed their Chianti Rufina Lastricato Riserva 2007 for its subtle floral and fruity qualities. They also provide a light snack with includes sliced breads with their own extra virgin olive oil. We also tasted their Chianti wine called Annatto and a sweet wine called Vin Santo. At first I didn't like the sweet Vin Santo del Chianti because it reminded of ice wines we sampled during our trip to the wineries outside Toronto. We were told that we will enjoy the taste of this wine after dunking a biscotti cookie and eating it. In the end, I bought two bottles of their Rufina Lasticato Riserva to bring back to the States. This day trip was also a good way to see the Tuscany region outside of Florence. This is probably one of the most beautiful places I've been to.
Pisa. I remember watching a cartoon when I was a little boy where this superhero was trying to keep the tower from falling. I thought it was weird that this tower is leaning. Upclose, this white marble campanille is majestic. From the way it leans, it looks like it is going to break from its mid section. Living in the Bay Area, I am always reminded of shifting earth's crust. I am just thankful that is not true that side of the world that these antiquities are available to be seen by the new generation. It was raining on our way to Pisa and the skies looked like the rain will last for days. As you can see in my pictures, the story ended well because it turned out the rain is a fast moving one it let up quickly. Thank God! This was another one of those Novaliches-guy-stop-and-stare moment. I was in awe at the same time thankful for the chance to see this piece of awesome wonder.
Gucci Museo. This is what I call a designer museum. Gucci, afterall, is a designer brand. Located around the Piazza della Signora, I chanced upon this museum while walking around the piazza from the Palazzo Vecchio. Earlier that day, I had originally planned to go to the Ferragamo Museo to see the shoe mold of Sofia Loren, Marlena Dietrich and other Hollywood stars who had gone to Ferragamo for their custom made shoes. Unfortunately, the store was closed. That is why I was so delighted when I found out about Gucci Museo. The museum has three floors and divided into different sections showcasing their products like shoes, bags, gowns and accessories from the brand's inception through the present day. I was totally fascinated reading about the founder, Guccio Gucci's humble beginnings as a lift boy in London and how he has an eye for elegance. I absolutely enjoyed the section for Travel which showcases impeccably crafted high quality travelwares plus a Seville car outfitted with a Gucci inscribed roof. The other sections that I enjoyed are the Lifestyle and the section for Sports. I bought myself and my sister a red cloth tote bag anda leather bookmark with the Gucci Museo print. Remember, this is the only place they sell these things so they make for a great souvenir!
Piazzas, Cafes and Shopping. Florence is dotted with beautiful piazzas and engaging cafes. This is another part of the trip that I enjoyed very much. My favorite is the Piazza Della Repubblica which is only a block away from our hotel. This piazza is busy with office workers and tourists rubbing elbows during the day and musicians and diners at night. Cafes and ristorantes abound in this Piazza. Among the cafes and ristorantes, one of my favorites is the Gilli Cafe which serves both hot and cold drinks and sweet and savory dishes. I tried their pasta served with fresh tomato sauce and wild boar. It was the freshest and tastiest pasta ever! I also tried their sweet confections on separate occasions and loved them especially their Pistacchio mini cakes that tasted like a rich french macaron. I also liked their chocolate covered cherries with liquor, their handmade hazelnut chocolates which I brought for my officemates, their handmade truffles and their signature hot chocolate with whipped cream. I also enjoyed the nearby cafes like the Cafe Paskowski and Pescerosso and also Cafe Rivoire which is famous for their handmade dark chocolates. We also had a pasta and pizza lunch one time at a small winebar near Piazza de Santa Maria Novella called La Cantinetta. Molto bene! I made a mental note that I should rediscover the Italian cafes in San Francisco's Little Italy after this trip. For shopping, Gucci, Ferragamo and Cavalli all have their headquarters in Florence. Leather goods and shoes are very well made. A local chain called Oviese or OVS is like GAP or Uniqlo with an Italian twist. For food stuff we brought back home like truffle oil, another bottle of Chianti and lots of biscottis, we went to Borgo Sapori di Toscana on Via Borgo San Lorenzo. The owner is super helpful and totally friendly.