Today we got up early and ate breakfast at Mormoraia's little cafe. An anemically flat egg frittata, some pastries including chocolate cornetti (basically, a crunchy croissant), cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate) for Lucas, cappuccino for Mom and blood orange juice for Babbo. Not a terrible breakfast, but not worth the high extra charge they added onto our bill.
Our original plan for this day was to go early to Fiesole, a beautiful hilltop village that overlooks Florence. As we got off the autostrada, we slowly got into the streets of Florence, noticing what an interesting, beautiful, but very crowded city it was. Driving along the streets on the south side of the Arno, we found ourselves at a very crowded and buzzing Piazzelle Michaelangelo, a broad piazza with parking and a replica of the David. I planned heading up there anyway, so we stopped for our first look at Firenze.
As I pull toward a parking spot, this shifty looking guy starts directing me toward the parking spot. I had read about guys like this in both Rome and Florence. They act as if they are an official parking attendant and shake you down for directing you into a space. Some will even ask for cash payment for parking. As I got out, sure enough he confronts me jingling some loose Euro coins in his hand, looking for a tip. I asked him where the ticket machine was (usually there is a kiosk to get your parking ticked for your dashboard.) He said the parking was free but still outstretched hand looking for a payout. I told him he was crazy (in Italian) and gave a stern look and he magically disappeared. Not too bad. Just use that old Manhattan street attitude with some Italian expressions and you can't go wrong!
Lucas was the one who first noticed the sign saying that parking was indeed free. So, the city gives tourists this one and only lot to enjoy a great view overlooking Florence and the low-lifes come out of the woodwork to scam us.
Anyway, we took our first pics of the broad view of the River Arno and the huge terracotta done on the Duomo... pretty breathtaking. The piazza is also home to many kitschy caravan vendors selling their useless nonsense to tourists. We bought a cook's apron with the genitalia of The David in correct anatomical position for a friend of ours. He'll love it.
We then drove up toward Fiesole after a ride through the absolutely insane Florentine traffic. People literally go through red lights and stop signs here... and slowly but steadily force their way into or through traffic. It's the responsibility of the OTHER driver NOT to hit them. It took me a while to get into the flow of this way of city driving. I've driven all my life in Manhattan and even in Paris, but I've never seen drivers this crazy!
When we got to the very narrow one lane curvy road heading up to Fiesole's heights, we were met head-on with car after car racing down around every bend! Parts were so narrow I was forced to back up until it was barely wide enough for the oncoming car to squeeze past us... literally with inches between us and the wall on one side and our cars on the other. Now I know why Italians are in the habit of parking or even driving with their mirrors pulled in! After one guy passing shouted something to me I realized their is some sort of odd pecking order on who has to back up and who gets to stand his ground. God! (Note the photo below... the arrows show who has the right of way). In hindsight, Tommy took us us the wrong road. It turned out there was a much wider road going up to Fiesole that would have been a lot easier on my blood pressure.
We made it up to Fiesole, but first had to park the car in a handicapped spot... I have my U.S. handicapped tag with me which is recognized by European countries by international treaty. Lisa was nervous about this working so (sigh) I reluctantly changed to another pay spot on the same block--a very tight squeeze, on a hill, with a stick shift!
After asking a poliziotto if my handicapped placard was OK, I went back to the hilly spot where I was wedged between two cars on a street so narrow the mirror had to be tucked in... and waited and waited for no cars on the street so I could handbrake and first gear out of the spot and immediately put it in reverse to get back into the handicapped spot that I was parked in originally! Thanks, Sweetie! (Is the sarcasm coming through?)
Applause and deserved respect from Lucas and Lisa on my stick-shifting prowess and we were finally off to see the Roman and Etruscan ruins below one side of town...
Roman baths, temples, alters and a huge amphitheater. Fiesole is alive with history: It was an Etruscan settlement in the 8th century BC; The Romans built over the Etruscan remains; The town once was a rival of Florence itself until being conquered by them; Leonardo da Vinci experimented with flight from its steep hillside; in the 14th century, wealthy Florentines built some of the best examples of Renaissance villas on its hillsides overlooking Florence. Their Etruscan museum was wonderful. We had a great experience time-traveling down there.
Afterwards we had lunch in a ten seat little trattoria...Vinandro. Wild Boar Stew stew for me (amazing!), Pumpkin Soup for Lisa and a classic Saffron Risotto for Lucas. He got in a little trouble by saying it was better than Dad's risotto. This was the best meal so far in Italy. (A Later Note: Looking back at the end of our Voyage, this lunch at Vinandro turned out to be the BEST meal in all of Italy, in my opinion).
Then we trekked up a very steep hill that challenges my poor knees to see the belvedere overlooking Florence. We were all so breathless and hot from the effort that the view was anti-climatic. The villas and gardens up in this section were obviously for the wealthiest citizens of town. Amazing. Residents of Fiesole are pretty well-off, I must say.
A big change to our plans after a family meeting: Believe it or not, we decided not to go into Florence afterwards. Here's the reasons... We heard from a family at lunch that Florence was "shoulder to shoulder" thick with tourists; the lines for seeing Michelangelo's David were one to two hours long (we weren't able to book tickets ahead--I tried); parking on the outskirts and then taking a bus to the historic center was going to be a real hassle (and the word was out about pickpockets); we didn't want to torture Lucas (or my knees) with long lines, heat (it's been pretty hot here) and hours stuck in stuffy museums.
Besides, we've been having a great time off the tourist path in the smaller hilltowns. OK, so I don't fulfill a life long dream of seeing "The" David, but my sweet boy will be happier and having more fun today if we don't drag him around in that Florentine tourist soup.
Besides, I've studied the David statue and many other great works of life in detail during my life. I've already seen the Pieta in person... and the Mona Lisa... and Monet's lilies, and Winged Victory... and the Birth of Venus... and The Thinker... and so many other thousands of the Masters' works. It's like this: I don't need to actually meet Paul Simon or James Taylor (wait, bad example... we did meet James) to appreciate their music. Art can be appreciated from afar in thousands of photographs. (Check out the David HERE). I'm not really into putting our little family in great discomfort for the sake of a hard and fast "must-see" list for Italy. I'm trying to be flexible so we come out of this Grand Voyage happy, fulfilled and without regrets...
What's next, I wonder?