Sunday, January 12, 2014

Florence - In Love All Over Again!

When I first traveled through Europe, Boy Scout backpack and my thumb for transport, I fell in love with several cities, Edinburgh and Florence being at the top of my list.

Edinburgh has continued consistently as one of my favorite places on Earth, but the last time I was in Florence it seemed filthy, crowded, the traffic incredibly dangerous and just not a good place to be.

As with so many places with Karen, the Etch-A-Sketch has worked its magic and Florence is as delightful and special as I first remembered it.

First, the streets and sidewalks are incredibly clean.  I mean, very, very clean.  At one point, waiting in the Piazza della Signoria, next to the Palazzo Vecchio, for the Epiphany parade to begin, we were actually irritated that the street cleaner was running around near our table.  However, remembering what the streets looked like more than a decade before, I was quiet, appreciating the Florentine's attention to cleanliness.

We have stayed in a gorgeous hotel right on the River Arno and less than a block from the Ponte Vecchio, the Hotel Lungarno.  It is owned by the Salvatore Ferragamo family (yep, the shoe people).  

It is one of those hotels that you go "aaaahhhhh" as soon as you walk in the lobby, leaving your luggage on the street for someone else to attend to.

Our room has a terrace overlooking the Arno and is itself quite large and comfortable.  We have enjoyed several simple meals (club sandwiches with an incredible wine) just sitting on our private patio.

The Ponte Vecchio, a bridge stuffed with stores (jewelry, leather and curios topping the list) is still there and on at least a couple of the afternoons has been exactly as packed and crowded as I remembered it.  However, since we are staying RIGHT NEXT TO THE BRIDGE, when we return in the evening or head out in the early morning, we almost have the bridge to ourselves.

Since we have been in Venice in San Marco square, through Pisa and now in Florence, the walking freelance vendor trinkets of the year have been these hand-shot whirly-gig toys that light up and are shot into the air about 40 to 50 feet and some sort of multiple stringy-LED lit flashlighty thing.   That and, of course, the rose guys who walk around pretending to give ladies a rose and then turning to the guy with their hands' out for money.  I have been mostly polite, staying to "No, grazie."  Karen is much better now-a-days avoiding eye contact.  Being a very polite, smiling person from the Northwest, she was basically a walking target the first time we traveled in Europe.

We came to Florence specifically to watch the Epiphany parade.  The Epiphany is Twelfth Night, or January 6 and is celebrated as the day the three Wise Men (as I recall,  Melchior, Caspar and Bob) arrived to see Jesus.  The parade was first done around 1416 at the direction of the Medici family.  It has continued (with some interruptions and lapses) for 600 years.  The participants dress up in Renaissance costumes and march or ride on horseback through historical Florence, starting at the Pitti Palace, going over the Ponte Vecchio and through the Piazza della Signoria and ending up at the Duomo (though they also marched back later and we caught them from our terrace at the hotel).  For the parade itself, we got a front-row seat on a raised platform in a restaurant right in the Palazzo Vecchio.  We had great wine, pasta and enjoyed the spectacle.  In addition to the Italian participants, there were participants from other countries, like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Albania, Cameroon and the Congo.   I know, I don't see a connection between these countries either.  We were kind of hoping that Seaside or Portland would field a team to come over.

There were lots of drums, trumpets and throwing flags into the air and catching them (which was pretty impressive).

We love Florence!!!!!!!!!

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