Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 6: Florence: Museums, Decaying Fingers, and Martin (as in Steve...)

This sums up our fun night in Florence the night before. 
On the sixth day of this adventure, we woke very early in an effort to get the Uffizi at a decent time.  For those of you who may not know (I didn't before this year), the Uffizi is one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world that houses several classical pieces of artwork including several pieces and/or rooms by Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Giotto, Raphael, Caravaggio, and many more.  You actually have to make reservations to go to the Uffizi, and you still have to wait in line- usually for hours.  Luckily, we were equipped with our Firenze cards so there was no waiting for us!  We quickly jumped to the head of the line and straight to security!  For more info about the Firenze card, see my last post here

However, Sam did not realize we had to go through security and that certain items are banned, so unfortunately he had to throw away our souvenir from Venice- our handy multi-tool.  Oh well. We immediately hooked up our iphones and started to rock the Rick Steve's tour of the Uffizi Museum.  This was pretty handy- as it explained several of the paintings, history of pieces of artwork, and interesting facts, helping us navigate through the top floor somewhat successfully.  I have to be honest, however, the Uffizi was just not our thing.  I think I wanted it to be my thing.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate wonderful artwork and respect it in so many ways, but I just wasn't that interested in the artwork here. After awhile all of the Madonna with Child's and portraits of Venus look the same.  As I suspected, I am much more of an architecture girl than an art-fiend.  Nevertheless, we are glad we went, but were ready to move on after 2 hours of paintings. 

We then decided to hit the Museo Galileo- a small museum to dedicated only to Galileo.  And no lines!  In fact the museum is just around the corner from the Uffizi and is lesser-known.  It is also much smaller and the admission was also included in our Firenze card.This was much more up our alley.  This museum is dedicated to the science and astronomy of Galileo Galilei, originally from neighboring Pisa. He was eventually imprisoned here in Florence just across the Arno River from the museum now erected in his name, held on charges of heresy for defending heliocentrism.  

We found this museum filled with Galileo's inventions, tools, and instruments to be pretty interesting.  It probably only took us about an hour or so to wander through it.  We even saw Galileo's fingers and teeth!  This was fascinating to me!  What can I say- I like dead people. :)  Apparently, the as the story goes, some of his teeth and decaying fingers were removed by admirers when his body was moved to Santa Croce Basilica in Florence in 1737.  After they were missing for centuries, they turned up at an auction in 2010 and here they now sit in a slender glass case. Read more about the story here. 

Galileo's finger! 
We were getting ready to the leave the museum and were wandering through the gift shop, when Sam and I noticed a familiar face..Steve Martin!  He returned glances, and he knew immediately he had been recognized.  I have never seen anyone famous before so this was a first!  And of all people, thank goodness it was Steve Martin and not Jessica Simpson or someone ridiculous!  I couldn't get the guts up to say anything to him, but I made Sam sneak a picture as I pretended to look at my map in the lobby. He seemed either very bored or or a little grumpy.  I got the impression that his wife was dragging him around Florence, but I found out later that he is an avid art collector.  In retrospect, I thought that I should have brought up his bluegrass music with him, as I am sure not many people do. Oh well.  It was cool anyway and the highlight of our day in Florence!  Is that sad?   Here is a pic.  (Please excuse the sweaty lady in the front!) 
Steve Martin! 
After our celebrity run-in, we thought we would venture over the Ponte Vecchio and to the other side of Florence to see if we could find the house where Galileo lived out the rest of his life, imprisoned.  After much walking in the heat, we never found it.  However, we just continued to walk to the Piazza Michelangelo. This is simply an elevated portion of the city- up many, many, many stairs and uphill climbs- where you can look out and see spectacular views of Florence.  Check it out! 
Views of the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. 
Florence and the Duomo
Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

More of beautiful Florence
We then trudged back down the hill, by this time late afternoon and pretty hungry.  We were looking for a place along the way, but then somehow passed the area, and we figured we would run into something before we made it back to our hotel.  Eventually, out of desperation, we found a place fairly close to the Hotel Hermitage that looked basic and would fit the bill.  Little did we know that we were about to get the worst meal of our entire vacation.  Bad choice.  We went to the Sun Cafe Firenze.  See the full review here.  We sat down and had two disgustingly expensive cokes, an ice cold piece of pizza and a soggy egg sandwich with horrible service for a whopping 
A horrible lunch.  Really. It was worse than it looks. 
After a couple hours of resting in the nice, cool hotel room, we left to truly explore the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore!  We left around 5pm and walked to the Duomo in less than twenty minutes or so.  The beautiful dome was artfully engineered by Fillipo Brunelleschi.  By the way there are separate charges for the cathedral itself, the Baptistery (with its famous bronze doors designed by Ghiberti), and Giotto's Campanile. We decided to climb to the top of the dome, which closes at 7:00 pm (19:00).  We immediately got in line to tour the Duomo for €8 each.  This is not covered by the Firenze pass. Better yet- there was no line!  Perfecto! The dome was modelled after the Pantheon in Rome and was a first in engineering at the time.  The "dome within a dome" is still the tallest building in all of Florence and served as the model for Michelangelo's St. Peter's.  Read more about this remarkable feat and the construction of Il Duomo here. We climbed the 463 small spiral steps to the top.  It was a little spooky, but very rewarding! I think this was by far our most favorite sight in Florence.
Amazing sculptures half way up to the top of the Duomo
The inside of the Duomo - The Last Judgement by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari 
Another view of the Duomo and the cathedral 
The Baptistery
After our visit to the Duomo, we hopped over a street or two and hit Ristorante Self-Service Leonardo.  After our previous dining debacle earlier in the day, we made sure to research where we were eating dinner so we would leave satisfied and like we got our money's worth. This place was it.  We found this recommended in our Rick Steve's book, and to be honest -  it is nothing fancy! However, there was a line out the door (mostly Americans), waiting for them to open at 7:00 (19:00).  This is when many restaurants open for the evening meal.  It is straight-forward, no frills, but lots of good food for your money. It is actually a cafeteria-style restaurant (with air conditioning!).  It is definitely not known for its ambiance, but its variety of comfort food, generous portions, lovely service, and affordable price.  This place was perfect for what we wanted that night- good food at a cheap price.  They offered everything from various pastas, meats, sides, several types of salads, desserts, and FREE ICE WATER!  Yes, I said free water- with ice in it.  This is almost unheard of in Italy, and they kept the pitchers coming.  It. was. awesome.  It's the little things, right?  Please read the full review here- it would be a perfect place to go with kids. The total bill for all of what you see below (and it was a lot of food) was €22. Here is a picture of our meals that night:
The Chow at Leonardo's Self-Service Restaurant

Then we walked and got gelato at Gelateria de Neri.  This place was phenomenal! They had tons of flavors to choose from- more than three times anywhere else we had been!  I got cookies and cream- which is different than its American cousin- it had chocolate-covered graham crackers in it, but it was good.  Sam got a cone that had a scoop of pistachio and a scoop of amaretto. Excellent!  Read the review here. 
Sam's gelato.

Later we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the rooftop of our hotel while we talked with people from all over the world- mostly to a couple of gals visiting from Long Island. ...And then we went to bed.  


  1. We loved Neri as well, and the Grom just two blocks from the Duomo

  2. We somehow missed Grom in Florence, but we definitely hit it in Rome. SO good!

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