My birthday was June 9th: for the second year in a row, I spent it away from home with friends instead of family. Last year, Colleen and Jackie baked me a cake in our tarantula-infected home stay, followed by a day of gelato and museums in San Jose and a dancing dinner on the edge of a mountain. While it was not quite as crazy as last year (we all were sick 😦 ), my birthday weekend was just as special an experience.
Along with Colleen (to recap, my room mate from AU and DC who is also my room mate in Rome) and Kathy (friend from AU, another Rome program), I headed north to Firenze. Also known as Florence, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site for the history in every step of its streets and the museums that call it home. Unlike Rome’s overabundance of quite Roman ancient history, Firenze has a distinctly medieval and Renaissancy feel to it. I was glad to get away from the monotony I had started to feel in Rome’s museums because Firenze just was so different in terms of style.
It makes sense: Florence was the true birthplace of the Renaissance art movement, and was home to many of its most famous artists. Early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, we lined up at the Uffizi and the Academie to see some of the art. I was blown away at the progression of art over time, and the Uffizi was just magnificent. It was unreal to see things like the original Venus rising out of the ocean. At the Academie, I was simply expecting to see the David. It was a bonus to see all the other sculptures and busts that followed Michelangelo’s style over time.
The aesthetic of the Renaissance carried into the sculptures displayed throughout the streets and the building styles. The best view of the city was from looking at the city from Piazza Michelangelo, a wide open space across the river from main town that is up dozens of stairs. In a large square courtyard of the old home of the de Medici family sits a replica of the David. All around are views of Tuscany and the city itself, from the dozens of church spires, the Duomo and the famous bridges.
After a day and a half of museuming Florence and seeing the streets and markets and churches, we made the decision to splurge on the hour train ride to the biggest tourist trap in Europe: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is really nothing going on in Pisa other than the Leaning Tower, and the building it was built to complement: the Duomo and its Baptistry. To make it worth it, we took literally hundreds of the most ridiculous pictures, but we also really just hung out and ate gelato on the greens. Colleen brought it up first, but the tower really is an extreme fail on the otherwise outstanding history of Roman engineering and building. It took nearly two hundred years to be built, and started leaning when less than half was done – and they just kept building. For context, the Egyptians may have had slave labor, but nearly a thousand years earlier they built the Pyramids perfectly from the sand up – no leaning necessary.
Anyway, the brightest point in Pisa was the stunning church right in front of the tower. In my opinion, it was much more beautiful than the Duomo in Florence which was all we had heard about before coming. The mosaics inside were more complex and detailed, and there were far fewer people running around inside. I’ve been to a lot of churches since I arrived in Italy, and Pisa remains in my top five for sure.
Knocked off the Uffizi, Pisa and Florence from my list in just three crazy full days. My last weekend in Italy is going to be staying in Rome, making sure I haven’t missed any places I wanted to go, from the local beach to Galleria Borghese and other wide open park spaces in the city like Villa Doria. Its been a whirlwind month, and its hard to believe that just next Wednesday I’ll be stepping into London to begin my ‘transition’ home via an english speaking country!