Old gate to Florence, right next to our hotel.
We've been home from our tour with the UW Whitewater Alumni Association for a week, and both my energy and my ankles are back to normal. I thought I'd share some of the highlights with people who read this blog, along with some of my reactions to traveling with a group.
In general, Dick and I are not people who take tours. We've traveled to the UK a dozen times, designed our own itineraries, rented cars, found our way around. Of course language is no problem in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. So now that we are branching out into countries whose language we do not speak (apart from please, thank you, excuse me, and check please), we've let others do the planning and hire the guides. Pilgrim Tours is the operator Whitewater uses for their alumni trips, and they do a good job. Once people take these trips, they often return. We knew several people from last year's trip to Peru on this tour, and that was nice. Our only concern was that this group was twice as large as the group who went to Peru, sixty people.
On March first we joined the group at the university and took a bus to Chicago to board our Alitalia flight to Rome. It all went smoothly, no delays, no screaming babies, decent food. Of course we were packed like anchovies in a can, but that is air travel in the economy class. After nine hours of flying we landed in Rome, where the sun was shining and the weather was balmy. We transferred for our flight to Florence, then hit the first snag. The captain apologized in his Italian accent, but our plan had damage to the fuselage, and we were being taken back to the terminal until another plane could be brought for us. In short, we arrived in Florence a couple hours later than we anticipated, which wouldn't have mattered, except by this time we had been awake almost 24 hours. It was past bed time.
View from our hotel window
Somehow it was Tuesday, the day we were supposed to rest up, and have our welcome to Florence dinner. We booked into our hotel near the old Roman wall, a former convent named Convitto della Calza. Our tiny room was on the top floor, overlooking the old stone fortification. The hotel looks like the convent it once was, with pillared arcades, religious statues in the center courtyard, and a restaurant with a replica of The Last Supper, full-sized, on the wall. We didn't have long to think about crashing though, because before we left Janesville we made reservations to see the Uffizi Gallery. This treasure was not part of our package, and we were not sure we would see it if we didn't go right away.
Cherry blossoms near the entrance to the Boboli Gardens
One excellent thing about our hotel was its proximity to many of the attractions of Florence. We had less than a mile to walk to the Pitti Palace, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, and the Uffizi. So, dizzy with fatigue, we headed out for our first views of the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Bronze boar in the Mercato Centrale. Rub his nose and drop a coin for good luck and a return trip.
The weather in Florence was overcast and cool, not so spring-like as the Rome airport had been. We had been checking the weather for weeks, and it was always about 20 degree warmer there, but it changed when we arrived. We found ourselves piling on multiple tee shirts, and donning our weather-proof jackets.
We had no problems finding the Uffizi, getting our reserved tickets and entering the beautiful former Medici palace. I was grateful that I had read about the paintings ahead of time, and delighted to see paintings and sculptures by Giotto, Botticelli, Durer, Michelangelo, Titian and Rembrandt. The huge Birth of Venus and Primavera in the Botticelli room were especially memorable, and I was surprised to see the figures were at least life-sized. My other reaction was that illustrations of these famous paintings I had studied in books were much brighter than the actual canvases. We were delighted to discover an outdoor patio where coffee is served, with a view of the famous duomo dome by Fillipo Brunelleschi. But lack of sleep was hurrying us along, and we returned to our cramped quarters to rest before our get-acquainted dinner.
View of the Ponte Veccho over the Arno River, from the Uffizi Gallery