To avoid an extremely long and much too summarized version of my spring break in Italy and Spain, Im getting ahead of the game and writing right now, in my hostel, before I rack up too many stories to retell in this space.
So right now Im in sunny Florence, Italy...actually its pouring rain. And freeeezing. I left France Thursday night with only one pair of jeans and some skirts, thinking that the slightly more Southern location of Italy and Spain would make it warmer than Aix..wrong. But despite the colder than expected weather, I have enjoyed my time in Florence.
My friend Bre and I boarded the overnight bus from Aix to Florence last thursday night at 10:30 PM and began our first real "backpacking Europe" trip. (When I say backpacking, I mean backpacking. Due to our two Ryanair flights, we each only brought a bookbag for our two week vacation, trying to avoid a baggage fee. It remains to be seen if this was a good idea.) The busride was long and I got about two hours of sleep total, and we arrived in Florence around 8:30 Am Friday morning. After dropping our luggage off at our hotel we stopped into a pastry shop to try out some Italian words "bonjourno" e "ciao" and eat some breakfast, then went on a free tour of the city with our hostel. Our guide showed us around the city famous for its Renaissance art, and pointed out the unavoidable presence of the famous Medici family and their contributions to the city. We walked by the Duomo, a giant cathedral with an elaborate facade of green, pink, and white marble, and stepped inside to see its less elaborate interior. Due to the Easter preparations, the alter area was closed off so we couldnt get a great view of the "Judgement Day" paintings on the dome, but I took a few pictures. Climbing to the top of Brunelleschi's myseteriously ginormous dome was also not allowed this weekend, so we climbed the 400 some steps to the top of Giotto's tower (next to the Duomo) to get a great view of the city.
Friday we wandered around the city some more, ate delicious gelato, and avoided the massive crowds of tourists. (I've been here three days and I still can't find a native of Florence. Apparently they flee the city on this most busiest of tourist weekends.)
Saturday morning we got up bright and early and caught the city waking up. We were free to stroll down the middle of the street uninterupted by cars, or more importantly, tourists, and got a whole new view of the Duomo and various statues littering the city. After being denied a student price (Florence doesn't have student prices for anything) we explored the famous Uffizi gallery and gazed at famous Renaissance works of Michaelangelo and Boticelli while thinking intellectual and deep thoughts. Rembering my days of feverishly memorizing Renaissance paintings in world history, I was glad to be able to know enough about "The Birth of Venus" and the various Madonnas to do more than just look at them.
Saturday was a slightly warm and sunny day, and had great weather for strolling across the Ponte Vecchio (packed with tourists gawking at gold merchants) and watch the greenish-brown Arno River slide by. We also entered numerous churches with fantastic artwork and tombs of people somehow related to the Medici's, but once we ran into churches that started charging for entry, we started looking for other forms of amusement. (I just can't make myself pay to go into a church. No matter how many tourists there are, it's still God's house.) In front of one of the churches that charged admittance, we found three Italian guys playing music in the square, and stood and watched them for a while. We found these same three guys later on in another square, too. They seem to be pretty popular with the tourists.
To break away from churches, we also walked through the giant food market and sampled some traditional Florence cuisine, a panino lampredotto. After paying only three euros for this tasty dish, we stood in line and watched as a weathered Italian man sliced and diced up steaming tripe and slapped it on panini bread. Paired with some curiously strong hot sauce, this sandwich of cow's stomach is surprisingly good.
After a beautiful day Saturday, I was disappointed to wake up this morning to a cold, grey day. But despite the weather, I put on a pretty dress for Easter and headed to church. Once we got to the church, we found a large section of the plaza around the Duomo sectioned off. Hearing drums in the distance, we wandered down the street and came upon a traditional Florentine sight. Men dressed in Renaissance costumes were running around in circles throwing flags up in the air and banging drums. It was awesome. They were much better than my high school color guard, and even the young ones never dropped their flags.
At this ceremony I met up with my friend Danielle, a friend from Michigan who is studying in Florence for the semester. Together we walked back to the Duomo and staked out a spot close to the barricade to await what we heard was going to be a parade. After about an hour of waiting, a procession of more people dressed in costume marched toward the cathedral, behind them a giant, three-story cart pulled by two huge white oxen. Then a procession of priests came out of the Baptistry building across from the Cathedral and entered the church, from which came flying a white dove, which lit a fireworks display on the cart. (The dove was actually mechanical and traveled along a wire). The spark set off a chain reaction of fireworks, bangs, and smoke which lasted for about ten minutes, covering the plaza in red, white and purple smoke (the colors of Florence.) For Easter morning, it was quite the impressive display, and the Easter Bunny might want to step up his game.
Once the fireworks fizzled out, we pushed and squeezed our way through the throng of tourists snapping pictures and made our way inside the church to catch Mass. By the time we got inside, the huge cathedral had been filled and Mass had already started, but we stood for the remaining hour and listened to Easter Mass in Italian, looking up at the paintings in the dome.
It was surreal to be here on Easter, a day that I have celebrated in exactly the same way since birth. Although I missed my family a lot and am still craving honey ham and cheesey potatoes, being in Florence for this important day was unforgettable. Tomorrow we head to Venice for two days, and hopefully the weather will get a little warmer. (Otherwise I might have to start layering my clothes in unflattering ways).