The morning began with some harried navigation on busy Italian roads leading into Florence. Traveling by bicycle is definitely easier than by car! After several wrong turns and subsequent complicated GPS/written direction consultations, we finally made it to Piazza Michelangelo, our base camp for a day of site-seeing.
Before heading into the center of the city from the Piazza parking area, we stopped to enjoy the outstanding panoramic views of the city's skyline, marveling in the realization that the vista we were enjoying has scarcely changed for hundreds of years. After walking down the zig-zag path leading into the city we meandered the winding streets and stopped at the somewhat lesser-known Santa Felicita church.
Mark and Lisa had visited Santa Felicita over a decade ago to view the painting, "The Annunciation" by Jacopo de Pontormo. During a short tour in Florence, Lisa had seen the painting in a guidebook and vividly recalled it from an art history course she'd taken in college. They had excitedly found the church in their hour of free time to admire the long-forgotten but well loved painting. This time around the visit was much less rushed and we enjoyed being the only people there. Lian pitched in a euro which we inserted into a machine on the wall. Lights snapped on to illuminate the painting, and we listened to its history on hand-held phone receivers that hung from cords on the machine.
Our next destination was the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo's "David". Mark had made reservations and when we saw the lines to get in we were incredibly thankful that he had. The entrance to the museum had two doors and two lines; the one for tourists with reservations was very short compared to the winding queue of people for those without. To our surprise, they didn't actually check reservations as you entered. Both lines filtered into the same lobby where we purchased tickets at the same counter. If you're visiting without a reservation, it looks like you can just enter through the reservation line and buy your tickets as normal!
After having seen two replicas of "David" in Florence already, I wasn't expecting a very moving experience. I could not have been more wrong! The display for "David" was epic; surrounded on all sides by spot-lighting, the perfectly sculpted marble statue was truly incredible. Droves of art students with sketch books sat on the floor around the masterpiece doing their best to capture its details. From the veins in his arms to the muscles in his legs, the statue of David was so lifelike you could practically see him breathing.
Even more interesting to me, though, was the line of Michelangelo's unfinished statues, often dubbed his "prisoners" leading up to the more famous David. These works of art in progress seemed to depict people trapped, half-hewn, in massive blocks of marble. Seeing how they were carved made me appreciate (even more) the amount of talent, patience and skill required to create them.
With our main goal for the visit complete we wandered around Florence more restfully, visiting the many sites. We had fun having no agenda or plan, simply wandering the streets. Since we left on our trip, Tara has blossomed into an incredibly effective navigator. When we aren't cycling she takes over and we (very nearly) always make it easily to our intended destinations. It was fun watching her family in awe as she guided us up and down streets like she was a local in a city we'd hardly spent a day in before their arrival.
Before lunchtime we stopped in the Mercato Centrale, meandering through the covered-market stalls. Huge Parma hams hung from the ceiling and giant wheels of cheese were piled on tables. Butchers' stalls featured pig's heads and whole chickens, feet and head included. Somehow the gruesome carnivorous sites didn't deter our appetites, and we quickly left the market in search of a pizzeria.
After a sit-down lunch of pizza, it was time for the best part of visiting Florence: the gelato! Tara guided us to our first gelato stop, an establishment that both Lian's friend and Rick Steves recommended: Gelateria Grom. After each having full servings of gelato, we wandered around a bit before heading to Gelateria Neri for another round of deliciousness. Tara's parents had been to the gelateria many years ago and wanted to pay another visit. We didn't have very much room in our stomachs for more, so our portions were much smaller.
Fully stuffed from our pizza lunch and gelato desserts and tired from museum-going, we slowly trudged back up the huge hill towards Piazza Michelangelo. The drive home went a lot smoother than the ride in, though we all had trouble staying awake.
On the way home we all decided that while it was fun, we were very relieved to return "home" to the countryside. Away from swarms of tourists and "must see" attractions, we had a nice evening of hanging out by Mezzapiaggia's freezing cold pool.