Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Search for the Elusive David

Riding into Florence, half an hour from camp, the first impression was that it was just another city, nothing particularly special or charming or new. That was, until we dug deeper. We parked the bike with a row a scooters on the edge of town, where the cobblestones started becoming more frequent and the roads narrower. We were a short stroll from a Trattoria we were keen to try out, and headed straight there, winding between tall imposing buildings and staring up at the churches and reliefs that called to us from the end of every second alley.

After a minor hunt, we found the trattoria, Fratellini’s I think it was. It was easy to miss – the tiny shop had about a foot between front step and counter, and just enough space behind said counter to allow the two men working there to occasionally take a breathe. The menu was posted to the side - all sandwiches were 2.50 and there were easily 20 or 30 varieties to choose from. Courts had goats cheese, Tuscan salami and fennel while I had salami and artichoke. We added a 1.50 glass of wine to our order and joined the small crowd of old Italian men and curious tourists that paused outside to eat, leaving their wine glasses on specially sized shelves to either side of the stall.

Beyond our sandwich stop, we wandred the old streets laden with modern shops, and found ourselves amongst a sea of slow paced walking tours again. When you start seeing fake flowers bobbing in the crowd, you know you’re getting close to a must-see. If ever there was one, it was the Duomo. Only days after the breathtaking Pantheon in Rome, the Duomo in Florence was incredible, an easy rival to every piece of architecture we had seen thus far. Of course as with everything else featured in any guide book ever, there was a massive queue to go in, so we happily snapped photos of other tourists happily snapping photos in front of the cathedral, wandered around the outside and then proceeded to get ourselves lost, as we do in most cities.

We were attempting to use GPS to find the copy of Michaelangelo’s David, which as I understood was right outside the Accademia that houses the original. Instead we found a market that we hadn’t planned on visiting until later, and after deciding to come back to it, eventually found the Accademia. There was no David to be found, just a nondescript museum building with yet another massive queue. We walked right round the outside and did find an empty piazza with plenty of other statues, but David eluded us.

Courts, hater of all things hot and queue-like, even volunteered to stand in the unshaded queue for the Accademia to see the real one. He knew how much I wanted to see it and how often we hadn’t gone inside things to avoid the queue, but I too was hot and sick of walking and I didn’t think the admission fee and queue was worth the one statue I wanted to see.

Instead, we ambled on back to the market near San Lorenzo Church. Most of the market was either leather or scarves, Florence’s two specialities. There were souvenirs aplenty as well and lots of jewellery and we set about shopping for presents to take home and occasionally remembering to get something for ourselves.

The stall holders were insane. A bracelet caught my eye and I asked ‘How much?’ without really stopping, only pausing as I knew I most likely wouldn’t buy it. “10 Euro” was the response and I smiled and said thank you, and started to walk away. With Courts a step behind me the guy had just enough time to offer “8!” to which we replied no and kept going. We could hear him yell “7!” in the background but we were a fair distance away when he appeared behind us, tapping me on the arm and saying in quick succession as we shook our heads “5!... 2!... 50 cents!”. Seriously, 50 cents! After trying to get 10 Euro he was willing to go 50 cents and he had left his entire stock behind him unattended to try and get it.

Although this guy was the most extreme, he was far from the exception to the rule. It was common for stall holders to pull faces and shake their heads when we walked away after their third attempt at getting us to buy something. One girl kept passing me scarved to look at without ever taking back others, until I was left with an armload. She seemed shocked and annoyed when I gave them back to her and she had to put them all away. I had known I wanted one of two scarves and they were the only two I asked to see.

At least she wasn’t touchy feely, because when a pushy Italian man grabs my arm to try and show me something or emphasise a point, that’s it – I’m done. I don’t generally have personal space issues, but I hate it when stall holders do that and all niceties fade with it. Not all stall holders were bad though – a lovely man who sold me two of something (I can’t specify because they’re gifts) let me get away with 2 for 12 when the asking price was 8 each. I had started low expecting to get a small discount but you can’t be upset with buy-1-get-1-half-price, even if the margins at the markets are stupidly high.

With a backpack full of market goodies it was most definitely Gelato time. Courts saved a seat outside and I went in to order. Courts wanted a milkshake but it wasn’t as simple as ordering ‘chocolate’ because it was made with as many gelato flavours as you wanted and there’s not often a flavour as simple as ‘chocolate’. I went back out to ask him what he wanted to add in and the lovely shopkeeper followed me out to offer suggestions to Courts. When we were finally settled with a very good milkshake and our daily serving of gelato, we settled into a game of backgammon on our phone, sitting in the shade.

We walked back towards the Duomo, hearing the sound of drums getting louder and louder. We had stumbled across a parade, making their way around the cathedral with sections holding flags for different towns Coat of Arms. There were drummers, lords and ladies in medieval costume, and flag throwers. We watched for awhile before heading down a side street for a coffee.

Eventually, it was time to go. As we headed towards the bike, Courts wanted to duck down an alley that looked like it led to a piazza. When we broke through the narrow path into a square full of sunlight, low and behold there he was – unassuming, shaded, in a corner, and surrounded by countless other statues, was David (or at least a copy of him). We ended up spending almost an hour in that piazza, not only because there was a huge columned, open air building full of statues to look at, but because the parade made it’s way through the crowds again as well, heralding our discovery of David. The perfect end to another hot, sticky, pushy, crowded, gelato-filled – aka Italian – day.