Friday, June 28, 2013

Museum of Precious Stones, Mercato Centrale, Accademia - Florence Italy - Italy and France trip Day 8

We set the alarm for 9:30 this morning and laid in bed for just a little while.  We got ready fairly quickly and headed out.  On the way, we confirmed we’d be able to check out fairly late tomorrow, 10:30-11am. We can leave our bags in the lobby and they’ll give us a set of keys to use to get back in later. Sweet!
I think we left the hotel by 10ish, and we were off to see some more cool stuff. 

Here's where we're headed today!

When you're walking through most places in Florence, you're likely going to be going by the Duomo.

The Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is kept is on our agenda but not first thing. We read the lines in the mornings are ridiculous. We saw the lines for the standby and it was backed up to where it was when we were here 6 years ago.  Probably about an hour or so wait, and it’s all in the sun.  The reserved ticket line wasn’t much better. It was almost as long as the regular line, but instead of being 1-2 people wide, it was 4-5 people wide.  I’m assuming though they let more people in front this line than the regular line though, so maybe the wait isn’t as bad.  Either way though, it’s not our first stop. 

Nope, instead we are going right down the road to the Museum of Precious Stones.  Even though it only got a 1 in the RS guidebook, it sounded interesting to T, and since it’s free with the Firenze card, we decided to check it out.  There was no line here and it wasn’t busy at all. 

As soon as we entered the first room though, we knew we had a very different idea in mind when we saw precious stones.  I would think diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc.  This was more granite, marble, quartz, etc but arranged in decorative tile mosaics.  It’s not that it wasn’t impressive, it’s just not what we were expecting. We spent maybe 30-40 minutes here looking at various mosaics, tabletops, and even a fireplace that apparently you’re not allowed to touch. Oops. 

Some of the mosaics though were impressive with all the different colors of stones and small details.

There were some cool colors of stone here.  Over 500 different types from what we’re told.

Those deep blues are really pretty.

This was a cool table with lots of intricate detail. It was around 11:30am and we decided on an early lunch.

Literally ½ a block from here was a Rick Steves recommended place for quick pasta and sandwiches. We entered to find a friendly guy behind the counter ready to take our orders. There was a variety of pastas and he described each one of them to us in English. As soon as he said “truffles” I knew what I was getting. I’m a truffle fan and it was a penne pasta with truffle sauce. Theresa asked whether the meat penne or tomato penne was better, and he suggested both.  Both is good.

We grabbed a table in the corner and after heating up each pasta, he brought it to us along with some bread.  There was even balsamic on the table already.  My pasta was delicious, though T wasn’t a fan of the smell.  Truffles are a little too much for her and enhanced pregnancy sense of smell.  I saw a sign on the wall that said they’ve been in business since 1927, along with a photo of the booth we were sitting from 1934.

Theresa is really enjoying hers and was glad she got a mixture of both types of pasta.  They complimented each other well and when she was tired of one flavor, she switched to the other.  I think the owners here like hearing that their food was delicious. Lunch was cheap today.  2 Euro table charge, 1.50 for water, 6 for T’s meat and tomato pasta, 5 for my truffle pasta.  14.50 Euro total, and I tipped 2 Euro for good service.

We walked back to the Accademia and the line is still ridiculous. Good thing we’re flexible today. Trattoria Za-za is down the street a little ways and was recommended by both RS and our hotel. We walked that direction and happened to overshoot it by one street. It was a happy accident because we ran into a giant farmers market inside a glass and steel building. Let's go inside and explore!

There were all sorts of fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of meat markets with some fantastic looking cuts.

We noticed a few dried fruit stands, and I got some pineapple and coconut, while T got some dried strawberries and nectarines. 
Both were delicious and it was 2.50 Euro for 100 grams, which is about what we got.  As we continued we saw a shop selling pulled pork sandwiches, and if we hadn’t just eaten, those looked pretty good.

Remember this kitty cat delivery service from our Japan trip?

Apparently they have it in Italy too.

Back outside to Tratoria Za-za. Reservations are encouraged, so we stopped by at 12:30 asking for reservations tonight at 7pm.  No problem and they can get us a table indoors away from all the smoking. 
Alright, let’s give the Academia another shot.  Still a crazy line at 1pm.  The guidebook says to try later in the day, so we’ll be back in a little while.

What else does this Firenze card get us into that’s close?  The Medici palace wasn’t rated very highly, but it’s still something that I’m interested in seeing. 

I guess they can't all be master sculptors. That "child" looks pretty ridiculous with weird proportions.

They had some fancy rooms as well as an interesting chapel room with a detailed wall of the nativity and the procession of wise men that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. Then there were other rooms with giant tapestries. 

There was another room with a large mural on the ceiling that had a lot of Roman gods and some of their stories that I though was pretty interesting that we were allowed to take pictures of.  That plus they had some plastic chairs to sit in, so we spent a few minutes in there.

Out back was a small garden.

Basilica San Lorenzo was next on the agenda. Arriving at the chapel, I was disappointed to see signs saying photography wasn’t allowed.

We started at the bottom of the chapel in the crypts of the Medicis. Next was a walk up the steps to the main chapel. It was a huge domed area inside, but most of it was under construction. T found a seat while I explored a little bit. There were glass pieces with what looked like bones inside them, which is always a little weird to me. (not my photo below)

The guidebook says there's statues by Michelangelo here, so we went searching. Continuing into the Medici chapel, we did indeed see the carvings. 

The story is that Michelangelo was tasked to design the chapel and three tombstones.  We saw sketches for the chapel design as well as pencil marks on the area behind the altar.  One of the tombstones was completely finished which had Dusk and Dawn.  The opposite one Day and Night was unfinished.  T and I just can’t understand how he could get the boobs so wrong on the statue of Night. She almost looks masculine with boobs just stuck on like two baseballs. The third statue was never started.  I guess even the masters have their bad days.

Our tour complete, it was time to head back to the Accademia.

In the course of our wanderings earlier in the day, I noticed a pastry shop.  It wasn’t far from where we were, so we backtracked a little bit and checked it out.  There was so much good looking stuff in the cases, including some cookies shaped like a familiar mouse. 

T got a large slice of carrot cake and confirmed “no nuts”.

We split an apple tart, and I got that Mickey sugar cookie, a chocolate chip cookie, and a strawberry jam cookie.  Everything was tasty and it only cost 5.50 Euro. 


Arriving at the Accademia, the line was a little shorter than before.  The regular line was fractionally shorter than before and people were waiting by leaning against the wall and sitting on the curb. I remember waiting in that line last time and it was miserable.  It was in the sun and super hot.  Our reserved ticket line was at least partially shaded, and we got in line around 2:40pm.  By 3pm, we were let inside, and we definitely moved faster than the other line, so that’s good at least.

We found a bench at the very end of the hall of Michelangelo’s David and listened to the RS guide.  No photos are allowed in here, and I saw one guy get really chewed out by an attendant for taking one, so I won’t be taking any. I’ll supplement this report later with some pictures I find online. Lining the hallway are partially completed works known as the Slaves/Prisoners. They show the man being carved still inside the stone, in some cases looking like he’s trying to pull himself out.  We looked at each then went to the end of the hallway to admire David.

The RS guide told us all about David and how it was Michelangelo’s 2nd major work after the Pieta (which we just saw in Rome a few days ago).  He did it when he was 26 years old with a block of marble that had already been started by someone else then given up on.

Even after seeing multiple copies, this one still blows us both away.  The setting definitely adds to the experience.  First off he’s high on a pedestal, so even though he’s 14 feet tall already, he’s towering over you. Second, he’s much cleaner than any of the copies we’ve seen outside in the elements, so all the fine detail really shows through.  Even after experiencing over 300 years in the weather outside the Palazzo Vechio, he looks great.  The body looks firm and toned, like an athlete.  The hands show veins. His biceps are flexing.  The pectoral muscles in his chest are tight. We sat and admired him from the front and back for a good 15 minutes.

There’s little else to see here, but we figured why not check it out. There was an unfinished Michelangelo Pieta close by, but nothing else that really stood out.

We walked back to see David for a little while longer.  We lucked out and found seats right in front of him in his eyeline.  I pulled out T’s phone and we read the wiki article on him.

We sat staring at David for a little while, pointing out things we noticed to each other.  Just as I said I was surprised by how much weight was being supported on the one right leg, T said she was thinking the exact same thing. They’re actively monitoring the statue with strain gauges on the leg to see if cracks will progress. Another 20 minutes or so and then finished the rest of the museum.

We went back to the hotel, walking through the Piazza della Signoria.

No horse-drawn carriage rides for us today.

We see the original Rape of the Sabine Women, and Hercules fight the centaur.

The Rape of Polyxena

And Perseus holding the head of Medusa among other statues.

Time to head to dinner! Arriving at Cafe Za-za, we see that we’re early enough that we didn’t need reservations. We get a table inside and it’s a nice pleasant atmosphere. Everything is supposed to be good here.

We started with a trio of soup, including a bean soup, and two types of bread soup, a vegetable based one, and a tomato based one.  All of them were tasty, we enjoyed the vegetable one most. 

Next was a pasta dish that we split.  It had wide egg noodles and the meat was wild boar.  It was a little greasy, but still tasty.  A little parmesan cheese made it even better.

The main reason we came here was the steak. On the menu it says it’s served 38 Euro per kilo for the Florentine cut, which is a t-bone to you and me.  T planned on ordering 300 grams well done, and I was going to get 750 grams rare. We learned though that it’s served in 1 kg increments, not in portions there-of.  When it came out, it was cut into two portions for us, and mine was rare, but T’s was on the rare side of medium.  Not wanting to take any chances, we flagged the waiter and he took it to get cooked some more.  It’s really thick, so they just cut it in half, tossed it on the grill and had it back to us in just a few minutes. 

T was much happier with this one and said it was really delicious.  I have to agree.  This is the kind of food I’ve been wanting.  We both agreed that this was the best meal we’ve had since being here and that Tuscan food is much preferred over whatever we were being served in Rome.

We can’t finish the night without a little gelato.  The RS guide says there’s one right beside the Accademia that’s got good fruit flavors and we’re not too far away.  We find it easily enough and T must have gotten on the scooper’s good side because when she asked for peach and strawberry, he just kept piling it on.  My chocolate and vanilla wasn’t nearly as large.  Upon receiving hers, she told him it was the best strawberry gelato she’s had so far.  Not too sweet and good flavor.  He appreciated that. 

My chocolate and vanilla wasn’t even close to the best I’ve had since I’ve been here.  It was icy and not very creamy at all, but I’m glad we found something T finally enjoyed.

We wandered by the Duomo one more time.  It’s always in the way whichever direction you seem to be going. 

To finish the night I took a 360 view of the Palazzo della Signoria

Tomorrow we’re exploring Florence a little more in the morning then flying up to Paris tomorrow night!  We've had an amazing time in Italy and seen so much!

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