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 florence

25 maggio (may)
The second Thursday in May was a Czech holiday, the end of World War II, a perfect weekend to travel abroad without loads of vacation travelers, so I arranged to take five days for one more trip to Italy. I switched flights in Zurich and was rewarded by a panorama of the rugged, black and white peaks of the Alps, scattered cloud wisps hovering like puffs of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

Spring had newly arrived in Florence and everyone seemed to be celebrating the sunny days and cool nights with music in every piazza, on every corner. The art museums were bursting with Renaissance treasures; sculpture adorned every building. In the evenings, musicians emerged tending toward the classical: opera singers, violinists, chamber orchestras, flautists, and even a Spanish guitarist. You could stroll around and follow the strains. As I sat and listened one evening, white helmeted police chased unlicensed vendors, standing by authoritatively while they packed their wares, surely a never-ending shuffle. Street artists created reproductions of famous paintings on the cobblestones with pastel chalk, completing their work over several days, only to wipe it clean and begin again. I returned many times to watch their progress.

To my surprise and delight, a friend from Colorado was touring Italy and her last night in Florence was my first, so we celebrated over dinner. The second night, my friend from Tuscany whom I had first met in Guatemala and visited last year, joined me for dinner. As a lone traveler on this trip, it was wonderful to enjoy a special place with good friends and happy reunions, as well as be the fortunate recipient of their personal recommendations on sights not to miss.

Having been advised by others, I had booked tickets to the major museums online in advance, saving hours of waiting. The first sight of Michelangelo's David, preserved indoors at the Academie (several copies are still standing in piazzas), took my breath away. He towers over the crowd at the end of a long hall, lit from above by a natural light atrium, a commanding presence. Benches around him give you a place to contemplate and appreciate his graceful beauty. The classic Botticelli's Birth of Venus rising from the sea (on the shell) lives at the Uffizi along with so many other noteable works.

The city center is small, everything is within walking distance, so I just kept going, seeing as many of those unique museums and churches as I could squeeze into my allotted time. A few highlights: At the Museo di San Marco monastery, the walls are covered with frescos by Fra Angelico, one of the brothers, and his lovely arch shaped fresco in each of the otherwise austere bedrooms on the second floor. The view from the top of the Duomo is as fascinating inside, where you are practically hugging the dome's ceiling fresco as it is outside, alongside Giotto's Bell Tower among the red roofs. In the old palace, Palazzo Vecchio, art in many of the rooms upstairs was devoted to women. I loved the ceiling painting of the Sabine women, standing between their husbands and Roman soldiers, pleading for peace, a very different perspective of these glorified battles seldom seen.

On Sunday afternoon, museumed out and full of too much heavenly pasta and gelato (ice cream), I crossed the river at the Ponte Vecchio bridge. In the flea market at Santo Spirito, a local gathering, I had a necchi, a simple corn crepe slathered with fresh ricotta cheese, made by an old couple who seemed to know everyone there. I hiked through a green park up the hill to Piazza Michelangelo, overlooking the bridges and city center, to find yet another copy of David surrounded by souvenir stands.

At the market square one evening I stroked the nose of the wild pig statue, like so many other tourists, which supposedly means you will return to Florence someday. But I'm doubtful, there are so many other places to see...

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