For whatever reason I have been religiously awake at 5:15 every day here. Granted, I was out cold at 9:00 last night, but still. I am up just before the birds and then once they get going I can't get back to sleep. There was one overzealous dove who greeted the day both mornings in Levanto right outside my window.
Carlo the Second (he of the food chef fame, not the city guide fame) put on yet another immense spread at breakfast this morning. Instead of the wonderful tropical salad yesterday, I had a gorgeous baked pear. No sugar, no brown sugar, nothing artificial, just a perfectly baked pear. I will dream of that, and Carlo's skills in the kitchen, for a long time to come.
We got on the bus at 8:30 after a group photo by the shoreline in Levanto and had about a 5 hour drive to Florence. Ordinarily I would think that's a waste of a day, but my calves are absolutely screaming from yesterday's hike and I think they are enjoying the break.
I had to remind the guides that we are springing forward here tonight, as Europe goes to Daylight Savings time a few weeks after we do. That means we lose an hour and will make our already early rise and shine tomorrow for the Uffizi even earlier. I doubt I'll be up at 4:15 but you never know.
I am beyond excited to get back to Florence. Our guide had a sort of surprise stop for us en route to Florence, which at first I was hesitant about. It is the US WWII Cemetery. They have about 440 US service men and women interred there. It ended up being a very emotional stop and one I felt glad about doing. It was still a beautiful day out so the white crosses (like at Arlington National Cemetery) against the green, green grass and bright blue sky were something. But also to learn about the men who died here during the war, and how the veterans service is attempting to reinterpret their story now that most who were alive then are passing on. It was all very interesting and touching. The American who gave us the tour said if we were only to just pass a cross and read the name on it aloud because they may not have been said or visited for many years. That was the least we could do, I felt.
We arrived here about 12:40 and got our rooms. The hotel here is right off Piazza San Lorenzo. Our room is number 6, which is up, down, up again, and up further still twice to reach. The benefit to it, other than the cardiovascular workout to get to, is that there is absolutely no street noise, which is good, since it's on a fairly busy pedestrian area, even at a later hour. The room is obviously a family room, as it has four beds in it. The bathroom is up three little steps and is ridiculously cavernous, about the size of my kitchen at home. We'll be fine here for just two nights.
As soon as we dropped our bags, we headed out since we had two hours before our orientation walk. It didn't take me long to get oriented and I realized we are right off Piazza San Lorenzo where the Medici Chapel is. We arrived about 1:10 and were told they were closing at 1:45. We managed to get through the Chapel of Princes and then to Michelangelo's New Sacristy with ample time. With a stroke of luck, we ended up being the last two people in the room with nine Michelangelo sculptures, it was just just heavenly. On top of that, I finally, after a few trips here, got to see the drawings on the wall behind the altar that Michelangelo did. Those were fabulous. He was ticking the days off as he worked, with the hashmarks that we'd use today. There were some sketches of a window for the Laurentian Library, a female body with a dog, a soldier, a comic. That was unreal for me to FINALLY get to see, as usually it is closed off.
After that, we stopped at a pizzeria and I we shared a vegetarian and a four cheese pizza and a bottle of red wine. Then we met up with the tour and did a very cursory orientation walk just of the immediate neighborhood, which ended at the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. That is always a great stop for me, as I think nothing beats looking at that amazing sculpture. We stayed there until the Accademia closed and managed to be one of the few left there as well. The Art Gods were on our side for sure today.
I'd done some research before we left home and reserved a restaurant tonight called La Giostra. It was about four blocks behind the Duomo. I think this one just might go down in history as a top 5 meal. We started with a glass of Prosecco and a plate of amuse bouche including (hold on to your hats here): bruschetta with tomato and olive oil, eggplant in balsamic, red pepper in balsamic, potato dumpling and celery root in a creamy mayo type sauce. For antipasti we had carpaccio of eggplant, zucchini and pecorino, which was to die for, just so simple but great flavors. Our main course was gnocchi with pistachios and pears in a gorgonzola sauce, which had me over the moon. It was absolutely perfect. We had all that with a bottle of sangiovese-cabernet which was a nice pairing. (For those keeping score, yes, that was two bottles of wine today, but hell we are on vacation!) For dessert we shared a semifreddo with strawberries and raspberries, and the house gave us a limoncello. All in all, an excellent meal. I hope I can manage good choices the rest of the week!
It is so good to be back here. It's been almost 10 years, believe it or not. It's nice to see how constant it is, with David and the Duomo remaining unchanged as they did for hundreds of years before I was ever here. I'm anxious to see more...
Europe springs ahead tonight so we lose an hour. We have to leave at the ungodly hour of 7:45 so we're up at 6. Off to bed now.