Italy: David, Galileo, Michelangelo and Joshua Tree

We’d planned to get up early this morning and be at the Accademia when it opened to avoid the crazy-long lines.  Buuuuut that was a lot to expect of me before 8am, so things didn’t exactly go down the way we’d planned.

Mr. Earlybird got up and around at an ungodly hour and started making espressos.  I, as usual, stayed in bed, pulled the blankets over my head and tried to squeeze in a few more minutes of precious sleep.  By the time I dragged myself out of bed, K had an espresso waiting for me to help get my ass in gear and was patiently watching TV waiting for me.  (Got bless this man for putting up with my slow, grumpy, I’ll-rip-your-face-off-if-you-look-at-me-wrong morning routine.)

We finally made it out the door around 9:00 headed, on foot, toward the Accademia to see David.  We had a fairly straight shot from our apartment – roughly 10-12 blocks – but we lost a bit of time wandering around looking for the correct street we’d marked on our map.  After several minutes, we decided to stop wasting time and take an alternate route.  So off we went down Via San Gallo.

Via San Gallo was a narrow, one-way, stone cobbled street with very narrow sidewalks on either side.  Each side of the street was lined with tiny cars, mopeds and bicycles.  The buildings were tall and made me feel somewhat claustrophobic.  It was a bit like Venice – everything smooshed in really close and tight – just without the water and with a crap ton of traffic.  There were shops and cafes scattered along the street, some with colorful awnings, some with large wooden doors, and some with the metal doors still rolled down.  Every once in a while we passed a dumpster and recycling receptacles along the edge of the street that smelled like death, and in general we found that a large portion of the city of Florence just flat out stinks of sewage.  Ick.

As we got closer to the Accademia, we walked into the restricted traffic zone (ZTL), where there was essentially no traffic and tons of people on foot.  As we turned and walked toward the gallery, we were swallowed into a giant mob of other tourists, spilling from the sidewalks out into the streets, shuffling past pharmacies, souvenir shops, cafes, coffee shops, clothing shops and even another McDonald’s before we came to a corner, turned and came face to face with the gallery.  And the line.

Galleria dell’Accademia:

We thought about buying skip the line passes last night, but we didn’t have a place to print them.  And after our experience in Venice with Basilica di San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, we didn’t assume the lines would actually be as long as predicted, so we showed up with no passes.  Bad idea.

When we queued up, the line didn’t appear to be that bad.  We were just barely around the corner from the entrance to the building, so we figured we’d be in the door within 30 minutes.  WRONG.  We stood there for just over two hours (Really.  Two.Flippin’.Hours.) to make it approximately 100 yards.  Once we got up near the doorway, we realized why – people with skip the line passes were checking in at a different area, but then cutting the line in front of us at the same entrance.  Only a few people were let in at a time, every 10-15 minutes; the majority of those were skip-the-liners, with only a few people from our line.  If I’d known this, we definitely would have bought passes online and found somewhere to print them.

As we stood in line, we made friends with an Argentinian couple in front of us.  She didn’t speak much English, so we tried our best to speak Spanish with them and quickly realized we’re both pretty badly out of practice.  (No wonder we’re having such a difficult time deciphering the Italian everywhere.)  We chatted about our trips; they’d just been in Rome and Amalfi where we’re going, and we’d just been in Venice where they’re headed, so we traded tips and recommendations.  We chatted about Argentina – the best places to visit, the best wines and other random tips.  We chatted about the US – where they’d been, where they wanted to go.  And we still weren’t to the front of the line.

Eventually we made it to a point near the door where the line skirted a kiosk selling postcards and other David souvenirs, most of which were some sort of penis paraphernalia.  There were t-shirts, underwear and aprons with David‘s physique on the front, boldly displaying his junk in a variety of sizes – itsy bitsy, drawn-to-scale and monstrosity.  We entertained ourselves for a while looking through the wide variety of penile keepsakes, meant to forever commemorate our adventures in Florence.  I also got a good laugh imagining the looks of disgust on our prudish family members’ faces if we were to send postcards featuring the well-hung David in all his glory.  And then I wondered to myself if Michelangelo was rolling in his grave over this distasteful perversion of his masterpiece, or laughing along with us.  If he was as rad as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo, I bet he was laughing.  And eating pizza.

Anyway… After two hours of waiting, we were finally directed past the security guard and in to the ticket counter.  We paid €15 and we were on our way into the gallery.

*Disclaimer:  I have no photos – well, almost no photos – because cameras are not allowed in the Accademia.  They were actively enforcing this rule when we were there.  But it was so crowded it was difficult to catch every single person.  Be discreet.

We entered into an open room with a large statue in the center – bodies tangled in each other, called Rape of the Sabine Women.  The walls of the room were lined with portraits and paintings.  I was less than interested, briefly looked at the statue, glanced quickly at the portraits on the wall and headed off in the other direction in search of David.  After waiting for 2 hours, I didn’t have the time or patience for the rest of the stuff.  (We’re not exactly what you call “art people.”)

We followed a large crowd around a corner and were looking down the Prisoner’s Corridor – a large hall with a vaulted ceiling, red and gray tiled floors, statues and pillars along the edge – ending in a large rotunda with David in all his glory at the end.  The Prisoner’s Corridor was lined with four partially finished marble sculptures, all meant to adorn Pope Julius II’s tomb and all sculpted by Michelangelo.  The detail was amazing on the front; on the back were still unfinished slabs of marble.

Prisoner's Corridor

Prisoner’s Corridor; Photo:

As we peered down the corridor, I was blown away by the size of David.  I was expecting something around 6 feet tall, but I was staring in awe at a giant, 17 foot sculpture.  Even with the mob of people surrounding him, and the fact that I’m super short, I could still see the entirety of the sculpture over their heads.  It was just massive.

As we got closer, I was even more in awe.  This thing was UH-mazing.  I was completely enthralled by the intricate detail – down to the veins in his forearm, the dimples in his butt cheeks, the fingernails – it was unreal.  I can’t even begin to imagine how a person takes a giant slab of marble, sees this vision, and makes it a reality.  Holy crap.  I was (am) beyond impressed.


We briefly passed through another hall with several sculptures – all were plaster replicas of marble statues housed in other places.  It was interesting that all of them were full of pins – not sure exactly why, but they looked like some crazy voodoo dolls with all the pins stuck around.  After a quick pass through, we were out of the Accademia and on our way to the Duomo.

We stopped and quickly grabbed a couple of paninis and Gatorades at Caffe del’Accademia, right cattycorner from the entrance to the gallery, and ate as we walked.  It wasn’t the best meal, but it served its purpose, didn’t slow us down and only cost €12 total – our cheapest meal in weeks.

From here, we headed toward the Duomo – straight shot down narrow, crowded, shop-and-cafe-lined Via Ricasoli until the street opened into a piazza with the intricately sculpted and tiled Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore rising into the puffy white clouds directly in front of us.


The building was absolutely spectacular, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go inside.  We’re just not the go-inside-and-stare-at-art types of people – we need to keep moving and explore.  So I got a few photos, inspected the intricacies of the building up close and then we moved on down the shop-lined street headed toward the Museo Galileo.  That’s right.  No Uffizi Gallery for us.  We’re science nerds.


We walked happily along, me window shopping, K maneuvering us through the crowds until we found ourselves in the open Piazza della Signoria.  We wandered through the square, dodging oblivious tour groups and horses with carriages, cutting diagonally across the Palazzo Vecchio where a replica of David stood – and another random sculpture that looks like some dude getting teabagged.  (Immaturity is my curse.  I can’t help it!)  The outdoor replica of David doesn’t appear to be nearly as tall as the one inside the Accademia, and it pales in comparison to the detail on the original.


After a few seconds we moved on, walking along the back side of the Uffizi Gallery, down along the River Arno and up to the Museo Galileo.

Museo Galileo:

Here’s how dorky we are:  We were nervous that there was going to be a line into the Galileo Museum – A science museum.  In Florence.  Where art reigns supreme. – that would put a kink in our plans for what little time we had left of the afternoon.  Hah.  Were we wrong.

We walked right in the front door to find a silent museum with no one even standing at the front desk.  This place was d.e.a.d.  We paid the €16 admission and entered into a room of glass cases filled with random antique science gadgets – old, but not from Galileo’s era.  We continued upstairs and through the museum to find all sorts of ancient scientific memorabilia – from globes to telescopes to chemistry tools.  The one thing I really disliked is that there was no audio tour available for the museum, and the descriptions on the exhibitions were pretty meager.  We had to kind of guess what some of the things were.

The highlights of the museum were – in no particular order – a display of very large globes that were handcrafted from wood, papier-mache and copper plates; two telescopes constructed and used by Galileo; and the lens that Galileo used to discover the moons of Jupiter.

There was a large room dedicated to Galileo’s experimental contraptions used to prove his hypotheses.  One setup was a large inclined plane with bells at regular intervals along the plane and a swinging pendulum at one end.  The pendulum is set in motion at the same time the ball is dropped from the top of the plane, and a count is kept of how many bells are rung within a single pendulum swing.  As the ball accelerated, more bells were rung within the time of a single pendulum swing, illustrating Galileo’s acceleration theory.  It was crazy to me to see something like this illustrating theories that I have learned and accepted to be true because of these early experiments and contraptions like the one I was staring at.  I can’t wrap my head around how Galileo (and others) first realized these principles and dreamt up schemes to prove their theories.  Mind.  Blown.

Past the Galileo room, we continued into an area containing old chemistry equipment and tools.  The ChemE in me totally shone through when I mildly geeked out over the first ever chemistry lab bench displayed in the middle of the room.  It’s a far cry from the lab benches I’m used to working on – it looked more like an antique desk.  The tools and containers on the bench looked outdated, but in general they are the exact same tools used today.


In the background of this room was a very odd display of 3D uteruses (uterii?) with babies inside of them showing the progression of the fetus as it grows and is born.  Some of the babies were breach, some were stuck with the cords around their necks.  It was a really strange exhibit to be tucked in with the chemistry lab bench…

We hastily browsed through the rest of the exhibits – at this point I was even getting bored with the nerdy stuff – and headed back downstairs.  We finished up in the bookstore where there were dozens of books on Galileo and other dorky sciencey things.  I resisted the urge to buy any of them and kept on walking.

Back outside, we followed the stone wall along the bank of the River Arno, crossed the Ponte alle Grazie – where we got great views up the river of Ponte Vecchio – and followed the wall on the opposite bank of the Arno, headed toward Piazzale Michelangelo.



We walked a few blocks, then crossed the street and headed off across a cobbled street through what seemed to be a quiet residential area.  There were a couple of small cafes with a few people sitting on the terraces enjoying food and espressos.  We rounded a corner and found ourselves peering through a large stone archway facing a fairly steep, tiny-car-lined hill ahead of us, beginning the ascent up to the piazzale.


We reached the top of the hill and veered off to the left on a set of wide-spread stone steps leading further up toward the piazzale.  There were buses that stopped at the top of the hill, but part of the experience is the walk, so no bus for us.


At this point, I was worn out from walking all day and dying of thirst, so I was ecstatic to find a snack shop with cold water and air conditioning (a rarity in Italy) at the top of the steps.  We grabbed cold water and some lemon ice pops and continued on, walking down along a windy road to the view point.  We rounded a corner to find the beautiful city of Florence sprawling out below us.



The Duomo was even more spectacular from up there, where we could see its entirety, poking out above the other buildings and set against the green mountains in the background.


The River Arno snaked its way around under us, spanned in a few places with stone-bodied bridges, and in the distance we could see the orange-and-yellow facade of the Ponte Vecchio.


It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful sitting on the ceiling of Florence.  We stayed for a bit, eating our ice pops and enjoying the stunning view and cooling breeze before we headed back down.

We’d had intentions of continuing on to the Pitti Palace when we were done at the piazzale, but it was getting late and the palace was closed.  So we continued along the banks of the river, toward Ponte Vecchio.  There were a few small wooden boats docked under the bridge, taking refuge from the hot sun.  As we walked, we guessed at what we might find on the other side of the bridge – houses, restaurants, shops?  I should have known it would be shops, but wanted to believe it was residences of a lucky few.


When we finally made it up to the bridge, I was incredibly disappointed to find nearly the entire expanse of the bridge was jewelry stores.  We walked the length of the bridge in the midst of another hoard of tourists, dodging all of those who were randomly stopped in front of shops, gawking at the window displays.  As we got to the other side of the bridge and compromised crossing side streets, traffic was even more crazy-scary than we’d already seen.

From here, we were headed back to the apartment to chill out and wait for dinner, when we stumbled across a little pub that looked inviting.

The Joshua Tree Pub:

The first thing we noticed about the pub was music from The Cream drifting out the door, and then the sign overhead, a mosaic-pattern stained glass window above the doorway and the brightly colored teal and pink doors propped invitingly open.  With a name like “Joshua Tree”” we assumed it had to be good, so we wandered in to check it out.


Inside was dimly lit with a few isolated lamps hung from the ceiling and a small window near the back of the pub.  The interior had green paneled walls topped with a strip of yellow paint and accents of orange and teal.  The walls were adorned with photos of Joshua Tree, random beer ads and other paraphernalia.  The duct work was exposed along the ceiling and there were a couple of TVs hanging near the door.  The furniture was old, worn dark-colored wooden tables and stools and an aluminum-front bar topped with a worn looking wooden top.  Behind the bar was a large chalkboard advertising daily happy hour from 4-9:30.


I loved the character of this place.  It was cozy and familiar right off the bat.  We immediately felt right at home and wished we could pick this bar up, bring it home with us and plop it down in our neighborhood.

We hopped up at the bar and grabbed a couple of pints of Golden Fire – a really good Italian-brewed pale ale.  The bartender was really friendly and struck up a conversation when he realized we weren’t Italian.  For our honeymoon, a free round (or two) of drinks!  We sat here for a while, enjoying the music, enjoying being off our feet and letting the pints wash down entirely too quickly.



After a few rounds, I started getting silly and slurring my speech a little and we decided it was time to go find food.  We happily paid our €12 tab and headed out.


For dinner, we ended up at Bar San Gallo in Piazza della Liberta back near the apartment.  We tried another place that Gabriele had recommended, but there was going to be a 2-3 hours wait (on a Thursday night!) for the place and I was starving, so we settled on something close to home.

The inside was a bit strange with an empty movie theater-ish section in the back, playing music videos on the screen.  I had spaghetti, which was decent, and we drank way more beer than we should have.  Thankfully it was a short stumble (er…walk) to our door.

Back upstairs, we turned on the TV to BBC.  (Ugh.  What I wouldn’t give for mindless TV to watch right now.  In English.)  K is now in bed, snoring his ass off, and it’s about that time for me.  Today was cram packed full of Florence.  I think we’ve gotten our fill of the city and will head out to one of the hill towns tomorrow.

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