What comes to mind when one hears of a certain region called Tuscany in Central Italy? Some would say brilliant wines like Chianti, others would say famous artists like Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci while some probably would also be reminded of the macabre story of the Monster of Florence. For me, Florence-the capital of Tuscany- was all this and much more.
The journey from Rome to Florence in the first class compartment of a Train Italia was an indulgent one as we had wonderful seats and uniformed servers at our beck and call. The landscape transformed rapidly from lovely to beautiful to gorgeous. The picture perfect green pastures with bales of hay and grazing bovines, resembled subjects waiting to be replicated on canvas by a painter. Although most of Europe is known for such panoramic beauty, the serenity of Tuscany sets it a tad bit apart.
We were lucky to have found a certain Residenza dal Borgo which offered us a suite at an affordable price. It took us some time to figure out the process involved in checking in and getting to our apartment. Having collected our keys from the main hotel, we proceeded to the apartment building across the cobbled street alley. Getting in proved to be quite a struggle as we were to unlock three doors protected by rustic locks which creaked and groaned only to give way after a great deal of twisting and turning. Our effort was instantly rewarded as we walked into a charming quaint suite which was to be our abode for the next two days.
Stepping in the living room which was painted bright red (making us feel as if we were suddenly in Communist China), we realised that this was going to be a different experience altogether. The pale blue bathroom, the grass green bedroom-with a spectacular ceiling fresco and the hand painted wooden furniture added to the uniqueness of the suite. As I peeped out of our window, I spotted a group of dreadlock sporting, pot smoking hippies huddled together in front of the hostel right across our building. Now I understood why our building needed to be so tightly padlocked and needless to say, I doubly ensured that our room was securely locked before we ventured out.
After our rather hectic Roman holiday, Florence gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs and relax. Exploring the city at a leisurely pace was what we had in mind and this is exactly what we did. Stopping over at one of the many cafes at Piazza Republica, we shared a lunch of Tuscan wine and pizzas. Sated, we headed out to conquer yet another museum-The Uffizi-which is home to several paintings and sculptures by renowned artists. Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Veronese and Rembrandt, to name a few, are the famous artists whose work can be seen in the 45 rooms of this large museum. At the Uffizi, I came face to face again with a painting which had caught my eye in the Vatican museum- the ‘Adoration of Magi’.
I had seen several versions of this biblical episode by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and now Dürer. The depiction of the three Magi commonly known as the three Wise Men who visited baby Jesus at birth is surreal. It is said that these men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the blessed one and the affection and reverence that they might have experienced then is evident from the expressions illustrated by the painters. I was later to visit the shrine of these wise men in which their bones are said to be preserved, in the cathedral at Cologne, Germany but that is material for another story and another day, isn’t it?
Another painting which shook me to the core was ‘Leda and the Swan’ by Francesco Melzi. The seduction of queen Leda-wife of King Tyndareus of Sparta, by the Greek God- Zeus in the form of a swan left me feeling nauseous and sick. And, to top it all, the story continues with Leda laying two eggs which produced two children-progeny of Zeus (the Swan). Apparently Helen who later came to be known as Helen of Troy was one of these two children.
The Uffizi is a U shaped gallery and thus encloses an open arena in the center. After having covered most of the rooms in the museum, we decided to sit and enjoy the remaining evening in this arena. Picture a balmy evening amidst a couple of painters in their signature berets balancing paint palettes in one hand and numerous brushes in the other, a street singer crooning beautifully his own renditions of famous old songs and a bunch of music aficionados singing along.This was the exact setting that we had the pleasure of enjoying that evening . Also, almost life-size statues of famous personalities like Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci were witness to the gaiety from their vantage points around the arena. In my imagination, they also managed to shake a leg when no one was looking.
How could I return home after a vacation in Italy without something beautiful in leather? As we walked from the Uffizi towards the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge over the river Arno, I was bewitched by an array of beautiful leather jackets hanging in the glass window of a leather shop. I stepped in, feebly trying to take an oath that I would not get carried away. The store offered a variety of leather jackets in all colours and styles. Italian merchants are known for their persuasiveness and very soon not only was I convinced that the sole purpose of my life on earth was to possess a particular chocolate brown, butter soft jacket but my relatively more grounded friend was also talked into buying a lovely brown jacket for himself.
With considerably lighter wallets and heavier shopping bags, we walked upto the Ponte Vecchio (a famous bridge over the River Arno), just in time to catch the sunset. The river Arno had suddenly metamorphosed into liquid gold as the rays of the setting sun bounced off the water creating an illusion beyond imagination. The city of Florence had acquired a golden patina and the buildings looked doused in gold. Many times in the past while witnessing such great beauty, I have quietly thanked God for creating this wonderful world and I did just the same now.
Having indulged in retail therapy and gastronomic ecstasy, we retired to our peculiar yet comfortable apartment.
Off we were again at daybreak as we wanted to catch a glimpse of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo at the Accademia Gallery. The massive nude sculpture of David-was no different from the very many sculptures that we had seen in the Louvre, the Vatican Museum and the Uffizi. The sculptor- Michelangelo had received great accolades for this life like statue which appears to be all set for combat presumably with the giant – Goliath. David, an ancestor of Christ and second king of Israel rose to fame after he killed the giant Goliath by striking him in the forehead with a stone from his sling. He is an important character in the Bible, the Quran and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).
Later, we decided to walk around the city of Florence exploring it’s many Piazzas and cafes and before we knew it, it was time for us to catch our train to Venice.
A word of caution to fellow travellers – while stopping by this delightful Tuscan city, beware, you might just end up loosening your purse strings to a point of bankruptcy, gaining a few pounds and never wanting to go back to work. However, I assure you that the experience is worth all the side effects put together, so go ahead, plan a Florentine get away at the earliest.
Preeti Sharma is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies and dabbles with creative writing. As she stepped into the hectic and mundane routine of corporate life, her writing became her stress buster. Her insatiable wanderlust and need for change prompt her to travel as much as possible and she is at present, travelling across Europe and trying to pen down as many memories as possible.