The trek from Madonna di Campiglio to Florence went smoothly – drive to Milan MXP, subway to Garibaldi, fancy new Italo train to Firenze.
I’ve got to say – being in Madonna di Campiglio in the off season was kind of interesting. I don’t normally visit “resort” or “vacation” towns – I imagine Madonna isn’t dissimilar from ski-centric towns in the US. My experience of it was as a beautiful little town, nestled in amazing scenery, where I got a good room with nice amenities for around $50. It was very pleasant to wander around town, doing laundry, popping into shops. The only odd bit was going out for dinner, and finding most of the restaurants closed for the season. In the end, I found some nice local food. Side note: I’m tempted to do a post about eating out while traveling, but I can’t think of a way to do it that’s not unstomachably (huh?) pretentious. Might not stop me.
Anywho. Florence. Got in to town, went out for a wander. It’s been a couple years since I’ve been here, but pretty much everything is still where I left it. They’ve got a new style of municipal trash bin in some places. So that’s cool.
I’m staying at Hotel Bodoni, a completely fine little place in a good-enough (but not too good) part of town, just outside the center. I’ve got a little balcony with a view of Santa Croce, and there’s a minifridge, I don’t really need anything else.
First priority this morning was a trip to San Marco. Museo San Marco is my favorite spot in Florence – the calm of the courtyard, the amazing Fra’Angelico paintings in the rooms – it’s a space that conveys a real sense of its history and the people who inhabited it. The trick is to be among the first people there in the morning, and then immediately go upstairs. Walk all the way to the end of the hall, and work your way back. If you’re lucky (as I was today) you can have almost all of the upstairs to yourself. Being in those small chambers, with just you and the solitary piece of art, you really get a chance to reflect. By 9:00, the tour groups start rolling in, and it becomes an exercise in people-watching.
From there, it was a trip to the Mercato Centrale. Loaded up on delicious items for lunches and snacks, plus far, far too much balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
A side note here – while my conversational Italian is still pretty poor, I’m getting pretty comfortable chatting with the folks in markets and stores – asking their advice, telling them my preferences, etc. In part, it’s because everything happens in the present tense – in normal conversation, everything falls apart when I need to talk about going to do something / having done something, etc. Then the Spanish starts coming out and everything goes off the rails.
After dropping off supplies in the aforementioned minifridge, I made a trek to Stefan’s, a household goods store. Mom and Kate had both hinted pretty strongly that they’d like new tablecloths, having each purchased one at a different Stefan’s during our family trip in 2006. I hope I came through for them. I also got some shoes – they’re not Italian, but they look Italian, and they were €`14 – quite a bit better than the driving shoes I was lusting over in Milan.
From there – picnic lunch, people watching, and wandering the city. Picked up a few more gifts. Popped into some churches I hadn’t visited before. Basic Florence stuff.
It’s interesting to experience the stark contrast between Milan and Florence. Milan, in almost every way, is a much more “real” city. It’s easier to eat well in Milan, to have authentic interactions with people, and to experience Italian life. Florence, while not fake in the Disney papier-mâché sense, is a city built around tourism. In parts of the city, there’s more English being spoken than Italian. This isn’t a surprise of course, but the contrast is interesting.
That said, I think you can still have authentic Italian experiences in Florence (in addition to the equally valuable authentic-tourist experiences – seeing amazing art, trying new foods, wandering little alleys). It just takes a bit more work. Tomorrow, I’m going to head a little ways outside of the city center to try a different market – just to see what the vibe is like.
In any case, just like the folks who love Las Vegas or Disney, I love Florence, no apologies.