24 July 2013
Wow, our last day; we fly home tomorrow. Today we got to sleep in a bit – breakfast was brought to us again, same as yesterday; Cappuccino and croissants. We checked out, and headed 2 blocks up to the USO to meet our guide for the Vatican tour at 1000. I really appreciate the USOs. We had free lunch and a place to hang out in Philly while waiting for our flight out, the Rome center found a hotel for us there and coordinated our 2 tours. USOs really do take good care of the troops.
The Vatican was much more crowded than I remember. Honestly, it was a pretty unpleasant experience. We were basically herded through like cattle. My favorite part was Raphael’s rooms – his “School of Athens (Philosophy)” was amazing! It was fun to look at it up close in person. I’m always amazed at how large they are. This fresco covered an entire wall! While I expected to enjoy the Sistine Chapel, it didn’t happen. We were herded in, told not to stop when we walked in the door (under Michelangelo’s Final Judgement). I wanted to see this up close, since it was undergoing renovation when I was here in the 90s. We were herded into the middle of the room packed like sardines before we were able to look up. The guards (herders?) were constantly saying “Shhhh” and “Keep Silent” in robot voices. It was really getting on my nerves! This should be a peaceful room, but it was the most stressful that we entered. I did get to see the Final Judgement, and had about 15 minutes to look up at the ceiling and also find Botticelli’s paintings on the wall. This 5-hour tour seemed to take forever, and my feet were killing me! The last thing we saw was inside the Cathedral, and Michelangelo’s (Rome) Pieta. I don’t remember it being behind glass last time. I wonder if someone attacked it, like his David in Florence. Bernini’s Baldacino was cool – I didn’t know it was made from metal taken from the Pantheon and melted down. We had a lunch break early in the day, and a Panini (Italian sandwich) was only some prosciutto and a hotdog bun. Nothing else – and it cost about 6 dollars. Sadly, the Vatican tour was the lowest point in our trip.
After we were finally released from our guide, we headed back up to the USO where we’d left our bags for the day. We stopped at a bar for real sandwiches (bars in Italy aren’t like the US bars, you can get wine but also coffee and a light lunch.) While overpriced, the sandwiches were much better than what we had in the Vatican. We hung out in the USO for a while and drank cokes while we used their Wi-Fi to Skype home. We had to leave at 5 when they closed and head to the train station on the “packed to the gills” metro. We had about 1.5 hours to wait before leaving on the train. Italian trains have Wi-Fi! That’s something that we didn’t have in the 90s. We also have assigned seats, so we didn’t have to worry about fighting for a place to sit down. It’s really nice to look out the window at the countryside as we go through, there are amazing sunflower farms – yellow fields as far as you can see! I tried getting a pic, but we’re on a “Fast train” and all I get is a yellow blur and reflection on the window.
Returning to Florence is almost like coming home. I love this hotel, and I could totally live in Florence as an overpriced tour guide. I could offer private tours to people who purchase the Firenze card, and help them get the most out of the 3-days that it lasts. There are a LOT of places you can use the card, but to avoid lines and crowds takes finesse. That card isn’t a money saver, but it’s sure a time saver and I think I mastered it. Anyhow, we checked back into our hotel, got cash from the ATM for the hotel and taxi tomorrow, and then hit a gelato stand again. We decided to go to Perche No? again, the same place we went to on the first night here. We got the same thing we did then – Cantaloupe (my favorite) and Watermelon (Tony’s favorite). This time, we got medium sized cups, instead of the small ones, since it’s our last night here. While we ate the gelato, we walked to our favorite evening spot – Piazza della Signora, by Palazzo Vecchio. This time, there was an orchestra up on the Loggia of the Uffizi amongst the statues of Perseus and Hercules! It’s really fun to go there at night and listen to music, and just watch people. I commented to Tony how much better Florence “feels” than Rome. No crowds, no traffic, or loud noise. People here aren’t in a hurry, pushing, shoving, etc. I’ll be sad to say Arrivaderci to Florence in the morning. Butt, it’ll be good to be home tomorrow night, however I’m sure dreading that loooong flight.
(sorry there's no picture tonight. They are still in the camera, I haven't had time to download them, much less process any)