Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Christmas in Italy: Florence

After yet another delicious breakfast and a lovely stroll through the streets of Venice, we took a water-bus back to the train station (maybe the word "stroll" is a little too romantic...it was a lovely morning, but we were lugging all of our luggage and a toddler-toting-stroller over cobblestone which made it a little more labor intensive).  As we took one last look of the charming city of Venice, Dan and I promised each other that we'd return someday.   

At the station, we purchased our tickets.  We'd discovered that buying train tickets at the counter from a person, rather than the kiosk, was the way to go.  Yes, that meant more waiting in line, but it also guaranteed that we'd make the correct purchase and be directed to the right platform.  We were starting to feel confident in our train traveling skills. 

We loved riding on the trains.  It was a chance for Dan to study maps, for us to soak in the beautiful countryside from our window, and for our family to relax and be together...all with easy access to a bathroom! 

After arriving in Florence, we walked from the train station to our bed and breakfast.  We walked about 15 minutes through the streets of Florence before we caught sight of Florence's famous cathedral, The Duomo, peeking out from behind the other buildings.  Dan and I simultaneously gasped.  The Duomo has one of the largest domes in the world.  It is impossible to capture its magnitude on camera or to describe its grandeur in writing.  It is a thrilling sight to see and we hurried to catch a closer look. 

The exterior of The Duomo is made completely of different colors of marble.  It was incredible! 

After catching some photos of The Duomo, we walked a few blocks to our bed and breakfast, which was located in an Italian couple's apartment.  They buzzed us up to their apartment and welcomed us with open arms.  This was one of my favorite b&b's.  The owners treated us like family, welcoming us with traditional Italian Christmas bread and sugary sweet crimson-red juice that stained our lips for hours.  We sat, munched, and chatted.  After refueling, we began exploring Florence. 

Below is Florence's city square, which has has been the headquarters of Florentine political life for centuries.  In the square stands a replica of the David.  The original sculpture previously stood there before being moved to the Florence Art Museum.

We continued on to the River Arno and caught a view of the Ponte Vecchio.

We then hiked and climbed up, up, up (while singing Must Be Santa to keep Peter entertained) to an overlook called the Ponte di Michaelangelo.  The steep climb was worth the view.  At the overlook, we bought Peter a little Pinnochio puppet...and later found out that the author of Pinnochio was buried on that very mountain!

We climbed higher and higher, but just had to stop for a photo op of beautiful Florence!

The mountain kept on going, but finally we saw the top!  At the top, rested the magnificent Basilica of St. Minias!

St. Minias was from the East and came to Italy for a pilgrimage to Rome. He ended up settling on the mountain south of Florence and establishing a hermitage here. He was eventually captured by the Romans and beheaded on the banks of the Arno River. Legend has it that St. Minias picked up his head and took it up the mountain to his home where he died.

The Basilica of St. Minias now stands over the site of his old home and his tomb.  Inside of the church was quiet and peaceful, away from the noise of the city.

We climbed back down the mountain as the sun was setting.  We had one more stop before dinner, the Basilica di Santa Croce (Holy Cross).  Inside, we found the tombs of Michaelangelo, Galileo Gallilee, and Nicolo Machiavelli!

Our next stop: dinner!  At first, our quest for food was a bit challenging.  Many restaurants in Italy don't open for dinner until 7 pm (not easy when traveling with a toddler)!  But we finally found a perfect little restaurant facing The Duomo.  We feasted on Florentine steaks!

The next morning, our wonderful b&b owners delivered a homemade Italian breakfast to our room, including cappaccinos and scambled eggs!  After breakfast, we walked to the Florence Academy Art Museum, home of the famous sculpture, The David!  After a trip through the museum (it was quick and efficient, as are all museum trips with a two-year-old), we returned to The Duomo to soak in the sights of Florence. 

The most beautiful aspect of our trip was the spiritual significance.  It was incredible to spend the days before Christmas visiting breathtaking basilicas and unforgettable pilgrimage sites.  Instead of shopping malls and presents, we were able to focus as a family on the birth of Christ.  In Italy, there are manger scenes everywhere.  Peter loved studying them.  Often, the crib would be empty, anticipating the birth of Christ.  Peter gazed excitedly at the empty crib as we told him "Baby Jesus is almost here!"  He couldn't wait!  It was so beautiful to see the simple faith of a child!

(As Peter studied each manger scene, he'd point out the figures: "Mary, Joseph, angel, shepherd, cow, sheep..." and then inevitably ask "Horse?  Where'd the horse go?" since most manger scenes did not have a horse. 
I responded "Hmmm....maybe the horse is out eating some hay." 
He seemed content with that answer and at future manger scenes would say "Horse?  Where'd the horse go?  Oh...Hay.")

The doors of The Duomo's Baptistery were incredible!  Here's Peter and Dan finding a carving of Saint Mark, who's tomb we had seen in Venice. 

I love the carving below.  It is the Holy Family's flight to Egypt. 

We wrapped up our quick stay in Florence and grabbed a rental car!  Pisa, here we come!

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