Flavio, as our tour guide, has the job of amusing the bus during travel. He has a microphone and regales us with stories about local history, interesting facts about our surroundings, and whatever other random ramblings come to his mind. Flavio has a very interesting mind. He often ends up singing or telling jokes. It can be very entertaining. Unfortunately, he also often ends up bantering with the people in the front of the bus. He says something funny and the whole bus laughs. Then, there is the muffled sound of someone in the front saying something unamplified and laughter from the front of the bus. Flavio says something into the mike that causes more laughter in the front but to the back of the bus, it makes no sense.
And thus we made it through the 45 minute drive from Montecatini to Firenze.
Firenze, or Florence as we English-speakers choose to rename it, is a lovely place with narrow streets and large churches to explore. Our area-specific tour guide for the day was Bernie. He was short with buzzed balding hair, a canvas hat, grey polo, and a great sense of humor. He took us to see the David first of all. It's in a very small museum at the Academie of Art. It is pretty much the only reason people go there. There are just 3 rooms and no one even really looks in the other two. We definitely didn't. But we spent long enough in the room looking at the David to make up for not having anything else to see. Bernie had us in front of the David for half an hour. Then we went behind for another 20 minutes to admire him from the rear. It was a lot of standing. I hadn't guessed you could look at one sculpture for that long and still have new things to say about it. Bernie knew a ton and had a good style of sharing his knowledge with us. We all had our 'Italian iPods', so we could hear Bernie wherever we were. Except Kip, who gave his willingly to someone else and stood in blissful quiet while the rest of us listened. I shared my earpiece with him from time to time, or repeated a good tidbit here and there.
The best part of the tour was when Bernie told about some of the celebrities he had taken on tour. The best was when he took the cast of the Jersey Shore. 'Snooky' asked the type of questions that give Americans a bad name in the rest of the civilized world. 'What did David think of his portrait?' When Bernie explained that they lived thousands of years apart, she wanted to know how Michelangelo knew what he looked like. Oy vey.
After the museum, we walked through Florence, taking in the important sites. Bernie told us that really you should spend three days in Florence if you want to see the best things. We had a few hours. Oh well. We walked all over, until our swollen feet were throbbing. We saw churches - a big one with tower and dome and a not-so-big one with a star of David and story about religious tolerance. We saw statues - naked people, clothed people, people killing other people, people killing other animals. And when we finally couldn't take any more, we went to a restaurant for lunch.
Flavio had told us that we must eat some Florentine steak, tagliata. So those of us who wanted to follow his recommendation went to a little place at the end of the tour and got our steak, red and bloody on a bed of green arugula and topped with parmesan cheese. It was very good steak. Flavio and the staff seemed to be on excellent terms. In fact, he seemed to know people all over the place. During our lunch the previous day, when we skipped out on the Sienna tour, he ran into on of his 60+ x-girlfriends when he did his shopping. In Florence, people called greetings to him from their shops as we passed. Another orchestra member was given a hard time by his salesperson because he was traveling with Flavio. He makes traveling fun.
After breezing through Florence we returned to charming little Montecatini. We refreshed at the hotel and then walked up to the station for the funicular to get a visit to Montecatini Alto, the old city on the hilltop. The 100+ year old funicular takes about 15 minutes to climb the hill, at a grade that peaks at 38%. One car descends while the other climbs and they pass in the middle where the track separates just for that. We took Flavio Piccolo, as we are calling the little dog we got for Becca along and took pictures of him enjoying the ride and popping up in unexpected places all over Montecatini Alto. We even introduced him to some local cats. They weren't entirely sure what to do with him.
The village at the top if the hill was charming, just what an ancient hilltop village should be. The streets were narrow and steep and dotted with delightful nooks and crannies. I wanted to spend twice as long wandering its streets than we did, but after walking Florence all day my feet hurt too much to comply. Plus, with the descent of evening darkness the temperature dropped dramatically. I was very cold as I shared my banana split with Kip. We caught the funicular and went back down to the new town. Guy, Lou, and their Dixieland Band set up on the hotel balcony and regaled the guests with Jazz and Jokes. An excellent way to end the day.