Spring Break In Florence Review - Rendezvous with the Renaissance or Pain in the Ash?

Detail Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," one of the most dominant images of the Italian Renaissance. Photo: Google Images

Wow, is this ever NOT the story I thought I would write!

There I sat in the Rome airport with my handbag (foiling pick pockets) between my feet and my carry-on stowed, waiting in the empty boarding lounge with my now worthless boarding pass. Photo: Herb Simms

When my husband and I boarded our plane for Rome, fully believing we'd make our connection for Florence, we were you’re typical blasé Americans, thinking it’ll happen to the other guy. 

Cover story of LA NAZIONE the day after we arrived. Were we stranded?

Wrong again! Here’s our story of how, with the invaluable help of many, many kind Italians and others (even Americans!) we had a fabulous vacation even though we were under a menacing volcanic ash cloud.

This story in three parts is, of course, suffused with the beauty of this magical city, Firenze as the Italians call it, Florentia, as the Romans called it.

Sunset over Florence. Photo: Hotel Monna Lisa

First, this is story about people. People who inhabit Rome, Florence and Tuscany.  And about the beauty they bring to an exceptionally beautiful place. Everywhere we turned, when we had a question, someone graciously helped us out—especially if I used a little Italian to ask it.

Second, I can’t wait to tell you about the wonderful experience I had learning Italian with Rosetta Stone’s new, on-line language system, TOTALe .  That’s a story in itself.  I’ll include a link to it in this story and I’ll cross reference it.  Just one point, though: knowing some Italian saved our vacation.  Without it, we could still be in Rome. For my review of Rosetta Stone TOTALe, visit http://www.chicago-splash.com/cgi-bin/artman2/admin.cgi?action=articleEdit&num=8869.

Ahhh! Learning language the natural way! What fun!

Third, before we left the States, a dear friend highly recommended Context Florence, www.contexttravel.com/florence/, a company that leads (per Rick Steves, no less) “walking seminars.”  Two trusted recommendations! We had the pleasure of walking with Monica Shenouda, PhD through the Uffizi, where we learned the true meaning of the Renaissance, its birth, artists, impact and beauty. To read that story in full,  click here.

The Uffizi Museum with its stunning reflection in the River Arno. Photo: Hotel Monna Lisa

You’ve heard of life-changing experiences?  Well, this was a husband-changing experience. My husband, Herb, always ignored Renaissance art (I think he confused it with the medieval art that preceded it) but now he is just as fascinated with it as I.  Whew!  That could have been a sour note in the birthplace of the Renaissance!

Detail of the other dominant image of the Italian Renaissance, David. Can you tell by the look in his eye that he knows he can take down Goliath? Photo: Hotel Monna Lisa

So to get on with my story about the people of Italy, we, along with EVERYONE in the airport, made a mad dash for the train station.  Only most of the throng actually knew where it was and if a train was headed for their destination.  Not us! We just knew our Alitalia boarding passes wouldn’t get us anywhere.  I must have looked like I was about to blow.  That’s the only explanation I have for what happened next. 

After many questions in English, French and Italian, we found the train station and everyone else from the airport.  They were in line ahead of us.  It was about 5:45pm and we were told that the train left at 6:00 pm.  This person made it sound like this was the last train and we had better be on it. Suddenly, a woman grabbed my hand, took me to the ticket seller at the head of the line (and MANY other desperate people), and asked how many tickets we needed.  I said “but there are these other people…” and turned around.  The woman in back of me shrugged, “Go ahead.”  

We got our tickets, did not get killed by an angry mob, and got on that 6:00 pm train. We arrived at our hotel, the Monna Lisa (that's NOT a typo. The hotel spells her name with a double n), at 11:00 pm.

The courtyard garden view from our room. Photo: Hotel Monna Lisa

Ah, the Monna Lisa!  More like a safe haven than a hotel, so much like the palace it had been in when it was built before 1300, she made us forget our trials and tribulations.

Every room in the Monna Lisa is different. This looks very much like ours. Photo: Hotel Monna Lisa

And when we arrived in our opulent breakfast room the next morning, we were greeted by such a feast (can you see the baked apples?), we felt right at home (like I serve baked apples for breakfast!).

The bountiful breakfast at the Monna Lisa. Photo: Hotel Mona Lisa

Though the Hotel Monna Lisa takes hospitality and comfort seriously, its shows off its sense of humor in the Mona Lisa room. 

More Mona Lisa portraits at the Hotel Monna Lisa. Photo: Herb Simms

We thought you might enjoy a close-up of this one:

The hoteliers have a little fun with their namesake. Photo: Herb Simms

In and around Florence

We had the pleasure to meet Vanna, Owner, Manager and Chef at Caffelatte, a vegetarian restaurant near our hotel:

One restaurateur, Vanna,even took us into her kitchen! Photo: Herb Simms

Lori and Tony, two lawyers getting ready to sign a very important contract:

Americans Lori and Tony on their pre-honeyoon. From Florence they 'll travel to Rome for their wedding, then to Venice for their honeymoon. Photo: Herb Simms

A lovely young woman who knew we were lost:

Lost? I'll help you find that on your map! Photo: Herb Simms

and an angel who liked me instantly!

An especially demonstrative living statue on the steps into the Uffizi.

Read about our wonderful 3-hour tour of the Uffizi Museum/Palace/Renaissance gallery extraordinaire! Click here.

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