We left Arezzo from their quaint train station early in the morning, and the train ride was filled with excitement for a day full of museums and shopping. We played cards on the train. The train went under mountains, and the pressure was enough to make us cry out as we tried to frantically pop our ears. For the “slow” train, we moved along at a pretty good clip, and we arrived at Florence within the hour.
The Florence train station’s energy was as different from the Arezzo station’s as could be. It was a massive mess of people all hustling to get everywhere, and it reminded me of New York. After the relative quiet of Arezzo, Florence came as a massive surprise. For some reason, I hadn’t expected the largest city in Tuscany to be such a large tourist destination.
Our first destination was the Uffizi Gallery, massively popular and majestic. Wandering the halls for well over an hour, we got to see many insanely famous works of art, but for some reason I could not connect with many of the paintings. After a while, all the art began to blur together and the only room that really stood out to me was the Da Vinci room, because the style was unique and more captivating to the eye.
After a short break, we met in the hub of Florentine tourism, the plaza that contains the Duomo, a massive church constructed from green marble. Packed closer than ever before, we got to experience firsthand the real majesty of one of the largest tourist attractions in Florence—the sea of selfie sticks that rose above the crowd. The Duomo was enormous, and in addition to the baptistry and the tower nearby, cast shade over everything on one side of the plaza, but the impact of the monument was diluted for me by the sheer number of tourists present. I know that I was part of the problem, but it’s hard to take a gasp of amazement if you hardly have room to breath.
I feel like my visit to Florence was filled with moments like this. We visited Michelangelo’s David after the Duomo, and the press of people trying to take a picture with the statue meant we felt pressured to keep moving. (The other members of my group were also in a hurry to get to the fabled Florentine leather market.)
Oh, the leather market.
From far away, it looked like a haven of haggling, hocking, and handcrafted goods. Stalls and carts were pressed together, filling a street and a few side streets off of it. As we began to walk through it, we began to notice the leather goods from one stall looked remarkably similar to the leather goods from the stall right next to it. Closer inspection revealed that each vendor was selling exactly the same products for exactly the same price. A hundred leather peddlers, one brand of leather. Walking down the packed road, we saw vendors pulling leather purses out of plastic shipping packaging. Only a few of us made purchases there.
I feel as though much of the Italian culture in the larger cities is obscured by the copious amounts of tourism that these cities prosper from. Seeing these magnificent cities overcome by tourism has really opened my eyes to the culture that the smaller Italian towns offer. For example, Arezzo is preparing for the Joust this weekend, so over the couse of this week, tourism will press towards an all time high, but I feel as though the tourism will be less invasive. The joust, by nature, is a very local tradition, and while it will attract tourism from the surrounding areas, the culture underneath will be amplified by the local tourism, rather than being smothered by the global tourism that the larger cities experience.