Before leaving home on my Italian adventure I decided to construct my own journal, selecting a paper that I felt would serve equally well for graphite, pen & ink, and light watercolor washes (I chose Strathmore 500 Series Drawing.) and a structure that would be both rugged and versatile (a coptic sewn structure in a soft leather wrap-around binding modified from a medieval design.) To save weight and limited space in my luggage (one carry-on sized backpack and my sketch kit) I decided to forego my fountain pen and ink bottles and opted to drop a dip pen in my watercolor box and let my watercolors do double duty as drawing and writing medium.
My early morning departure from Roma was on a Sunday. The streets were free of the usual weekday traffic. I virtually had the bus to myself and enjoyed one last, leisurely tour of the Eternal City en route to the train station. I even chose to take the local train to Firenze instead of the express so the hill towns and countryside would be more experience and less blur. I wasn't disappointed by the alternating parade of rolling hills, farms, vineyards country villages, and hilltop towns.
Arrival at Florence's massive Stazione di Santa Maria Novella is a little hectic, even on a Sunday. But, walking just a short distance from the terminal, I quickly realized how much quieter, more relaxed, the city was than Rome had been; with fewer vehicles -- more "pedestrians only" streets. Many of the local busses that passed me were powered by nearly silent electric motors (to reduce noise and air pollution?) As was to be expected, the areas around the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio were bustling with tourists and shoppers. But side streets were refreshingly breezy and quiet. And the noise level dropped steadily as I neared my hotel in the Oltrarno. (During the work week I was struck by the fact that, in many neighborhoods, the predominant sources of sound were people's voices and the repetitive "plink" of stonemason's hammers. How wonderful, I thought, that there was at least one modern city that was still building for permanents.)
I set a rule for myself before leaving home; I could draw all I liked, but I could not spend more than half of each day indoors. So, I alternated between visits to museums and churches, and leisurely strolls through parks and along residential streets. I visited the Casa Buonarroti -- where I was awestruck by intimately scaled drawings, a rough model for a sculpture of a mythical river god (constructed of clay applied over an armature of reeds and hay), and a tiny maquette that still bore Michelangelo's finger prints! -- and then imagined myself following in the man's footsteps as I wondered streets that may have been layer out by the Etruscans. And I spent hours standing along the Arno or sitting in a sidewalk cafe, watching Life go by and enjoying its multi-colored flavors. Ah, la dolcezza di non fare niente!
I spent one morning visiting what is (for me) the best laid-out, most human-scaled art museum in the world, and then contemplated it all over an al fresco lunch at one of the best-located terrace cafes anywhere (the Uffizi!) After lunch I took a nap back at my hotel (a very decadent self-indulgence for any American over the age of 10). And, in the late afternoon, I sketched in the Piazza de' Pitti and strolled the Giardino Boboli.