Three in One 

Whatever your style of travel, Florence suits it.

Being a tourist boils down to three kinds of days: 1) the Sit Around Day, 2) the Wander Around Day, and 3) the List Day. Florence, Italy, is one of the world's finest places to be a tourist, because all three days work magnificently there. Somehow, Florence is both small and large, compact and diverse, minute in its details and grand in its scale.

My parents and I recently had a List Day in Florence -- but with a Gerald Variation. That is, between my bad back and my parents' age, we're only capable of going 10 blocks before we need rest. But Italy is also magnificent terrain for the Gerald Variation: You walk until you're tired, and you're always within 100 feet of a cafe, bar, gelateria, or ristorante, so you get an outdoor table and sit down to take in the scene and re-energize.

Our day started with reservations at the Academia, home of Michelangelo's David and, it turns out, not much else. We had planned on spending the whole morning there, but, like most people, we were gone within a half-hour. Like the rest of humanity, we have largely lost our sense of wonder, so -- sad as it may be -- after a few minutes of looking at the statue we were pretty much done.

We gave token visitation to the other stuff in the gallery (whatever it was), then we consulted our List. But there were so many things on it that I suggested we switch to the Wander Around Day, while keeping an eye out for things on the List.

We soon lost ourselves in a stream of piazzas and shops and quaint streets and views of various torre and palazzi. At one point, I realized we were close to the Medici Chapels, where the main folks from Florence's main family are buried. And I mean Main Family. Two of them became popes, for instance. They built themselves a church, humble lot that they were, and filled it with Michelangelo statues and over-the-top artwork and creepy relics like bone fragments of various saints. This is the kind of thing you "bump into" in Florence.

In the afternoon we switched to a Shopping Bonanza, a common hybrid (favored by Mom) of the List Day and Wander Around Day. We took a taxi to the Ponte Vecchio, and Mom embarked on a ritual of all Gerald trips: the search for the right bracelet charm.

The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) was once the home of the various artisans in town, but now it's all jewelry. It's 100 yards long and 10 yards wide, with jewelry stores on both sides and probably 2,000 people shopping and taking pictures. It resembles the fleecing area of a sheep ranch. But I'm cynical. After visiting several stores and considering many options, Mom found her charm, and I am so highly male that I can't for the life of me remember what she got. I just know she got it, and we were then free to leave the Ponte Vecchio.

We found a leather shop recommended by a friend of Mom's, and before I could say "time for an espresso," Mom bought a coat. Then we headed back over the bridge, and before I could say "time for some gelato," Mom had gone back for a different coat. Then we hit a place that sold leather purses. Then on the way down the street Mom saw some art that she liked, and we bought two pieces. It was like watching Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. I even got into it! After we ate some gelato, I decided I wanted a leather bag for my computer, so we went into a street market, and I saw several I liked. On one of them the price dropped from $120 to $90 without me even making an offer -- which means, of course, that it's way overpriced at $90. I found another one I liked better that said $185 on the tag, and after some more walking around and more visits, I got it for $100. I felt like Robin to my mom's Batman.

In fact, now that I think about it, a baseball analogy is better for being a tourist in Florence: It's like a day in the major leagues. And like big-league baseball, it's crowded and expensive and overdone and often not as much fun as a minor-league town. But you still have to do it, no matter which style of Travel Day you prefer.

portlandpaul@mac.com

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