Thursday, August 08, 2013

Viva l'Italia: Florence

I've wanted to go to Italy, and Florence in particular, since I read A Room with a View and watched the movie as a teen. I may have written about Lucy Honeychurch on my AP English exam. I even made Dan watch the movie before our trip. So expectations were high, and I was worried Florence would disappoint. Happily, it did not. I loved Florence!

We arrived at Santa Maria Novella train station after two train changes from Cinque Terre, then took a taxi to our B&B in Oltarno, just beyond the Arno. Our room was huge, on the second floor of a charming old building. It was like staying in an apartment, but breakfast was ready each morning, then later in the day the dishes were cleaned and put away. Ah, vacation! After our host showed us around and pointed out places on the map, I made an espresso, ate some cookies, and we were ready to explore Florence. But first we had a gelato.

We crossed Ponte Vecchio and walked to Piazza della Signoria. Neptune! The Uffizi! Loggia dei Lanzi! It was all right there, and so many tourists. We went inside Palazzo Vecchio to buy the Firenze Card, and we saw several choir groups warming up...turns out there was an international choir festival happening. We learned the Firenze card price had gone up nearly 50% in just one month. I was shocked by how expensive it was, but since we did not have reservations for the Uffizi or Accademia, we paid up.

View from Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Santa Trinita

Neptune
Neptune

Palazzo Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio 

We continued on to the Duomo, passing a group of young Italian children dressed in what appeared to be camp uniforms. Their teen counselors were trying to wrangle them altogether, just like at home! There was a long line at the Duomo, and the guard told us we had to go to another building for tickets to climb the cupola. And then we stood in line. The ladies in front of us didn't have tickets yet, and I told them you had to get tickets first. The lady who had climbed the cupola before thought I was mistaken, but then she decided to go buy tickets while the other lady waited in line. She didn't even say thank you when she returned! But the lady holding the spot in line did, so I guess that's something.

Duomo in Florence
Duomo

Door to climb the cupola
Door to climb the cupola

San Lorenzo & Santa Maria Novella
San Lorenzo & Santa Maria Novella 

Santa Croce
Santa Croce

Florence rooftops
Florence rooftops 

Campanile
Campanile 

Atop the Duomo
Atop the Duomo 

It took even longer to get down the stairs, because there were so many people going up. Then we went inside the Baptistry, which is stunning. The photo does not do it justice. Dan enjoyed looking at details of the scenes with binoculars, particularly the animals. I enjoyed the cool and quiet inside.

Inside the Baptistry
Inside the Baptistry

Next we went to the Duomo Museum to see Michelangelo's unfinished Pieta and Ghiberti's bronze doors, the Gates of Paradise. The details on the doors are impressive. We walked through Piazza della Repubblica and crossed Ponte Santa Trinita back to Oltarno. We had dinner at TamerĂ² on Piazza Santo Spirito...salumi and cheese, tomato with burrata, pici cacio e pepe...mmm. Dan said he was getting used to the unsalted bread in Tuscany. There were a few dogs playing on the square, and then we saw a beagle mix! Her name was Roxie and she was playing with a tennis ball, which I tossed for her a few times. Our first beagle sighting since Orvieto! After dinner we walked to the Piazza Pitti, where Dan was fascinated by a giant beetle. Then it was time for another gelato.

The next morning I had a cappuccino and an espresso at breakfast. Then we set off for the Uffizi. There was a line for tour groups, and one for individuals. We didn't have to wait long, and thankfully the museum was not nearly as crowded as the Vatican. We walked through long corridors filled with old sculptures and many portraits of the Medici family, saw Botticelli's Birth of Venus, da Vinci's Annunciation, and a surprising number of Dutch masters. Then it was time for lunch at Osteria il Buongustai...bruschetta with white beans and truffle cream, then pasta with tomato sauce for me, and tomatoes stuffed with tuna for Dan. Yum. After lunch we looked inside Orsanmichele, which used to be a grain market, then walked through the flower market onto Santa Maria Novella, but we were directed to another entrance for tickets. (A theme in Florence.) On the way we went inside the old pharmacy, a beautiful shop. The perfumes smelled divine, but I was put off by the staff.

Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella

Next we went to the Medici Chapel and marveled at the grandeur of the powerful family's mausoleum. The larger chapel was being restored, but we could tell it was very grand. We walked around the San Lorenzo market, then went inside the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, since it was close. I was underwhelmed by the palace. Then we climbed the bell tower of the Duomo. Unlike the cupola, there was no line for the Campanile.

Piazza della Republica
Palazzo Vecchio & Piazza della Republica 

Duomo cupola
Duomo cupola 

After all those stairs, we got gelato at Gelateria Vivoli. Then we went to Santa Croce, but it was closed. So we crossed Ponte alle Grazie and walked up to San Miniato. We were just in time for vespers, it was magical to hear the Benedictine monks chanting. One of the highlights of the trip for me. We walked to Piazzale Michelangelo, where there is a pretty view of Florence. Dan spotted a park, so we went to see if there were any dogs, it turned out to be the rose garden.

Santa Croce
Santa Croce

The Arno
The Arno 

Rose garden
Rose garden

We walked through Piazza San Niccolo on the way back to our place, it looked like a fun neighborhood. We had dinner at Osteria Santo Spirito, starting with a giant platter of meat and cheese. I had gnocchi with meat sauce. Very meaty.

Meat & cheese
Dan is happy, meat and cheese!

Gnocchi with meat sauce
Gnocchi with meat sauce

There was a tasty jam pie at breakfast the next morning, and I had another cappuccino and espresso. Then we were off to the Accademia. We passed so many tour groups on the way there, I lost count of the number. The line was not too bad, and we saw Michelangelo's David. The statue is enormous, and we were appropriately awe-stricken. We looked at some paintings, also saw a beautiful woven linen alter piece that had been at Santa Maria Novella. We walked over to San Marco and toured the monks' cloisters. It was so interesting to see where the monks lived and Fra Angelico's frescoes, some are really lovely. I wouldn't want the crucifixion scene though, would prefer something more cheerful. Next we headed to the Mercato Centrale, passing two construction workers posting (fake) US currency on an empty building. It was so strange.

Bills
Bills

We got some goodies at the market and had a picnic lunch in front of the Loggia dei Lanzi. Then Dan spotted a beagle named Margo! I petted her, and she rolled over for a belly rub. So cute. After gelato we went to Santa Croce, this time it was open. Many noted Italians are buried there...Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo...and the Pazzi chapel is a tranquil spot. We walked through the Scuola del Cuoio and saw many leather goods...quite a few Asian students there too. No leather sandals though, so we went to Francesco da Firenze in Oltarno, where I found a nice pair. The lady who helped me did not speak English and asked a gentleman next door to interpret for us. Dan thought she was Francesco's wife. When we left, Francesco was making shoes at the back of the shop. Dan still hasn't bought his Italian leather shoes, so we will have to return someday.

After a little rest and an espresso and cookies for me, we headed to the Palazzo Pitti, where I ran into a former coworker! It was a pleasant surprise, we hadn't seen each other in several years. The palace rooms are beautifully decorated and covered in paintings, and I liked that it was not crowded, but I would have benefited greatly from an audioguide. We walked around the Boboli Gardens, which I found disappointing. The view of Florence is nice though.

Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti

Kaffeehaus
Kaffeehouse

Boboli Gardens
Boboli Gardens

It was time for another gelato. I noticed these street signs while we were eating our gelato.

Graffiti in Florence
Graffiti in Florence 

Crucifixion
Crucifixion

After gelato we decided to go to the Palazzo Vecchio, since it was open late. On the walk over we stopped to listen to two violinists playing in front of Santa Trinita. It was really lovely.

Santa Trinita
Santa Trinita 

When we got to Piazza della Signoria, there was a performance under the Loggia. So we listened for awhile. I think my sister would have loved it.

Choir festival at Loggia dei Lanzi
Choir festival 

Then we went inside to see the Salone dei Cinquecento, a very grand room with frescoes showing Florence's victories over Siena and Pisa. (Note: I saw a lady with a Baedeker guide at Palazzo Vecchio. In Santa Croce with no Baedeker! I didn't know it was still published.) As we toured the rooms, Dan heard trumpets and drums. There was a procession outside, people were all dressed up, apparently for the feast of St. Anna. What an eventful evening!

Duomo
Inside Palazzo Vecchio

We were feeling tired, so after the procession we ordered an eggplant pizza from Gusta Pizza, across from our place. Pizza, wine, and leftovers for dinner on our last night in Florence. The next morning Dan spotted a beagle on the way to Museo Bargello! I don't remember her name, but she did not like my hat and barked at it. The Bargello was not crowded, we saw some early Michelangelo and Donatello pieces, a large collection of Islamic art, and a room full of intricate ivory carvings. We still had some time before the train to Bologna, so we decided to visit the Brancacci Chapel. We saw a wedding outside of Palazzo Vecchio, very sweet. Then near Santa Trinita we saw a Bassett hound named Junior. I asked if I could pet him, his owner said yes and dropped the leash. Dan reached to pick it up, but the owner said not to worry because Junior was too lazy to run off. Dan told him our beagle at home would follow her nose looking for food, and the owner said Junior was picky and only eats prosciutto crudo. It was very amusing.

Our time in Florence was jam-packed and went by very quickly. I think we made the most of the Firenze Card, despite the exorbitant cost. Next time, I want to wander more slowly and explore the neighborhoods. Hopefully, there will be a next time...

2 comments:

snoopyjoanne said...

you certainly have an affinity for a spotting beagles and bassetts!!! woof woof says Bonnie

Alternative Medicine said...

Wow. First I've had an opportunity to see the production of cheese and ham. Interesting