Our plan for today was to take a bus to Siena for a day trip, but we found out this morning that the drivers may be going on strike, so we decided not to chance it. Instead we used our found time to use up our Firenze card at the Pitti Palace and stroll around the Boboli Gardens.
It was a beautiful day, perfect for slow walking with lots of stops to admire the sculpture, the grounds, and the beautiful views of Florence down below. This was a bonus day, so we decided to take our time and not try to see it all. We loved the Boboli Gardens (thanks to Sarah Sutter for suggesting it), especially the 15 minutes or so when we sat on a bench and watched a toddler chase the pigeons all around the Neptune Fountain.
After about an hour in the gardens, we wandered inside for coffee and then entered the Palatine Gallery, a huge collection of Renaissance art in rooms with painted ceilings celebrating Roman mythology. The rooms were jam-packed with paintings, many by artists I never heard of, but there were also many by Raphael, Titian, and a few Caravaggios thrown in. There’s much more to the Pitti Palace, but it was a beautiful day and we wanted to get back outside. We took a leisurely walk back over the Ponte Santa Trinita and stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant on the way back to our hotel.
We spent the rest of the day getting organized, washing some clothes, watching Italian TV, and packing for tomorrow when we take a train to Milan. I’ve worried a little that we might over-schedule ourselves during this trip, so taking a slow day like today was an excellent idea.
Visiting Florence can seem like being in a time warp. You’re surrounded by the Renaissance in the museums, galleries, churches, and public places. We spent this morning following the Renaissance walking tour (from the Steves book and app again). The tour took us by the Bargello and we decided to stop in. This small museum was quiet and uncrowded, so it was a pleasant change from the streets full of tour groups. It contains a large courtyard, several Michelangelo sculptures on the ground floor and Donatello sculpture in the room above (add some Leonardo and Raphael and you have the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). There’s also a famous bronze statue of Mercury by Giambologna that made us think of flowers.
We also visited the Bapistry where we admired its bronze doors and ceiling mosaics, especially the Last Judgement where you can see Christ giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to the dead who wish to enter heaven. (Really! Look closely at the picture and check out the hands.)
The Orsanmichele Church was open so we walked in. This church was originally a granary and you can see signs of that in the design. Inside is a beautiful Gothic Tabernacle and the exterior of the church has niches in the walls where statues (two more Donatellos) are housed. After a long morning of walking, we decided to get some gelato and then return to our hotel for a rest.
For the evening’s entertainment we ventured outside of the touristy part of Florence to the Nelson Mandela Forum where it was truly time to do the Time Warp again. We saw a touring company perform the Rocky Horror Show and it was great fun. It was in English of course, except for an Italian speaking narrator who apparently was a local celebrity because he got a lot of applause as soon as he entered. We enjoyed this little break from the Renaissance and a time warp back to the 70s.
If Paris is for lovers, Florence is for walkers. My Fitbit says I walked 15,378 steps yesterday and 14,422 today. Walking is the best way to get around, but it can be treacherous. There are many traffic-free areas in the tourist areas north of the Arno, but some of the smaller, winding streets have very narrow (or no) sidewalks, and buses, cars, and the ubiquitous scooters come zipping around the corner at any time. Still, we’ve enjoyed walking these past two days, once the rain stopped. But, as much as we enjoy walking, Paul’s knees do not like steps, so we decided not to climb to the top of the Duomo’s dome for what we’ve heard is a spectacular view.
Our wanderings today took us to the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that’s featured in every movie or novel set in Florence. It was bright and sunshiny today, so we had a good time strolling along and taking pictures.
We then made our way to the Uffizi Gallery where we let Rick Steves and his app guide us through what was supposed to be a two-hour tour but took us much longer. Again, having a guide, or in this case a recorded tour, was extremely helpful. It helped us notice things we would have missed and make the historical connection necessary to truly appreciate what we were seeing.
Then, for something completely different, we decided to check out the Galileo Museum. We downloaded their free app that has more information that anyone can possibly process while standing before showcases of old scientific instruments. We ran out of steam after the first floor, but it was a nice break from all the statues and paintings.
After a little rest, we took a bus to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This is where all the tour buses stop because there is a spectacular view of Florence and the Duomo. We took some pictures, but we were there primarily to visit the San Miniato Church and attend the Mass of the Gregorian Chants. This involved walking up a lot of steps, but it was worth it. The church is undergoing some major restoration so it was very noisy when we entered, but that stopped before the mass. The mass was sung throughout, and it was lovely and peaceful to listen to.
We decided to walk back (downhill is much easier) and it took us about a half an hour to get to our next destination, Teatro Verdi, where we had tickets for a concert by Orchestra Della Toscana. We had dinner in a restaurant across the street from the theater (quite convenient). The hall was smaller than I expected (and a little shabby) but we had good seats, right behind four young girls who entered carrying cushions to sit on (to see better). They seemed to thoroughly enjoy the concert and each other’s company and we appreciated seeing young people at a classical concert.
In the first half, the conductor also was the cello soloist in three pieces for cello and orchestra by Strauss, Glazunov, and Dvořák. He was excellent, but conducting while playing is a challenge, and he gave cues with his head and occasionally his bow. Fortunately, the concert master was also excellent and kept the strings together. After intermission, we heard Schumann’s Spring Symphony, No. 1. This is not the best orchestra I’ve ever heard, but they played with a lot of heart and obviously enjoy playing with this conductor.
After the concert, we took a taxi back to the hotel although my Fitbit would have been even happier if we had walked.
Our morning was spent packing, riding the train to Florence, and finding our hotel, but we still had the afternoon to wander around, get our Firenze pass, and visit a church and a museum.
The Duomo is a Gothic cathedral with a huge dome that can be seen all around town and makes a good landmark in a city of narrow winding streets. We found the Mercato Market where we had lunch and then walked through the Duomo to get a sense of its grandeur.
From there we went to Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Our Firenze cards let us skip the long lines and walk right in. I expected the crowd to be huge but it wasn’t bad at all, and we were able to see this amazing statue up close and from all sides. This is truly a marvelous work that you cannot possibly appreciate from photos alone. You have to see it. I remember that the statue was attacked in the early 90s by a deranged man with a hammer and a toe was broken (and repaired). Nowadays you can’t get that close because there are plexiglass panels all around it.
To get to David you pass by a series of incomplete statues know as the Prisoners. They are called this because Michelangelo believed he was freeing his sculptures from the stone in which God had imprisoned them. Because they are unfinished, they do appear to be emerging from huge blocks of marble.
Also in the Accademia there is a little bonus room, The Museum of Musical Instruments. This room holds mostly string instruments, including several Stradivarius violins. I got the feeling I sometimes have when I see animals in a zoo. Those violins should be played, not just looked at. Paul was enthralled by a double bass and asked if I would buy it for him, but I think we will remain a one-bass family for now.
Late last night, from our hotel room, we heard laughing, shouting, and chanting in the street below us. Apparently there was a football game (not American football, but the less barbaric game the rest of the world plays) between Rome and Florence. The Rome team won, but apparently some folks in Florence were quite happy about that. If I were younger, I might have gone out on the street to join them.