Sunday, May 08, 2011

Florence Musings

For me, Florence presented a strange, eclectic mix of experiences:

  • An old city (ancient by American standards), yet full of graffiti. And full of young folks from all over the world. We even saw some Italian school groups touring cathedrals with teachers displaying that glassy-eyed look when the brain is unwillingly pumped full of boring history.
Angry Angel
Angry Angel

Sulla Sicurezza

Window and Face
Face with Barred Window

Do not write on the walls (posted within the campanile)

  • While we knew we were in Italy, everyone spoke English. Even when we tried to ask how to pronounce something in Italian, the term would be explained to us in English. The only place where English did not predominate was at the Uffizi. In this way, one was encouraged to buy an English guidebook.
  • We found Florence to be very walkable. Sometimes, for me, a bit confusing. During the day, all of these lovely shops displayed goods ranging from antiques to hand-crafted papers to leather or linens. At night all of these shops closed up using metal garage-type doors. Thus creating a totally new look to the street.
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Capes and Masks

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Mmmm...Cured Meat

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Toy Shop with Pinocchio

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Hand-crafted papers

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Straw Hats

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Home Decor

Gold Gargoyle on Black Rippled Door
Gold Gargolye

Painted Veggies
Painted Veggies

  • Everyone talks about how bad the cars are in Italy and how crazy the driving is. Not in Florence. The cars have to be extremely careful of the fearless bikes and scooters which are everywhere. These two-wheeled vehicles are the crazy drivers.
Lined up under the graffiti

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  • No matter what, one ends up paying for a restroom. Sometimes it's a straight up pay to enter (such as the public toilets near the Duomo). Other times, you have paid to eat at a trattoria or get a snack at a bar. If you are at a museum, you must enter the establishment and pay the entrance fee before one finds a restroom. For the most part this ensures that the bathrooms are clean and stocked. The only really bad toilet I came across was at the train station (and yes, one had to pay to enter).

  • I loved strolling along the Arno at different times of day. Every afternoon, the rowing club would practice which added both a surreal and real quality to the river. One of the unusual things we discovered along the Arno was the multitude of padlocks placed on a series of chain barriers. As graffiti spaces have gotten scarce, these locks seemed to be a replacement.
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Arno and rower

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Arno, Santo Spirito, and Graffiti

Ponte Vecchio at Night

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Ponte Vecchio Daylight

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Ponte Vecchio and Rower

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Locked Up 4

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Locks on Ironwork

  • Of course, the Uffizi gallery was a must-see, but it did not bowl me over (no photos allowed in side). We did not visit Florence during the height of the tourist season, yet, this place was mobbed. The layout was not very imaginative and the lighting created lots of glare. Getting around the other visitors to avoid the glare was tiresome. It was cool to see that some of the paintings had been in the collection since the 16th century; very mind-boggling. Thank goodness we did not have to wait in line to buy tickets, either. We had purchased a 3-day state museum pass at the Palazzo Vecchio (another, uncrowded museum) located next door. The pass included all of the major museums in Florence plus some of the smaller ones. It did not include any of the churches.
Uffizi with Palazzo Vecchio and Duomo in background
Statue outside of the Uffizi

  • Our pass included the Accademia (no photos) that houses David by Michelangelo. Again, very crowded, but worth it. The museum is also connected to a musical instrument museum. If you can't get in to see David, never fear. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio there stands a copy and in the Piazzale Michelangelo with sweeping views of Florence, one finds a bronze copy. Of course as soon as we entered Florence, we saw souvenir copies of the famed nude as well as underwear, aprons, and t-shirts with his likeness (or parts of his likeness).
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David in Silhouette

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David in front of Palazzo Vecchio

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Bronze David

  • A visit to Florence would not be complete without spending time in the Duomo area and being awestruck by Brunelleschi's famous red-tiled dome. Absolutely incredible. The day after we arrived we climbed the Campanile or bell tower. Great views and since we climbed up early in the morning, not very crowded. The next day I tackled the climb up the dome itself. I got to see the frescoes on the inside of the dome up close as well as the spectacular view from the top. What incredible feats of construction and craftsmanship. We also visited the cathedral, baptistry, and the Duomo Museum. The museum houses works that used to be in the cathedral, including one of the last sculptures of Michelangelo and Donatello's Mary Magdelene.
Il Duomo

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Artwork over main entrance

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Baptistry in foreground

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Campanile (bell tower)

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Painting on Baptistry ceiling

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Gold Baptistry Door Detail

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Duomo ceiling

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Donatello's Mary Magdelene

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Baptistry Doors

Brunelleschi's Dome

View from Campanile

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Dome fresco upclose

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Pieta by Michelangelo

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Duomo carving

  • I guess the last major attraction in Florence that most people visit is the Pitti Palace (no photos) and Boboli Gardens. The Pitti Palace was huge and showed palace rooms as well as the art the royalty collected. I ogled all of the crystal chandeliers and we breathed a sigh of relief at seeing a few 19th and 20th century art. We saw some Italian impressionism, which I had not been aware of. The Palace also had a special early 20th century Russan art exhibit.
Pitti Palace

Back of the Pitti Palace

Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

  • The gardens were huge and hilly. I could just imagine young ladies-in-waiting getting lost and happening upon a gentleman or scoundrel (depending on the romatic novel). We also encountered several cats that live on the grounds. The gardens require a fee to get in. We saw very few public green spaces in the city. Most were private, like the one at our hotel. Since the old city is so small, there is not really room for trees or green spaces. We missed the green.
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Fountain in Boboli Gardens

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Boboli Gardens

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Tree-lined path

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Fountain and Reflection

Garden Cat

  • There are many more churches to visit than just the Duomo. One of our favorites was Santa Croce. Apparently, it hit the jackpot as far as being the burial site for such luminaries as Galileo and Michelangelo (among others). The artwork inside amazed us. In the back of this church, a leather school is housed. On the lower level the leather is processed and the upper level fabricates the material into fabulous coats, purses, etc. The leather felt so soft and supple. True masterpieces of the craft. A retail store will relieve you of some megabucks for these works of art or will take less money for smaller trinkets like wallets, change purses, cigar holders, or bookmarks.
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Santa Croce

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Sun over Santa Croce

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Michelangelo's Tomb

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Santa Croce Painting

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Santa Croce Ceiling

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Leather School

  • Another favorite was San Miniato al Monte which is located on a hill above Piazzale Michelangelo. Parts of this church date back to the 10th century. A cemetery surrounds three quarters of the building and is still being used. The gold mosaic inside the church is a must-see. Monks run the gift shop and sell honey and herbs.
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San Miniato al Monte

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Altar Art

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Overlooking Florence

  • At the Palazzo Vecchio we saw Damien Hirst's diamond encased skull.
Skull Sign
Skull Advertisement

  • At practically every corner in Florence an icon appeared.




  • I loved the intricacy and variety of door knockers across the city.

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  • Farmers and craft markets graced numerous squares on Saturdays.
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  • All around Florence the traffic signs had been "enhanced." Very strange and fascinating. We were always trying to find new ones.

Winged Laborer

Driver 2

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Wow, what a vacation! Fun, thought-provoking, visually stimulating.

Next post: Food in Florence

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