Italy, Touring Florence

Oh, where to start? With the daily itineary, of course…

That “drive to Florence” part, that takes 3+ hours. We must not have left on time. And it must have taken a little while to get us all off the bus and to the meeting point because we had about a half hour for lunch before we had to meet for the museum tour. We’re no fools… there’s a great looking sidewalk cafe just down the block ūüôā

In fact, it seems there’s always a great looking sidewalk cafe or a gelato store just down the block. Very dangerous to one’s diet…although I came home 2.7 pounds lighter than when I left so I guess the walking compensated for the pasta, gelato and wine.

This would be a great time to share a picture of the motorcycles and motor scooters lined up along the square in front of the sidewalk cafe. Interestingly, it was “Piazza San Marco”, but very different than the “Piazza San Marco” in Venice. And I don’t remember seeing a church in honor of St. Mark but there must have been one there somewhere…or there wouldn’t have been a square. Anyway, back to the scooters.

I wanted to give a little push and see if they’d fall like dominoes, but the temptation passed quickly. Scooters have several advantages in the cities of Italy, including:

  • They fit on streets where cars and trucks don’t
  • They can weave in and out of stalled traffic
  • They can “split” the lanes of stopped traffic and get to the front of the line at intersections
  • They get the equivalent of 50-90 miles per gallon which is important when gas costs over $8 per gallon.
  • They park in much smaller spaces than cars and trucks
  • They park on the sidewalk if they want to

After lunch, we toured the “Gallery of the Academy”, an art museum associated with the University of Florence. They have a lot of really big, really old, paintings. After I got past “how the heck did they paint something that big”, they all started to look alike. They have a lot of really big, really old, statues, including a bunch of Michelangelo originals. Amazing work, but again they all started to look similar after a while. There are some really odd things displayed along side the good stuff that kind of detract, at least I thought so. Sorry, no photos allowed. They have a bunch of really old, kind of old and not so old copies of the originals made by various art students over the centuries. Hmmm, they look a lot like the originals, at least to my untrained eye. They have a copy of “David” that I could take a photo of, which was good since my art teacher friend Debi Oswald asked me to get a photo of “David” for her. Here you go Debi… he (the copy) really is pink with blonde hair.

One thing that makes Michelangelo’s works stand out is the fact that he did not work from drawings or models. He selected his stone based on what he envisioned trapped inside it then chipped away the pieces that weren’t part of his vision. Wow.

The museum also had a temporary exhibit with a bunch of really old musical instruments. Some of them were pretty cool. I fixated for a while on a Stradivarius violin that was an awesome piece of woodwork. I have no idea how sweet or squeaky it sounded, but the craftsman who put the wood together did a fine job. No photos allowed, of course, which is unfortunate because I think you’d enjoy seeing just how fine the woodwork was. Oh well.

I found plenty of art to enjoy after we left the museum, including some really cool doorways, doorknobs and doorknockers.

Maybe one of you who paid closer attention than I during their college psychology classes can explain why I found the doorways to be more artistic than the paintings and statues. Or maybe we can just enjoy a nice bottle of Merlot while pretending to explain ūüôā

Just down the street from the museum is Il Duomo. The Cathedral. In Florence this is the Basilica di Santa Maria del fiore (St. Mary of the flowers). It includes the largest brick dome EVER constructed. The basilica took 140 years to build. I understand why, and so will you when you see the pictures. Hold on to your seats…this is amazing. The north side:

The west side, which contains the main entrance and faces the Baptistery of St. John:

The campanile (bell tower):

And, the south side:

I took a lot of photos inside and outside and you can see them all, if you want, using the link below. However I would like to share three particular photos, the inside of the dome:

The arches of the naves:

And, the votive candles:

No, the couple wasn’t part of our tour group. No, I don’t know them. No, I don’t have a model/subject release from them. However they so embodied the spirit that I needed their picture. I lit a candle there too and Teresa may have as well. You, my friends and family, were in my thoughts and prayers throughout the trip, not just when I lit a candle.

Outside the church to the west was the Baptistery of St. John. Back in the day, it was opened once a year and all the babies born during the previous 12 months were baptized. An unofficial census count.

The doors to the baptistery, also known as the “gates of paradise” are amazing, depicting 10 scenes from the bible including:1.¬†Adam and Eve¬†2.¬†Cain and Abel¬†3.¬†Noah¬†4.¬†Abraham¬†5.¬†Isaac with Esau and Jacob¬†6.¬†Joseph¬†7.¬†Moses¬†8.Joshua¬†9.¬†David¬†10.¬†Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (1 and 2 are top left and top right, continuing through 9 and 10 bottom left and bottom right).¬†Go ahead, click on the picture to view it in full size, or save a copy and zoom in to check out the panels. They’re fantastic. It took Ghiberti and his craftsmen 27 years (!) to make these beautiful doors.

If you promise to come back to the blog, I’ll provide links to more information on Il Duomo and the baptistery.

As we continued our tour, I found several other artistic features of the city. Even the garbage cans, sewer covers and port-a-johns at construction sites are worthy of notice:

We saw many examples of reuse and recycling. Old buildings become the foundation for the new, or are incorporated into the new. I found it particularly unsettling to sit in buildings that still look great and function as designed after 800 years or more when I have grown so accustomed to our throwaway culture where buildings aren’t expected to last more than 50 years or so. This tower fits very well with its new neighbors.

Here’s a fine example of a street sign. Unlike Venice, Florence did not have an additional sign with arrows pointing toward the nearest piazza, only the name of the street the sign faced.

A few blocks south of Il Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria. This is another fun place to play around with Google maps. While in satellite view, zoom in to street view and check out the statues. There’s another “David” here for Debi:

As well as a copy of Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine” and other classic sculptures.

Frankly, I appreciated these copies much more than the originals in the museum. Why? I could walk right up to them, study and photograph them from any angle. If you ever go to Florence, I would strongly recommend skipping the museum and enjoying the copies. Unless, of course you want to see the paintings.

After a brief stop to enjoy some excellent gelato and appreciate the artistic wooden ceiling at Vivoli, it was time to walk some more.

We found a store devoted to Pinnochio:

A store where I bought a very sharp necktie to wear at our concert in Rome, a wedding dress store, where I took some pictures for Sami:

We filled our water bottles at the straw market, where we bought a nice Italian leather wallet for Matt and a very nice Italian leather poncho wrap for Teresa.

All shopped out, we headed back toward the bus. I took a few pictures of the small vehicles (they have to be small, because the streets are so narrow) for Matt:

Before we got back to the bus, we saw what may be my favorite doorway of the trip:

In a previous life, when I shot film, I felt lucky if there were one or two shots per roll that I felt were worthy of printing. Those shots that I really liked and really wanted. I think I’m better than that now, in terms of what I like and want and keep, but I rarely print anything. This next photo may be the one (out of over 1600 taken on this trip) that I print.

When I tossed a coin in his case, I don’t know if he thought I was paying for the privilege of taking his photo or appreciating his music, but the smile we shared will remain with his song in my heart forever.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Hotel Mediterraneo where they had installed a neat ramp on the stairs to make it very easy to get roller-suitcases up the stairs.

To the left of the hotel, you can see the umbrellas of another sidewalk cafe where 6 or 7 of us may have consumed a few bottles of “vino rosso” and “vino bianco” while the sun set.

If you want to see all of the photos I took in Florence, you can view them on Flicker.

4 thoughts on “Italy, Touring Florence

  1. 1. Loving reliving Italy through your incredible photos.
    2. That shot of the musician is amazing
    3. Unless you have a fairly extensive background in art history (lucky me) appreciating all the paintings & sculptures in Italy’s museums is tough, so when I’m with my mom we use Rick Steves’ Mona Winks to tour museums. It’s very tounge in cheek, but a great primer on the important stuff in museums.
    4. Thanks again for sharing your trip with us.

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