Monday, May 14, 2012


Sorrento to Florence – Day 40 – Tuesday

Got up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 and skipped breakfast so that I could catch the 7:05 AM bus down the hill to the train station.  The bus was standing room only and the driver slung that thing around the curves like Mario Andretti.  One could develop a lot of upper body strength riding that bus to work each day.  I took the Circumvesuviana to the Naples station to catch my train to Florence.  There were seats available, but nowhere to put my suitcase, so I had to stand for 70 minutes until we got to Naples.  I got to the train station with time to spare, so I had time for a cappuccino, brioche and fruit salad at the station before my train arrived.  It was a first class ticket on an express train, so I had a comfortable, three hour ride to Florence.  I had some time to work on my blog entries, since I had fallen far behind in Sorrento with no internet for five days. 

My bed and breakfast, Soggiorno Primavera, was close to the station and I was determined to avoid taking a cab.  Unfortunately, it was just off the edge of every map I had of Florence and, even though I had looked it up on the internet and basically knew where it was, I couldn’t orient myself because the maps didn’t have street names on them and neither did many of the streets.  I must have dragged my heavy suitcase for two miles before heading back to the station and hailing a cab.
My Room at Soggiorno Primavera

The bed and breakfast is another apartment converted to an inn.   There are five rooms and three bathrooms.  I never see anyone else.  I have the most comfortable bed I have had in Italy, plenty of electrical outlets and good Wi-Fi.  There is a refrigerator and microwave in the hall.  I am very comfortable.  It’s a good deal for 48 Euros a night.

Palazzo Vecchio
My guidebook said that I could buy a Florence card at the Tourist Information office near my hotel.  Though I was tired, I thought it would be a good idea to get that out of the way so that I could hit the Uffizi first thing the next day.  I walked over there, but they said that I couldn’t buy the card there, but would have to go to the Palazzo Vecchio, clear across town.  They gave me a map and sent me on my way.  I trooped off to Piazza della Signoria, where the Palazzo Vecchio is located.  On the way, I passed the Duomo.

Florence Duomo

The Florence Duomo is quite unique in that it is faced with pink, green and white marble.  It is very dirty where it has not been cleaned, but they are working on cleaning it.  The Duomo has a magnificent Brunelleschi dome, a tall slim bell tower and a separate baptistery with famous bronze doors by Ghiberti.  All are faced in the same pastel color scheme that looks a bit out of place in the sea of earth toned buildings and tile roofs that surrounds it. The church is large.  Only St. Peter’s and Seville’s cathedral outclass it.  It was built with a big hole over the crossing of the transepts because they wanted a dome, but didn’t yet have the technology to build one.  They had faith that eventually someone would figure it out.  Brunelleschi did.

Piazza Signoria Loggia
Passing the Duomo, I threaded my way through a warren of narrow streets to Piazza della Signoria.  This is the famous Piazza off the Palazzo Vecchio (the bigger sister of the Palazzo del Commune in Montepulciano) and the Uffizi Gallery.  The loggia of the gallery displays numerous statues by famous sculptors.  It is pretty impressive.  This piazza was the original site of Michelangelo’s David.  David is the symbol of Florence because, back in the days of City States, Florence saw itself as the underdog in its conflicts with larger Venice, Naples, Milan and Genoa.  You see statues of David everywhere.  A copy of Michelangelo’s famous statues stands in the piazza today.  The original has been moved to the Accademia in order to preserve it from the elements.  There are also a number of other large sculpture groups in the piazza.

Ponte Vecchio
I bought my Florence card, but declined to enter the museum because it was too close to closing time.  Instead, I decided to take it a few outdoor sights in the neighborhood.  The Ponte Vecchio and River Arno were only about a block away.  The river Arno is one of the reasons that Florence seems so much more spacious than most cities in Italy.  It cuts a broad swath through the center of the city.  Florence probably has as many tourists as Rome, but it handles them better.  The streets are wider and there are many pedestrian plazas in which they can mill about without blocking traffic.  There is a lot to see and it’s all within walking distance.  This tends to disperse the tourists fairly evenly across the city.  

Bronze David
Florence Panorama

I walked across the Ponte Vecchio, carefully ignoring the expensive jewelry shops that line both sides.  The other side of the river is a pleasant warren of hotels, shops and restaurants.  I climbed the steep hill (steps all the way) to the Piazzale di Michelangelo.  The plaza features another copy of Michelangelo’s David, this one in bronze.  It offers a panoramic view of Florence and the river and provides a location for souvenir stands and street performers.  Someone was playing a haunting version of Queen’s We Are the Champions on electric slide guitar.  I stopped and took a number of photos, before making my way back down the hill.

Pot Head
Quite by accident, I chose a path through the rose garden.  The garden wasn’t mentioned in my guidebook, but it was well worth a look.  The garden itself is beautifully landscaped, the roses were in spring bloom and the garden was decorated with whimsical modern statues.  It was certainly an improvement over the sidewalk.  I kept stopping to take photos for tourists who were trying unsuccessfully to take pictures of themselves in front of Florence with their iPhones.  I do this all the time and I put a lot of effort into composing the portraits.  People are invariably pleased.  I am never so lucky when someone offers to take a picture of me.

Usually, I avoid the high priced cafes on main squares, but Florence has so many squares that the markup seems to be lower.  I stopped at a café and had a hamburger, beer and a macchiato for 9 Euros.  This might sound expensive, but would cost that much anywhere.  They didn’t quite have the bun right, but the cheese was excellent and I enjoyed a cheeseburger for a change.  It was hot and the pint went down easily.  I would regret the macchiato about midnight.

Florence – Day 41 – Wednesday

The Uffizi Gallery
I got up early, hoping to make it to the Uffizi (“Uffizi” means offices.  The building was originally the administrative center for the Medici.) when it opened at 8:15.  I didn’t make it until nearly 9:00, but was still able to sail straight in with my Florence card.  The Uffizi is a big U-shaped building an entire block long.  The gallery is on the fourth floor.  A hallway runs around the inside of the U with galleries opening off of it.  The entire hallway is lined on both sides with classical statuary.  Until the Impressionists revived the public interest in paintings, most tourists came to the Uffizi to see the sculptures.  A private walkway a half mile long runs from the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace so that the Medici could get to work without mixing with the common folks.  The passage is only open by special reservation, but the entire passage is lined with artworks, although not so fine as those displayed in the Uffizi itself.

The Uffizi has an unrivaled collection of Renaissance paintings.  I saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera and more Giottos, Da Vincis, Raffaellos, Titians and Michelangelos than you can shake a stick at.  You know you’re in a great museum when they stick four Rembrandts and a slew of Rubens, Van Dycks and Brueghels in the basement, identified only by a small sign reading, “Foreign Painters.”  The short part of the U runs along the Arno and has a great view of the Ponte Vecchio.  There is also a nice cafeteria (that’s a place to buy coffee, not a buffet) at one end with a pretty terrace.  I indulged in a heavenly iced cappuccino.
The Duomo

The Dome of the Duomo

After the Uffizi, I backtracked to the Duomo.  The line was short, so I ducked into the church.  It’s a big cathedral, but not particularly interesting except for the Dome.  The Duomo museum was more interesting.  The original decoration of the Duomo was pulled down in 1547.  Many of the original sculptures ended up in the Duomo Museum.  There were also some Michelangelo and Donatello sculptures, including Donatello’s anorexic Mary Magdalene who looks very modern and was about 450 years ahead of her time.

Donatello's Mary Magdalene
Laurentian Library Courtyard

I tried to go to the nearby Bargello, but it closes at 1:50 and I was too late.  I visited the Laurentian library, searching for its famous Michelangelo staircase, but it must have been off limits because I found nothing but reliquaries and Medici tombs.  I have been seeking out the work of Michelangelo, trying to understand why everybody worships him so.  Frankly, I find his sculpture boring and a bit crude except for the composition, which is usually wonderful.  I realize that he was an early adopter of the Renaissance aesthetic, but Donatello was earlier and I find his work more realistic and human.  Bernini came later, but his fine detail and airy compositions make Michelangelo’s work look rough.  I like his painting better, but it is his architecture that I like best.  There, he puts his sculptor’s eye to good use and let’s someone else carve the details.  Michelangelo was hired to design the façade for San Lorenzo, but he never completed it.  The bits that were completed were never installed and have been dispersed.  Today, the church is still crude bare brick.

Medici Crest
In stark contrast to the naked San Lorenzo, the Medici Chapel next door is a riot of decoration.  The interior is entirely faced with marble, semi-precious stones and coral.  It is an ostentatious masterpiece.  Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration because the marble facing had started to fall off.  The metal hooks that held it in place had rusted through.  It is now being painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed with new stainless steel hooks.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.  

After all my stomping through museums, I had worked up an appetite.  I stopped into a café near the Duomo and treated myself to some fettuccine all’ Alfredo and a glass of Brunello di Montalcino.  I had wanted to try it since Montepulciano, but the price kept putting me off. It was one of the best wines I had ever tried.  Eight Euros for a glass of wine is a bit steep, but the waiter liked me because I spoke Italian and knew wine, so he gave me the half glass left in the bottle.  He was of the opinion that people from San Francisco knew their wines.  This is probably true compared to people from, say, Kansas.  It was a really lovely lunch.

Santa Maria Novella

I tried to stop at Santa Maria Novella on my way home, but they are closed on Wednesday.  I guess I am just going to have to miss that one.  I’ll see it the next time I come to Florence.  I ducked into the Conad near the station for some groceries on the way home.  I got a slab of fresh brie, a bottle of Chianti, some cream for my coffee and a liter of diet coke.  Then I headed home to work on my much delayed blog entries.

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