I hope you who read this have the stamina to stick it to the end :)
We arrived Saturday morning, oh dear, train strike! Jostled by the horde waiting for the Terravision bus.
Once in Florence we bought seven day bus passes for €16 each, turned out to be a really good buy as we were able to jump on a bus whenever we felt like it ( my traveling companion, my mom, is 82).
We stayed self-catering at Reidenza il Carmine, in apartment ‘Oro’; it is in a pretty courtyard garden on a quiet side street so no street noise whatever, and with a view of the back of the church of the Carmine. The place was simple and clean but the beds had to be the narrowest I have ever slept in with that turn over and fall out factor!
The location was really convenient, right on a bus route.
We ate some lunch, had a cup of tea and went round to see the Brancacci chapel, the frescoes of Masaccio and Masolino are beautiful and moving -- only a certain number of people at a time can enter and they seem to just only 15 minutes per group of people.
I was a little disappointed with Esselunga as the store wasn’t as big as I had hoped—I had imagined a superstore-- but we managed to spend about an hour there browsing and bought some tasty morsels.
We walked home looking in all the little shop windows and vowing to come back when they were open.
The area around the apartment was great (it is next door to the house Philipo Lippi was born in) as there are lots of little artisan shops: makers of shoes, sandals, picture frames, jewellery and so on, as well as small grocery/produce stores and bread and pastry shops. It’s a real neighbourhood where people go about their daily business and with fewer tourists in the area it has a homely feel.
Sunday went way off the beaten track to visit the Cenacolo (last supper) of Andrea Del Sarto at San Salvi, which is a 15 minute bus ride from the center . Sitting at the front of the bus I followed every turn on my map lest we miss the stop and end up in the middle of somewhere else. We didn’t. There is a small notice on a large iron gate to tell you are at the Cenacolo and to ring the bell, a man came out opened the gate and let us in. We were the only people there and so had the place all to ourselves. It is set up like a little museum with several works by other artists. It was well worth the trip as the fresco is beautiful!
Back to town and to the museo del Duomo. Spent almost two hours there—hunger forced us to leave—it’s a fascinating museum with much about the building of the Duomo: architectural drawings, wooden models of the dome and the like. I especially liked the Donatello sculptures, most notably the Magdalena made of wood; so real, so organic and so modern that it’s amazing she is more than 500 years old . There are several other Donatello’s there; In my eyes he is the true master sculptor of the rinascimento.
Time for gelato. So to Grom—no one there, all the tourists were buying the green fluffy stuff on Via del Calzaiuoli—the people at Grom were very nice and gave tastes of the flavours mmm, torroncino, zabaglione, chocolate, Amalfi lemon oh, my .
We tried several other gelaterias during the rest of the week (Vivoli and Carabe) and decided Grom was the best and had the best size portions!
And so to Santissima Annunziata. While sitting on the steps waiting for the church to open, I saw many people entering a palazzo across the street. Being a nosey person I followed them—into a charming, hidden, courtyard garden that was having a free open day, we spent the best part of a lovely, peaceful hour there among the giant potted azaleas, the lemon trees and whimsical gazebos— what bliss!
Monday we followed an itinerary I found online-- a walk to several churches: Ognisanti for the Ghirlandaio cenacolo; Santa Trinita for Ghirlandaio’s Adoration—I like the expressive faces of his characters—and Santissimi Apostoli, a tranquil Romanesque church.
The walk to find them was fun. Florence is like a living, breathing, museum: it’s impossible to get to a destination without stopping to look at something on the way—we did this often, sometimes not getting to wherever for hours as we dilly-dallied in the narrow streets and alleyways, peeking into courtyards, doorways, palazzi and little shops.
By the end of the walk we were close to Palazzo Davanzati so decided to stop there. It became one of the highlights of the trip. They have recently reopened a few of the restored rooms which are wonderful, giving a good sense of what a 15th/16th /17th century palazzo was like with beautifully painted, coffered ceilings and hand painted walls, giant shutters and ‘milk bottle’ window panes.
In the afternoon we went to Palazzo Vecchio which was rather a disappointment! Fat and deformed little putti are the stuff of nightmares and I am no fan of the overdramatic baroque style; this building is far more interesting on the outside.
We partook of Grom again, for compensation!
Mom got high at Zecchi, the art supply store on Via dello Studio, with all its lovely jars of colourful pigments lining the walls-- like the jars in an old fashioned chemist’s shop—jars full of promise!
Tuesday we went to Orsanmichele, a large square brick of a building that was once a grain store, recently restored and reopened, what a beautiful church: lovely frescoes, stained glass windows and gothic tracery on exterior windows, peacefully serene with no indication of the mass of people outside the doors on Via Dei Calzaiuoli.
We walked to San Lorenzo, looked in the church; it’s touching that Cosimo the Elder and Donatello are buried side by side in the crypt. Had lunch on the steps and fed cheese to the little sparrows which do battle with the pigeons for food.
Exhausted we went home for a rest.
Up to San Miniato for the vespers. They are held in the crypt and were sung by six of the remaining eight monks. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience with the thunder booming outside giving it an air of gothic mystery. Left there in the pouring rain, almost drowned on the walk home from the bus stop, walked behind two young men hanging onto eachother under a large pink umbrella--only in Italy!
Wednseday the weather cleared up some so we went to Fiesole which was a little blah .The Roman amphitheater and the Mueso Bandini were a waste of time and money but the little church and monastery of San Francesco were unexpectedly lovely and made the trip worthwhile.
Back to town.
Being a garden lover I had read about the Garden of the Iris at Piazzale Michelangelo, we went in the afternoon. It was wonderful, so tranquil, so beautiful. Full of iris, roses and ancient olive trees all mingling together, tumbling down the hillside in a gloriously untidy manner, coexisting happily and peacefully just below the hubbub of the tour busses and tourist tat in the piazza above – another of the highlights of the trip!
We wandered back down to the city through the lovely Garden of the Rose and the San Nicolo area, hopped a bus to home.
Thursday is flower market day, and though there were very few cut flowers the plants were beautiful, there were many familiar plants like the cheerily ubiquitous red and pink geraniums to the more unusual red toilet brushes of callistemon to tiny cacti, two if which I bought for € 1.50 each.
Traipsed off to the pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella. What a fabulous place: all warm , dark woods, mirrors, gilded ceilings and luscious aromas.
One thing that is very noticeable is how the Florentines seem to embrace the old without wanting to destroy it or modernize it-- so many shops still have their original fittings and the windows are so often prettily decorated, luring you in with the promise of treats inside.
Gelato at Vivoli. The portions were smaller than Grom and the staff not at all friendly, the place and piazza around were full of tourists. But the raspberry gelato was delicious!
I had pre-booked tickets to the Uffizi for 4pm so off we went. The sheer weight of tourists there is uncomfortable. But since many are in groups that move on quickly we found that if we waited a few minutes we got the paintings between groups!
I almost missed one of the paintings I wanted to see because of the lousy lighting and sadly, two of my other must sees (one of which I have never seen ‘in person’)were out on loan! However, I did see some old favourites and make some new acquaintances.
Sat outside the gallery for a while ,rubbed our aching feet, and watched the street artist and tourists go by, three guys on a convention had their picture taken with to the golden mime artist Walked across Ponte Vecchio—which we did several times as it’s traffic free and really a very pretty little bridge—to take the bus home.
We were thinking of making an excursion to Greve or to Arezzo but in the end decided to go to Certosa del Galluzzo on Friday. It turned out to be so, so worth it. The monastery is enormous, though there are now only eight monks who live there, a monk gives the tour which lasts about 45 minutes and takes in the church, cloisters, refectory and the monks’ cells one of which you get to visit; they have several frescos by Pontormo and some lovely early 16th century misericords which were once painted black to keep Napoleon’s marauding army from stealing them. It’s such a peaceful place. It’s also interesting to see a monastery which is still inhabited . The setting is lovely, high up on a hill and only about 20 minutes from the center of Florence but with the feeling of countryside; the weather was warm, the sky was blue—perfect!
I contemplated all week whether to climb Giotto’s campanile—I have a serious problem with heights--and finally on the last day decided to go for it—after all who knows when I will be back in Florence and if my legs will let me do it in the future.
And, boy am I glad I did,. The balconies and galleries are enclosed by strong wire so it’s like being in a birdcage and hence the fear of falling is removed. And the view—fantastic!!
While at the top of the tower one of two young Italian guys asked me ‘ what’s that over there?’ pointing to the Duomo, rather surprised I said ‘It’s the Duomo’ , ‘then where are we now?’ he asked. ‘Giotto’s campanile’ said I. They left looking rather confused.
Ah Grom, necessary as a reward for climbing the tower. Super-sized the gelato this time—as it had to keep me going till the next trip to Italy.
Then wandered slowly back to the house on foot, not really wanting to go home and hence have the trip be over, via Ponte Vecchio and the back streets of the Oltrarno, stopping in Piazza Sant Spirito to sit a while and eavesdropped on some Americans’ conversation about the ‘fabulous’, expensive dinner they had the night before.
Walked to the station at 6am the following morning, lovely day, and took the train to Pisa airport—already planning a return trip to Italy!