Thursday, September 13, 2012

Italia Days 10-11: Firenze

Wednesday was a late morning. Francesco's mama cooked a wonderful lunch for all of us (Franci, Claudio, Eva and I), and we ate together in the dining room. She prepared a traditional pasta dish with tomatoes, a yummy dish with fresh green beans, fried potatoes, and hamburger. There was also focaccia and bufalo. Of course the meal was followed by espresso, and also some fresh fruits. It was fabulous.

After lunch, Eva and I took the bus to the center. I went into the baptistry of the Duomo, the Battistero di San Giovanni, which is older and more famous than the church itself. Especially famous are the east doors designed by Ghiberti, which were given the name "Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo. The original bronze doors are now stored in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, and copies stand in their place, but they are still beautiful to see. The inside of the Battistero is also extremely beautiful, and many famous people were baptized here, including Dante and many members of the Medici family.

Dome of the Battistero di San Giovanni

"Gates of Paradise" by Ghiberti

More shots of the Duomo - the baptistry casts its shadow on the facade

Next, Eva and I went to the market at San Lorenzo, where we wandered through the stalls. Eva was hunting for a pair of sandals, and found a nice pair at a shop on the square. I enjoyed looking, but my only purchase was a little leather bracelet - I purchased three of these during my trip in Italy, but managed to lose two of them before I even left the country! After we finished at the market, we walked through the square in front of Palazzo Vecchio and talked about the sculptures. Then we crossed the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio and walked to an excellent gelaterie where we ate some delicious gelato. I had some cookie and cheesecake gelato, while Eva got lemon cookie, which was so delicious I resolved to return the following day and order this flavor.

More street painting

Late afternoon on Ponte Vecchio

We walked with our gelato to Piazza Santo Spirito, another lively square where young people gather at night. Here we met Claudio and Franci and had aperativo. Then we wandered around for a while. We walked to Palazzo Pitti which is quite beautiful at night, then to another very nice square which apparently has a name which can also mean vagina in Italian. There, the others had gelato, while I had an espresso and a really delicious biscotti. After this we headed back to the house. Claudio and Francesco went out to a reggae party, but Eva I stayed in.

Francesco's house on "Cypress Hill"

The next morning, I got up very early and headed into the center to accomplish all the things that were left on my sightseeing list. First I went to the Opificio del Pietra Dure, which is a museum about the Florentine technique of working in semi-precious stone, in which tiny slivers of colored stones are used to create beautiful mosaic-like images. The results are similar to paintings except the colors aren't paint but thin inlaid pieces of semi-precious stone. This technique and the famous Florentine workshop have been operating for hundreds of years. I loved this museum, especially the upper level, which features a long wall completely covered in glass cases displaying carefully labelled specimens of semi-precious stones from around the world.

A landscape scene

The Four Arts: Music (top image is stone, bottom is the model painting)

Close-up of Music

The Four Arts: Painting

The Four Arts: Sculpture

The Four Arts: Architecture

The Pantheon

Close-up of the Pantheon - hard to believe it's stone!

Often this technique was used to decorate furniture, like this table

So many gorgeous stones!

Next, I visited the Medici Chapel at San Lorenzo, where the Medicis erected what basically amounts to a huge, elaborate funerary monument to their favorite people - themselves. It is quite imposing but also I think rather dreary with its heavy stone and drab color scheme. There is also a smaller sacristy which was designed by Michelangelo for two important Medicis. The tombs are guarded by allegorical sculptures of Dawn, Dusk, Day and Night, also by Michelangelo. In the bookshop at the Medici Chapel I bought a copy of Volume 1 of Vasari's Lives of Artists, with his famous biographies of Italian artists from Giotto to Da Vinci and Michelangelo. In fact my two souvenirs from Firenze are books. After I left the Medici Chapel, I found a little shop where they make handmade leather-bound books. I purchased a journal with a nice leather binding, which is stamped with the fleur-de-lis, a symbol of the city. The store and studio were all in one room, so you could see them at work actually making the books. The prices at this shop were very good; I think I paid more for the mass-produced simple black book that I am using as my current journal.

Pretty Florence street view: Duomo in the background

The shop where I bought my journal

The previous night in Piazzo Santo Spirito, the guys had pointed out a panini place that looked really great, so I made my way to the other side of the Arno to grab my lunch. The panini proved to be fantastic - I chose one with Parma ham, soft cheese, salad and sun-dried tomatoes. It was the perfect lunch, and was made even more perfect by a huge cup of gelato from the shop Eva and I had visited the night before. This time I had the lemon cookie and fruit pie flavors.

Piazza Santo Spirito

Beautiful views down the Arno

Basilica di Santa Croce

Not violent or anything...

Tombs of the big-wigs: Machiavelli




I visited Santa Croce next, but it was a hurried trip. I am sure I could have spent twice as much time here if I had had it. I did see the tombs of some super famous people - Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Dante, and Galileo are all buried here. I took pictures of all. After this, I raced over to the Duomo so I could climb to the top of the cupola. I had wanted to do this to get a close-up view of the frescoed ceiling of the dome, but it turned out that the main attraction was the view from the very top of the cupola. It offers a 360 degree view of Florence and the surrounding areas, and it was one of the most beautiful of many beautiful views from this trip.

A closer view of the fresco in the dome

 Satan is surrounded by pink; close-up, he looks like he jumped right out of the Alien movies.

Narrow climb to the top of the cupola

Awesome views from the top

After soaking up the views from the top of the Duomo and taking many pictures, I hurried down to the ground and headed from the Duomo to Porta Romana, which is one of the gates to the medieval city. On my way I crossed Ponte Vecchio once more, this time earlier in the day, so that the jeweler's shops were still open. This bridge was once home to the city's butchers, but they had a nasty habit of throwing their stinking meat scraps into the river. Legend has it that Cosimo I de' Medici, Duke of Florence from 1537-1574, grew tired of the stench and invited the jewelers to move onto the bridge in their place.

When I reached Porta Romana, I found Franci and Eva waiting for me. While we had originally planned on visiting Boboli Gardens, we changed our minds when we realized how much they charged for admission (for me, 10 euro), and opted instead to visit a smaller version nearby for free. We had fun watching and teasing the turtles in a fountain, and found a cool tree to take pictures in. After saying goodbye to the turtles, we went back to the house, where Francesco's mama again prepared a wonderful meal. I had a nice time visiting with Franci's dad before the meal; he is extremely nice and really interesting to talk to. For the meal, we had curry chicken, rice, vegetables, and homemade pizza. This was followed by fresh cantaloupe and espresso. I really find it impossible to express the feeling of peace and happiness I had spending the evening this way with such a great family in the most beautiful of surroundings.

Cute, curious turtles

Our super-cool tree