Well, we were all packed up and ready to leave our hotel in Rome on time at 8.30 am last Friday and caught our transfer to the station which was only 10 minutes away. Rob & I left everyone to mind the bags while we went off in search of the place to get the train ticket for the rest of the group validated. It took three tries of standing in queues before we found the right place so we were pleased that we had left ample time. In any event, the train was 10 minutes late. Our train was an express to Florence on the same line as our original train from Munich.
The high speed train lines in Italy appear to have been constructed in a way that miinimises any significant variation. The track is cambered around curves and many tunnels make for a relatively flat gradient. There are also some elevated sections of railway line across valleys.
It was raining when we arrived in Florence and once again a transfer was organized for us which made it very easy to get to our hotel. We are staying at the Corona D’Italia which is not far from the central market. The rooms here are larger than our hotel in Rome although the bathroom is about the size of a pantry. At least we didn’t fall over each other as we unpacked.
We had a quick bite to eat in a cafe (standing, as it costs more to sit at a table). We have found that Saturday May 1 is a holiday and that there is a strike of government employees on May 2. We needed to to check out our tour arrangements for these days at the tour office. Its just as well that we have bookings on this first afternoon to see the Uffizi Gallery and the Academy Museum of Art.
The Uffizi Gallery is in part of the palace of the Medici family. What a building! Not only is it old – its also incredibly large. Three stories and U Shaped, each side being perhaps 200 metres long. The Medicies were, in the 16th Century, the richest and most powerful family in Italy. They were great patrons of the arts and this is reflected in the works displayed in their galleries. Famous paintings like the ‘Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli, paintings by Giotto, Da Vinci and right through to the more modern day works of Rembrandt. Italy has 40 percent of the world’s classical artwork, and 10 percent of this is in Florence. Fantastic! Forty five rooms of priceless masterpieces. Each of the passageways is lined with marble status so that they look like a gallery in their own right. One of the hidden benefits of looking around this gallery was a great view over the Arno River and the famous Ponte Vechio Bridge.
From the Uffizi, it was a quick walk to the Academy (of Art)Museum. Here there are many early Italian art works – sculptures, alter screens from the 12th & 13th Centuries and of course Michelango’s famous statue of David. It took a lot less time to see through here as compared to the Uffizi Gallery but obviously David gets most of one’s attention. This statue is over 5 metres tall, and while some parts look a bit out of proportion (such as the right hand) it has to be remembered that this statue was designed to be displayed in an open piazza rather than a museum.
David is clearly evident throughout Florence, he is replicated everywhere – at Michelangelo Square, on boxer shorts and aprons in the market place (guess which bits) and on every second post card in town.
The works that I really liked at the Academy were ‘The Captives’. These are a series of six unfinished statues by Michelangelo . They each show a torso as it is being carved from a block of marble. It appears as if the figure inside is trying to get out of the stone.
From the Acadamy we walked back to the Hotel Corona to change and head off for dinner. We chose a place around the corner that specialised in gluten free food for Ken and his scilliac condition. We got much better value for our money in the restaurants of Florence as compared to Rome. To finish the day we went shopping for leather jackets which are only about half the price here as in Australia.
On Saturday May 1st, most of us were a bit late for breakfast. We have been going for 2 weeks now and it is hard to keep up such a continuous pace. A buffet breakfast is included in our room rate.
Our half day tour of the city began at 9.30 and we were down at the tour office (at the end of the street) well in time. Our first stop was at Michelangelo Square above the city where we could look out over the town. Florence has a population of 500,000 and is built around the Cathedral any the Giotto designed bell tower. I remember the name Giotto from primarily school as the Italian who could draw a perfect circle. He can also design very impressive bell towers as well. In the Middle Ages, Florence was a wealthy city and it was fitting that it should have a large cathedral. The Plague killed 2/3 of the population in the early 1500’s and the city never really recovered.
Then we went on to a look at the Florentine style cathedral and the Cathedral Museum. The interior of the church is relatively bare. On the other hand, the museum holds a number of artworks, sculptures and relics from old churches in the area. It has one of the four Pietas (statues of Christ in the arms of Maryafter being taken down front the cross) done by Michelangelo. We had already seen the one in St Peters in Rome, as well as gne in the Academy. The fourth is in Milan. One piece that I particularly liked was a status of Mary Magdalene. At first I thought it was a piece of modem art. It showed a gaunt figure with hollow cheeks and gaunt eyes. Her hair covered her body to her calves. She looked to be a graphic depiction of a prostitute. The statue was actually done in the 1500’s.
In the afternoon we spent some time on our own by walking around town and looking at this street market near the hotel. We found lots of things that we could have bought but we don’t have a lot of room to carry much else in our bags. I bought a leather satchel to replace one that I have have had for some time and we got Jill a small leather handbag. It was interesting to see what the others had bought – Dennis & Maureen had shoes and gloves with Junene and Ken buying belts and other assorted clothing.
Dinner was in another nice restaurant. The waiter was very interested to offer us Lamb & Aftershocks (artichokes. This type of little mistake is humorous although we are pleased that so many people speak such good English. They do a lot better with English as a second language than we can ever do in Italian.
Another short sleep-in on Sunday morning with free time after breakfast. Jill & I walked around town just exploring little streets, looking in shops and things on walls. We could hear the bells ringing from a number of the churches. By lunch time we had done almost a circuit of the inner part of town and stopped for lunch at a cafe. Back to the hotel to drop off a couple of things that we had bought and back to the tour office for an afternoon tour.
This tour went to Fiesole, a little village that overlooks Florence. We only stopped there for 10 minutes and most of us would have liked longer. We then went by bus back to Florence to visit the Cathedral of the Cross and the Town Hall (because the Academy, which we have already seen anyway, is closed because of a strike. (We are glad that we made our Internet bookings for the two galleries for our first afternoon ).
The cathedral is like many of the others that we have seen except for two factors – inside are the tombs of Michelango, Da Vinci, Machiavelli and Galileo. Secondly it has two chapels that are decorated with frescos by Giotto.
We had the same tour guide as on the previous day and again she spoke too softly to hear and went into the same level of laborious detail about everything. In most cases she began her explanation before all of the group were around her. I found it easier to just read the posted explanations of things around the buildings. She didn’t have much of a sense of humor either. At one point I jokingly asked her if the TV antennas were original Florentine pieces, she got angry with me. So much for art enthusiasts. She obviously knew her stuff but I think that she must have spent the early part of her life as a librarian or some other equally exciting job. Perhaps she moved on to tour guiding to reduce the stress.
At the Town Hall we saw an impressive room with frescos on the wall that depicted old battles for Florence(by some insignificant artist who just happened to be a pupil of Michelangelo). This is the sort of hall in which you could very easily spend a school speech night. There would be so much to see that you would never get bored. A stiff neck maybe, but bored – not a chance!
The town hall is actually the palace of the old Medici family. Like the palaces of other super-rich people, it is very opulent. Gilded fittings, ceilings painted by Italian masters and all the signs of significant wealth.
From here we walked back to the hotel, dinner at a local restaurant and then packing up ready to move on to Lucca on the morning of May 3rd.