Day 4 (Wednesday) In Which The Younger Gates Introduce Their Elders to Old Stomping Grounds: Florence.
According to the weather forecast, there is a high chance of rain today in Pisa and Montecatini, but should be no more than cloudy in Florence. Firenze, as the locals call it. And Florence is a must see on our list. Our oldest son and his wife spent a month there while in college, studying art history. What a hardship that was.
Florence is yet another city with rich history, many museums, an incredible cathedral (or two. Or three.) a relaxing river walk, and many, many, many shops. Did I mention there are a lot of shops?
Getting there while driving ourselves was a bit intimidating. This city holds to the standards I always envisioned to be Italian road conditions. Up until now, most of the driving has been polite to tolerable. This place is crazy. Lanes? Why restrict yourself? Three lanes across might hold five cars across and numerous motorcycles rushing between. Parking spaces are few and tight, and the parking garage wisely insists on parking all vehicles themselves.
Il Duomo Cathedral is so large and grand as to startle at every turn. The pink, green and white marble exterior has been recently cleaned and gleams despite the lack of sunshine. We wandered about inside, once again admiring the care and craftsmanship put into such an incredible Gothic structure. It was built on the site of a seventh century church, the ruins of which can still be seen in the crypt (and gift shop) below.
Famous for it’s Rennaisance Dome, this cathedral took over two centuries to complete and so shows structural changes matching the various time periods over which it was built. Compared to the exterior, the interior may be considered rather stark with immense stone pillars and stucco walls. The mosaic floors are a work of art. The painted interior of the dome is a frescoe done by artist Vasari, depicting the Last Judgement. (http://www.bugbog.com/gallery/florence-pictures-italy/il-duomo-baptistry/) For a fee you can go up to balconies at various heights within the dome and get a closer look at the painting. We were able to do this last time we came to Florence and it is worth the price. On this trip however, they were limiting the number of tickets available throughout the day, and all were sold.
One day is not enough to enjoy the city and all its museums. Since we did museums last visit, we skipped them this time.
None of us felt like running back to the car to get our bread, so got a quick lunch at a local Mexican fast food. (Can you see me cringe?) Tacos. In Italy. It’s just wrong.
From there we wandered the maze of streets over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It maintains the long tradition of being home to many shops, now primarily of fine jewelry. Here is a picture looking over the Arno River with Ponte Vecchio in the background.
It was five years ago this week that our oldest son and his wife (then girlfriend) came to Italy with their college to spend a month studying art. They stayed at a place on the outskirts of the city on a hillside from which all of Florence could be viewed. Once a monastery, the Villa Morghen, their temporary home, had a classroom, library, chapel and rooms from which they could learn. From this home base, they traveled to various cities in the surrounding areas.
From downtown, we took the number ten bus up the hillside to its very last stop to visit and reminisce with Nathan and Cara. So thankful for the opportunity they had. Although our visit came unannounced the building attendant welcomed us in, and showed us about the building and grounds.
In the hills of Settignano, you immediately become immersed in the typical Tuscan countryside. Villa Morghen, I discovered, was built in the 1500’s as a private villa and then converted to a Benedictine Monastery in the 1900’s. Now it is available for groups or individual tourists who are looking for a unique stay.
After getting off the bus, we walked uphill a short distance, then entered a steep downhill driveway, with high stone walls on either side, barely wide enough to fit a Smart Car. A very small one. Around the bend we passed a small church which connects to the villa and entered the private garden. Persimmon trees, with fruit the size of oranges, and Olive trees abound. I tasted a ripe olive fresh off the tree. Now I know why they immerse them in brine for indefinite periods of time.
Tall Cypress pines line the waist high wall marking the perimeter. The view over the wall is breathtaking, encompassing the whole of the city of Florence. A ground level patio with fountain provides seating for relaxing and enjoying the view. Behind the building they even have their own outdoor pizza oven.
To get into the villa itself, you need to take an abundance of stairs (if there is handicap access, I didn’t see it) that lead up to another patio and seating area with yet another fountain and killer view. I’m thinking this might be a great place to retire.
Inside are plain stucco walls and dark wood trim typical to monasteries of bygone eras. Up sprawling staircases with a floorplan easy to get lost in, we got to see the rooms our kids stayed in. Cara’s had a view of the small church, Nathan’s a view of the city. The classrooms and dining areas are also reminiscent of times past, with the exception of slightly more modern desks.
Back down the mountain to the city center, we decided to shop. Fine leather goods are everywhere. According to the guide book, the real savings are gotten at the leather factory itself somewhere outside of the city, but by U.S. standards, these are quite the bargain. I talked my husband into trying on a leather jacket, and he looked so fine I had to buy it. Merry Christmas, Sweetheart, a tad early.
We discovered an art shop where the artists cut fine rock by hand to create complex mosaic pictures as a good as many fine works done with oils or watercolor. This style of art is typical of Florence and goes back to the time of the Medici. It is labor intensive, a small painting the size of a coaster easily taking the artist a day or two to complete and costing 300-500 euro. Standard 8×10 size can take three weeks or more to complete and begin around 2000 euro. My admiration is unlimited, but the budget is not. Besides, were I to purchase one of these, I would likely drop it before getting home.
Of course, we were not allowed to take pictures of the artwork itself. If you have a small fortune available and want to spend it on unique art, or if you just want to browse for the sake of enjoyment, here is their page: https://artemest.com/artisans/scarpelli-mosaici. They also do custom orders.
Purses and scarves sold by street vendors catch my eye. So much temptation. I buy some Christmas gifts and a hand painted Christmas tree ornament.
Leaving the city, our GPS acts up. NOT GOOD!!! I end up playing Sudoku, lest I drive my husband and myself insane with my discomfort of negotiating Italian traffic. Once again, Doug somehow finds his way without my help. Not sure how that happens.
The news mentions the increasing concerns about Lufthansa Airline and their strike.
Only two more days to enjoy this amazing country. Wonder what tomorrow will bring.
I found a house, at Florence, on the hill
Of Bellosguardo. ‘Tis a tower that keeps
A post of double-observation o’er
The valley of Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
And Mount Morello and the setting sun,?
The Vallombrosan mountains to the right,
Which sunrise fills as full as crystal cups
Wine-filled, and red to the brim because it’s red.
No sun could die, nor yet be born, unseen
By dwellers at my villa: morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the pure
Illimitable space and pause of sky,
Intense as angels’ garments blanched with God,
Less blue than radiant. From the outer wall
Of the garden, dropped the mystic floating grey
Of olive-trees, (with interruptions green
From maize and vine) until ’twas caught and torn
On that abrupt black line of cypresses
Which signed the way to Florence. Beautiful
The city lay along the ample vale,
Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and street;
The river trailing like a silver cord
Through all, and curling loosely, both before
And after, over the whole stretch of land
Sown whitely up and down its opposite slopes,
With farms and villas.