Tuesday, November 26, 2013

(Europe trip, post 8 of 14) Arriving in Florence! - our first 1/2 day there.

June 8, 2013

After arriving on our train from Venice we oriented ourselves and began dragging our luggage down the streets to our hotel.  Before we knew it we had arrived, checked in, and hit the ground running on our tight schedule to hit the attractions we needed to before they closed (some of which we could only see this day).  Figuring out how to see Florence's sites on the weekend with all different opening closing days and hours can be tricky, and should be planned ahead to avoid disappointment unless you have 3 or more days there.

First thing we took a peek inside the Duomo since it was right next to our hotel.  Here is a shot of Il Duomo from the outside.  My photo doesn't do it justice.  It's a beautiful cathedral.  I loved a description I read of the colors, described as made primarily bands of "marble from Carrara (white), Prato (green), and Siena (red)".  The red marble looked more muted to me, more like pink.  I'm kind of sad that I didn't get more fantastic photos of this edifice.  I think because we stayed right next to it, I kept figuring that I would get photos later, or that I already had taken some.

Next we rushed to see the Medici Chapels before their early closing time, so we could see Michelangelo's New Sacristy.  Now!  Before re-capping any more our sites I have to interject something important here for anyone going to see Florence.  The Firenze Pass is a must!  I compared the cost of separate entrances with the cost of the pass and originally wasn't going to buy it, but Megan pointed out that new sites had been added which made it a good value...and the line skipping was HUGE.  Some sites we could have skipped lines with a reservation, but not all of them.  In fact, our first stop was Florence's Duomo (Cathedral) and it made all the difference...

We were cutting it close to be able to do the climb up the dome and security was approaching the end of the line to cap it for the day, but Mark saw what he thought was a expedited entrance for the Firenze Pass.  So, he sent me to try and get in the end of the long entrance line while he checked it out.  The people trying to get in line right in front of me were arguing with security about wanting to get in line and he was putting his foot down...when I saw the guard at the door where Mark was look around and then motion him in quickly (it was the Firenze Pass entrance).  I ran over there, literally with the aforementioned security guard yelling at me to stop, and I ignored him as I ducked in and the door closed behind me for the day.  I wondered if he was going to come in after us and make us leave, but he didn't!  And I was so glad too, because the we only had this day and the next to see Florence and it would be closed the following day (Sunday).

Here is a photo of the inside of the Duomo's dome.  The architect of the dome was Brunelleschi, and it was added some time after the completion of the rest of the cathedral.  It was the very first Renaissance dome and the model for domes to follow.  The frescoes here are of the last judgement.

The next couple pictures are taken downward from a catwalk the stretches around the perimeter of the base of the dome.

Note the intricate patterns of marble on the floor.

Then we hiked the rest of the way up the dome for fantastic views of Firenze!  Giotto's Campanile (bell tower) was directly across from us.  We climb up it the next day.




What a truly beautiful city.


At the end of this clip note that what you are looking down on is the exterior of the Duomo's dome.

Does anyone know what these holes were for on our hike up?  Letting light in?

I wish you could tell how steep this climb was from this photo.  I was honestly afraid the lady in front of us was going to have a heart attack.  We kept telling her to take it easy and take her time.  It was actually more intimidating to me going down...

After we were done climbing the dome of the Duomo, we headed to the Duomo museum (not there on site).  While this museum wasn't at the top of everyone's must-see list that I read when doing my pre-trip research, it was my favorite museums of our trip.  Maybe that is because it is where I had my "art moment" in Italy.  I saw lots of breathtaking frescoes, sculptures, mosaics, architecture, etc while in Italy.  I enjoyed and appreciated much of it, but for whatever reason when I saw the following Michelangelo Piet√† it was an emotional and I daresay spiritual experience for me.  It was the first time I thought that I could understand how people could dedicate their life to art, or even become art collectors.  While I consider myself someone who has always appreciated art to some degree - this was a new experience for me.  I spent quite some time looking at (though it felt more like connecting with) this sculpture, and was so grateful that we were the only people in that quiet room the entire time.  A beautiful experience.
I found out later that this sculpture has copies decorating the exterior of the Duomo, the Baptistery and the Campanile...and that it was actually intended by Michelangelo to be his sculptural epitaph.

A picture of his foot for Mark.  Also...I found it interesting that we could take photos in this museum, but not in so many others.  We did ask a security guard before taking them.  Either that, or this security guard was feeling generous while things were so slow at the time?

Mark's favorite area of this museum were Donatello's prophets.  I also believe this is where we connected back up with Tommy and Megan who we hadn't seen since the night before since they left on an early train out of Venice and had been sightseeing all day in Florence.

Mark's favorite of the bunch was Habakkuk.

Another foot shot, courtesy of Mark.

Another one of the amazing things in the Duomo Museum were Ghiberti's Baptistery Doors.  In 1401 he won a competition to build new doors for north side of the Baptistery.  Everyone loved them, so he was hired to make a set of doors (these panels) for the main entrance.  These bronze "Gates of Paradise" were revolutionary at the time.  They are now held here behind glass to preserve them (and copies adorn the Baptistery).

We enjoyed spending some time distinguishing some of the Old Testament stories on these 10 panels.


Next the 4 of us headed to Palazzo Vecchio, but nobody was being admitted due to security concerns surrounding the Prime Minister being nearby giving a political speech.  Hence the large crowds and hoards of security...

Since we couldn't go into Palazzo Vecchio, we spent more time than planned enjoying the Loggie dei Lanzi right next to where the political speeches were taking place.  This was appropriate as the loggia was formed in the early 1300 as a forum for political debate and hold public ceremonies.  When the Medici came along they converted it into an outdoor sculpture gallery.  The statue of David was even placed there at that time (a replica is there now).

This sculpture is the 'Rape of the Sabine Women' (1583).  It was made from the largest single block of imperfect marble ever transported to Florence.  The English word 'rape' comes from the Latin 'rapito' meaning 'to abduct'.  If you know the story, it is not about rape but about the kidnapping of Sabine women from their families by the establishing Roman Empire (mostly men) so that they could begin to found families.  Here you see a Roman man carrying off a woman from her husband.  It is amazing the muscular detail these artists could produce from stone, and another thing notable about this statue is that it is equally admirable from all sides.  There isn't a front angle that was favored.

I didn't know until later that the same artist (Giambologna) did both the previous and the following statue.  This statue is called 'Hercules and Nessus' (1599).  I knew nothing of this story (I did with the previous one), but here is a synopsis of the Greek myth if you want to read it.  I just admired the statue itself.

As we walked along our way toward Ponte Vecchio (the bridge) we enjoyed looking at the statues in the Uffizi Courtyard's Hall of Fame...including a dozen statues from men like Donatello (pictured here), to Dante, to Galileo, to Leonardo da Vinci...

The aforementioned statues lined the courtyard to my left as I took the following photo, looking forward to the Arno River.  If you have seen the movie 'Tea with Mussolini' you will recognize the upper hallway (in the Uffizi gallery) shown in my photo also...

The Arno River flowing below Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).  A bridge has been at this point of the river since Roman times.  While Rome fell, Florence remained prosperous, and in the 1500's "the Medici family booted out the bridge's resident butchers and tanners and installed gold and silversmiths who still tempt visitors to this day" (per Rick Steve's).
Here's a more recent story (also from my Rick Steve's book) about the bridge that I liked.  Look at the bridge and note the protected, upper passageway that led the rulers from the Palazzo Vecchio across to Pitti Palace...apparently during WWII the Nazi occupiers were ordered to blow up Ponte Vecchio.  An art-loving German consul intervened and saved the bridge.  The buildings at either end were destroyed, leaving the bridge impassable, but intact.

We loved standing on the bridge and enjoying the musicians and collection of people as the sun set.  I also gave into my mean streak and played a trick on Tommy.  He wasn't as careful with their money belt as Megan may have wished he would be.  I noticed Tom and Megan hanging out on the bridge with Tommy's money belt just tossed on the ground with his other things.  I told Mark to pick it up and see how long it took Tom to figure it out (and then play dumb for a bit).  Several minutes later Tommy noticed that it was gone.  We couldn't play along very long because we felt badly at how nervous he was that it had been taken, but it really would have been that easy for someone to take.  Sorry, guys.

The rest of the time we just enjoyed the romantic sunset.


For dinner we had reservations at this restaurant on the other side of the river, and I was really excited about it.

Appetizer...

Mark's short rib cooked in red wine.

My pear and cheese stuffed ravioli with asparagus.  Delicious!

Everything tastes better in Italy.

And then we enjoyed our stroll back to our hotel!

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