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3 June 2020 - Day 53 – Florence, Day 5

Sleeping until 8, I got cleaned and dressed and took my netbook down with me to breakfast, as I wanted to reread the Wikipedia article on the Palazzo Vecchio. My admission ticket would allow me to visit the museum in the palace, the museum of excavations (scavi) of the old Roman theater, and climb the tower (torre). Elisa had planned explorations across the Arno for the afternoon, so I wanted to refresh my “homework” knowledge. My morning meal was similar to yesterday’s, but I added coffee, as I needed the stimulant caffeine.

After returning my netbook upstairs and grabbing my journal and cameras in the rucksack, I took off for the #PalazzoVecchio. Crossing from north to south across Florence, I again walked by the cathedral as I headed to the Piazza della Signoria.

Presenting my prepaid voucher to the cashiers, I was issued my tickets, and I elected to do the tower first, so that I could spend as much time in the museums as I could tolerate.

So up the Torre di Arnolfo I climbed. Only 233 steps, there was still a fabulous view from the top, including from those blocked curved steps to the very top. I think I got a nice shot of the cathedral, one of those options I will aim for when the opportunity allows.

Returning to near the street level, I entered the museum. Three levels really, as the mezzanine also has exhibits as well as the mayor’s and chamber meeting rooms and offices. Starting in the first courtyard, where I was impressed with the Austrian cities represented on the walls and the stunning ceiling work, I continued through the second and third courtyards. Into the Salone dei Cinquecento, the huge chamber lined with large paintings depicting various military successes of the Florentines. The ceiling relates the life of Cosimo I, seemingly in a coffered format. After Savonarola temporarily deposed the Medicis, his 500 councilors met in this room.

While I did proceed through the entire museum, I’m going to refer my readers to two YouTube videos. The shorter from Rick Steves again is less than 2 minutes; the longer at 16 minutes is by Pietro Pecco in 2014 with no narration, nor indications of location. It is an extensive series of still photographs. It gets interrupted with ads about every 3 minutes.

A note: while photography is permitted, lighting isn’t always terrific, and, especially in the smaller rooms, crowding makes picture taking more difficult.

It was after noon before I finally came back up from the excavations. The Loggia dei Lanzi was right outside the door, loaded with statues. Probably 15-20 minutes of maneuvering around other folks getting pictures of the statues (and themselves), and I was ready to move along.

Elisa had suggested the Piazzale Michelangelo, on the other side and up a slight rise, and getting there via the Ponte Vecchio. So I headed to the shopping district on the bridge, peoplewatching, with the thought of dining somewhere along the way as the lunch crowds diminished.

Once across the river, I headed upstream (east) along Via de’ Barbadori. Turning more inland on Via de’ Bard it became less commercial with more lodgings and residential, which was a nice change. Where the road from the Ponte alle Grazie intersected, the street name changed to Via di Dan Niccolo, and shops started to appear along with more lodgings. Passing l’Pizzacchiere Firenze, I figured it was time to eat, and went in.

Simple, plaster walls with a painting hanging on it, wooden tables and chairs, no flourishes, a focus on feeding the hungry. I decided to try something new – stuffed squash blossom pizza, with a half carafe of house red (and water). Interesting, tasty, but it’s not anything I’d order again, unless I could tweak it. I’m a cheese addict, and prefer a thin crust. Plus I will almost always overdo the garlic and spices.

Taking a bottle of water with me, I continued up the rise to where I walked the high side of the Giardino delle Rose. The view down the hill took in the Torre, and cathedral dome and bell tower. In fact, there’s a lookout point with a frame to capture your view.

It turned out the Piazzale was a park space, and in addition to a rose garden, it has an iris garden too. Up further on the rise was an interesting looking church, San Miniato, which turned out to be 1) an abbey, 2) a basilica, and 3) the church where yesterday’s guide Giacomo is organist. So I headed up to visit and check out the higher view.

Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte honors the bishop martyr who is the first patron saint for #Florence. This site is supposedly where he stopped after carrying his severed head across the Arno, his hermitage. A shrine outside the church is purported to be the exact spot he stopped. The church itself is, as my art expert Elisa describes, a jewel box of Medieval religious art. Founded as an abbey in the 11th century, Michelangelo designed fortifications for it, blanketing the church with mattresses during a siege. I found both the exterior and interior fascinating, and was glad to have visited. (And, no, Giacomo wasn’t there.)

Checking Maps, it was 3+ kilometers back to the hotel, with options of 3 different routes. Two would take me closer, but walking by the cathedral and through areas I’d seen at least once. The longer would keep me further east near Santa Croce once I crossed on Ponte alle Grazie, but I’d be near the Sinagoga e Museo Ebraico di Firenze, which would be closed, but interesting to see. So I opted for the long way, which involved relatively straight routing despite numerous street name changes.

[Note: Next visit to Florence, add Giardino Bardini to my list of places to visit, as well as both the rose and iris gardens. And maybe some “beach” time at the Terzo Giardino along the Arno.]

On my way toward the river, I paid a bit more attention to the Porta San Miniato, a gateway through the city walls. More ornate on the “water” side. The road turned from pavement to cobble when passing through. After crossing the Arno, I continued on Via dei Benci which took me right past the Piazza di Santa Croce at the far end from the basilica as I strolled through storefronts and restaurants galore.

On the opposite side, the Teatro Verdi looked to be dark tonight. At Via Pietrapiana, I turned right and did a little zig north at the next block to walk along a pedestrian shopping street. With the first break on the left, at the Church of St Ambrose (locked), I turned left up Via dei Pilastri for a block. A right on Via Luigi Carlo Farini put me at the front of the synagogue.

With a great central dome of oxidized copper and two capped towers bracketing a strong curved stone arch, the building sits guarded behind a tall metal and stone wall surrounded by well-tended grass and trees. There was just about enough room to get a straight-on picture through the grillwork. The façade is travertine and marble, horizontally striped as many churches in Tuscany. Signage indicated the grounds had closed at 4:30. When I return to Firenze, I hope to come and visit, and explore their museum. It would be interesting to compare to my memories of the synagogue in Budapest.

Continuing to the next corner, I turned left onto Via della Colonnia, which would give me a straight shot to the hotel. At the next corner was Santa Maria Maddalena die Pazzi, where I couldn’t even guess where an entry might be. Maps told me that I’d be passing another church/convent, but that address seemed unmarked and unremarkable. Across the street was the Palazzo della Crocetta, which looked locked up for the night. Part of that structure was supposed to be a haunted house, but I saw no method of ingress. At the corner, the Museo Archeologico Nazioinale di Firenze, which had a pleasant small formal garden behind the building.

As I approached the familiar roundabout of San Marco, just before was an open square with the Basilica Santuario della Santissima Annunziata. From the street and piazza in front, it appeared to be a simple unadorned building with a seven-arched Palladian porch.

It was open, so this curious church visitor headed inside. The change from the simple façade to the intense Baroque of the interior is shocking. Sensory overload to the max! Sixteen chapels off the nave, altars in the transepts and three in the presbytery, and eight more in the ambulatory.

With a miraculous painting, this was a pilgrimage destination, which brings in wealth to the Church, and it was spent on art. Their organ from 1628 is the oldest in the city, and second oldest in Italy.

It was 6:30, and the church closed. Ushered out; after passing a University of Florence building, I crossed the Piazza San Marco and ambled up 4 blocks to the hotel. Good thing I don’t have a step counter or tracker, I think I walked a lot today. I was definitely on my feet for most of it. I spent 50 minutes updating my journal (since lunch) with my feet up. Elisa had recommended Adagio Restaurant, but it was practically back at where I had crossed the river. Two kilometers away, I just was too beat to go that far. So I pulled up Google and went down to the front desk to get their thoughts. For simple and easy, and all of 3 blocks away, they sent me to Gargantua.

Yes, truly simple, with no appetizer/primi/secondi pressure. I started with a “soup”, vellutata di zucca from the specials board. Pumpkin in a thick near-soup consistency. Lasagna Florentino, with meat sauce, and melanzane grigliate for a veggie. That’s grilled eggplant. Tuscan sangiovese blend from Carpineto “Originale” to drink, with water on the side. It was all wonderful, I was content and not stuffed. No desire for something sweet. As it is Wednesday, there was no pressure for the table, so I sipped another glass of wine and finished doing my journal for the day.

Walking back to the hotel, I reflected o Florence. Besides needing another day for Siena, I think five days plus two for Siena would be a better plan. I’d had two over-the-top dinners, and two regular evening meals, and all were delicious. My first night was just a burger, and it was fine, a nice cap to the symphony. The city is imminently walkable, and has more gorgeous churches than I think I could ever visit. Museums seem to be on almost every block, and cover many different interests. Yes, there are too many tourists, but I’m one too.

So back to the room, I got the shoes and socks off and pulled out the laptop to start writing. Lots of pictures to upload, and I’m not even really touching what I saw in the Palazzo Vecchio. Tomorrow I’m off to Arezzo, for two churches and a cathedral, plus a tour of the theater. Looks like I’ll be slowing down a bit, which I think I’ll need.

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