For my last 4 nights in Italy, I stayed in Florence on the Piazza del Carmine. (More on that later.) I thought about taking a day trip to Venice (3 hours each way) or at least San Gimignano (probably 1 hour each way), but ended up with plenty to do in Florence. In fact, I didn't even get to see and do everything I wanted. Left for next time: Santo Spirito, the Museo di Storia della Scienza, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, and the Museo di San Marco.
Since I was staying south of the Arno (in a neighborhod known as "Oltarno" or "beyond the Arno"), it was very convenient to check out the Boboli Gardens. I went in by the back way to avoid the crowds and was greeted by Adam and Eve. They were a little preoccupied.
There was also a sculpture of Narcissus, although a different title sprang to mind initially. I love that he is bringing himself a bouquet of roses.
The Uffizi is a lot more popular, it seems, than the last time I was in Florence (August 1991). As I recall, there had recently been an explosion that damaged some of the works and/or the building itself -- not, fortunately, the Boticellis I love so much. I remembered standing and gazing at those paintings 15 years ago... not sure I even bothered checking out the rest of the collection that was on display (parts of it were closed at the time due to the damage). Now the guidebooks tell you that you can call for a reservation to see the museum (there is an extra "booking" charge) or use an internet reservation service (for an even larger "booking" charge of roughly $5 per ticket). On June 15, I called for a reservation for any time before June 20 -- the recorded announcement indicated that the Uffizi reservations were sold out through June 22. I tried the internet service, and they said the first available reservation was June 30. Obviously that was not going to work for me. So I went to the Uffizi about 8:05 a.m. (10 minutes before opening time) and got in line, emotionally prepared to wait 3 or 4 hours as per the guidebooks (and mentally cursing Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, which I blame for Florence's surge in popularity). There was a nice modern sculpture to look at while I waited:
I got in at 8:50, i.e., just 40 minutes later. So it wasn't all that bad, after all. And I got to spend four hours dodging tour groups to see all my favorites (including Fra Filippo Lippi, 1406-1469, apparently the father of Filippino Lippi and the teacher/mentor of Sandro Botticelli) and all the popular stuff, such as Michelangelo's Holy Family:
Speaking of which, the Piazza Michelangelo is known as the city's balcony, and indeed there are nice views of the Florence from there...
... not to mention multiple tour buses, tour groups, a giant bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's David, and vendors of important cultural souvenirs such as boxer shorts emblazoned with images of David's groin.
But you can take a walk just a bit further up the hill from Piazza Michelangelo, past a somewhat nondescript yellow church, to the glorious San Miniato:
This has similarly spectacular views, but with less crowding. Plus the church is beautiful inside and out.
San Miniato has its own cemetery. I didn't spend much time looking around it (I got the cemetery bug out of my system in Siena where the graves were bedecked with hideously fake plastic flowers), but I was drawn to this bronze sculpture of a young girl among the red blooms.
One of the great pleasures of Florence (other than Renaissance art) is gazing at the river Arno. It is so calm and peaceful, affording near-perfect reflections of the lovely old buildings up and down its banks. Do not be fooled. The Arno flooded in 1966, reaching heights of 20 feet -- tsunami height -- and destroying many buildings, papers and works of art. So many of the traditional-looking buildings along the river are actually less than 40 years old. Here is the Arno today, in the late afternoon, minding its own buisiness and quietly reflecting the passing scene.
The center of Florence, or rather, one of a number of non-geographical "centers", is the Piazza del Duomo. Here we get a glimpse of all the major buildings in the Piazza:
Here is Piazza Santa Croce in the rosy glow of sunset:
Besides paintings, sculpture and church facades, I also caught a few concerts while I was in town.
- One was a free concert out in the Piazza della Signoria, with a girls' baton twirling accompaniment for the first piece, and a tenor and soprano for the other pieces. It was a Florentine brass band (as opposed to stringed instruments, which are my first love). The singing was nice, but I left after the second-to-last song, "Jesus Christ Superstar" -- a song that was sung with deep feeling and (unintentionally) a Monty Pythonesque accent.
- Another was a free concert at the Orsanmichele church, which featured two artists imported from the U.S.A., an oboist and pianist. They were good, and the lovely frescoes were much easier to see than usual because of the extra lights for the performance.
Of course, I kept thinking of Professor Peter Schickele's play-by-play commentary on the "surprising oboe cadenza" of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: "He's playing a cadenza! He's out of his mind! He thinks it's an oboe concerto!"
- The other two concerts were at St. Mark's English Church-- the place I would likely worship if I moved to Florence. The sanctuary is small, but acoustically perfect. The pianist, Brian Marble, is phenomenal -- and I don't usually even like piano music. The tenors, Giacomo Miro and Maurizio Marchini (both born in 1977, in Italy) were also very good. I particularly liked Mr. Miro, who was both an unusually expressive singer and a friendly person as well. They apparently hold concerts every night, nine months a year (from April-December). Six days a week they charge admission to raise funds for a children's home in southern India. Monday nights are free of charge, but they ask for a contribution to repair and replace the church's organ (which was manufactured 7 years before the tenors were born!).
And for G-san, here is a quick video of a race I saw on the 17th: