For some reason, Florence had not been at the top of my list of places to visit in Italy.  It was on the list, but it just wasn’t at the top.  That changed after my friend Vicki picked Dan Brown’s book Inferno for our book club.  Although the book has some really far-fetched scenarios, even for Dan Brown, his descriptions of Florence made me move the city to the top of my Italy list and we booked a 4-day weekend there.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast less than a block away from the Piazza della Signoria, which was a perfect location. We walked to everything we saw in Florence – no public transportation or taxis necessary. 

We started off our first day in Florence with a little bit of panic.  We’d taken a taxi from the Florence airport to the hotel.  On the way, the driver was making and receiving lots of calls.  During a break calls, he pointed to us and said “Me!  Compleanno!”  I know enough basic Italian words to know what compleanno means, so I replied “Oh!  Happy birthday!”  We gave him a good tip being that it was his birthday and all.  We went up to the B&B to check in and the receptionist told Sean he needed to see his passport.  Sean went to get his little day pack that he carries on the plane, got a horrified look on his face, and said “I left my bag in the cab.”  Yikes.  He had, among other things, both his wallet and passport in there.  The receptionist asked us if we’d taken a taxi from the stand at the airport and when we said yes, he picked up the phone immediately and had a conversation in Italian.  He hung up and said the driver would be back in 10 minutes.  Sure enough, the driver showed back up with the bag and all its contents.  Sean tried to give him money but he waved it off and wouldn’t take it.  I’m sure he would have returned the bag regardless but I was glad we’d given him a nice birthday tip!  Crisis averted. 

The building you see is the Palazzo Vecchio, meaning “old palace”.  It used to be a town hall, then became a palace for the ruling Medici family, and is now again used as a town hall.  There is also a museum inside the building.

You might notice that a lot of people in this photo are carrying umbrellas.  It pretty much poured rain for a good bit of our trip, unfortunately, but there are worse things than being in Florence in the rain.

In front of the palazzo is this plaque in the ground.

I wasn’t able to take that photo until our last day in Florence, because tour guides for some reason love to stand directly on the plaque while they’re giving their talks.   Anyway, the plaque commemorates the spot where a friar named Girolamo Savonarola was executed in 1498.  He was a famous, influential, puritanical preacher with a very large following who was responsible for the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497, burning various objects such as books and works of art. He also defied the pope and was eventually excommunicated, arrested and sentenced to death.

From the Palazzo, we walked over to the Duomo. 

The Duomo is a cathedral whose proper name is Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. Construction on the cathedral was started in 1296. The dome of the church was an architectural wonder at the time.

That’s the inside of the dome, which shows The Last Judgment, a fresco originally painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.  The version you see here was painted mainly by an artist named Giorgio Vasari, but it was finished by various artists after his death in 1574.

And here is what the dome looks like from the outside.

We then took a stroll over to the Piazza della Repubblica.

The piazza sits on the site of what was once the Roman Forum (marketplace). The column you see is called The Column of Abundance and it was erected in 1431. The statue at the top of the column, however, is a more recent copy of the original.  It marks the spot where the main east and west Roman roads used to intersect. 

Our next stop was the Orsanmichele Church.  There was a beautiful tabernacle inside the church, but unfortunately no photos were allowed.  Of course that didn’t stop other people from taking photos, which always irks me, but I followed the rules.

The church was at one time used by trade and craft guilds, and there are statues surrounding the outside of the church that were sponsored by the guilds.

That’s a statue of Saint George, sculpted by the artist Donatello for the armorers and sword makers’ guild.  The original is in a museum and the one outside the church is a copy.

Oddly enough, while researching the statue, I came across a reference to the “Monuments Men” division of the U.S. military in World War II. They had the job of protecting and recovering artistic and cultural objects during the war. I had just seen a preview for a new movie called “The Monuments Men”, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon among others.  It seems that a man named Frederick Hartt was a first lieutenant with the Monuments Men division and in that role he saved the original Saint George statue by Donatello.

By the way, Donatello also sculpted the original statue that was on top of the Column of Abundance that you just saw above.  Even though I was about 20 years old when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze was born, I kept thinking of them while I was in Florence.  In case you don’t know, the four main turtles were named Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael.

After this we made our way to the Loggia dei Lanzi, back by the Palazzo Vecchio.

That sculpture is called Rape of the Sabine Women by an artist called Giambologna.  Not a very pleasant subject matter, but what amazes me is that this was sculpted from a single piece of marble.  Incredible.  It was completed in 1583.

The Loggia is a covered building, open to the street on two sides, which houses various sculptures.

That one is a bronze statue called Perseus with the Head of Medusa, sculpted by the artist Benvenuto Cellini in 1545.  

The Uffizi Gallery is a museum just around the corner from the Loggia.  There is a courtyard between its two wings with various statues on display.

Amerigo Vespucci, as you may know, was an Italian explorer after whom the country of America was named.  He was from Florence.

And just around the corner from the Uffizi courtyard you can see the famous Ponte Vecchio, which means old bridge.

One of the things I really wanted to see while in Florence was this bridge, and I have to say it wasn’t quite what I’d imagined it to be.

The bridge is lined with shops – mostly overpriced jewelry shops – and the covered part on top of the bridge is the Vasari Corridor.  This connected the Pitti Palace with the Palazzo Vecchio so that the Medici family could walk undisturbed between the two. Pitti Palace was where the family lived after moving from Palazzo Vecchio, and they then used the Palazzo as office space.

I thought this was kind of amusing.  On one section of the bridge is this sign, in English, saying you’re not allowed to write on the walls.  

Notice there is no writing.

Just next to that is the same sign in Italian.

See the difference? It just struck me as funny.

This sign is also on the bridge.

Gerhard Wolf was the German consul in Florence during World War II.  He played a key part not only in saving Jews during the war, but also in keeping the Ponte Vecchio from being destroyed during the war.

This is the Pitti Palace that was just mentioned above.

The palace now houses a museum, but we didn’t visit.  Florence has approximately a zillion museums, and as we had only 4 days there (and spend one of those days in Pisa, as you will see later) we had to pick and choose which museums we wanted to see.

At the end of our first day in Florence we actually did visit a museum called Galleria dell’Accademia, usually referred to as the Accademia.  The main attraction there is Michelangelo’s statue of David.

I cannot even describe to you what it is like to see this statue in person. First of all, it’s about 17 feet high and sits on top of a huge pedestal.  So, when you come around the corner in the museum and see that, it’s really just overwhelming.  Once you get up close, you can see what an unbelievable work of art it is.  The details are just extraordinary, from the veins and muscles in his arms and neck down to his toenails and back up to his eyes.  Of course no photos were allowed inside this museum but they wouldn’t do justice to the sculpture anyway.  Here’s a photo from Wikipedia:

The Accademia is a fairly small museum, so after we were done ogling David we sort of zipped around the rest of the museum fairy quickly and then went back to the hotel to rest a bit.  We’d gotten up at about 3:45 in the morning for an early flight that day, so we were pretty beat by this point.

After we felt rejuvenated enough, we went out for a gelato dinner and then went back to the hotel to retire for the evening.

The next morning after breakfast at the hotel, we went to the Ufizzi Gallery.  This museum is absolutely huge and contains an overwhelming amount of stunning art.

One of the paintings most people want to see is The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

Naturally you couldn’t take photos in the museum so the one above is from Wikipedia.

We spent about 3 hours at the Ufizzi, which honestly is my upper limit for museums no matter how great they area.  I used the word overwhelming above and that’s really what it was.  By the time I was not even ¾ of the way through the museum I was just done and kind of rushed through the rest of it.  For me to really appreciate the whole museum fully, I’d have to make several visits.  Of course I’m glad I went and was just awed at what I got to see, but it was just too much.

On our way to the next location after leaving the museum, we ended up near the Duomo again.

You should be able to make out the people on top of the dome.  I forgot to mention earlier that you can climb it if you feel like walking up over 400 steps.  I did not feel like it.

Our next destination was the Church of San Lorenzo.

That is the cloister area. In that area is the entry to the San Lorenzo Museum, which contains the grave of the artist Donatello. 

As you can probably guess, there were no photos allowed either at the museum or in the church. 

Included with your ticket to the church is a multimedia guide.  It’s a little iPad that has photos and commentary about various points of interest in the church, including pulpits sculpted by Donatello. 

You can see part of the outside of the church, partially under scaffolding, in this photo.

You can also see part of the San Lorenzo Market, an open-air shopping area (sort of like a more upscale flea market) around the church.

Sean ended up buying a European Man Bag for himself at the market.  The vendor he bought it from was actually very helpful.  We didn’t realize that behind the open-air stalls are regular shops, and this vendor had a shop directly behind his stall.  After Sean tested out one EMB outside, the guy kind of grimaced and drew in his breath and was clearly not happy with what he saw.  He took Sean into the shop and hooked him up.  Sean couldn’t decide whether he wanted a black or a brown bag and I kid you not he actually said to me “Well most of the shoes I wear are black”.  My response of course was “Yes, it’s very important to match your purse to your shoes.”  Luckily Sean thought that was as funny as I did.

After strolling around the market, it was time to have a late lunch and we ate at a place called Trattoria Zà-Zà. They had an outdoor seating area that during this time of year was closed in by plastic flaps on 3 sides.  The weather was nice enough for us to sit at a table next to the one open side.

Of course Sean had an Italian beer with his meal and he said it was very good.

After lunch we went back to the hotel for a bit.  You might notice that we do that a lot after a day of touring around.  It’s because we’re old.

We headed back out later on in the evening for another gelato dinner, and passed this place on the way.

I thought it was very clever until I Googled it and found out it’s a chain grocery store and they even have a few in the U.S.

Mmmmm.   Gelato.

Just down the street from our B&B, in the opposite direction from the Palazzo Vecchio, was the Mercato Nuovo. 

This is a semi-open air market; it’s covered overhead.  It was built in the 16th century and originally was a market for silk and straw.  Now the vendors appear to sell mainly wool and leather goods. 

This is in the middle of the Mercato Nuovo.

It’s difficult to see during the day when the vendors are at the market, but easy to see once they’ve all gone home for the night.  It is called the “stone of shame” because debtors used to be punished on that spot.  I’ve read several different versions of how they were punished, but most of the versions involve the debtors being forced to drop their pants and having their legs whipped, which resulted in them falling to the ground and landing on their bare buttocks.

The most famous attraction at the market, though, is this.

It’s called Il Porcellino and is a fountain with a statue of a wild boar.  You can see that his nose is very shiny, and that’s because everyone rubs it to supposedly ensure a return visit to Florence.  Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called The Metal Pig (I also saw it referred to as The Bronze Hog) based on this fountain.  You can read it here if you’re interested.

After visiting Il Porcellino we went back to the hotel for the evening.

The next day we headed back to the San Lorenzo Church to see the Chapel of Princes and New Sacristy, also called the Medici Chapels. I’ll give you three guesses as to whether photos were allowed inside.  If there’s one drawback to Florence, it’s that you can’t photograph a lot of the great stuff you see.

As you might imagine from the name, the Medici Chapels are where the Medici family is buried.  The tombs and statues there were carved mainly by Michelangelo and they’re incredible. 

Once we left the Medici Chapels, we walked over to the train station because we were going to Pisa for the day.  There will be a separate blog entry on that.

Our flight out of Florence on our last day was not until about 6:30 p.m., so we had most of the day to see any remaining sights we wanted to check out.

We started out visiting the Bargello, which is a sculpture museum.  Once again, no photos allowed.  The sculptures were pretty amazing though.  We got to see Donatello’s bronze David statue and it was really interesting to see the difference between that and Michelangelo’s marble David statue.

Donatello’s version was the first freestanding bronze statue made during the Renaissance period and it was also the first freestanding nude statue made in about 1,000 years. It was created in the year 1440, about 60 years before Michelangelo’s version.  Michelangelo’s David, as you saw earlier, is completely nude.  His left hand is holding the sling around his shoulder and he carries a rock in his right hand. Donatello’s version, on the other hand, is not completely nude.  He is shown wearing a hat and boots, and he also carries a sword.  Finally, he is shown stepping on Goliath’s helmeted head. 

Our next stop was the Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi, or the church of St. Margaret, which we had passed right by without noticing on our first day in the city. It is also known as the Church of Dante.  The Italian poet married his wife Gemma Donati here. 

His muse, however, was another woman with whom he was in love named Beatrice Portinari. Her tomb is shown above.  The basket you see to the left is where people leave their letters to Beatrice asking for help with their love lives.

All roads seem to lead back to the Duomo in Florence.

There I am standing in front of the doors so you can get an idea of their massive height.

On our way to the next say, we also passed by the San Lorenzo Market again. 

As you can see, everything was closed up.  There were both typed and hand-written signs on the stalls. I gathered enough to know that they were closed because they were protesting, but I wasn’t sure why until I got home and translated some of the signs I photographed.  It appears that the city wants to (and may already have at this point) move the market away from the Church of San Lorenzo and the vendors were protesting this move.  That’s what was indicated on all of the typed signs.  The hand-written signs seemed to just be personal political opinions that people wanted to throw in there about different subjects.

After walking through the closed market, we arrived at the Mercato Centrale or Central Market.  This is a covered market with vendors selling the usual covered market fare such as meats, cheese, wine, fruits, vegetables, pasta etc.  There are also places to have a bite to eat and something to drink.

We had not had any coffee outside of breakfast at the B&B, so we decided we had to have some espresso before heading back home.  Sean is shown here drinking a Caffè Corretto, which is an espresso with a strong Italian brandy called grappa in it. 

I stuck with plain ol’ espresso.

I always love the colors you see at the covered markets.

At this market this included lots of multi-colored pasta.

Here was something I did not enjoy seeing.

A Tripperia is a shop that sells tripe, which is basically the stomach lining of different animals.  Not being much of a meat-eater anyway, I found this particularly unsettling and couldn’t look much past the sign.  This “delicacy” is very popular in Florence though.

Here’s more colorful stuff that I’d rather look at.

After another Caffè Corretto for Sean and espresso for me at a different coffee stand, we were just about to leave the market when Sean spotted this.

German Glühwein (mulled wine) at an Italian market?  Turned out it was a whole German stand with wursts and everything.

Back outside, we saw this.

See?  Even the Italian police carry man bags, although theirs are white and match their helmets instead of their shoes.  We saw a very high police presence that day, I’m assuming in case the market protest got out of hand.

Sean makes friends with emergency medical workers everywhere he goes.

Notice his new man bag!

After the market, we walked over to the Basilica di Santa Croce or Basilica of the Holy Cross.

If you look at the top, you will see the blue Star of David.  That’s because the façade was designed by a Jewish architect.

Before going in, I noticed the smallest hop-on/hop-off tour bus I’ve ever seen.

I think this is the most beautiful church we saw in Florence so I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.  Construction on the church was begun in 1294 and it was consecrated in 1442.

Among the many monuments inside the church is this one where Galileo, the astronomer/mathematician/etc. is buried.

When we saw this statue inside the church I said “That looks like the Statue of Liberty”.

I then read the sign in front of the statue, which is on the tomb of the artist Giovan Battista Niccolini, which said that it represents The Liberty of Poetry and they believe it was the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty.

Just across from the tomb of Galileo is the tomb of Michelangelo.

I was really surprised that this church wasn’t packed with people wanted to see these tombs and the rest of the church, including some beautiful side chapels. 

I don’t think most tourists make it too far away from the area of the Duomo but if you don’t mind venturing about half a mile away, this church is well worth visiting.  It’s actually the largest Franciscan church in the world.

Another section of the church had an exhibit of the flood of November 1966.  That was when the Arno river had the worst flooding in over 400 years, resulting in numerous people and animals being killed and millions of books, written records and works of art being destroyed.  The restoration of these artworks is still going on today.  Vehicles and buildings were also destroyed. During the flood, the water in the streets was over six and half feet high and after the waters receded the streets were covered in mud, slime and sewage that took a tremendous amount of effort to clean up.  The black-and-white  photos in the exhibition showed an unbelievable amount of destruction.  The Santa Croce area where this church is located was particularly hard hit.

There was also some gorgeous stained glass on display that was not part of the church building itself.

That piece dates from somewhere around the year 1330 and is by an artist named Taddeo Gaddi. It’s called “Elias on the fiery chariot”.

This is a little statue outside the church honoring Florence Nightingale.

Although she was British, she was born in and named after the city of Florence.

Believe it or not, this was the one and only alcoholic beverage we had in our 4 days in Florence.

We stopped for a late lunch before heading to the airport and I decided to have a glass of Chianti with my pizza. I know, I’m classy. Both the Chianti wine region and Florence are located in the Tuscany area of Italy.  Florence is the capital of Tuscany. 

Back near the hotel in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, I posed with a copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David.

After that we retrieved our bags from the B&B and walked over to the Piazza della Repubblica to grab a taxi back to the airport.  I didn’t mention it earlier, but the side street on which our B&B is located is too small for cars to drive down, so you can’t be dropped off or picked up directly in front. 

We managed to make it into the airport with all our bags, although I did leave my headphones and iPod at the hotel but the owner was nice enough to mail it after asking Sean once again to give him a good review on and Trip Advisor. 

Arrivederci for now, Italia.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *