Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travels in Italia - Firenze II

We had failed to do what every guidebook recommends regarding the Uffizi and Accademia museums...get a reservation. We decided to take our chances since we were in low season, and the chance paid off. We walked in with no wait at every place we visited (Venice, too, for that matter). With the Uffizi being the grandaddy museum and knowing it would be a couple of hours of intense art overload, we headed there first. Rick Steves has some phenomenal AudioTours on iTunes, and I surely don't mind pushing them. It was great to put in my earphones and wander through the museum, leaving my hands free of a guidebook and eyes free to take in the art instead of read about it. Still, though, my absolute favorite thing about the Uffizi is the ceilings. They are magical and every single square inch is covered with gorgeous paintings. Next time I visit Florence, I am going to take a hand mirror so I can enjoy those ceilings without neck strain. One of the Uffizi's most famous paintings is Birth of Venus (this is the one where a naked Venus, with her bits and bobs covered with long, flowing hair, is standing on a half shell). I have to admit that in person, this one didn't impress me as much as I was expecting, perhaps because it's surrounded by so much other talent or perhaps because the colors are so faded. I was expecting more vibrancy...and, I'm currently in my I-like-bright-colors stage. This will change in a few years, and then favorites will change as well. With our Uffizi visit over, we needed sustenance, and found it at a lovely sandwich shop, 'Ino, right around the corner from the Uffizi. We liked it so much that we returned the next day as well.

Next up, we walked to the Accademia, via the Duomo. Now Florence's Duomo is a sight to behold. It's exterior is all white, pink and green marble, which greatly appeals to my Lilli Pulitzer love. We walked past the Duomo another night right at sunset, and when the setting sun hits the facade of this marble, it glows. A little Duomo Fun Fact: Building started on it around 1300, and it's dome was the largest in the world for hundreds of years. However, at the time of building, there was no technology for a dome of that size, so it was built with just a flat roof, the people being confident that someone would come along eventually with the knowledge to build the dome that was designed. Even today, the dome is the largest brick one ever built.
A small section of the Baptistry doors

A quick pop into the interior of the Duomo proved to be disappointing as it's practically empty and has very little magic or interesting art. So off we headed to the Accademia and our date with David. David was originally commissioned for the roof of the Duomo, so Michelangelo carved him with a disproportionately large head due to perspective. But during the work, it was decided to place him in front of Palazzo Vecchio instead. A copy stands there today while the Accademia houses the real deal. Michelangelo ticked off all his fellow sculptors of the time because while they would pick out the perfect pieces of marble, then sketch designs onto them and chip out their designs, Michelangelo would just start chiseling away. He believed the sculpture was in the marble waiting to get out. The Accademia holds several unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo as well, which gives us a great look at his incredible skill, and visitors also get to see a detailed, gorgeous, carved wooden crucifix, which Michelangelo carved at only age 17. It was a thank you gift to a church that had allowed him to dissect bodies from their hospital in order to study the human form. Age 17!
Okay...I lied. This is the interior of Florence's Duomo's dome - it has a gorgeous painting on it. However, this and a painting of Dante are really the only two pieces of artwork in the HUGE Duomo, so, relative to all the other churches we visited on our trip, Florence's Duomo interior was uninspiring...nice to visit since we didn't wait in line, but certainly not worth it at another time of year when lines are long.
After all this heavy art, it was time for some shopping. We headed to the nearby San Lorenzo market, a perfect haven for leather goods, silk ties, scarves, and trays. Haggling is acceptable here, and for those of you who read my posting on all my trip souvenirs, this market is the site of the dapper, young scarf seller. He's so adorable that you just have to buy a scarf based on his personality. This was the place for leather purses, suitcases, briefcases, wallets, and anything else that can be made out of leather. And finally, our last visit of the day was to the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy, begun as the herb garden of the church's monks about 700 years ago. Today, they sell perfume, elixirs, tonics, and even products for your pet. It's beautiful and ritzy inside, and would have been much more enjoyable without pushing and shoving tourists crowding the desks in each room. There is a room for teas and tonics, a room for home items & pet care, and a room for skin care and perfume. The staff dealt amazingly well with incredibly rude tourists, save one lady, who ignored me when I asked her a question, refused to help me in favor of people who'd come up after me to her table, then talked about me to her co-worker in Italian...but since we were in the "nord" (north), I could understand her. I only wish my Italian were good enough for me to have called her on it in would have been a great "Pretty Woman" moment.
Have you seen the Hitchcock movie, "The Birds?" I think he got his inspiration after a visit to Florence.
After a busy day, we were ready to relax and had yet another enjoyable meal at one of Anna's restaurant recommendations, Osteria Marione. For me, one of the greatest parts of this trip was the eating out. We had delicious food everywhere we went, and it was so nice to get to order off of a menu...and to have choices other than pizza or seafood.

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