Monday, July 02, 2007

I Love Florence in the evening...and the morning...and every other time as well!

Our adventures in Pisa behind us, it was time to enjoy our final evening in Florence. We hadn't explored the Ponte Vecchio area or the sights on the other side of the Arno River so that is where we headed. It was a great excuse to revisit the Uffizi area and the gorgeous outdoor statuary.

We were greeted by Neptune's Fountain in the Piazza della Signoria. As beautiful as this fountain is, it was the subject of derision almost immediately after its unveiling in 1565. It was dubbed "Il Biancone" (the white giant). Florentine housewives used the fountain as a laundry washbasin. It has been vandalized numerous times, including damage done in August 2005, an act that was recorded by security cameras.

There are a number of other statues in the area including the "replacement" David which was placed there when the original was moved in to the Accademia.

and "Judith and Holofernes" which depicts the biblical story of Judith slaying the tyrant Holofernes while he was drunk and saving her city.

Murder and Rape seem to be very popular subjects for Renaissance painting and sculpture...much like today's movie, tv and tabloid fare. I guess Sex and Violence has ALWAYS been a big seller.

We then walked over to the Loggia dei Lanzi,

built in the late 1300's as a stage for public ceremonies. It was used briefly to house the Duke's mercenary troops from Germany and then later as an observation deck for nobility to watch performances in the piazza. It eventually became a showcase for some of the most important sculptures of the Renaissance.

Perseus slays the Medusa

Menelaus holding up the body of Petroclus

The Rape of Polyxena, showing Achilles about to stike down her mother, Hecuba, before abducting her. What a bastard!

More Rape... this time it's the Rape of the Sabine Women. Actually in this case, a more accurate title would be "The Abduction of the Sabine Women Who Were Then Given The Option To Wed Their Abductors Or Not." I guess that title wouldn't fit on the pedestal. Legend has it that the early Romans were lacking eligible women so they invited the Sabines to a big party and then kidnapped the women, hoping they would marry them. (Talk about socially awkward!) The women agreed, probably because Romulus, the Roman leader, promised them property in their name and the right to vote. Eventually, the indignant Sabine men attacked the Romans and the women negotiated a truce, since, by now, they had children by their Roman husbands. So the statue, in a strange way, celebrates the power of women when all is said and done.

Walking through the courtyard between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery, we came upon this street performer.

We saw this all over Italy and Spain. The idea is that you will be so captivated by their statue-like appearance that you will snap a picture and then they will yell at you to put some euros in the box at their feet. I tried to grab a picture without him noticing me...

BUSTED! He caught me out of the corner of his eye and began the tirade. Meredith and I took off quickly. I figured he couldn't come running after me in that get-up! We got to the end of the corridor and took pictures of the statues of some of the artists and statesmen of Florence's history.

Leonardo Da Vinci



...and our country's namesake, Amerigo Vespucci. He looks like he is saying, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of...ME!"

We then walked through this beautiful archway out onto the esplanade that runs along the beautiful Arno River.

It was a GORGEOUS summer evening in such an amazing setting. Definitely time for a photo opportunity!!

Views across the River

To our right was the famous Ponte Vecchio so, of course, we had to cross it.

The bridge houses an amazing collection of jewelry shops whose owners live above.

The first bridge was wooden, built by the Romans in 972. It was destroyed by a flood in 1117 and rebuilt in stone. It was again destroyed, this time by fire in 1332 and collapsed in 1333. The current structure was built in 1335 using a series of arches. It is the only bridge in Florence to escape destruction by the Nazis as they retreated in 1944, allegedly at express orders from Hitler. In addition to the shops, there is a corridor that runs along one side of the bridge connecting the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti, built in 1565 by Cosimo I De'Medici so he could walk to work. Originally the shops were all butcher shops, a tad pungent in the warm weather, so, when a flood destroyed the shops in the 1500's, the Medici family deeded the rebuilt shops to specific families, expressly requiring them to be jewelry shops and NOT butcher shops. That's one way to ensure your royal nostrils are not offended. Those original deeds are still in effect so all of the current shops are owned and run by descendents of the original 16th century tenants.

After crossing the bridge, it was time to look for a place to have dinner. There were some intriguing sidestreets to explore:

Along one of them we found a great outdoor restaurant and sat down to a meal. I had a delicious salad of fresh tomatoes and fresh basil drizzled in olive oil. Meredith had a tossed salad and for our main dish we shared a large plate of fried calamari which was delicious. A very distinguished, well-dressed older man was seated by himself at the next table drinking a bottle of water. He began talking to us in Italian and Meredith responded. It turned out he was, in fact, Argentinian, and switched to Spanish which Meredith was able to understand, as well. He was quite a character, obviously very taken with her and impressed with her language skills and her experience in Milan. He was visiting a friend in Florence who visits him regularly. His passion was the Tango and he was quite excited to hear that Meredith has a dance background. It was fascinating to watch the two of them conversing, although I was only able to glean small amounts of the conversation, having no Italian language skills and VERY rusty Spanish from my high school and college days.
He was very concerned about my Pisa sunburn and advised me to be sure to put "crema" on it. I assured him that I would. He was such a pleasant person, very well-travelled and refined. He struck me as an example of consummate Old World refinement.

After dinner we set off to find a very special place to have dessert. When I bought my Florence travel guide on-line from, the person who sold it to me inserted a note specifically recommending a place called Hemingways. The book describes it as a "chocolate-lover's haven." That was all we needed to hear. Armed with the address and our handy-dandy Streetwise map of Florence, we eventually found it... and it was SO worth it! We drooled over the glass enclosed case filled with the most incredible chocolate confections, finally settling on a flourless chocolate cake and a small round chocolate tart smothered in whipped cream. We sat and savored our desserts, licking the spoons most unceremoniously at the end, paid the bill (about 12 euros or $16 and worth EVERY penny) and then dreamily started back to the hotel. It was after 9PM and just beginning to get dark as we walked along the river before crossing one of the other bridges spanning the Arno. Bats were swooping around us...not my favorite sensation...but it felt so wonderful to be strolling in this magical place. I took one last picture of the river before leaving the Arno.

Goodnight, Florence!

The next morning we had a couple of hours before our train back to Milan so Meredith decided that our trip would not be complete without a little physical exertion. We grabbed some breakfast and then set off for the belltower of the Duomo. We had actually hoped to climb the dome, something she had not done on her first trip, but it didn't open until later. We paid a few euros each to the bored looking attendant at the base and started up the 414 steps. It was early, about 8:30 but the day was warm already, and the climb was steep. I felt very proud of myself for reaching the top without having to require the services of the Florence emergency medical community. I had seen how they handle those in distress two nights earlier and I was determined not to have to be carried down in a stretcher and risk being dropped!

What we saw on top was gorgeous!

Looking towards the Arno and the Palazzo Vecchio

That's the train station in the center, from which we would be departing for Milan in about an hour.

The Cathedral and Dome from above (note the graffitti on the ledge... it was everywhere!)

Morning shot of the dome

Yeah, we made it!...tired, sunburnt but victorious!!

On our way back down we passed the original bell on display... also marred by graffiti.

A shot down the center to the landing below.

The tower from the Palazzo Vecchio. No, it's not leaning... I was.

My final Florence picture as we walked back to the hotel to collect our bags. There was something so majestic about this Roman Soldier, looking battle weary but so proud.

I LOVED Florence and hope to return to explore more of it someday. But now, it's on to Milan for one night and then the Spain adventure begins!



Oh Mary Ann - it is so gorgeous! I am so glad that you and Meredith had this wonderful trip together and that you survived your climb!

sappmama said...

Go Meredith!

Sounds like she'd be able to hold her own anywhere.

Those views. Breathtaking!