The Hendersons 2008 travels in Italy - Florence
2008 Choral Union European Concert Tour and Our Subsequent Vacation
On Vacation in Firenze
August 8 - Pienza to Firenze
worked very well until we got to the area around Arezzo, where the
scenery became more crowded and industrial. For a while we stuck to
side roads, but it was slow going with one small town butting against
another. Our GPS (Antonella) was also suffering from some sort of
malfunction - she would just shut off every so often. This is not a big
deal unless you are trying to make your way to an unfamiliar address,
then it becomes a real inconvenience, at best.
wanted a bit to eat and, being tired, made the mistake of stopping in
one of the restaurants in the tourist area. We had the first bad meal
of our stay in Italy, proving that even here you can get a bad meal.
next stop was Santa Croce. We were totally unprepared for the size and
scope of the place. It was overwhelming! It was also under a fair bit
of scaffolding (on the inside, interestingly). In Santa Croce there are
many monuments or memorials to famous Florentines - Galileo,
Machiavelli, Rossini, Michelangelo. In that way it is much like
Westminster Abbey in London. In the Museo del Duomo are many works of
art, the most famous of which is a beautiful crucifix by Cimabue.
is almost impossible to believe, but the flood in 1966 did serious
damage to Santa Croce, bringing mud, water, debris and oil to a height
of 5 meters (over 15 feet). There was a heroic effort to savage
priceless works of art, but much was lost. The Cimabue crucifix became
a sort of symbol of the effort. Inside the cloister there were photos
of the flood. I was in Italy at the time, but that was in the days
before the internet and CNN and I didn't speak Italian, so I didn't
know what was going on - I didn't realize until some time later that
the reason we couldn't go into Firenze was because of the floods.
and I were totally satiated by the time we left Santa Croce - we
couldn't have taken in another priceless work of art if our lives
depended on it, so we went make to our lodging and rested before
heading out for dinner.
had an acceptable, though not great, dinner not too far from our
lodging, then came back well before the curfew of midnight.
lodging is clean, quiet and comfortable (and it has air conditioning!)
The rooms are rather spartan - white walls, twin beds, a desk, a
nightstand and an armoire. We have a private bath in our room (I'm a
little fussy about that after Villa Cartoceto). Breakfast is awful -
the tasteless Tuscan bread and some jam. Tuscan bread is unsalted and
hard - it is like eating unsalted Rye Crisp.
one problem we have is that there have been two little insects who are
fond of Tom's blood (usually they prefer mine). I'm not sure
these guys are - they aren't mosquitoes, but they drink their fill. Tom
doesn't seem to have a reaction to their bite, but they are very
only seen about six different nuns here - they sit at the desk and let
people in from the street. They are dressed in very traditional habits,
white. There are two who are youngish, the rest are elderly. They are
glued to the TV whenever we see them at the desk - the Olympics have
started and they are cheering Italy.
Sunday, August 10 - Firenze
stopped at a place that sells Tuscan farm products as I wanted some
olive pate - however, the price they charged was ridiculous - about $19
for a small jar. We'll figure out how to make our own.
then went to an English bookstore, where I bought a book to read on the
airplane as well as a duel language book of Pinocchio. From what I've
been told, Pinocchio is very important in Italian culture. I'm not sure
that I've ever been exposed to anything besides the Disney version.
we went into the posh department store Rinascente. We had a cold water
and a macedonia (mixed fresh fruit) which tasted wonderful. From there
we walked to the Basilica of San Lorenzo - however, being Sunday, it
was closed to tourists. Too bad, I had wanted to see this church, which
was the home of the Medicis.
guidebook said that one of the best gelateria was just a few blocks
from San Lorenzo, so we walked up there for a granita. We have become
very fond of granite and are going to try to make some when we get
home. Most places just use a syrup with ice, but this place uses real
fruit, processed to juice or pulp, so the flavor in the frutta di bosco
(berry) granita is very fresh and not artificial.
there we walked over to Santa Maria Novella. The neighborhood is pretty
seedy, being close to the train station.
Maria Novella is amazing, but not overwhelming like Santa Croce. Inside
there are several famous and priceless works of art, not the least the
fresco by Masaccio, "The Holy Trinity", that effectively changed the
world of painting by introducing the concepts of depth and perspective.
The altar piece was quite amazing - it resembled a complete church with
cloisters - but I couldn't find out who made it. Behind the altar are
frescoes done by the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio (Michelangelo may
have worked on these when he was a student of Ghirlandaio). I loved
these frescoes! They were scenes of everyday Tuscan life from the
1500s, but were supposed to be illustrating Biblical tales. One mother,
holding her little baby, has an expression of such joy. Several of the
"Biblical" characters cleverly disguised as Tuscans, look out at the
viewer, as if the viewer is on display, not the fresco.
the choir (now a bookstore) there is a painting by Vasari - he was a
contemporary of Michelangelo and is best known for his book "Lives of
the Artists" - I can see why he isn't best known as a painter - this
one, at least, was pretty mediocre.
Tired, hot and hungry, we stopped at a trattoria on the way back to the convent and had a late, light lunch. As we walked along we passed a store with a display that included a pair of men's briefs on a partial mannequin. The patterns and colors were so outlandish that I could not help thinking if I got into an accident wearing those the EMTs would not be able to stop laughing long enough to stop the bleeding.