Today was mostly a travel and orientation day, as we left the Pisa Centrale train station and headed to Firenze (Florence). It was a very pleasant trip (although Italian trains do not necessarily run on time!). Once in Firenze we caught a bus for a short ride through centro storico (historical centre) on the way to our room at the fabulous Residenza Johlea I. The Residenze Johlea is not actually a hotel, but a residence. It is a huge suite of apartments (there are six of them) on floor three (which is actually the fourth floor) of a lovely 19th century building.
The Residenza is located in a quiet area just north of centro storico, with all the required amenties (various caffès for our morning cappuccino, enoteca, frutta e verdura, etc.) close by. And, we are just a few minutes walk from the famous Duomo (cathedral), whose huge cupola (dome) was designed by Brunelleschi. This was the first Renaissance dome and the model for many others that were built later. Also one of the main reasons we wanted to come to Firenze!
After checking in, we took an orientation stroll around our neighbourhood and later had a very nice dinner at the Trattoria da Tito, which is just steps from our doorway.
Our first full day in Firenze was beautiful. The focal point was the Duomo, which we got to see up close and personal. We took dozens of photos and climbed the Campanile (bell tower). There are a few places to stop on the way to the top (82 metres; 414 steps!) and the views all along the way are stunning. In particular, at the top there is a magnificent view of Brunelleschi’s dome.
For lunch today, we picked up a couple of very tasty sandwiches and washed them down with a glass of Chianti on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. In addition to the Duomo, the roof provides a great view of the hills north of the city. After siesta, we strolled down to the Galleria dell’Accademia which is not far from our hotel. Apparently there can be waits of up to two hours on busy days, but we were lucky and didn’t have to wait at all. Michelangelo’s David is an amazing sculpture – having no crowds to contend with we were able to spend as much time as we wanted to studying it in detail. No photos allowed 🙁
We wandered around the Duomo a bit more until it was time for dinner which we had at a pizzeria – good, but not quite as good as at Il Vesuvio in Pisa.
There’s nothing quite like walking out your front door in the morning, rounding the corner, stepping in to a caffè/bar (there are usually a couple to choose from), and ordering due cappuccini. Our local favourite in Firenze is Caffè Cavour. Very civilized! Bella Italia!
Another beautiful day in Firenze took us strolling to the Piazza della Signoria (city government). This is a gorgeous square that is our favourite here. One side is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio. At the bottom of that photo you can see numerous statues, including Cosimo I (Medici family) and a copy of the famous David.
Another side consists mainly of the Loggia della Signoria. The Loggia is basically an outdoor (well sheltered) museum with numerous sculptures, both those from the ancient Romans (restored) and originals from the Renaissance.
Then, we crossed the Arno on the famous Ponte Vecchio. This bridge, dating from 1345, was the only one left standing during World War II. We eventually made it back to our rooftop terrace for some lunch.
Later, we toured the Museo Archeologico, which has a huge collection of Etruscan and Egyptian artifacts. Included are many Estruscan funeral urns, dating back over 3000 years. (We weren’t supposed to take pictures, but didn’t know that until after we had taken several).
Today was devoted to Galleria Degli Uffizi. According to UNESCO, 60% of the greatest art of the Western world is in Italy and half of that is in Firenze. We spent nearly four hours there and could easily go back for more.
Photography is not permitted, but Virtual Uffizi has almost the entire catalogue online and we’ve captured a few of our favourites. These do not even begin to do justice to the astounding quality of the work. Even good art books, with excellent photography, cannot substitute for actually seeing them. Nonetheless, here are a few examples in roughly chronological order, by artist:
- Paolo Uccello
- Piero della Francesca
- Botticelli 1
- Botticelli 2
- Lorenzo di Credi
- Botticelli 3
- Botticelli 4
- Leonardo da Vinci
- Bronzino 1
- Bronzino 2
- Bronzino 3
- Bronzino 4
- Lucas Cranach 1
- Lucas Cranach 2
- Raphael (self-portrait)
- Titian 1
- Titian 2
- Titian 3
- Titian 4
- Rembrandt (self-portrait 1)
- Rembrandt (self-portrait 2)
And, some of our favourites – Lippi, Allori, Signorelli, Perugino – aren’t even represented above! All in all, an incredible place.
We then had a very late lunch under a beautiful Tuscan sky on our rooftop terrace. Much later, we enjoyed an excellent pizza at Cellini’s, in the Mercato Centrale.
Today we toured inside the Duomo, which we have explored from the outside several times. It was raining, so we weren’t the only people who were looking for some indoor touring. The line seemed quite long and we wondered how everyone was going to fit … that is, until we entered. It is a huge structure, really only appreciated from inside. According to our Michelin Green Guide, it is one of the largest buildings in the Christian world – on par with St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Paul’s in London and Notre Dame in Paris.
It is rather plain in style with the exception of the inside of the dome itself which is covered with amazing frescoes. We spent a lot of time looking up.
The Duomo was built to replace the Romanesque church of Santa Reparata which wasn’t considered grand enough for the city that Firenze had become. They have done some excavations below the present cathedral and have found not only the crypt of Santa Reparata but the remains of a paleo-Christian basilica from the 5th or 6th century. Many sections of mosaic flooring are still visible. Brunelleschi’s tomb can also be seen on the lower level.
Lunch was later than usual and had to be eaten indoors due to the rain – however, at this hotel that is not a great hardship as there is a large common living room with skylights just below the roof.
Our last full day in Firenze found us touring the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace) which is an amazing building with an incredible history. It was originally built to house the city government and in fact the mayor’s offices are still there. In between, it served as a residence for various members of the Medici family. There was actually some sort of public hearing going on in the Hall of the Five Hundred while we were there! Most of the great artwork is actually on the walls and the ceilings and the floors of each room.
We then shopped for road maps, as tomorrow begins a new adventure – driving in Italy! We have planned what we hope is a leisurely trip to Perugia, where we will see Suzanne Woods (and some other things, of course).
And, last night we had another great dinner at our favourite restaurant in Firenze – Trattorìa da Tito. We had three evenings there and will miss it.