10-10-2018 Day 16 The Uffizi

The Uffizi is the large building just to the right of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge

I knew a long time before we arrived in Italy that I wanted to see the Accademia Museum.  I also knew that I probably wanted to visit the Uffizi, but with so much to see in Florence I wasn’t at all sure that we might not suffer such museum fatigue that we wouldn’t get there.  I bought our Accademia tickets online several months before the trip, but saved the decision to visit the Uffizi until just a few days before we left for Siena. 

The timing seemed right.  I went online and booked a Skip-the-Line ticket and 3 hour tour with CAF Tours.  Skip-the-Line is imperative but I also thought that with such a big gallery and so much to see it would be smart to have a guided tour as well.  It was a smart choice.

The Uffizi is huge and could be incredibly overwhelming without a guide.  We booked an early tour and arrived at Door Number 1 looking for the person in the yellow vest.  There were about 20 people in our group, minus two who had mistakenly booked the tour for 2019 and had to step out of line.  An easy mistake, and glad I didn’t make that one.

If you really are an art buff, here is a link to the paintings of the Uffizi Gallery.  Real photos of the paintings, no people in front of them, with artists and dates and the proper names of the paintings.  Then again, if you simply like to read my version of visiting the Uffizi, continue onward.  You also have the option of wandering around in my SmugMug gallery to see many of the paintings and descriptions that I didn’t put in this blog.

My recent posts about our trip to Italy have been fairly wordy.  I think this time I might give myself a break (as well as my readers) and keep the words few and let the photos do most of the talking.

Located in the heart of Florence, adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio, the palace which houses the Uffizi Gallery was built between 1560 and 1580 as a public administrative building (hence its name, uffizi which means offices in old Tuscan language).

This enclosed walkway that connects the Uffizi, across the Ponte Vecchio, to the Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the river was built by the Medici’s.  They needed a protected way to get from their offices to their homes without having to endure the street riffraff below.

In 1590, a part of the palace was converted into a private exhibition space, known as the galleria, in order to accommodate the large art collection of the House of Medici.  In 1769 it was transformed into a publicly-open museum. It is believed that the modern term gallery, used to identify a space where works of art are on display, originates from that of the Uffizi’s original galleria.

Follow me now into one of the greatest art galleries in the world.

The Return from Egypt 1540  Oil on Wood  by Agnolo Bronzino

Madonna of the Pomegranate 1487 Tempura on Wood by Sandro Botticelli

Annunciation  1472 Oil on Wood by Leonardo da Vinci

Coronation of the Virgin 1439 Tempura on Wood by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child with 2 Angels 1460 Tempura on Wood by Filippo Lippi

Madonna of the Magnificat 1483 Tempura on Wood by Sandro Botticelli

Primavera 1482 by Sandro Botticelli

Our guide explained the mythology behind each of the characters in this complex painting

Birth of Venus 1482 by Sandro Botticelli

Yes, that one.  This one was especially hard to photograph because as you can imagine, the room was filled to bursting with people trying to get photos of the well known painting.

Holy Family with Young St John the Baptist 1505 Tempura grassa on wood by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Yes, you are right.  We stood in front of this one for a very long time. Notice the strength in Mary’s arms, painted by the great sculptor. OF course, as he often did, Michelangelo included his own likeness in his art.

Venus of Urbino 1534 Oil on Canvas by Titian

Baccus 1597 Oil on Canvas by Carraveggio

Sacrifice of Isaac 1603 Oil on Canvas by Carraveggio

Raphael, Rubens, and countless others

Good Fortune 1617 oil on canvas by Gherardo della Notti

Are you exhausted yet?  We spent several hours in the Uffizi, trying to absorb the magnitude of great art there.  Standing in the very presence of great art, especially art that is imprinted on one’s brain from our collective consciousness is a bit overwhelming.  Of course you can’t touch anything, thanks to very loud infra red alarms that will screech very loudly if your hands get too close.  But you are close enough to touch the paintings, to look at the fine detail, to appreciate what it takes to make art like this.  An experience neither of us will forget.

It was a long day.  I actually have no idea what we did that evening, what we had for dinner, and I don’t remember the walk home.  However, I do remember this moment, when we reached our little street and I could see the door to our apartment.  It was a wonderful day and it was even more wonderful to know we had no plans for the following day except resting up a bit and reviewing and remembering the last few days of amazing experiences.


10-07-2018 Day 13 A Day with Michelangelo

Who knows why, after such a simple day that we enjoyed yesterday, but neither of us slept well last night.  We finally fell asleep around 2:30 AM and woke at 7, but even those few hours were restless.  We are both grateful for the sofa bed mattress, but still quite tired of being generally uncomfortable.

Sunday morning in Firenze is a wonder of bells, with the calls echoing all through the city and reverberating in all directions. It was a lovely way to begin our day, in spite of the lack of sleep.  Reading our trusty Rick Steve’s Florence guidebook, we decided that this Sunday would be a good day to visit some of the less popular sites in the main part of the city. 

Basilica de Santa Croce from the rear entrance near Scoula del Cuoio

Santa Croce was big on the list, not only for its beautiful facade, but for viewing the tomb of Michelangelo, which he designed for himself. Tucked away in Steve’s book was a little tidbit of information that turned out to be incredibly helpful.  Crossing the river once again, we took the back roads toward the Santa Croce, where we had seen the entrance to Casa Buonarotti, one time home of Michelangelo.

Facade of Santa Croce with sculpture of Dante to the left. The fancy tomb inside the church is merely a memorial and Dante isn’t actually buried here

The Basilica de Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross, is the principal Franciscan church in Florence.  There is a fee to enter this church, and from the main square, the lines are long even on a quiet day.  Just to the south of the church however, is a convent, and tucked away to the rear of the convent is the famous Scuola del Cuoio “School of Leather”.  Rick Steves suggested that one should visit the school, buy entry tickets to Santa Croce there, and enter the church through the back door from the school, no lines. 

Great advice!  Except the church wouldn’t be open until later in the day and we would have to return to the school to buy our tickets and enter.  No problem.  We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the school and reading about their world class leather training.  Even bought a few small leather pieces for presents for our kids and grandkids, and I found a purple wallet as soft as butter. 

Leaving the school, we walked a block or so to enter Casa Buonarotti.  Once again, there was an entry fee.  I never managed to track just how much we spent on entry fees in Florence to see all that we did, but it wasn’t a small amount. 

Although Michelangelo lived in this house as a young man, most of the art was added later by his descendant, Michelangelo the Younger, more than a century later.  We did see a pair of shoes and a walking stick that supposedly belonged to the great sculptor and several paintings of him.  The beautiful frescoes on the ceiling were completed in the 1600’s. 

Two special pieces made the visit worthwhile, both sculpted by Michelangelo when he was only 17 years old.

Madonna della Scala, Madonna of the Stairs reflects a  traditional form of sculpture for the time, with the influence of Donatello and the use “stiaccato” relief which allows a sculptor to create a recessed or relief sculpture carving only millimeters deep.  The illusion of greater depth is created by decreasing the thickness gradually from the foreground to the background.  It is more like a 2D image rather than a 3D sculpture. It stands in sharp contrast to the other relief carved by Michelangelo at Casa Buonarroti.

The Battle of the Centaurs

“The Battle of the Centaurs is a writhing mass of figures three-dimensionally carved into a marble block. The figures are layered in overlapping positions adding to the spatial depth of the work. We can see the artists interest in the massive bulk of the naked male form, a theme that would serve Michelangelo well in future commissions, including his work in the Sistine Chapel.”

Detail of ceiling in Casa Buonarroti

After visiting the leather school and Casa Buonarroti, we still had some time to kill before we could enter Santa Croce due to Sunday mass services being held there.  We decided to walk to the Bargello, a museum we had passed several times on our route to and from the Duomo Piazza.  The Bargello is a small museum, with a few hidden treasures and some obscure art that was nonetheless outstanding.

Michelangelo’s Bacchus is a highlight in this museum

Donatello’s David in bronze is much different than Michelangelo’s David

Dying Adonis by Vincenzo de Rossi was the one that caught our hearts.  Incredible.

We loved the majolica pottery

And the Della Robbia glazed pottery display was dramatic

The city was still fairly quiet as we emerged from the museum to head back toward Santa Croce.  But first we needed sustenance.  We found another little cafe for cappuccino and a pastry, and laughed together about the truly snotty waitress.  She was so harsh and somewhat rude that  it was actually funny.  I guess this happened to us less than we had expected during our Italian visit.

It was around 2 when we meandered back to the rear of the great church, smiling to each other as we looked at the long entry lines.  The shopkeepers smiled as they sold us our entry tickets, remembering that we had made some purchases earlier.  They are very friendly at the Scoula, and directed us to the entrance to the church where there wasn’t a single person in line.

Entering Santa Croce was just a bit overwhelming.  There are sixteen family chapels that compose a large part of the Santa Croce Basilica, considered the largest Franciscan church in the world. Well-to-do families typically had chapels built and decorated in their honor and dedicated to a favorite saint.

In addition the the chapels filled with art, and the beautiful crypts on the floors, it is the tombs that make Santa Croce so thrilling. The list of the famous artists and scientists of the Renaissance that are entombed in this basilica reads like a history of art and science.  Here lies Michelangelo, Michiavelli, Marconi, Galileo, and Rossini. 

We spent a long time wandering through the church, admiring the art and sculpture, until at last we came to the tomb of Michelangelo.  Silly me, somehow this place brought tears to my eyes.  I was looking up and another woman near me looked at me with tears in her eyes as well.  She only spoke Italian, but we laughed and smiled at each other and with hand gestures and eyes we acknowledged that this was somehow an incredible moment for each of us.  I have no idea why, not a clue.  But being here still got to me down deep.


Michelangelo, crazy man, wild artist, genius of sculpture, legendary personality.  It was good to see his work in person and to stand at his tomb and honor him.

We left the church and walked back across the river, reaching our little apartment by 4.  By this time the city was incredibly crowded, and the streets were shoulder to shoulder with tourists.  The big tour buses parked along the Arno River just across from where our apartment is located and we saw them lining up and filling with hordes of people returning from a day in the city center. 

Florence is truly wonderful if you know to get up early before the crowds, find the quiet neighborhoods, go out in the evening when the tour buses have departed.  Also, often short walk to another street will open up space where no one has ventured to go because it isn’t on the main tour walking route. Still, it is very important to get the heck out of downtown before 4pm!

Once again, no fancy dinner out for the two of us.  Are you surprised that Deanna cooked a great supper for us of pasta with veggies, tomatoes, zucchini, and some of Sara’s tomato sauce?  We enjoyed a glass of wine, a bit of chocolate for dessert, and hopefully we will be rested for the next big adventure.

Tomorrow we travel from Florence to the medieval town of Sienna, little over an hour south by bus and a world away from the Renaissance and back into the Middle Ages.  We have a hotel reservation and an idea of where to catch the bus.  Both of us are a bit excited about this one, so hopefully we can sleep tonight.

10-03-2018 Day 9 The Wonder that is Florence

High Temperature on this day, 78 Degrees F/25.5 C sunny and clear

When I started planning this trip I immediately bought some guidebooks.  There is a ton of information on the internet but I wanted hard copy to peruse on cold winter nights.  I had Rick Steve’s Florence and Tuscany, and Lonely Planet Florence.  I read and read, studied maps, walked around the city using google street view, and tore out the hard copy map. 

Isabella had said, “Always look for the Duomo, it will keep you oriented”.  What she didn’t say is that the huge dome of the Duomo is not visible when you are wandering the narrow canyons that are the streets of Florence.  As Deanna and I must have said a thousand times, “Thank goodness for Google Offline Maps!”.  I have no idea how one would navigate Florence with only a paper map.

We dressed comfortably for the warm day ahead, making sure that we also had appropriate leg and shoulder coverings for the churches.  The only way to begin to understand Florence is to head first for the piazza of the  Duomo, formally known as the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore.  Our apartment on the east side of the Arno River is about half an hour’s walk from the Duomo, and on that first morning we chose to walk the west side of the Arno River toward the Ponte Vecchio.

Built in 966 very close to the original Roman crossing, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge”, was the only bridge across the Arno in Florence until 1218. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On  November 4, 1966, a devastating flood destroyed much of downtown Florence but the bridge miraculously withstood the floods.

There have been shops on Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers, fishmongers and, tanners, with the associated rank smells. Understanding the history of the Medici’s is central to understanding Florence and the Renaissance.  Their wealth and power during the 15th century was unprecedented.  They decided that the smell wasn’t acceptable and in the  mid 1500’s, Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge in order to improve the wellbeing of everyone, including that of the Medici as they walked over the bridge between their offices at the Uffizi buildings and their home at Pitti Palace on the opposite side of the Arno River.

We followed the walk to the right. the Uffizi Gallery is the tall grayish building beyond the Galileo Gallery

The bridge looked interesting in the morning sunlight with rowers from the local elite rowing club on the water.  We were glad to be walking rather than driving as traffic was crazy all around us.  Even walking was a bit of a challenge on the narrow footpath along the river with crowds lining up and couples stopping to take photos of the famous bridge.

We didn’t realize that we were in front of the famous Uffizi Gallery when the foot traffic got really thick, and we had to thread our way through the crowds to try to get past the entry lines. On that first morning, we didn’t know much.  It is fun to look back on that first  wandering walk and compare it to how much we learned of the city in the ten days or so that followed.  It was a bit intimidating, but not really too much as we continued to wander in the general direction of the Duomo.

I thought you might like an overview of the city as you read.  Our apartment in on the lower far right corner

We turned at a side street just past the bridge, and there was the gorgeous red dome of the famous Duomo, gleaming in the morning light.  The cathedral is huge, and the complex includes not only the main cathedral, but the bell tower, “Campanille” and the Baptistry.  Our plan for this first day included no formal tours, with the idea that we would wander, get to know the place a bit from the outside before venturing inside any of the famous cathedrals and galleries that we planned to visit.

An aerial view from Google of the Piazza Duomo, the Baptistry to the left, the Campanille so the south of the Cathedral, The Dome on the right, and our little Duomo Caffe along the Piazza

That plan worked out fairly well.  We had read that the only way to begin to deal with the huge crowds of tourists was to begin the day early, and we were in time to get tickets to climb the bell tower without having to wait terribly long in the lines.  Even at that early hour, around 10:30, the lines for entry into the Duomo itself were all the way around the block and would be at least a 2 hour wait.  Lucky for us, not many folks were excited about climbing the stairs of the bell tower.  It is the tourist thing to do to climb the Duomo, but the guidebooks suggested that climbing the bell tower actually provided better views and the line was often much shorter.  The guidebook was right!

We did have to stand in line at the Duomo Museum building, around the square some distance to get tickets for the bell tower.  At that time we also got  an entry time to climb the Duomo, with the first time available being the following Friday night. 

Hurrying back to the bell tower line we discovered that in just the few minutes it took to get our tickets, the line had grown quite a bit.  Still, the wait was tolerable.  The ticket taker looked askance at my walking stick and my white hair and made sure that I knew the bell tower was 414 steps to the top.

Giotto was a painter and architect from Florence during the late middle ages.  He was the main architect for the graceful “Giotto’s Campanile” as the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is called in Italian.  The tower is a beautiful example of Florentine gothic architecture of the fourteenth century.

As we began to explore the beautiful churches and museums of Florence, the evolution from the Dark Ages and the Gothic period to the brilliant realism of the Renaissance in art and architecture was evident everywhere.  This was the heart of Florence, the reason is it such a magical place to experience the leap that mankind made during the Renaissance.

Deanna and I didn’t notice the diamond shaped sculptures here until AFTER we saw the real ones in the museum.

Giotto began the construction of the bell tower in 1334, and it was completed after his death in 1359.  The bell tower is 269 feet/82 meters high and requires climbing all 414 steps to reach the top. The climb up the tower isn’t terribly difficult and there are three open middle floors where you can rest and enjoy the view.The steps are rather narrow and it is the only way up and down, so you need to share it with people going in both directions. Everyone is quite polite, with bodies grazing each other in the narrow space, and lots of laughter.

The view from the top was thrilling, with red tiles roofs far below us in all directions, the narrow winding streets of Florence looking like a huge maze. We had a gorgeous bird’s eye view of Brunelleschi’s Dome, (more about that in another post).

Going down was easier on the legs and lungs but harder on the knees and balance.  Once again, in the narrow stairways on the crooked steps, I relied on Deanna’s shoulder in front of me for balance.Once we were back in the piazza, lunch seemed like a great idea.  We were hungry!  The shade under the umbrellas look very inviting and a cool drink would hit the spot.  Lunch was not inexpensive, but so delicious.  Italian salami, cheeses, more fabulous tomatoes, and panini bread that was done to perfection, crispy but tender.  As always, the question about water, sparkling or still? No such thing as tap water in a glass in most Italian eating establishments.Topped off with a cappuccino as we watched the crazy crowds milling about it was a delightful treat.

The tickets we had purchased earlier at the Duomo Museum included the Bell Tower, the Duomo, the Baptistry, the Crypt, and the Duomo Museum.  There were many reasons to visit this museum, but I had an agenda:  it was time to view my first Michelangelo sculpture.

However an even more important reason to visit this beautiful newly remodeled museum is that almost all the original sculpture from the facade of the Bell Tower and the Duomo is here.  In order to protect the priceless art from vandalism and the weather, copies have been made for display in their original locations and the actual pieces are inside the museum.

While I was searching around on Google attempting to locate the Caffe Duomo as I was writing this blog, I suddenly found myself right inside the museum with a 360 view.  Google is now doing interior spaces of some of these great world treasures.  Before you continue with my story, check out the link here. Deanna, this means you too!  You will be amazed!

The figure on the left is Donatello’s St John the Evangelist originally on the exterior of the Duomo

The interior of the museum is a newly recreated facade of the original cathedral with the sculptures in place as they once were on the exterior of the church.  The display of sculpture by so many artists was thrilling, with familiar and unfamiliar names from old art history classes.

Viewing the original Ghiberti Baptistry doors is so much better than seeing the copy from the street at the Baptistry. According to some, the Renaissance officially began in 1401 with a citywide competition to build new doors for the Baptistry.  Lorenzo Ghiberti won the job and built the first set of doors for the north entrance.  He was later commissioned to create another set of doors for the east entrance, facing the Duomo.  These bronze “Gates of Paradise” revolutionized the way Renaissance people viewed and depicted the world around them.

The aging Michelangelo’s later Pieta, with the face of Nicodemus a self portrait

In room toward the back of the building, showcased in a way to honor the artist, is the Pieta by Michelangelo.  This is his later Pieta, unlike the one in the Vatican which is so famous.  I was close enough to touch the marble, but of course I wouldn’t think of it. If you reach your hands toward any of the art loud alarms will go off triggered by the lasers that protect the pieces. 

A work of art that isn’t exactly beautiful but is so compelling is the wood carving of Mary Magdalene by Donatello. Donatello as a sculptor preceded Michelangelo and was at times a mentor to the younger sculptor.  Between 1415 and 1435 Donatello and his pupils completed eight life-sized marble prophets for niches in the Campanile of the Cathedral, and we viewed these original sculptures in the Museum. This wood carving was a complete departure of style and material for Donatello, and shocked the people of Florence.  The carving was completed during the later years of Donatello’s life and reflected the intense depression he experienced at that time.

This image is “The Weaver” by Andrea Pisano from the south side of the Campanile

This image is “Orpheus, the Musician” by Luca Della Robbia from the north side of the Campanile

Another display that we thoroughly enjoyed were the diamond-shaped, blue glazed panels that once decorated the Campanile, seven per side. The original design may have been Giotto, but his successor, Andrea Pisano and his assistants completed most of the panels.

The gallery for Brunelleschi’s Dome contains the architect’s models and his death mask in addition to details about the construction of the brick dome that was the precursor to the dome at St Peter’s in the Vatican.

We spent more than 2 hours in the museum.  A happy circumstance was the lack of crowding.  We did have to wait about half an hour in line to enter, but once inside the crowds were fairly well dispersed and not terribly intrusive.

I took a LOT of photos, and my museum interior skills definitely need some honing.  I will include some of them but if you want to see more here is a link to the rest of the photos for this day.

We were darn tired by late afternoon after our first day seeing just the beginning of what Florence has to offer.  Following our offline maps once again, we found a different route home, behind the Santa Croce Cathedral, and crossing the Arno River and the second bridge east from the Ponte Vecchio.  It was a  good route and we used it often in the coming days.

Once again we cooked a great dinner with some of our stash from the fabulous COOP grocery, with fresh veggies, tomatoes and zucchini of course, a salad with lettuce that was the least exciting thing we ate in Italy, and a great little steak to top it off.

We knew the next day would be another big one, and we fell into the almost decent mattress on the sofa bed with grateful hearts.