Tag: medici

A Walkabout in Florence

A Walkabout in Florence

Well, we found a decent place to park in Florence, which acts as an unofficial Park and Ride for line 1 of their tram system, so I was able to bring you this update!  Note that it’s photo-heavy.  Note also that we didn’t enter any of the attractions, as we’d been in Florence a couple of times before and had already hit most of them.

We probably left a little late, and instead of taking the dual-carriageway route, we went via the Pisa road, and a scenic route.  Some parts of it are really lovely, and it offers a much less-stressy approach to the CoOp carpark, but it is a bit longer than Google Maps suggests – maybe 15 minutes longer.

I took some snaps along the way, but Mr. Sun, God bless him, did his level best to screw up my shots, as I was facing him for most of the route.

The carpark is for the CoOp on Nenni.  It is completely free, but to get to town, you have to get the tram to the central train station, and walk a little from there to the more popular attractions.  You pay for tram usage by time, rather than by number of stops.  We selected the base ticket (90 minutes) both there and back, and it only cost €1.50 per person for each journey.  What we forgot to do (on both legs of the journey) is to validate the ticket using the machines inside the trams.  You run the risk of getting a fine if you don’t.  We got lucky.

Anyway, we got off at the train station, and walked through the underground shopping centre and a street or two, to hit Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.  Despite spending 5 nights in the city a few years ago, I don’t think we’d ever been here!

Onwards, then, towards probably the series of chief attractions in Florence: the Cathedral, belltower and baptistry of Santa Maria del Fiore.  The architecture is stunning, with incredibly detailed doors and columns.  It is one of the most impressive things you’ll see in all of Tuscany – really… the outside of the Pisan square simply aren’t as impressive (although they are amazing – it’s just that the cathedral in Florence is a cut above).

The baptistry in that last photo looks bizarrely skewed… blame the camera on the iPhone.

Anyway, having been blown away by that, we marched on to Piazza della Republica.  A gorgeous square indeed.

We went on, then, to the Mercato Nuovo and the Fonta del Porcellino. You’re supposed to put a coin in the boar’s mouth, to let it fall through the grate below, and then rub the snout for good luck.  While some tourists were attempting that, a beggar woman sidled up and grabbed every coin from the font, before wandering off again.

We were both feeling a little peckish by now, but decided to go to the Piazza della Signoria – really the main square of government in Florence – or used to be in the Medici’s days.

Here you’ll find a ton of statuary, including Neptune, Hercules, a copy of David, moulded from the original, and Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa.  As well as that, of course, you have the main building of government (back in the day at least): the Palazzo Vecchio.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll notice that it’s a cheap knock-off of the Palazzo dei Priori in Volterra, the design of which predates it by about 300 years.  Florence’s palazzo was begun in 1299, but owes its current appearance to the Medici, who rightly thought Volterra’s equivalent looked snazzy.  I say ‘cheap’ with my tongue planted in my cheek: it’s an impressive building, and the inner courtyard is fabulous.  We haven’t get visited it, and it sounds like it’s worth a good explore, based on what I read about it.  Maybe some other time.

What else would you dine on in Florence, but Chinese?!  Yeah, it had gotten to that stage again where we craved something oriental, and so gorged ourselves in Il Mandarino.  The soups we had (won-ton and sweetcorn) were nice, and the steamed dumplings excellent.  But the mains were so-so, with Niamh’s chicken satay not really tasting of peanuts, and my chilli beef tasting more of toasted sesame than chilli, but was still tasty.  Our accompanying veggies were nice enough.

After filling ourselves to the tops of our throats, we waddled south through the streets, until we hit the Arno river, and made our way to, and across, the fabled Ponte Vecchio.  Niamh stopped here briefly to pick up a mask to go on display with the other mask we bought during Volterra’s medieval festival.  It’s a lovely little walk, with shops hanging over the sides of the bridge, all decorated externally like medieval shops.  There is a gap halfway over, so you can look east and west along the Arno and take snaps.

The south isn’t as dramatic as the north, but a small explore is recommended, if only to at least see the enormous Palazzo Pitti.  We had thought to enter and walk around the gardens there, but lazily we gave it a miss and continued exploring the south.

It was gelato time, and up to now we had been avoiding most gelaterie in Florence, as we had a fair idea it would be sub-standard.  We’ve been told that a pretty good rule of thumb is if you see the gelati piled high, don’t go in.  We went instead to the Gelateria Santa Trinita, and if you go, you too can be served slightly above average gelato for 30% higher than you’d pay in Volterra, and have it served up by a tall, attractive young lady whose hobby appears to be eye-rolling.  Fun times.  Still, we could sit on a bench within and it did its job of cooling us down.

We’d begun clock-watching and so decided to call it a day.  We strolled back to the north side, to the train station, stopping to take photos.  We found a couple of the ‘no entry’ street signs so wonderfully ‘adjusted’ by a dude call Clet Abraham.  He gets wind of a new sign, has his changes already cut out and ready to stick to it, cycles to it and sneakily rubs it on.  It’s quite illegal, but he’s never been ‘caught’… I suspect the authorities are pleased, as it adds another bit of character to a town already overflowing with it.

We took the dual carriage way home – a road that bridges Florence and Siena.  We came out at Colle di val d’Elsa, whereupon the road became instantly familiar.  It’s a shorter route, but not as scenic and involves a bit of an annoying rat-run through some of Florence’s streets from the CoOp carpark to get to it.  As it was the evening, Mr. Sun trolled me from the other side again!

We didn’t do or really eat anything that evening, but just relaxed and screen-watched.  This morning, I got up and had my first walk in 3 days.  

You know it’s the end of holiday season, when they start setting up the Saturday market in the main and cathedral squares.  Ah well… all good things must come to and end, as they will do this day next week when we fly home 😦

Not too sure what today will bring, but thanks for reading about yesterday!

Volterra’s Art Museum

Volterra’s Art Museum

We crashed after bringing our guest to the airport, and then lazed about the apartment, screenwatching.  We headed out to Il Pozzo degli Etruschi for some lunch.  We were sat down the back, which we’d never been before, and so saw that they had a covered Etruscan well!

I had pici with lamb sauce, and Niamh had a boar chop with baked rosemary potatoes, with a side of grilled veggies.

A small thunderstorm forced us back to the apartment, where I stayed for a little sleep.  I got up around 17:00 and headed out to the town’s pinacoteca (art gallery).  It’s €8 for an adult to visit and allows entrance to the art museum and the neighbouring alabaster museum, which I visited first.  I think this museum is also covered by the Volterra Card, which you can buy for €16, which allowed entrance to many of the main attractions over a 3 day period.

As I said in one of my introductory posts, Volterra is the European centre for alabaster art, and has been for millenia, on and off.  The Etruscans carved it, which you can see in their funerary urns.  The museum here, has small mixture over a few floors of new and old pieces, spanning the near 3,000 years alabaster has been worked here.

At the top, is a reconstruction of a medieval alabaster workshop, along with a couple of nice views of the town below – including a little peek at the Roman ruins.

You can access the art gallery from the mezzanine below the top floor of the alabaster museum.  This takes you to the floor which houses the museum’s masterpiece: Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition from the Cross.

IMG_6551

The red-haired, lamenting figure in the bottom right is often though to be the painter himself (‘Rosso’ being a nickname).  It’s interesting, though, that there is evidence that Judas Iscariot also had red hair, so the figure acts as a handy double.  It’s a pre-Renaissance piece, which is commonly believed to be one of the best early examples of Mannerism, which led to adoption of the style in Renaissance works. 

Most of the artworks on display are pre-Renaissance, ranging from mid 1200’s to late 1400’s, and thematically are religious in nature – inevitably, really – they were the ones with the money to commission the pieces.

There are also a couple some classic Renaissance works.

And this fresco by Daniele da Volterra (Daniele Ricciarelle), which was painted for the Medici family in the mid 1500’s.  The family crest is one of the main eye-catcher’s of the scene!

IMG_6555

You can also make out the coat-of-arms of Volterra on the left-hand side – the shield-mounted dragon.

There is also another room with works by a collection of Volterran artists, with works ranging from Renaissance to mid-1700’s.

I think it’s a worthwhile visit, if you have a passing interest in historical art, whether you like the theme or not.

On the way home, I stopped off in La Sosta del Priore and grabbed a couple of sausage and onion sambos for us.  We stayed in and screenwatched for the rest of the evening.  Talk about settling in!  I went to bed early, as I knew I wanted to get this blog written before we (hopefully) head to Florence in the morning.  We have two routes open to us: a slightly quicker route, two-thirds of which is on dual-carriageway, or a route through some wonderful countryside.  Hmmmmm…

Hopefully, we’ll park successfully, learn how to use the tram and tell you folks all about it tomorrow.

The Red Night and the Prison

The Red Night and the Prison

Not a bad title for a novel!   Anyway – this post is a little media-rich – so beware.

It was more of an eventful night than day… I sat in and wrote a bit (maybe 600 words), and Niamh went out to mooch around town with our guests.  They went to the market, bought goodies and then went to lunch in I Ponti.  I’d never eaten there before.  They had a selection of panini and antipasti, and the reports were good!  Niamh also saw a waiter there who used to work in Da Beppino – he always recognised us.  A lot of waiters seem to circulate in Volterra from season to season.

I had a veg soup in a carton by Knorr.  This may sound blech, but as far as packaged soups go, don’t compare to what we get at home… it wasn’t bad at all!

IMG_6255

We crashed and screen-watched in the afternoon, and had the last of the beef ragu that I made, with added oompf by Niamh.  It was nice and tasty!

A little after 21:00, a few of us ventured out to sample what the Red Night (La Notte Rossa) had to offer.

If the Medieval Festival appealed to the child in me, the Red Night appeals to the creative adult.  Throughout the town, there were art installations, gentle jazz/world bands and many of the museums were open free of charge until midnight.  As well as that, some of the town’s more well-to-do families opened their palazzi to the public – which is something they’d never do, except on nights like this. 

Firstly, we entered the main square (Piazza dei Priori), to a little bit of magic!

The walls of the buildings were lit up red and indigo, and a video of local hilltowns was being projected onto Palazzo dei Priori.  A band played soft jazz, while a young man used aerosol paints to create a stylised profile.  Just wonderful.  If I’d been here before on such a night, I might have stayed here and chilled with some wine or cocktails.

We instead moved on to have a look at the first palazzo, which was somewhere definitely lived in.  It was beautifully decorated and furnished, and a couple of ladies with a piano and melodica were performing some Italian jazz numbers in one of the rooms.

Another couple of places had also opened, revealing lovely, intimate gardens.

After exploring there and listening to a little music, we went to the Porta San Felice – where the crossroads of steps was all lit up with lamps, the oils of which were gently perfurmed.  It looked so gorgeous.

We had another final little explore together, before we broke company in Volterra’s sweet little theatre.

The other two went home, while I walked the town myself, taking snaps.  I went past Palazzo Viti, but it was only open to organised, pre-booked tours – as were a couple of other places, and I didn’t want to blow the whole night in Volterra’s wonderful pinacoteca (art gallery), where tons of renaissance and pre-renaissance goodies are on display – I will go back there another time and pay.

After a quick stop at a small exhibition by the astronimical observatory near Volterra, I walked to the prison, to see if there was anything else happening on the other side of town.  About three-quarters of the way there, I remembered they’d opened part of the prison – but they were closing up by the time I got there.  Fortunately, the lady told me that they were opening tomorrow (Sunday) from midday to six o’clock.  My Italian comprehension is improving all the time!

Fortunately, another building was open for the night – it seemed to be a dance school.  Behind it, though, was one of the creepiest gardens you’ll ever walk in at night.  I loved it!

On the way home, I stopped off at a cute little model railway.  I skipped the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum (I’ll document that some other day), and the Sacred Arts Museum – I already blogged a visit to that place here.  A nice band of aul’ fellahs was playing on Gramsci – so I stayed to listen to one number and then headed for home.

The crossroads of Gramsci/Matteotti (the latter being the road our apartment is on) was the busiest I’ve seen it.  Being on your own, though, is not so much fun, so I headed off and my head hit the pillow around 11:25… 

…only to be woken up about an hour later by the most tremendous salvo of fireworks I’ve ever heard.  It sounded like they let them off in the square or the park, and had them explode right over our apartment.  Our windows where humming with the noise, and flashes of colour burst through every few seconds.  The last time they let off fireworks here, they lasted about 30 seconds, so I didn’t bother getting dressed this time.  I missed a 10-minute display.  Typical.  Maybe next year!

This morning, we had to drop one of our guests off at Pisa Airport.  We had a now obligatory stop at the bell tower (nope – I refuse to post photos this time!).  On the way to lunch at La Pace, we had a lovely encounter with local artists who painted one of the pieces of art on display in our living room.  They are very enthusiastic, and our guest bought themselves a nice piece to take home.  We then had a wonderful lunch in La Pace – boar and pasta – quelle surprise!

IMG_6334

As the restaurant is right next to the prison (housed in a fortress enhanced by the Medici in the 16th century), I took the opportunity to take the open prison walk.  It turns out, you only walk one of the walls, into a small garden area, where you can buy a ticket for a guided tour (Italian only) of one of the main towers of the medieval fortress.  YASSS!

I only understood about 25% of what was being said e.g. one of the 5m diameter rooms housed 12 guards… fun times!  You could take photographs freely, except through two windows, which looked out onto the recreation area for the prisoners.  A bundle of them were there kicking a ball around, or playing bowls.  I’m not sure I like the idea of us spying on them like that, but if some of the entrance fee (€5) goes towards their benefit, then it lessens the guilt a little.

Then I went home, and typed up this blog!  You are fully up-to-date.  There will most likely be no blog tomorrow, as there will be flip-all to report!

I’ll see you in the next one… A presto!