I wanted to take a moment to welcome those of you who are new to my blog. Since my last post, Italy: Venice In Photographs I have managed to attract several new followers. I am humbled and grateful that you have taken the time to follow my journey to complete my ever-expanding, ever-ambitious Bucket List.
By the time we were on our bus heading for Florence, I was ready for new scenery. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Venice, but rather, I was most excited for the Tuscan portion of our trip. From my first walk along the Arno River, to seeing The David, walking across the Ponte Vecchio and peeking into the Boboli gardens…I was absolutely in love. Florence has some intangible quality to it that, I feel, is totally inexplicable. Florence has so much to offer in terms of art, architecture and history – it felt less commercial than Rome and it was easier to navigate than Venice. We arrived on Christmas Eve and maybe that it was the holiday season contributed to my perception of the magic that encapsulates city. Maybe it was the perfectly ideal weather conditions. Maybe it was that it is perfectly picturesque. I’m not really sure. But I loved it from the second we drove in.
After a quick & delicious lunch we headed to the Galleria Dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is housed. Our Florentine tour guide, Roberto, quickly became – and absolutely remains – one of the highlights of my entire Italy trip. As we stood in front of a bust of Michelangelo, Roberto made sure to spend time contextualizing who we believe Michelangelo to have been as a person and as an artist. We then discussed Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures known as “The Prisoners” which lined either side of the hallway leading to the famed statue we were all there to see. Honestly, it took me a solid ten minutes to realize that David was at the end of the very hall I was standing in, because I was so taken with Roberto’s careful detail and explanation of the artwork in front of us.
“As much as you’ll want to rush ahead and see David,” Roberto cautioned, “please be patient. What I am telling you will help you to appreciate how much of a masterpiece the statue truly is.”
And he was absolutely correct. Our discussion about Michelangelo’s process was a revelation for me. I had heard them before, the famed quotes attributed to Michelangelo – you know the ones: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Or even, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” But until I saw his unfinished work, I couldn’t appreciate the real meaning behind this philosophy.
When we finally made our way to David I was teary-eyed and awestruck by just about everything. The statue was, of course, absolutely breathtaking and profound. Roberto remained impartial about the meaning behind certain statues and refrained from providing any type of personal interpretations of The Prisoners – but when it came to David, he no longer held his opinions to himself. According to Roberto, a debate rages about whether the statue depicts David in pre- or post- battle with Goliath.
“This is, without doubt to me, the statue of a man who is preparing for the fight with Goliath.”
As we viewed the statue from specific angles, Roberto called our attention to the detail in the muscles and tendons, the tension in the leg and neck, the right arm – “the most spectacular portion of the statue, in my opinion,” and of course the look of resolve on the face. After some quiet contemplation about the statue, I felt more and more inclined to side with Roberto on this one.
It is a spectacular feeling to be in the company of such an important and timeless piece of artwork. And, I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me a while to stop crying.
Oh, what is a trip to Florence without setting eyes on the monumental Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore? My goodness – I was already riding an emotional wave after leaving an art heaven steeped in Michelangelo and not 10 minutes away we happen upon this architectural masterpiece. I am really trying not to overstate things here, but there is a reason that the Florentine expression for homesickness is “nostalgia del cupolone.”
They were in the process of cleaning the Cathedral and so we were able to see both the dirty portions and the clean portions of the structure. They sandblast the exterior to remove the dirt and pollution that has accumulated on the façade. Once inside two things immediately struck me: the marble flooring and the vastness and emptiness of the cathedral.
Construction on the Duomo began in 1296 on the remains of older churches, and doesn’t official end until 1887 when the external façade was completed. Filippo Brunelleschi is the architectural genius that won a competition to design the famed cupola. In all, it took 18 years to complete and weighs in at a whopping 37,000 tons. It also contains 4 million bricks. There are zero supports in place to secure the dome, but instead, there is a dome within a dome design, and the bricks are laid in a herringbone pattern that ensures its safety. We opted not to climb the 463 steps through narrow staircases to reach the top, though it is an option if ever I return with more time and more courage.
On the inside of the dome Giorgio Vasari’s fresco The Last Judgement (well, designed by Vasari but painted by his student Frederico Zuccari) depicts Christ with heaven above and hell below. Interestingly, there is also a skeleton that, according to Roberto, serves as a reminder to all of us that our fleshly life on earth is only temporary and we all end up the same way in the end.
Outside we stopped to admire the campanile or the bell tower.
Aside: Having church bells at all was an idea adapted from the Islamic faith. Muslims listen for the call to prayer from the minarets of their mosques as the cue to go and pray. To this day, the call to prayer is spoken by a human voice. In Kuwait, the person who speaks the call to prayer is payed by the Emir and it is their sole profession. It’s actually very beautiful to hear each day.
Designed by Giotto, the campanile was an important part of Italian life in the past because, as Roberto said, “The bells were the CNN of the Middle Ages.”
The Baptistery was also a fantastic sight, but getting a good look at the fake Gates of Paradise was sort of an unpleasant experience. By the time we had finished inside the Duomo it was early afternoon and the crowd had increased dramatically. Our guide took the time to explain, in brief, the bible story on each panel of the doors. I would have loved to see the original doors. Alas, next time.
One of my favourite parts of the day though was our stroll from the Duomo to Piazza Santa Croce. Roberto recounted the history of the famed Medici family and their impact on Italian political, economic, and social life. I walked next to Roberto the entire time so I could hear him clearer (we did have our “Whispers – a radio – but I don’t like listening to a disembodied voice) and also because I was simply very interested in the topic. Listening to Roberto talk about history was probably the highlight of my Florence trip.
I know, I know. Nerd.
We stopped in the Piazza Santa Croce where Roberto pointed out a placard atop a doorway in a building. He told us the story of when the Arno river flooded on 4 November 1966 and people from around the world came to help Florence deal with the disaster. On the 40th anniversary of the flood, Florence had a reunion for all of those who came to offer their support – and it was a large celebration. After a short leather and jewelry demonstration, the rest of our day in Florence was spent in bliss as we meandered around to look more closely at the architecture as well as the sculptures in the Piazza della Signoria.
Christmas Eve: Dinner at a Winery in the Tuscan Hills
I am a massive fan of Christmas, so living in Kuwait had been really difficult on me. I missed watching Christmas commercials, decorations, baked goods (eating, not baking), movies, and the general feel of the Christmas spirit. Thankfully, I felt that spirit in full force during my stay in Italy. We were well taken care of in terms of a Christmas Eve feast. After a beautiful drive up a small mountain, we stopped at an amazing lookout that provided stunning views of Florence at night. The entire look out was lit-up by the most magnificent Christmas tree (which I had been commenting on since we arrived in Florence). One of the most memorable parts of this evening came when two members of our travel family got engaged underneath the Christmas tree. I may or may not have cried tears of joy for them.
This rest of the evening was simply magical. We went to Restaurante i tre pini – or The Three Pines. We were surprised with a most delicious welcome beverage that resembled in aesthetic as well as in taste a “porn star” shot. Though I vaguely remember it having a much more beautiful name. It was a delightful shade of blue and it went down with no trouble at all. That is at least part of the reason I cannot recall the name of the liquor. All night we drank wine and dined on some of the most spectacular food I’ve had in my life. We ate antipasto, pasta with truffle sauce, penne, fish, vegetables, cakes and pastries for dessert. I was una buona forchetta – a good fork – that evening.
There was also live music. We joined up with another tour group and the restaurant provided a cake for two couples. One married couple in our group was celebrating 40 years of wedded bliss, the other couple was celebrating 25. We encouraged our newly engaged couple to stand up with them and the band sang the three couples a very romantic love song to which they danced. It was really spectacular.
Shortly thereafter an opera singer came around to the tables to serenade us with an aria. It was delightful. He even took my mom’s hand and kissed it (and also kissed his way up and down her arm…). But, as I was blissfully sedated after having many glasses of wine, I felt only slightly uncomfortable with this. The company at our table was second to none. We swapped stories of our lives and we found out we all shared so many commonalities with each other. It felt like I was sharing my Christmas Eve with family. Despite all of the wine, this is where I derived the most warmth of my night. I remember this most fondly. I went to sleep feeling nourished nutritionally, but certainly emotionally.
Christmas Day was almost here and a sound wine-induced sleep ensued after one of the greatest days of my trip.
Until next time where I discuss the Ponte Vecchio & Pisa,