We recently traveled to Italy on a research trip for Frank’s time travel thrillers, the Facetakers series.
My first morning in Tuscany, I had a Room with a View experience. Typical Jenny fashion, I couldn’t open the shutters in my room, but I did manage to throw open the shutters at the end of the hallway. A medieval tower just up the hill greeted me, on my left sat a park with tall cedars and an ancient stone building, the flowers in the courtyard glowed in the fresh morning sun, a cat wandered across the tiles while cheerful birds rang in the morning. May the two never meet.
For our first full day in Italy, we are headed to Florence, Firenze in Italian. The train only takes about 30 minutes from Montecatini Terme where our hotel is, so andiamo, Frank!
Met a nice couple from the States and talked with them on the train. A colorful gypsy woman was “helping” everyone get their tickets at the automated kiosk, even though the instructions are in English. Of course, she requires a tip from everyone. I gave her 1 Euro and she asked for 2. Pushy! She got some other gullible US tourists to give her several euro for Frank’s help at the machine. I advised them not to let themselves get pushed around, just tip her what THEY feel is fair. At least she is not picking pockets.
As we zoom through the lush Italian countryside, fair Florence rises in the distance. I doze, tired after our late arrival last night. One mistake our new friends almost made: getting off one stop too early. Yes, it says Florence, but the central Firenze stazione is a huge train station with a large building and many tracks converging.
Right cross from the train station is a handsome church and the tourist info where you can get a free map and friendly information. It’s Saturday, so I want to skip the line at the Uffizzi museum, and she tells us where to buy those tickets.
Piazza Santa Maria Grazie
On our way, we find ourselves in the Piazza of Santa Maria … a lovely church. The sun shines down on us. We are so happy to be in this beautiful city so rich with history! Since all roads lead to the Duomo, or dome, we easily reach the piazza. It’s not too crowded in March. Lovely. I am anxious to get our tickets for the Uffizi, so we press on.
We find the ticket office easily, and get skip the line tickets for 11:00. Turns out that was a good plan because the line is quite long. If you only have 1 day in Florence like us, it is well worth it.
Art in the Uffizi
In Renaissance times, the Uffizi housed the administrative and judiciary offices of Florence, the “uffizi” (which in Italian means “offices.”) It was completed in 1574. The museum is a U-shaped building, with 2 long wings connected by a shorter wing. It’s bordered on one side by the lovely Arno river, and you can see the famous Ponte Vechhio, literally ‘old bridge’ from the passage that parallels the river.
My main objective in the Uffizi is to gaze at Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo (Holy Family with infant John the Baptist). This is one of my favorite paintings in the world. I love the color and the way he painted the fabric folds. Mary is young, athletic and not looking downcast. She reaches up as Joseph passes baby Jesus to her. Jesus actually looks like a baby, with nice round cheeks and angelic curls. I had forgotten John the Baptist is in the painting too, portrayed as a toddler peeking up over a wall. This painting has been compared to a sculpture because of its ‘serpentine’ composition.
My other favorite paintings in the collection are by Botticelli, DaVinci and Gherardo delle Notti. Botticelli painted the annunciation several times, and one of them is a Huge wall panel over 20 feet long. Very romanticized and beautiful. The angel Gabriel is in light blue, with a Florentine scene framed by the window in the background. The other Bernini Annunciation was completed later in his life and is “more austere,” according to art experts, yet still luscious. Angel Gabriel kneels before Mary in a red robe with lily in his hand and she gazes down on him as if she is startled, which I am sure she was. I found out the lily represents purity, which many Christians hold as the primary attribute of Mary. Botticelli also painted Birth of Venus and Spring with idyllically beautiful women on a large scale. I love the flowing hair, flowers everywhere, and lots of movement, especially in Spring. DaVinci painted a lovely annunciation, which shows Mary as a learned, regal woman.
Delle Notti, who was Dutch (the Italians nicknamed him), painted a lovely Adoration of the Christ Child. To me, this manger scene it looks much as it would have, with the people being lit from underneath as if a torch were below them. It gives them a glow and inspires a feeling of reverence.
At one point, we passed an ornate room which was roped off. The whole room looked like a work of art with velvety wallpaper, an inlaid marble floor and a dome in gold leaf. Several marble statues rested on tables around the circular room. All it needed was a good book! Look closely at the picture.
Once we finished the Renaissance exhibits on the second floor, we started to feel hungry. Decided to splurge and eat at the Uffizi terrace. One of the most picturesque restaurants in Florence: from it we have a clear view of the Duomo and we sit right next to the Palazzo Pubblico with the colorful family crests and 93-meter clock tower. This experience is especially sweet for me because I wanted to eat up here 15 years ago, but didn’t have the funds. I relish the view of my favorite city as we mangia lasagne.
The Palazzo Pubblico
Something new for us, we took the time to climb this ancient structure that towers over the other ones in the city. In ancient days, the powerful Medicis made a law that everyone else’s towers could only be 30 meters high. They guaranteed their tower would be the tallest (by a long shot). The rough-hewn stone passageways evoked another time for us as we wound our way up. Talk about a 360-degree view! We could see the surrounding hills and countryside, the beautiful Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens, the monastery, the winding river with all the gorgeous bridges, and the Duomo from a whole new angle. The wind whipped around us as we took in the scenery.
Later on, we wandered by the Duomo, with its distinctive striped marble exterior. It’s such an ornate church. I think I counted 4 colors of marble: the black and white (which make the stripes), a pinkish red, and a green. I actually have never been inside the Duomo. We intended to if we had time, but from what I’ve read it’s not nearly as exciting inside as outside. Most of the art it formerly held is in the Uffizi or other museums. Of all the cathedrals on this trip, my favorite cathedral interior has to be the one in Siena. My second favorite from this trip is Orvieto because the mosaic scenes on its façade are magnificent and colorful.
After a forgettable dinner, we left the city for our hotel in Montecatini Terme. A satisfying day!