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Published: October 18th 2013
If you have seen our previous Blog, you may recall that we are staying in the namesake of Palazzo Pitti or Pitti Palace. To recap briefly, Palazzo Pitti is where the Medicis and the Habsburgs lived. Or in more detail (thanks to Wikipedia); the palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewellery and luxurious possessions.
It was just down the road from our hotel so we thought we had better go and see it. This is on the Oltrarno side of the Arno and during the brief walk we found that this locality was definitely not as hectic as the north side of the river. Many of the souvenir shops were a cut above those on the other side and quite a few nice looking restaurants. All just a bit more relaxed.
At 9:45 am there was a negligible queue and we bought tickets for the Palazzo Pitti Museums plus entry to the Boboli Gardens. A bargain.
On the entry side, the Palazzo is not super impressive looking; just a big building. Once inside, we were thrilled. Many of the rooms rivalled Versailles, but with more restraint. The art collection commenced by the Medici’s is mind bogglingly huge and in our view Palazzo Pitti matches the Uffizi but without the crowds. There was a steady stream of visitors but it was never crowded and we wandered at will relaxing and taking in the wonderful rooms and equally wonderful art. This is a place you can absorb at leisure. They also have a “modern” collection. Modern is defined as anything after the year 1800, so don’t expect Jackson Pollock. They had a small but excellent exhibition of impressionists including Renoirs and Manets. This was our favourite Florence museum. For some reason the Pitti does not attract the same recognition as the Uffizi. This is good, because we loved it and it was a relaxing place to visit. Please don’t tell anyone – keep it a secret!
The surrounding Boboli gardens are claimed to be the earliest formally designed gardens on this scale and are both grand and beautiful. Long avenues, fountains, sculptures ancient
and modern, massive grand staircases and splendid vistas in all directions. There is also a porcelain museum. As with the Palace, there were no large crowds, just a steady stream of visitors taking in the grandeur. This visit became a complete day, leaving us relaxed and satisfied. However history may judge the Medici’s and their political foibles; there is no argument about their fabulous cultural and artistic legacy.
On the walk back we spotted a likely Ristorante in Piazza di Santa Felicite on the Oltrarno side, just metres from our hotel. The food was good, the banter from the waiting staff was even better.
Off to Piazzale Michelangelo. Maps do not show the hills. Piazzale Michelangelo is on a big hill with massive staircases for the final assault. A number of tourists had established base camps at various levels. Although Oxygen was not required, it was quite a climb but the view was absolutely worth it. At the top there is another copy of Michelangelo’s David and not much else aside from a large car and bus parking area catering for those smart enough to realise how steep it
was. With a view like this you do not need much else. Great views of Florence plus we could see the southern city walls snaking up the hills. More photos. We were amused to see one tourist run across the terrace, stop at the edge; camera snap; race to the next corner; camera snap etc. Was he in the “Amazing Race”? He probably will not remember where he has been until he looks at his photos. And why was there an American Indian in full feathered head dress playing loud pan flute music with an amplified backing track in the middle of the car park? Bizzare. He was selling his CDs. Ron wanted to offer him fifty Euros to stop playing.
We wended our way back to downtown and quietly explored the streets.
That evening we hit the same Ristorante again. They recognise us but let us in anyway. Late in the evening we strike up a conversation with a couple two tables away. Bob and Carol Lee from New York. What a delightful and incredibly funny couple. The wandering minstrels strike up a tune in the Piazza. They are very good and know
some tunes other than Sol Mio and “It’s Now or Never”. They launch into “Hava Nagila”. Carol Lee is obviously musically inclined and remarks that this is the first time she has heard an authentic Jewish version of “Hava Nagila” played in public. “Would you believe in Italy, right in front of a Catholic Church”. Were the musicians tempting fate? The heavens open and we huddle in the middle under the big market umbrella. Waiters run everywhere dragging furniture under cover. In the Pizzeria next door there is a dam of water in a sagging corner of the canvas. The Maitre D pokes it with a stick and cops the lot down the front of shirt. He does not even blink. Carol Lee starts a rendition of “Singing in the Rain”. She can really sing. We get every verse and chorus. The waiters are dancing. Ron is looking for the hidden camera. Bob looks a little like Mel Brooks and is just as funny. Are we in a Woody Allen Movie? Wonderful fun. Great people. We swap email addresses and we now have a place to stay if we visit New York.
A quiet day wandering around the Oltrarno area. We happen upon a window full of art and sculpture. Not a museum but an antique store. Prego, please come in and look around. It was almost like the Pitti Palace except everything was for sale. We meandered at will through quiet fascinating streets full of beauty for an afternoon. Florence is like that.
An observation : urban cyclists.
In Melbourne the cyclists we see are lycra clad serious insects that usually hunt in packs. In Italy we have not seen one lycra clad cyclist. Fashionably dressed women in Gucci and Jimmy Choo shoes pedal elegantly past. Men in three piece suits. Most bicycles are the black step thru type with baskets on the handle bars.
Time for our cooking class. Our group are all American except for us Aussies. A nice bunch and we mix and knead pasta dough, peel and chop tomatoes, flatten and tenderise chicken breasts under Francesco’s enthusiastic tuition. Excellent explanations and recipes to take home. The team cooked meal is brilliant. Great fun.
Our last full day. Off to the Duomo. When
constructed, it took them years to figure out how to build the dome. It is still the largest brick dome in the world. Like St Pauls, St Marks, Notre Dame etc, the Duomo is wonderful in it’s own way and we are full of awe. Around this time we discovered that the mighty Geelong Cats did not make the Grand Final. Also a cats supporter, the Pope's reaction to this bad news was predictable. Otherwise another relaxing day just wandering about, discovering new streets and cityscapes.
Later, Ron decides that we will need to walk to the station tomorrow due to the Florence marathon. He heads off for a trial journey to pick the most suitcase friendly route. Instead of Ponte Vecchio, he walks down to the next bridge; Ponte Santa Trinita. It is unfortunately near dusk and supposedly the ideal time to take that award winning photo of Ponte Vecchio. The preferred vantage point for this photo is this particular bridge; Ponte Santa Trinita which has been transformed into a mecca for idiot photographers attempting to commit suicide by blindly stepping backwards into traffic for that perfect angle. To make matters worse, “Chuck” is trying to
get his girlfriend “Missy” in the shot but cannot quite get the focus right. The whole world has to stop while this moron stands there blocking pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Multiply this by one hundred and you will get the idea. We will not go this way in the morning.
Today is the Florence Marathon. The route runs past the front door of our hotel and the city is almost completely closed to traffic. As planned, we pack up early and comfortably walk it to the Train Station using Ponte Vecchio. Arrivederci Florence - with a tinge of sadness.
Off to Rome . . . . . .
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