Florence
October 2014
more photos here

Sunday 19th October


Italy again!? For the fifth time this year! That must be a record! But why this time? Well no real reason if you're talking special exhibitions or a gallery reopening. Just us thinking a later-then-usual week might make it easier to achieve comfortable visits to the Accademia and the Uffizi. And Paolo Conti has a new CD just out, and it's always nicer to get Italian CDs in Italy, is it not? With those little shiny stickers on the back that only Italian CDs have.

Not much to report on the journey. Traveling on a Sunday morning gets you out of London easier than on a weekday, that's for sure. Following on from my May trip discovery that (due to the construction of a new 'people-mover') you have catch a bus from Pisa Airport to the Pisa Centrale railway station I can now confirm that you can buy a combined bus and train ticket from the kiosk in the airport. The bus part, called Pisamover, costs €1.30 from the kiosk, as opposed to €2 from the driver. But the whole ticket to Florence SMN Station, costing €9.30, also includes a €1 commission. But you don't pay that on just the bus ticket. Got that? Some platform number/Sunday service/confusing announcement confusion at Pisa Centrale, but nothing too stressful. Pretty hot weather wise, though. In contrast to winter-jacket London it's pretty jacketless and short-sleevy here. Hotel check in, at the Cerretani again, was stress-free too. The room big enough and the bathroom spacious. The view out the window is of a wall near enough to spit on, but I haven't yet, and all seems quiet. So, soon we were out soaking up the Florence-ness, heading to the Grotta di Leo for a couple of very superior pizzas (mine the cipolla). Then a gelato in front of the floodlit Santa Maria Novella (mine pineapple and coconut) and an early night.
 




























Monday 20th October

Fiesole today, which has the advantage that it's major attractions are open on a Monday, unlike all but the churches in Florence. One of our guidebooks said that the number 7 bus up to Fiesole could be caught from the railway station or San Marco, but it lied about the railway station. So, after walking around examining every bus stop in front of the station we sighed and walked up to San Marco, where the bus did stop, where it starts in fact, but the bus stop is not easy to find - it's over the other side of the square from the church, and the bus number is not listed on the sign at the top of the pole. After yesterday's surprise of sun and heat today was overcast and misty - the latter very noticeable up in Fiesole. We had a look in the Cathedral of San Romolo first, but there where geezers bringing in scaffolding and banging and clanking around and chucking us off the interesting raised choir, but I did manage a lingering look at the impressive Bicci di Lorenzo altarpiece shortly before being shouted at. A very bare and dark church inside, but with a nicely decorated crypt under said choir, with fresco bits, atmosphere, and roman remains under grills in the floor.

And so to the  Roman Theatre and the Museo Civico - a visit tailor-made to feed my current thing for ancientness, brought on by the early sessions of a course at the Victoria and Albert museum called Art and the City. The misty dampness of the weather made the walking around the site - the theatre, the remains of the baths and the Etruscan temple - a fresh and refreshing thing. Even the museum with its usual archaeological-museum feel of neglect and, in this case, badly-translated signage held our interest, despite having many displays of pot shards. Lunch was taken in the cafe attached to the theatre, and consisted of spinach and ricotta tortalloni in a very fresh-tasting tomato sauce and an equally fresh-ingredientful tuna salad. Entrance to the theatre complex includes entry to the tempting Bardini museum, which contains many gold-ground altarpieces and such, but which is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as my guide book failed to inform me. Which late realisation verily did cause much snarling and rending of garments. Back in the main square the church of Santa Maria Primerana soothed us more than somewhat. The body of the church seems to contain many mediocre works and copies, but the apse has admirable frescoes either side and in the dome. The walk down towards Florence was all cars and tedium, until we reached San Domenico, which is where Fra Angelico began to do his stuff, and which has an altarpiece by him, the background on which was later expanded upwards and the gold covered with a landscape. Odd. We left just as a funeral was beginning and caught the bus the rest of the way back, more than a little disappointed by the walk. My guidebook says that there are five walks walk up, 'all extremely beautiful country roads', but I now notice that it is the walks 'up to San Domenico' that are so described, not up to Fiesole. Hmm.

Our evening walk/shop took in buying soaps with gelato flavours (almond and fig being the most tempting), chocolate from Lindt (new! almond and vanilla) and panforte, with marzipan topping (so that's a confection made mostly with almonds covered in marzipan which is made from...) For my evening pasta I chose the spaghetti with almonds, actually no - the spaghetti carretiera, which was very spicy. Tonight's gelato against the backdrop of Santa Maria Novella floodlit was cinnamon and lemon.
 
Tuesday 21st October

To the Accademia this morning, in the mizzle. I hadn't been in here since the early 90s, when I wasn't so much interested in the early gold-ground primitive stuff, and hadn't even realised there was an upstairs.  The queue for ticket holders was shorter then the one for non, but was moving just as infrequently, but after about 20 minutes we were in. Lets leave aside all the usual comments about the crowds around David, and their being mostly just interested in taking selfies with their hands looking like they're holding David's...well I'm not sure what. I must admit to being more than a bit overpowered by all the altarpieces and works from closed and refurbished churches. Rather than me spending this visit making notes to enter up details in the Lost art paragraphs on my website I'm thinking more of it being a life's work listing them all. Some good stuff though, amongst the masses, including lots by Lorenzo Monaco, mostly from Santa Maria degli Angeli, loads by Granacci, the Daddis, the Gaddis, and a lovely fresco taken from an outdoor tabernacle by new fave Giottino (see right). Lots of Allori too.  There was also a special exhibition devoted to the early collectors of primitive Italian art, which had some nice stuff too - a lot from the Accademia's own collection, but much from elsewhere too, including the Correr in Venice. A much longer visit than I expected, then, and so it was easily lunch time when we left. And made our way over the river to Mama's Bakery, for cream cheese bagels and some takeaway spicy walnut cake.

After a rest Jane went to the Picasso exhibition at the Strozzi and I went to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. I hadn't been for decades and it's now all more tourist-orientated and less like the caribinieri are letting you look at parts of their  HQ. The courtyard and garden are worth a wander, and the Gozzoli frescoes in the Chapel of the Magi are essential. Not too busy in the early evening either. After the chapel you get to walk through some later-created rooms with some desultory furniture additions and some bits of old tapestry chucked up on the walls. Pretty boring. But there is a worthwhile Fillipo Lippi Madonna and Child displayed all of a sudden and a bit randomly. It's a panel painting and has a drawing, probably also by Filippo, of a man's head on the back. All very fascinating. One of the more ornately-decorated rooms was being used for a presentation launching a book about the restoration of the long-crumbling Convent of St Ursula, which was an interesting discovery. Nearby is the church of San Michele Visdomini which has a Pontormo altarpiece which had been taken away and restored for the Pontormo and Rosso exhibition I went to in the spring, and so I just had to check out how it was looking now back home. And it was looking good, but without any notice telling you what it is, with the only clue to its status being that it's the only altarpiece that's properly lit. I then had a meandering walk down to observe tradition and see if San Niccolo, over the Arno, was open this evening, and of course it wasn't. I hereby give up. For the evening gelato I tried a new flavour, crema di riso, and it was something of an exciting discovery. It has a grainy texture and tastes of rice pudding, unsurprisingly, with some noticeable nutmeg flavouring. I'd have it again!
 
Wednesday 22nd October

A cloudless blue sky this morning,  as Jane was doing her own thing I decided to visit some churches that needed stuff doing for my website. Passing Santa Trinita I went in just for the joy of it - no work needed. I then headed to Santo Spirito because I had to leave with almost a half un-looked-at last time. It is closed Wednesdays. I could have checked beforehand, even looked it up on my own website. But didn't. So I headed for San Frediano, also unfinished last visit, and on my way I fell over. Now you have to belive me when I tell you that I don't fall over in real life - when I'm not writing about I remain firm on my feet. But I have now fallen over painfully in both my site-covered cities. In Venice I twisted my ankle badly and hurt for several days. Today I scraped my arms painfully and it feels like I bruised a rib. Anyway, moving along, I passed the Brancacci Chapel, and thought I'd pop in as I have my Florence Card, just to enjoy it. And I did. Around the corner to San Frediano - not a special church, but they all have good points, and it has some nice frescos in the domes of the side chapels. Coming out the facade of the church of Ognissanti over the river looked well lit with raking sunshine so I went over and took its picture. I went inside, as I hadn't in a while, and found it smaller and more over-decorated than I remembered. This one has early frescoes by Ghirlandaio and a St Jerome by him and a matching St Augustine by Botticelli. The latter is currently a photograph and when I asked the attendant monk he said that the originale is in restauro. On my last visit to this church, in 2011, it was St Jerome replaced by a photograph. And that replacement wasn't signposted either.

Up to Santa Maria Novella, where the Cloister of the Dead, closed for many years, had reopened, restored since my last visit. It had been open when I first came to Florence in the 1990s but it's now looking very fine and very photographable.  The museum and refectory I remembered as having some interesting stuff in it, and currently it also has the Uccello frescoes from the Green Cloister propped up in there and you can watch a restorer at work.  The church itself surprised me for the unremembered bareness of the nave walls, and that this bareness is mostly relieved by 16th Century works, lots of them by Naldini. Masaccio's Trinity is the work to stand opened mouthed in front of, of course, and the apse and its adjacent chapels are mostly mouth-open city. Although I was also happy to clear up my confusion about the Gaddi chapel, which turns out to be named after the Cardinal buried there, not any of the artists of that name. The cardinal is called Taddeo, though, like the artist, just to add to the confusion.

I met Jane outside the Museo Novocento, which she'd just been in, and I did my man-in-pain thing, look I'm bleeding, and soaked up the sympathy. I had  decided to pass on the museo, having finally realised that novocento means 20th Century. Duh! The only bit which would have appealed, it seems, was a 20-minute video of clips of films showing how films have represented Florence. We went back in to buy a book and whilst paying for it Jane asked if there was a list of the films in the video. They took her email address and by the time we got back to our hotel (after some yummy pasta for lunch) there was an email waiting with an attached pdf which amounted to a small book, not just a list, with illustrations. What service!

After a rest, to the Uffizi by 5.00, to find no queue, not even for non-ticket holders, which we weren't. The usual room-closure and rebuilding confusion, with the  early stuff usually in the first few rooms now in rooms numbered 40-odd, and without the bigger stuff, like the huge Duccio and the Cimabue altarpieces. Still, an enjoyable visit, mostly concentrating on the Ghirlandaios and Lippis this time, and the Portinari altarpiece - so studied on recent courses, and the smaller early stuff, especially the Giottino that's my new fave. The official closing time is given as 6.50, although the announcements over speakers claimed a 6.35 closing time. But the process of exiting does involve hours of walking, a lot of it through rooms of spiffy paintings now moved down to the first floor from closed rooms above, and passing through four shops. To old fave La Lampara for some penne al arrabbiata.  Then crema di riso and dark chocolate was the gelato.

Thursday 23rd October

For our last full day a bit of wandering and some churches, we thought. Firstly up to San Giovannino dei Cavalieri a neglected gem with altarpieces by Neri di Bicci and Bicci di Lorenzo, his father. There's also a Lorenzo Monaco Crucifixion behind the altar, looking confusingly like cut-outs against the later-frescoed wall. This church also contains that rarest of things - a painting by Palma il Giovane that isn't rubbish. He's as rare in Florence as he is depressingly ubiquitous in Venice and this church's Last Supper is almost likeable in its low-key Tintorettoishness. Having the place to ourselves and being able to get right up close to the paintings added to the experience muchly.


Back down to the river and over to Santo Spirito, open today, until 12.30. I had been booted out without finishing the right hand aisle last visit, so got this done. And had time to wander around the back and the transept, where the best stuff is. Also the sacristy with the Michelangelo Crucifix was open. It's a pleasing tall octagonal space with built-in wooden cupboards. The Crucifix is not convincing, due the the weedy body, uncharacteristic of Michelangelo, but it is supposed to be early, so maybe. Back to Mama's Bakery for another bagel lunch, and a takeaway slice of pumpkin pie.

The evening stroll took in a little light shopping and a sit in Piazza Santa Croce, as we realised we hadn't been over there this week. On our way back to our last feed at the Grotta di Leo our eyes were caught by a shop selling silver bracelets representing some churches and other architectural highlights of Florence. Jane tried on San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito and Santa Maria Novella before deciding on Santa Croce. Last gelato: cinnamon and coconut.
 

Friday 24th October

 

For our pre-flight morning wander we decide to make for Piazza SS Annunziata where we'd not been this week. But we were waylaid by there not being a queue outside the Duomo. We went in, for the first time in decades. There were hoards inside, of course. We all get to file up one aisle, across in front of the transepts, and back down the centre to half way then into the other aisle and out. Not a spiritual experience, but the two big funerary monuments to condottieri, Sir John Hawkwood by Uccello and Niccolò da Tolentino by Andrea del Castagno are worth popping in for. And the famous painting of Dante, Hell and Florence is worth a squint. There look to be some worth-a-look altarpieces in the crossing, and a Last Supper behind the high altar, but getting near them seems impossible. The enormous Last Judgement in the dome is by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari, and has some obvious Michelangelo-inspired bits around the centre.

Our wander took us past some churches I needed better photos of, by design and accident, and up to the aforementioned Piazza. It's somewhat spoiled at the moment by the Ospedale being all scaffolded and hoardinged along it's whole length. There was action around the oratory in the opposite corner, but a peer inside revealed nothing churchy looking, but tables at which food hand-outs for the local poor seemed to be being divvied out. St Francis, the patron of the original oratory, would presumably have approved.

We caught the 1.00 train to Pisa Centrale, no trouble. But we got talking to a woman from Durham, long living in Tuscany, and she told us there was a transport strike on. We didn't know, or we would surely have worried. And maybe even fretted. Our train was luckily not amongst those cancelled and the bus from the station to the airport was unaffected. Phew! Our new friend on the train, though, provided us with some priceless insights into living in Italy and attitudes and work and wedding practices. She confirmed the anecdotal belief that in the Italian job market it's almost entirely a matter of who you know - your qualification for the job being incidental. And that sacking someone is almost impossible - in the public sector utterly so. Her son had recently got married and so we also learned that Italian weddings don't feature bridesmaids, that the groom's mother walks him down the aisle and that her choosing to wear a statement hat is going to cause considerable amazement - Italian weddings are not usually occasions for hat wearing. A fascinating exchange of life details and observations, to be sure, but we forgot to swap names.

Our flight was delayed by about a half hour, but went OK otherwise. Travelling on trains in the rush hour but against the flow guaranteed seats, and indeed a carriage to ourselves from East Croydon to Balham. Confused cats, soon placated, boring post, a trip to the local chippy... the usual.



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