|Statue of Dante Alighieri in front of Santa Croce|
The question of throngs of tourists is not an easy one, especially for our exchange couple, a retired Florentine professor of physics and his wife from Abruzzo. Fabrizio and Vittoria lived in the apartment in Florence for ten years. They watched their relationship with shop owners weaken, their civic organizations wither, their ability to move about town, increasingly impeded. Newer to the city have been countless busloads of tourists - many from cruises that dock on the coast - and an increase in tour groups from Asia added to the tour groups from everywhere else. All tend to move about the city in clumps. The sidewalks are maybe two feet wide, and when one steps into the street to pass, the street itself can barely accommodate two small cars passing. Getting stuck behind a tour group in a museum can actually curtail one's chance to see what is exhibited. While this crowding is a fact in Rome, as well, Rome has more space.
>Our apartment was 70 stairs up, but appointed with finely made pieces.
|Newton at work|
|Stained glass loft bathroom doors|
|Sauce made with red wine|
We also loved the trattoria down the block that Vittoria and Fabrizio recommended, Il Pennello. We knew Fred would approve: mom and pop establishment; consistently delicious food; good house wine; reasonably priced. We became regulars!
|At Teatro del Sale|
|The David copy, in its idealized classical perfection|
|Palazzo Vecchio and the Neptune Fountain in the Piazza della Signoria, from our apartment window|
|...and out our window by day, with the crowds lining up|
|One afternoon near closing time, we could easily stroll into the elaborate courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio without waiting in line. The coat of arms shown with embedded balls is that of the Medici; these appear in most historic buildings in Florence|
We also passed frequently in our Piazza this exquisite and graphic sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medusa, by Cellini. Hermes (Mercury) lent Perseus his winged sandals to fly and Athena lent a special shield. Perseus then slew the sleeping Medusa in the Gorgon's cave. The statue shares a vaulted colonnade with many sculptures in this corner next to the Palazzo Vecchio.
On the other side of the Palazzo is the Fountain of Neptune:
>I thought I'd fight my way in to see one of the big museums again while Newton worked. I had not yet done so when we had a conversation with an American couple at the next table at lunch. They had purchased the three-day passes to most palaces, churches and museums for the sole purpose of avoiding the lines. They were traveling on after lunch and offered us their passes. The Uffizi was still available and just steps from our door, so we hung those tags around our necks and sashéed past the lines for an afternoon in an exceptional museum.
|Pan, with a mannered swagger|
|Post-classical motion and open space|
|And an actual classical Greek work, Athena|
|Botticelli's "Birth of Spring" (His famous "Birth of Venus" was on the opposite wall, but you may already know that one; BIG crowd)|
|Caravaggio's favorite model, here as the slain Medusa|
|Speaking of genius: the classical elegance and restraint of Leonardo's "Annunciation"|
|Leaning Husband in Pisa|
>The Bardini Garden, across the Arno in Florence, was less popular with tourists than the Boboli, so we had a very tranquil afternoon hiking, visiting three exhibits in the villa, and crossing the road to Fort Belvedere for even more vistas of the city.
This extraordinary fashion exhibit of Roberto Capucci at the Villa Bardini took my breath away.
|Hillside view from Fort Belvedere|
|A nice late afternoon glass of wine at Fort Belvedere|
>It was during our incredible lunch at the Cantinetta dei Verrazzano in Florence, where we had delicious wine and fennochiona (salami made with fennel), that we inquired about the Castello di Verrazzano winery. The instructions were simple: make a reservation for a tour and catch a 40-minute bus there. The ride through the Tuscan hills was as stunning and storybook lovely as always. We got off one stop before the town of Greve-in-Chianti in the specific, strictly regulated Chianti Classico strip that falls between Florence and Sienna.
The clerk in the Verrazzano shop down on the road told us the winery was a one kilometer hike up the hill. He lied. It was over two kilometers up and up, I had on wedge shoes, and the last stretch before the castello was unpaved, so the cars that passed us (without offering a ride) covered us in dust. We arrived just five minutes late for our tour - huffing and puffing - but then had the most marvelous tour and lunch imaginable! The tract of land is huge. They raise boars and pigs to make their own salamis and prosciuttos.
|This medium-sized vineyard produces around 250,000 bottles per year|
They also age balsamic vinegar for ten years here in decreasing barrel sizes until it is a concentrate of pure heaven...drizzled on a piece of cheese at lunch, but also popular on vanilla ice cream! It is expensive.
The lunch/wine tasting was out of a dream.
|Our wines included two levels of Chianti Classico, an exceptional white, and a "Super Tuscan"...wines that do not adhere to the Classico rules and which mix other grapes with the Sangiovese|
|Il Duomo di Firenze|
|Il Duomo facade|
|The Gates of Paradise|
There was a contest for the third and final set of doors of the Baptistry which pitted the accomplished artist, engineer and architect of the Duomo, Brunelleschi, against the young Ghiberti, who had already made a previous set of bronze doors. Ghiberti won, though both artists are considered inspiring influences of the early Renaissance. You can see that the quatrefoil framing was eliminated in the final work of art.
|Brunelleschi's entry (Bargello Museum)|
|Ghiberti's entry (Bargello Museum) - both are of Abraham and Isaac|
>The true highlight of our stay was lunch at Fabrizio and Vittoria's house, a 20-minute drive into the Tuscan hills, situated on the grounds of another winery. The two of them really outdid themselves serving up the epitome of a Florentine lunch. We started with a visit to Fabrizio's wine cellar, cleverly using these terra cotta bricks to aid further in the temperature control.
He had already told us we would be having Brunello di Montalcino - our favorite Italian wine - of which he has an impressive collection. He opened two bottles: from 2005 and 1998...and a Sardo white.
While Fabrizio cooked this gigantic slab of bistecca alla fiorentina, we had some incredible Tuscan cheeses and Vittoria's pasta in fresh tomato sauce.
The beef is served with fresh arugula and large shavings of Parmesan cheese.
We ended with guess what? Vin Santo and delicious almond biscotti to dip!
As the charming and generous Fabrizio and Vittoria were driving us back, we realized we had taken no photos. Everyone jumped out of the car, leaving it in the middle of a narrow road, and we snapped various combinations of ourselves. Newton decided to put his phone camera on timer to include all of us, so he balanced the bottle of Brunello that Fabrizio sent home with us on top of the car and leaned the phone against it. We're all laughing here because we're waiting for the timer click while an unamused driver has arrived who cannot pass. Pressure. I adore this photo!
|Newton, Vittoria, Fabrizio and I|
The Basilica di Santo Spirito is an elegant Renaissance church that has not had Baroque overlays of opulence spoiling it's classical purity. Brunelleschi did the original perspective drawings.
We climbed to the Piazzale Michelangelo, featuring a giant copy of the David and spectacular views.
We crossed back over the bridge and went to a rooftop bar at a hotel along the Arno for more vistas.
|The warm late afternoon light creates a beautiful sight.|
|Basilica di Santa Croce|
An international ceramics fair in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata also gave us a chance to see that Renaissance church with more Baroque elements added later:
|Palazzo Bargello Museum|
|This exquisite Renaissance piece is 'Flying Mercury" by Giambologna. Perfection.|
|Hestia, Goddess of Architecture|
|"David" by the famous early Renaissance sculptor, Donatello. He studied with Ghiberti and contributed significant influence to the high Renaissance. True, this David does not exude the virility of Michelangelo's later masterpiece.|
|Donatello's "Dancing Cherub"|
Sophisticated art and design did not come to a halt centuries ago in this rarified atmosphere. Just walking the streets - our favorite thing after food and wine - is a constant feast for the eye, from the "buona forma" of the elegantly dressed Italians to shop windows and little treasures that appear on walls:
More from Italy to come.