Week 1: 1-7 September
We started the week (and month) with a slow day – although probably shouldn’t call it that, given we both did PBs (personal bests) at the Parkrun. But after the run, we cycled back into town to our old favourite breakfast place, then relaxed at home for the rest of the day. We didn’t even go out for our habitual Saturday night dinner as we’d been out for a nice meal in Rome a couple of days earlier.
Free museum day….
All state run museums in Florence give free entry on the first Sunday of every month. In some instances, they do seem to restrict access to certain exhibits, but still, it’s a great deal.
So we decided to head off to the Bargello Museum, somewhere that we had walked passed often, peering in the glass doors into the magnificent courtyard – but we’d never been in. The doors opened at 815am, so we chose to get there soon after in an attempt to miss the crowd – and this we did as there were very few people there.
The Bargello National Museum is located in the ancient Palazzo del Podestà of Florence which, with royal decree of 22 June 1865, became the first Italian National Museum dedicated to the arts of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It brings together many important Renaissance sculptures and masterpieces of the minor arts from varying periods, including masterpieces by Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Verrocchio, Michelangelo and Cellini.
For Renaissance art lovers, the Bargello is to sculpture what the Uffizi is to painting. As with most Florentine museums, even if one doesn’t like art, it’s difficult not to be wowed by the buildings themselves, imagining what had taken place within the walls in times gone by. In the case of the Bargello, the building was used as a jail for a period – seems such a waste of a grand piece of architecture.
Following our visit to the Bargello, we went for coffee and brioche as we had plenty of time before church. We were attending a different one to where we had been going in August – this one was closed during the Summer – and the service was only due to start at 11am. After having a long chat to the pastors, we settled into our comfortable seats – the church meets in a theatre. It was interesting to sing some of the songs in Italian – fortunately they were ones we knew so we at least understood what we were singing about.
We were keen to go out for a drink that evening, but sadly the rooftop terrace at Rinascente, a major department store, was closed for renovation so we couldn’t go there. Still hoping to enjoy a nice view, we moved on to the Westin Hotel where we’d heard the bar has a nice view of the Arno River. Nice as it was, close to $50 for a glass of wine and a cocktail will not have us going back anytime soon. We didn’t even get to drink in peace as one of the cast from the Six Underground movie – Adria Arjona – chose to sit at the table next to us, having a long conversation with someone over Skype. Obviously being in what she called a “popcorn movie” was not what she’d hoped for from her career.
Exploring the local area….
September has brought the Florentines back into town. No idea where they’d disappeared to during August – the place had been evacuated – but they certainly have come back in full force. Because we are living outside of the historical centre which is largely also the tourist zone, we have been so aware of the change. Our local bar and pizzeria are both open again, and the shutters on the windows of all the nearby buildings have started opening.
Following another run up to Fiesole – and down again this time – we decided to take a meander around the streets and piazzas nearby, going into a number of the shops that had been closed. Glenda had some challenges going down stairs into some of the stores as the steep run – mainly the down on the cobbles – had taken its toll on her quads!
Escaping the crowds & enjoying the views…
The Bardini Gardens are included in our annual Uffizi pass, so we decided that although we’d had a brief visit previously, it was worth going again – and we were SO glad we had. Having had a bit of rain over the last two weeks, even as we approached the Arno River from the north, we could see the green terraces of the Bardini on the other side. It was bit of a climb to get to the top terrace, but we stopped off to admire the baroque stairway, fruit orchards, olive groves and flower gardens along the way. So close to the city – it felt as though we could reach out and touch the large dome of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo) – yet so peaceful, with butterflies hovering and birds chirping all around.
From the Bardini, we were easily able to access Fort Belvedere. Forte di Belvedere was founded in 1590. In addition to defending the city from potential attacks from the outside – a role it never needed to serve – the stronghold could be reached from Palazzo Pitti, via the Boboli Gardens, in case of emergency. Inside, the fortress is home to the elegant Palazzina di Belvedere, older than the Forte. The Palazzina became the Medici’s vault, who kept their possessions at the bottom of a well inside the building: whoever attempted to force open the lock would have set off a deadly trap that would pierce through them.
These days, the Belvedere is home to major exhibitions and cultural events, and is one of the places where you can enjoy a spectacular view of Florence. We knew it was housing an exhibition by a renowned sculpturist of the 1960s, Mattiacci, so decided it would be an interesting time to visit.
Fairs, festivals & fiestas…
This week seemed to be the week of festivals. First cab off the rank was a large market fair at one of the nearby piazzas – Piazza della Santissima Annunziata – only discovered when we were walking through there on the way from home to the Bargello for our free visit.
Later in the week, it was time for a couple of late nights. The Florence fringe jazz festival started on Wednesday night and runs until Sunday. In true European style, nothing starts early. Having checked out the schedule, we chose an item for Thursday and we braced ourselves for a late night. We headed out to our local (and favourite by far) pizza place for dinner at about 8pm. After stopping off for a gelato, we arrived at the Ponte Vecchio a few minutes before 945pm, just in time to get a spot alongside the river. As we watched, a boat picked up someone from the bank and slithered out to a small pontoon in the middle of the Arno. Very soon, a spotlight came on and we were treated to a wonderful solo jazz display – echoing off the huge walls surrounding the river banks.
Youtube link for larger video – https://youtu.be/FfvwZj1dvts
Friday night was to be another late night. This time, we had dinner at home before venturing out to join in the festivities of Festa della Rificolona. The origin of this festival is thought to date back to the mid seventeeth century, when peasants and mountaineers from the countryside, arrived in the city to celebrate the birth of Mary in the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata. In addition to being driven by the devout pilgrimage, those people took advantage of the opportunity to come and sell their wares at the fair-market that took place the next day on the square in front of the basilica, in Via dei Servi and in the immediate vicinity.
Youtube link for larger video – https://youtu.be/hqnEU1Jskuw
Replicating what was done in those early days, children (and adults) carried coloured paper lanterns, shaped in the most varied and bizarre forms, with lots of light inside, hanging on top of a cane. Fortunately we only spotted one that burst into flames and was destroyed. They started on the southern side of the Arno (we didn’t go that far) and walked to Piazza della Signoria, one of the most stunning piazzas in Florence. We met them there and stood listening to the music and speeches before they set off again. As we had to go that way to get home, we ended up following the procession from the Duomo, up Via dei Servi, to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, the final destination. We stuck around to find out the winner of best lantern – only to discover that Glenda had taken a photo of the victor earlier in the evening.
News item of the week…
Some of you may have read the following or a similar news article in the last week.
Be rest assured that in this instance it’s not a case of Italian law gone mad. Rather, it’s a case of tourism gone mad! We have seen the queues for the sandwich shop that has triggered the issue – not just queues but entire road blockages, people lining the gutters, no room for people, cars, scooters or bicycles to pass. We have been caught up in the increased craziness that is hitting this city and its residents. People that just want to live are being surrounded by people doing things and behaving in ways they wouldn’t do at home.
So spare a thought for the Florentine and imagine what it’s like to live in an adult Disneyland before assuming this is another stupid law!
BTW – the photos in the article are old and do not represent the current situation.