Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Florence - a final fling

Having changed hotels last night, we are now further out of the City - not a bad thing. We catch a local bus into the Stazione this morning from one block down the street. Tickets are reasonable and time based, so that you buy a ticket and can use it on however many buses you need to for the following 70 minutes. Not a bad idea - especially when you need to change buses on your route. We catch the Bus 22 which runs regularly throughout the day, every day, every 12 minutes and then change for the 57. We are headed to the San Marco Accademia to have a look at Michaelangelo's famous sculpture David. We missed visiting it with Helen as the museums are closed on Mondays!

From where we alight from the bus at the Piazza San Marco and follow the directions of the bus driver to arrive at the Piazza Della Annunziata just a block away. Hmmm, no Accademia here, but there is the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) which was the first orphanage in Italy and is adorned with medallions of babies wrapped in swaddling. Michael asks directions and we walk on for another two blocks, almost bringing us back to where we got off the bus - the driver had the wrong street!

The San Marco Accademia is set in an unpreposing building in the middle of a pedestrianised street. And there are the marks of the thousands who, like us, queued in the hot sun because we did not have reservation tickets. The walls of the building on two panels are covered in graffiti. You know the sort - John was here, Mary loves Paul etc. A little disappointing perhaps, but it is also a form of new art that even today we heard more debate about its legitimacy and at least demonstrates that people are visiting the Museum!

We wait for about half an hour. We are being let in in small groups - I guess that way they can control over the number of people in the Museum at any time. As soon as we enter, there are signs telling us everything we cant do! Including the anticipated 'No photos'. Oh well, we expected that here of all places. We pay our admission and then also hire an audio guide - there are some plaques, but the commentary gives us much greater insight into the collections.

Almost all the art is of a religious nature as the museum (art gallery?) was established to house paintings from the churches of Florence and elsewhere in the time of the Reformation?
You enter the Museum through a large chamber filled with original paintings from the 15th to 17th centuries including some by Boticelli. And in the centre of the room is a copy sculpture of the Rape of the Sabines that dominates the central space just as much as the large paintings do the walls.

From this room, we continue into the gallery from where you can see the statue of David at the end under its own skylit tribune. The gallery is dedicated to Michaelangelo's works and houses the huge statues of the Four Slaves. Originally commissioned by Pope Julius II to grace his tomb planned for St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican they were to show the struggle of pagan man without knowledge of the church. He died before it was completed and after a period of continually changing commissions with less and less money, Michaelangelo completed the sculptures as man's struggle to free himself from whatever binds him. These statues are quite amazing - they are huge blocks of marble from which is emerging the figure of a man. The four unfinished statues here represent the Beardless Slave, the Slave Awakening, the Blockhead Slave and the Cross Legged Slave. Two completed statues - the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave are located in the Louvre.

The statue of David is based on the biblical character of David who slew Goliath. It stands over 14 feet tall and is impressive without being imposing. His right hand at first glance seems a little too large for the symmetry of the body, that is until you walk fully around the statue and realise that he is clutching a rock that belongs in the sling he is holding over his left shoulder. It is an imposing and masterful piece of work and so easy to see why people call it the greatest sculpture ever carved. Crowds gather to gaze in contemplation at the naked beauty of David. I can't help but wonder who it was who modelled for Michaelangelo! He sure was a beauty. And it would be good for the fashion models of today to study this character and see that there is so much beauty in a body well formed, and not starved.

David has long toes, strong calves and thighs <sigh>, a long straight back topped with shoulders in direct proportion. And his butt, Helen? Cute and tiny - like he really does not have much of an ass at all! His hair falls in soft ringlets and he gazes somewhat pensively, looking way beyond the beauty of the artworks that surround him.

You stop and stare, walk around him, take a seat on one of the benches around the edge of the room so that you can take it all in. And sitting close by is one small employee that would outdo any policeman with a bullhorn as she shrieks "no photos" from time to time when some hapless person forgets where they are! Once we have had our full so to speak of David, we continue into the annexes surrounding to see precious artworks that date back to the 12th century. We also visit the Plaster Room to admire the original busts and castings for many famous statues. Its quite surreal and most of them have the metal spacing pins still visible, giving them the look of chicken pox!!! Finally we exit through the bookshop having spent almost 3 hours there. And yes, got the bum and shoulders postcard to send to Hels!

Its then back to the bus stops in the Piazza San Marco where we board a small (8 seater plus some standing room) electric bus for the trip across the river to the Ponte Vecchio. Now, these buses travel the back, back streets of Florence where not even the motorcyles, mopeds or bicycles can pass. They just travel along behind the bus, patiently waiting every time it needs to stop. There are few cars in these streets! The surfaces are cobbled and the bus trip very very jarring.

We have asked the driver if the bus goes to Ponte Vecchio and are answered with a nod and a stream of very fast Italian that we don't have a hope of understanding. Michael takes the map out to follow our journey, so we have an idea of when we are nearing our stop. And all of a sudden, everyone is an expert and wanting to help. The map is passed around, people comment all the time and at one point there is a heating exchange - obviously with both parties thinking they are right! And then there is a man who gets on the bus just as others are getting off who appears to be talking to himself until we realise that he is calling out the names of the main Piazzas and monuments and churches, as if to help us. Finally we can see the bridge and as we make a move to get up to leave the bus, he excitedly points - "Ponte Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio!"

The late afternoon light is lovely and I manage to get a few nice photos of the bridge with the river in front. We then walk down past the bridge tower and onto the bridge itself where, just like in Venice (Rialto Bride), it is lined with jewellery shops and top label clothing and accessory shops and people, lots and lots of people. One we are over the other side, there are beautiful streetlights in straight formation begging to be photographed like their neighbour. Of course, I am collecting photos of lamp posts along with the window boxes, so I am happy to oblige them!

We are both quite hungry by now and head off in search of somewhere to eat. It is after 6 pm now. We find ourselves in the Piazza Della Signoria in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio. This refined Piazza is home to a number of statues:
- At the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, a copy of Michaelangelo's David that we saw this afternoon
- The bronze equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna (1594)
- The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575)
- The Lion, referred to as "il Marzocco" with a copy of the Florentine Lily a copy of the original by Don
- Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello (copy)
- Hercules and Cacus, by Bandinelli (1533)
- The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Giambologna - we have seen a few copies of this statue in the last couple of weeks and the original is now here in front of our eyes.
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa, by Cellini (1554)
all which make it a veritable art museum in the open air!

We sit having dinner at the Ristorante Pizzeria Il Bargello and watch the receding light climb the walls of the Palazzo up to its heraldic badges and then higher and higher until even the tower is in darkness. Powerful lights from all corners of the square then begin to gleam, softly lighting the edifice. This restaurant is popular and people seem to make a beeline for it from all the entrances to the Piazza. Our choices were very delicious:
Mozzarella Caprese (Mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil) Michael
Brushchetta (Italian toast with tomatoes and basil) Maria
Osobuco alla Toscana con i funghini porcini (Osso Bucco with Porcini mushrooms) Michael
Saltimbocca (Italian veal topped with Proscuitto and sage and cooked in a tomato sauce) Maria

Our waiter was able to provide directions to the bus stop for the Bus 22 back to the hotel. This is great because it saves us having to go as far back as the Stazione and a change in buses. So we set off on foot, walking en-route through the Piazza Della Repubblica with its impressive gate. In the dim light we can just make out the fine detail in the bronze model of the city of Florence sits quietly to one side of the Piazza.

Ah, down one last street and we can see the bus stop - and with a 22 bus waiting. Thankfully he is not in a hurry and we manage to get on and get seats for the rough ride back to the hotel. Its a little before 10 when we finally are back in our room, well satisfied with our day. That now gives me a little time blogging as I am desperately trying to bring it back up to date! Thanks everyone who has asked "what has happened" and yes also to those who have begged "please update the blog"! Hope you are all happy now!!!

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