“One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness,” was the retort; “one comes for life. Buon giorno! Buon giorno!”
– E.M. Forster, British novelist, essayist, and short story writer, from A Room with a View
Today, Wednesday, June 24th, many shops were closed for Firenze’s holiday, which featured many events in celebration of San Giovanni Battista, the city’s patron saint. As we made a late start for the Uffizi Museum in the morning, we caught a parade where colorfully dressed ladies and men, some playing drums and trumpets and others waving flags bearing the city’s insignia, the fiorino or fleur-de-list, passed through the main streets of Firenze.
We didn’t have to stand in a long line to get in the Uffizi Gallery, which is next to the Piazza della Signoria and has its own Piazza degli Uffizi or courtyard, with wonderful statues of the great Florentines – Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Galileo, Dante, Vespucci. I only remember the major works from our first trip, but upon visiting the museum a second time I agree with Rick Steves that the museum “is not nearly as big as it is great.” Our goal in going again was to show Jacob and Isabella two things – that painting evolved from the flat Byzantine style to realism, which also included moving away from the religious focus to a celebration of humanism and Roman gods, and most importantly the famous paintings. We highlighted the characteristics of the Medieval period and then showed the kids the progression to the Renaissance periods. We pointed out Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Allegory of Spring, and Michelangelo’s The Holy Family, which is Michelangelo’s only surviving completed easel painting. We also brought to their attention a few other masterpieces by Raphael and Michelangelo.
After the Uffizi, we ate lunch at a place not too far away from the gallery, Trattoria Bruzzino. David thought the food was serviceable, as did the kids, but I had a really delicate risotto (again al dente) with fresh and cooked-just-right asparagus.
The Galileo Science Museum is near the Uffizi, so after lunch we took the short walk to this museum, which celebrates the scientific inventions and the great minds behind them who flourished in Florence. From telescopes, clocks, and maps, to other fascinating inventions, this museum is definitely for the curious minded. What I found interesting was the exhibit, the Science of Warfare, which told the story of how science impacted military planning and strategy. The inventions and widespread use of firearms prompted a transformation of battlefields into “a field of geometric studies.” For example, mortars required the geometry of fortresses to be altered. Soldiers needed to know the ratio and the weight in range of cannonballs – or the precise measurement and computation operations. They needed to acquire basic mathematical principles for “the perfect management of military operations.” According to Galileo, who told noblemen who attended his mathematics lessons, a soldier should have a basic knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, surveying, perspective, mechanics, and military architecture. Interesting stuff. I ended up getting a book on the museum because trying to take in all that information was overwhelming. For a later read.
After the Galileo Science Museum, we still had energy and enthusiasm to go to the Galleria dell’Accademia, which is near the Hotel Giglio. Surprisingly, we didn’t have a long line to wait for the Firenze red card holders, either. Again, we’d gone here before, but we wanted to show the kids Michelangelo’s David, which never ceases to astonish and delight me, and his unfinished works, which provide a window to how the sculptor works but also how the subjects themselves are seemingly trying to free themselves from their stone prisons. Really amazing stuff. We also saw an interesting exhibit of plaster casts and watched a short video on the art of making the plaster casts.
On our way to the Accademia, we saw that the line for the Duomo was quite short. To boot, we didn’t have to buy a scarf to cover Isabella’s shoulders and Jacob pointed out that nobody stopped him for wearing open-toed shoes. Bonus. We walked through the Duomo, which was pretty as many of the church interiors are. The Duomo Musuem, however, is closed for renovations as was the Baptistery.
Along the way, we saw more Clet, which has become an addictive game for our family of finding his traffic sign artwork:
And we also shopped. We passed by another mosaic shop, Scarpelli Mosaici (Via Ricasoli, 59r) near the Accademia, which is where we saw the same mosaic of the Duomo that we purchased 18 years ago (although the one we purchased years ago was outside of Pitti Palace). We figured it was from a template. And the price, actually, wasn’t much higher than it was 18 years ago, which is pretty amazing. We looked at ones that featured a Tuscan villa because we thought to get one to commemorate staying in a villa on our next stop. So we decided, after leaving the shop, discussing it more, and then returning, to get this one mosaic, which we are both excited to have in our home to remind us of this trip to Italy. We opted to have it shipped so nothing tragic like dropping it on the plane occurs. Later, we returned for a pair of exquisite earrings made of silver, marcasite, and ruby for me – a belated birthday present.
We wanted to eat our final meal at Casa Lingua, which is where David and I ate a memorable Tuscan dinner on our first trip, but they couldn’t accommodate a party of eight, especially on a holiday evening. So we ended up at another restaurant that was on the same side of the Arno River. We forgot about the famous Medieval football game that was to take place at Santa Croce Square, but we were soon reminded as the winning team and its fans, a huge group!, loudly chanted and cheered along the winding streets of Florence. We fled in the other direction. At La Mangialoia, since it was our last night, I decided to order Florentine bistecca, which is well known in the region. My beef sirloin with arugula, pears, and balsamic vinegar seemed more rare than my usual medium, but it nonetheless was a deliciously fitting end to our stay in Firenze.
Actually the fitting end was running to one of the bridges over the Arno River to watch the fireworks celebration after dinner. It was super crowded, which made me very nervous. We couldn’t really see much because we were on the wrong side of the bridge and should have been on the side of the river as opposed to a bridge. But nonetheless, we experienced Firenze’s big holiday and that was a special treat. We squeezed our way to the other side of the bridge, missing the big bang of fireworks that signaled the end of the show, but given the huge crowds, calm as they were, we didn’t want to spill out of the bridge and instead got ahead of the tsunami of people.
Since our next stop at our Tuscan hillside village was roughly two hours away, we decided not to leave Firenze the next day until noon, giving us a precious half-day for more museums. We wanted to squeeze in as much time in this beautiful city as we could.