“Meanwhile, Florence was increasingly becoming, for different reasons that were not foreign to one another nor opposed – artistic and cultural on the one hand and political on the other – the Mecca of travelers and foreign residents.”
– Franco Cardini, Italian historian specializing in the Middle Ages, from A Short History of Florence
It always seems to be the case while traveling that you wish you could stay just one more day at every city or destination. Such was the case in Roma, Napoli, and now Firenze. Luckily, we did have a say in when we could leave because we had one quick trip to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then on to our Tuscany villa in hilly Piazza al Serchio, which is 60km from the Medieval town of Lucca.
We were able to get to the Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee), which again was a short walk from the Hotel Giglio. Part of the Chapel of Princes was under renovation, but it didn’t take away from the splendor that the Medici family did not hold back on in terms of hiring the best artists and sculptors to create masterpieces in their name. The tombs of the Medici family members are scattered throughout the Church of San Lorenzo. According to Rick Steves, the architecture, tombs, and statues are almost entirely created by Michelango, who lived with them when he was in his teens. An exhibit on the main floor as you enter includes many “reliquiarios” of various family members. Upon closer examination, I realized what “reliquiarios” mean. Various parts of the body, mostly bones, are housed within these elaborate containers made of silver and other precious materials.
Michelangelo’s famous statues – Night and Day, and Dusk and Dawn – decorate the Medici tombs in the New Sacristry, located off of the Chapel of Princes. David pointed out that in Night and Day Michelangelo’s signature was the mask tucked under Night’s left arm. We got there just in time – as soon as we finished up taking photographs, a group of art students came in and other groups of tourists were lining up to enter. We were lucky in that we had the chapels mostly to ourselves.
Our next destination was the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, home of Lorenzo the Magnificent, which also includes the Chapel of the Magi. Renaissance art adorns the chapel and includes frescoes by Benozzo Gozzoli. The Medici family originally occupied the house, which was built in 1444, but in the 1700s the Riccardi family took over and added its Baroque signature to the home’s style. I enjoyed the garden and courtyard. I especially was in awe of the Galleria, which features frescoes on the ceiling by famed Neapolitan artist Lucca Giordano and shows off the Baroque style, which interestingly I find too ornate, but the room was pretty spectacular.
On our way back from the last of our shopping in Firenze, I was determined to have one last gelato. But I wanted real gelato and not Americanized gelato, which is basically American ice cream. We were near a couple of corner gelaterias that showed off their mounds of “gelato.” When I spied a tiny obscure gelateria, I made a beeline, knowing that this place had to serve the real deal. And happily, it was real gelato! Both Jacob and Isabella admitted that they could taste the difference between today’s gelato and what we had been eating since arriving in Firenze. When I asked them to tell me what was different about this gelato, Jacob responded, “Intense burst of flavor.” I got almond gelato for the first time, and I, indeed, savored the intense flavor of almonds with every precious bite. I was quite content to leave Firenze, knowing that I had real gelato. A small pleasure, but nonetheless a pleasure.
We checked out of Hotel Giglio, which had taken very good care of us. Marco the morning clerk moved our cars and hopefully we won’t get any tickets two months from now. While Internet connectivity was really terrible, the hospitality, the charm, and even the Americanized breakfasts – meaning they consisted of more than just a hard roll – were worth high praise in their guest book. I was sad to drive out of Firenze, but I know I’ll come back – sooner rather than later.
The drive to Pisa was perhaps an hour and a half at the most. We were warned that there isn’t much in Pisa other than the Leaning Tower. It was a very hot day and tourists and tourist buses were spilling into the area. We didn’t pay the 20 euros to walk up the tower. Instead, we were content with taking photographs and yes, doing the tourist pose of holding up the tower. It’s one of those things that if it’s on the way, you might as well see it, and then you can say, “Hey, I saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa.” We had lunch in one of the restaurants right off of the square, and then we hightailed it out of there. We made it to our Tuscany hillside villa of Piazza al Serchio while it was still light outside. But while reaching our destination happened Thursday later afternoon, I’m going to save that episode for the next day’s blog entry.