Grand Tour of Italy Day 7 Florence

Day 7 Friday March 22, 2013

I cannot believe this, I'm waking up in Florence (Firenze) Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, the Athens of the Middle Ages, capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence.

We make our way to breakfast in the Hotel Ricasoli. They have Italian bacon and eggs, lots of juices, an espresso bar, tons of fruits and breads, yogurts, bread sticks, meats and cheeses. Plenty to choose from and a really nice variety.

Our group gathers and we head toward the city center. On the way we pass the Basilica of St Lawrence (Basilica di San Lorenzo) the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family. This church is dedicated to Saint Lawrence who was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little. So Jay and I refer to him as St. Larry of the Grill. We also heard that he is Patron Saint of many chefs and their kitchens!

Thank the heavens for the Medici Family...Florence was home to the Medici, one of history's most important noble families. Members of the family were popes: Leo X and Clement VII in the early 16th century.Catherine de Medici married king Henry II of France and, after his death in 1559, reigned as regent in France. The Medici reigned Grand Dukes of Tuscany starting with Cosimo I de' Medici in 1569, until the death of Gian Gastone de' Medici in 1737. Lorenzo was a great patron of the arts, commissioning works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. Lorenzo was an accomplished musician and brought composers and singers to Florence, including Alexander Agricola, Johannes Ghiselin, and Heinrich Isaac. By contemporary Florentines (and since), he was known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent" (Lorenzo il Magnifico). Lorenzo de' Medici was considered a political and cultural mastermind of Italy in the late 15th century.

We enjoy the view of the Florence Baptistry or  Baptistry of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) while waiting to meet our guide Nicolo.
The octagonal Baptistry stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza di San Giovanni, across from the Duomo cathedral and the Giotto bell tower (Campanile di Giotto.) The Baptistry is renowned for its three sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures. The doors were made using the Lost Wax Technique. The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano and the north and east doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti. The east pair of doors were dubbed by Michelangelo "the Gates of Paradise". The Italian poet Dante Alighieri and many other notable Renaissance figures, including members of the Medici family, were baptized in this baptistry. In fact, until the end of the nineteenth century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here.

Our first stop is  Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) it's just opening for the day so the crowds are few. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to the design of Arnolfo di Cambio and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival fa├žade by Emilio De Fabris. The Duomo, the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For interior photos click here.

We briefly tour the city center and check out Neptune's Fountain, The Copy of David, Benvenuto Cellini's Perseus with the Head of Medusa, the Medici lions, Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, PHOTOS
Our next stop is Piazza Santa Croce and The Basilica of the Holy Cross (Basilica di Santa Croce.) It is the principal Franciscan church in Florence and a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church.
They allow photography but no flash. Click here for photos. Inside are many funerary monuments of the wealthy and honored Florentines including: Michelangelo (whose body was smuggled out of Rome) and Dante (however, he was exiled from Florence and not buried here) and Galileo seen below.
We leave our guide Nicolo and make our way to Leonarda Leather for a lesson in how to spot cheap Italian leather goods (caveat emptor!) We now have some free time and decide to eat at Trattoria Anita, which Misia highly recommended. The meals are price fixed at 10 euros or 12 euros plus bread, and drinks. For 26 euros we each had Linguine Pescatora for primo, I had Bacclaca Genovese and Jay had Insalata with mozzarella, tomato and potatoes on the side with drinks.

To walk off our meal we head to Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
Originally the shops on the bridge belonged to butchers but now they are filled with GOLD!
The bridge spans the Arno River at it's narrowest point and contains the Vasari Corridor. In order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio (Florence's town hall) with the Palazzo Pitti, in 1565 Cosimo I de' Medici had Giorgio Vasari build the Vasari Corridor above it. To enforce the prestige of the bridge, in 1593 the Medici Grand Dukes prohibited butchers from selling there; their place was immediately taken over by several gold merchants.

We have tickets to visit the Uffizi Gallery at 2PM so we make our way to the museum entrance. There are two lines, one for buying tickets and one for folks who have purchased "reserved" tickets. Since we purchased and paid the fee for "reserved" we get in the short line. 

This museum is HUGE. See the floor plan here. There are a large number of school groups visiting with us and they seem to gravitate to the masterpieces ONLY! So seeing the special works of art was a bit difficult but with patience we got to enjoy them, even if only briefly.

The Birth of Venus gave me goosebumps! The detail in Doni Tondo by Michelangelo was stunning. Venus of Urbino by Titian was so beautiful. And the Tribuna built in 1581-1586 with its 6000 sea shells was overwhelming.
We limped back to the Hotel Ricasoli, put our feet up and surfed the web for a place to eat dinner. I found a microbrewery listed with good reviews (we had heard from friends that finding GOOD beer would be difficult in Italy so this was going to be interesting.) Mostodolce Birrificio Artigianale (craft brewery) 
We got there just as Happy Hour was ending so Jay got a draft of their stout, Black Doll. The tall beer was 3.5 euros. We ordered pizzas and more beer, I had the Pizza Sorrentina (Buffalo Mozz., cherry toms., capers and red sauce) and Jay had the Quattro Formaggi with beer for 20 euros. We asked Juilo about coming back on Saturday night with a group and he suggested we call ahead and ask for the back room tables.
Will do!! 

Back to the room and crash around 22:30.
Next up Siena, San Gimignano!
Pubblicare domani!!! (Post tomorrow) 

Florence March 22 Day 7 
Grand Tour of Italy
Go Ahead Tours 
March 16-30, 2013
Copyright ©2013 Nancy Nutile-McMenemy
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