The Retirees return to Florence – Palazzo Pitti and the other side of the Arno

We were exhausted again and retired after dinner. Not to be kept down we rose early to walk to the other side of the Arno to visit Palazzo Pitti. This is the giant home created by Cosimo I for his wife who wanted a garden and then he wanted safe passage to work at Palazzo Vecchio on the other side of the Arno. We weren’t that interested to see another palace but I was interested to see how the Duke’s walkway connected as it had to pass across the top of the Ponte Vecchio, over private homes and into Palazzo Pitti. A gateway at the side of the palace allowed us to see the passage into the palace.

From the Palace, we could see the steeple of the Basilica di Santo Spirito so we took to the lanes past a cobbler’s shop and a man walking his dog (if you can call something the size of a rat a dog) and voila we entered Piazza Santo Spirito. The Basilica di Santo Spirito (“Basilica of the Holy Spirit”) is usually referred to simply as Santo Spirito, it is located in the Oltrarno quarter, facing the square with the same name. The interior of the building is one of the preeminent examples of Renaissance architecture. In 1252, the Augustinians started the church and the convent incorporating an old church of San Romolo in the complex. The convent had two cloisters, called Cloister of the Dead and Grand Cloister. The first takes its name from the great number of tombstone decorating its walls, and was built around 1600. The latter was constructed in 1564-1569.

The former convent also contains the great refectory (Cenacolo di Santo Spirito) with a large fresco portraying the Crucifixion over a fragmentary Last Supper (1360–1365). It is one of the rare examples of Late Gothic Art which can still be seen in Florence. Michelangelo, when he was seventeen years old, was allowed to make anatomical studies on the corpses coming from the convent’s hospital; in exchange, he sculpted a wooden crucifix which was placed over the high altar. Today the crucifix is in the octagonal sacristy that can be reached from the convent.  The only remaining wooden sculpture by Michelangelo. No photography permitted.

VvThus, ended our stay in Florence. The next morning we caught a taxi to the train station and a wait for the “fast train” to Rome occupied most of our morning, then the train trip (the train achieved a mere 250 klm per hour compared to the 430 klm per hour in Shanghai) to Rome and a quick turn around through the tunnel (which I wish we had known about when going to Fumacino from Civitavecchia) to catch the much more sedate train to Terni and a warm welcome from Robert at the train station (I think not – MIA). So a taxi to Cesi and dragging the suitcases up the steepest of streets in the village to be welcomed by Robert from his kitchen landing. An offer to help with the suitcases to drag them up the stairs and at last we can stand still and rest.

The Retirees return to Italy – Florence and Tuscany

We flew out of Gatwick South but I don’t recall much of the flight as I slept most of the way. Our landing was smooth but I was surprised about the Florence International airport. It is small and appears nothing more than a domestic airport for a small town. We disembarked onto the tarmac and entered the immigration area with a queue out the door because there was insufficient space. Clearing the terminal, we went looking for a taxi as it was after 8.00 pm by the time we got our luggage and got out. Very few taxis and a queue a mile long so the shuttle bus to the railway terminal was the next best thing but everyone was thinking the same so a jammed packed bus took us to the terminal where we caught a taxi through a maze of streets to the hotel which was closed. Our phone had proven to be out of date and useless so we had no means to contact the hotel to let us in. Kerry went to an adjoining hotel and after some begging contacted the hotel and gained the various codes to the “front” door in the lane behind the hotel, the elevator and the front door to the rooms on the 4th floor.

Suffice it to say we made it and settled in for the night to start our Florentine adventure the next day. The apartment was reasonably spacious with a kitchen dining room bedroom and bath/ensuite. Our only window gave a view over the Arno river to Porta San Nicolo, a part of a city wall of the past and Piazzale Michelangelo (a copy of the statue of David stands in the Piazzale). Below on the sand bar of the Arno, Florentines lay sunbaking (too damn chilly for us).

We needed to get orientated so we headed off for the old city on foot passing the central library and taking our lives in our hands as cars scooters bikes and trucks battled with pedestrians for use of the road/footpath. We were looking for the Segway tours office and the tourist information office to make our plans of where to go and what to see. We had a brochure for the Segway tour office and a map provided by someone pointed out an information office and we set sail to negotiate the streets and book a tour on a Segway.

We found the Segway tour office in the lanes behind Piazza Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio and booked our 3hour tour for the following Saturday morning and turned our attention to finding the Tourist Information Centre. After a short walk we arrive at a gate (a Roman looking gate) which we later learnt was part of Piazza Republica, created for the period that Italy did not include Rome and Florence was capital.

The buildings of the old town of Florence have a charm and design that is Florence and many carry the crests of the important merchant families of the city. Where there is a footpath some of the streets are decorated in flowers. A particular variety of small azalea was often the preferred choice. Our walk took us down many an alley until we arrived at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with its two obelisks and named after the church of the same name and convent run by the Dominican order until disbanded in the 19th century.

According to our map the information office was here, but all we could see was the Basilica and a tourist pavilion selling tours and trinkets. Unable to find any tourist information centre, we went to the tourist pavilion and found the staff to be very helpful and booking a walking tour that evening at half price and a visit to the Uffizi. Without knowing it we had walked almost back to the train station and exploring around Santa Maria Novella we found the station hidden by the church and hidden within the walls of the church the Tourist Information Centre. We decided to return to the apartment to rest for our evening tour so we walked back to the river and found we were four bridges away from our apartment. We had literally weaved diagonally across the city from our apartment. First, we came upon Ponte alla Carraia, then further along Ponte San Trinita then Ponte Vecchio and finally Ponte alle Grazie and then “home”.