Saturday, 5 September 2015


3rd Sept 2015

Dave's Bum

Florence, the city of a thousand marble willies. I have never seen so many marble statues invariably  boasting remarkably small male appendages assembled and on show in one city. But more about that later.

Group on parade this morning outside the hotel in Montecatini for our briefing by the fragrant, and I  have to admit efficient, Adrian who was today exotically costumed for the heat in a figure hugging paisley patterned blousette and frighteningly tight denim shorts. The daily rigmarole began with his exuberant 'buongiorno' amid much flapping of hands and which we were commanded was the correct procedure here. This was dutifully and enthusiastically responded to in like style by (almost) all the assembled company. How amusing. Anyway, then it was off by train for the one hour train trip to Florence for a guided tour.

I feel obliged to note at this stage that several of our expeditionary force are afflicted by AIDS. These are predominantly of the hearing and walking variety and some of the worst cases find it difficult to keep up or hear most of any issued instructions. It adds to the excitement and a degree of fun searching for stragglers.

Met at the station by our Florentine guide, Mario. A likeable chap and obviously very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all in Florence. He has written published books, it transpired. The best seller being about the great floods here sometime in the 60's which caused much damage. Sadly it was not translated into English.

Left: Mario (on the right in jacket) equipped with microphone and speaker starting his conducted tour. He kept up an impressive rate of informational chatter; hardly drew breath in fact. As such I only remember scant details and even they may be somewhat flawed. Any info I might provide are hardly a replacement for the Blue Guide or Lonely Planet publications.

We started at a large cathedral, the Basilica di St Maria Novella (right), just south of the railway station. I subsequently discovered that most of the churches/cathedrals in Italy are all of the St Maria designation, unless otherwise specified. This one is famous for being built by the Medici clan who were responsible for much of Florence's wealth (and their own) for several hundred years. I believe a Strozzi family also played a part somehow. The Medicis were a long line of nepotistic rulers who made their fortunes from banking and probably a bit of the old protection racketeering. Something also mentioned about Popes staying here...and they were also Medicis. Did I understand that they  introduced various pharmacies, hence the word 'medicine'? Don't quote me on that.

On down various narrow streets such as this (left), Via della Belle Donne. Apparently noted for 'lovely ladies' who frequented it at some time in the past. I didn't notice any.

Even at this point we (Adrian) had to send back a search party for some already lost en-route. Only gone about 500 yds.

I think this is the interior of the 'Palazzo Strozzi' (right), the challengers to the Medici boys. It has a large library attached in which I asked if they had a copy of that ghastly book 'Fifty Shades of Gray' (and yes, I spent tedious hours/weeks reading it). They didn't.

Did I mention that on tours such as this (as I have now discovered) there are always 'singlies' who yearn for company? I hasten to add that I am indeed a 'singly' who explicitly does not. The yearning singly will grasp any opportunity, without any malicious intention I hasten to add, to follow you around in the hope that you will join them to keep them company. Others on the tour may do likewise. They seem to think we are on some kind of 'team bonding' exercise. It is an ongoing hazard that just when you think you have escaped to go on a much desired solo wander, sitting down at a café to relax reading a hard sought-after English newspaper, you are tapped on the shoulder by one of them to ask "mind if I join you?" Effing irritating. Not sure how to deal with this without resorting to "Yes, now bugger off".

Passing a house which was used by the author George Eliot with a plaque over the door to tell us so, we entered the Piazza del Republica  (left) which was the first piazza to be built when Florence was founded in 59 BC by, if the big placard in the far right-hand corner is anything to go by,  Georgio Armani.

Florence was the capital city of Italy between 1865 - 1871 I think I heard.

Then to the Straw Market (right) which sells lots of straw hats. There is a big bronze statue of a wild boar on one side which, like a lot of bronze statues, brings you luck if you touch it's nose. It has a very shiny nose as a result.

Right: The pig with the shiny nose

Next into Piazza della Signaria which houses the Pallazzo Vecchio (left); the official residence of the Medicis before they moved to the even grander Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river. This is where most major ceremonial events are held. Around this and under the portico to the right  are several impressive statues (with small willies) by famous sculptors with names like Michelangelo, Ferrini, Lamborghini, Ducati, Zabaglione, Porcini, Campari, Gnocchi, Lambretta, Martini, Cornetto, Salami, Cinzano and many others whose names I failed to register.

Can't remember what this one was of (right). Probably by Michelangelo entitled 'getting home after a good night out'. I am puzzled as to why all Italians of this era had their statues done 'au naturel'. Did they strip off their togas at the sight of a chisel? The Italian fashion scene was obviously a long way off.

This one (left) is of Rolfo Harrisi by Linguini...or someone.

This one (right) is a copy of the original David. It stands outside the front door of the Palazzo where the original was positioned before being moved into to the Accademia museum. It's warmer in there.

Left. Perseus and Medina by Risotto. I think there a lots of statues around the world featuring this couple. Isis must have used it as their inspiration.

Right. 'The Rape of the Sabine Women' by Bolognese. Well, frankly, if everyone was gadding about naked in this country I'm not surprised that some of the local yobberati got a bit carried away after a heavy night out in the pub.

The north side of the Palazzo (left). The room behind the three prominent bay windows was, I think we were informed, where Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante and Machiavelli worked. Presumably not all at the same time. Or maybe they did...and bounced ideas, chisels, pens and brushes off one another.

On we marched, or in some cases shuffled, north up to the Piazza Duomo and the Cattedrale di St Maria (who else) del Flore; Maria of the Flowers, after whom the city was named (right). We were on our own from here. Our guide Mario had run out of puff by now and had filled us with so much information that I have forgotten nearly all of it. It has a tall bell tower (campanile) up which you can climb and an even higher dome/cupola up which I did. 483 steps. I counted. There was a long queue to get in. Long queues, as I came to discover, are a feature of most popular Italian venues. And cost 10 Euros.

Interestingly, there were several signs on the way up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the cupola which commanded us not to write on the walls. They were erected too late, or maybe just to spite the order visitors had left little space to write much more. The walls were already almost completely covered with graffiti.

I suppose graffiti, being an Italian word, was invented in Italy. The local graffitistos are a prolific bunch. Most unprotected public vertical surfaces are covered in the stuff....even more so than in UK...and not much of it is very artistic. 

Right: Graffiti on the staircase walls.

Once on top there were pretty good views over Florence. This one (left) looks north-west over the bell tower and down to the Cathedral (Duomo) Piazza. 

After a very good lunch at one of the splendid outdoor cafés, and they do cafés rather well here, and thankfully without a "mind if we join you?", I moved on to visit the Accademia Gallery which houses the original Michelangelo statue of David. The entrance to this is on a rather drab street and when I arrived there was, inevitably, a long queue to buy tickets (12.50 Euros). I queued for about 40 mins in sweltering sunshine before getting in. Once inside it wasn't too crowded (I suppose that is why we queued) and the first gallery was filled predominantly with 'unfinished' statues by Michelangelo (as right). Given a big lump of marble and a hammer and chisel I'm sure I could have done just as well. Why didn't he finish them? bored I expect, or maybe chopped something off accidentally, with an Italian cry of "bugger!", and you can't just stick it back on..

Right: The original 'Dave' which Signore Michelangelo actually got around to finishing without a chiselling mishap.

Many other scantilly clad chisellings abounded and there was a large storeroom at the back with shelf upon shelf of marble busts and other statuary not on display. Could have been mass produced for all I know.

Then there was this thing....(left). I didn't recognise the 'artist' and was left a bit baffled as to what it is meant to represent. 'Jake the Peg's Extra Leg' perhaps. Perhaps Michelangelo or one of his colleagues had a wry sense of humour. Suggestions welcome.

Other than that, there was a rather dull section displaying old musical instruments and, of course, the gallery shop. I didn't stay very long as my time was limited and there were a few other things to see.

Right: Outside in the Piazza were several horses and carts to transport, at great expense no doubt, leg weary tourists. This nag is possibly one of Richard Hannon's cast-off racehorses.

Onwards, onwards to the Uffizi Gallery and another queue for about 30 mins (12.50 Euros). This is a vast gallery with long corridors on three floors; an annex to the Palazza Vecchio. Many of the rooms on the first floor were filled with ornate 'religious' pictures (as per left). I found them rather dull and repetitive. So quickly moved up to floor two...........

....which was devoted to hundreds, if not thousands, of nude statues and busts. The labelling of these was difficult to follow and I lost interest relatively quickly. As you gather, I am not a great expert, even less a fanatical admirer, of these artefacts. I think Signore Bellini featured here amongst many others.  One of the more impressive displays in a glassed off hexagonal room (right) is this collection of statues and paintings featuring 'The Tribune' which I believe is a famous piece of work.

Left: Quite an inspiring large sculpture of a reclining woman. Unusual for the fact that it was about the only one with any clothes on.

Right: Sleeping Hermaphrodite. I since gathered that there are many ancient copies of this. The acclaimed original being in the Louvre, Paris.

Left: A more entertaining statue of a youth picking his toenails.

Up to floor three and now into more interesting territory with (original) paintings by artists that I had actually heard of; Velázquez, Van Dyke, Breughel and many others including this well known daubing of 'The Birth of Venus' by Sandro Botticelli (right), commissioned by the Medicis in the mid 1480s.

One small room contained only this, a sort of bed (left). Either this was an ancient precursor to that ghastly 'installation' by Tracey Emin or, more likely, a place for the security guard to have a kip.

Right: A decent view, from an upstairs window in the Uffizi, of the Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno. This bridge was originally where medieval butchers operated and chucked offal and waste into the river. The Medicis, living in the Palazzo nearby, got fed up with the smell and kicked them off. It then became a place where gold and jewellery was sold, as it is now...rows of such shops lining the sides of the bridge.
It is also the only city bridge over the Arno not blown up by the Germans before the liberation of the city by the Brits in 1944.

Left: A view over the Ponte Vecchio showing the lines of, mainly, gold and jewellry shops

Directly on over the bridge is the vast Palazzo Pitti (right), the second official residence of the Medicis. It is now a museum, containing what I never discovered because by the time I got there it was closed.

That was my 'whistle stop' day touristing in Florence and I expect, given more time, I could have seen many other interesting things.

Back on a train (on time and only 3 Euros for an hour-long journey) to the hotel in Montecatini and then a good nosh outside in the town square. I must say, Italian towns are remarkably pleasant in the evenings with lots of people eating, drinking and just perambulating in a most civilised manner. 

More touristing tomorrow......

(PS. Message for Judith, if you read this: for some reason my machine will not allow me to reply to your comment. Don't understand why not. We could have met up!)

1 comment:

  1. Found your blog again. By coincidence I am also in Florence today. From your very distant cousin on Wilkinson side