Florence

The cloud of leaving one of our favorite places set over us, but not for long. We were on bus heading north to the capital of Tuscany: Florence.  The semi-dry landscape and hills of Rome began to fade and the hills and forests of Tuscany began to unfold before us. We entered Florence and caught sight of one of the most easily identifiable landmarks in the world: Il Duomo. We had arrived in Florence. The home of the Renaissance. The home to
so many art and literature greats. The home of our new age of science and thinking. The home of the enlightenment.

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We stepped off the bus and were only about 15 minutes away from our small, college dorm-like apartment near the heart of Florence. We met our Air B&B host, Riccardo, and he showed us the tricks of our new place. I also asked a few questions about “Firenze,” like what to do, where to go, etc. His excitement showed as he began to speak rapidly about his city.  He was a teacher and immediately began rattling off points of interests with a quick history lesson of why we should go there. We had a connection with Riccardo and kept in touch with him throughout our visit. His Florentine pride shined as his rapid speech and almost nervousness of translating his thoughts to English, took over him. We took Riccardo’s advice, and were certainly glad we did. We would not have seen some of the amazing sights that we witnessed if it wasn’t for him.

We were staying in an apartment near the center and had plenty of restaurants and bars near us to choose from for supper. A little worn out from pastas from our stay in Rome, We sat down at Il Sol for some burgers. After filling up our bellies we set out to explore some of the main sights and map out the town, deciding what we would do our following days.

Florence is known for it’s birth of the Renaissance, the new style of art and literature that we are more accustomed to today.  Florence was also the home of the Medici family, the first bankers who (with the help of a Medici Pope) were able to give loans
and credit to most nations of Europe.  They had banks set up across Europe and Asia in Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey and more.  You can thank the Medicis for our modern system of banks and finances, as well.  But, they were also SO WEALTHY that they were able to pay these masters of art and literature to do pieces for them, to hang about in their many churches or to commission as gifts for the Vatican or famous
rulers across Europe.  So in that way, you could possibly argue that their wealth also allowed the likes of Donatello, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Raphael to do what they do and help begin this “enlightenment.”

Art before the “Enlightenment” was very emotionless, with religious icons (Jesus, Mary, saints, etc) posing as pious, spiritual beings that were portrayed as gods, not humans. The style of art was rigid, stale, set up without motion or movement, and very standard. However, this all changed in Florence.  Mondays in Florence are days to check out the churches since all of the museums are closed.  We had several stops in mind (thanks to Riccardo) and set out in the morning to use our limited time wisely.  We began our self-tour at the Church of Santa Maria del CarmineA wealthy businessman named Brancacci hired Masaccio and his pupil, Masolino, to fresco a chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine.  They began painting the “Sistine of Florence.” What made this artwork different from those in the past was emotion, movement, saints looking like real people not just pious beings.  The use of beautiful landscapes and  open space differed from the old solid colored backgrounds. They had began a new age of art and thinking: the Renaissance.
It was fascinating to see the Brancacci Chapel, a small niche compared to the massive church, where the two are styles were directly side by side: the old baroque, emotionless art next to the new Renaissance style.

From the Santa Maria del Carmine we then took a short walk to the Santo Spirito Church to observe one of the first pieces of art done by Michelangelo. At the age of 17, Michelangelo carved a crucifix for the church to be hung above the altar. During the 1400s, it was illegal to study cadavers as they were seen as a temple of God. However, the church (a convent) allowed him to study dead bodies in their morgue in exchange for
his gift, the crucifix.  After the short trip in the convent, we made our way to the Basilica of Santa Croce, a church done very similarly to that of “Il Duomo,” a.k.a. Santa Maria del Fiore.  After seeing so many churches, some seem to blur together.  However, there are certain ones we have seen on this trip that stand out from the rest and this was one of them. Inside, the floors were covered with the crests of the holy families or rich patrons now buried there who were part of the church in its heyday.  The main altar, chapels and walls, were all so ornate and also painted by some of the most notable Renaissance painters like Giotto, Cimabue, Lippi and more. The basilica also held two pieces of work by Donatello who set the precedence in sculpting.  Hard to forget, too, the tombs of some of the most notable Florentines: da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli.  After all the sightseeing and being slightly overwhelmed, we made our way to an awesome margarita place for happy hour to soak it all in.  The drinks were strong, cheap and delicious! We would stop there daily during our time in Florence.  We walked back to our apartment and stopped at SimBIOsis, an all organic pizzeria and winery where we filled up on
wine, pizza and pasta. For all organic everything, it was cheap, savory and very filling.  I had classic home-ground sausage pizza and Abby had a pesto lasagna. It was the perfect way to cap an awesome day.

If you are ever planning to visit Florence and want to take part in any type of museum, BOOK AHEAD.  Our host, Riccardo, told us that wait lines are about three hours for the Uffizi (Renaissance art) and Accademia (Michelangelo’s David).  Luckily for us, we did our homework and already had our tickets planned and reserved. We set out Tuesday morning to tour the Uffizi: a Medici Palace that now houses the largest collection of Renaissance art in the world. We got in no problem and began observing the history.  The museum is set up chronologically and really helps you to see the transition into full Renaissance art. We viewed Giotto, Cimabue, Lippi, da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Carravaggio, Durer and even more.  The building itself, a palace (it seems like most awesome museums in Europe were phenomenal palaces) was eye candy.  We finished the tour and found ourselves at the door leaving the Uffizi, when Abby and I simultaneously looked at each other with slight confusion, “Aw, man?! It’s over?!” We wanted to keep going and going, and when we reached the end we were ready to head back through for more. A truly awesome experience. Worn out from the walking, we went back to our apartment for a siesta. We woke up re-energized and made our way to the Michelangelo Square, a lookout on a hill high above the city offering some of the best panoramas of Florence. We were lucky to find a great spot to watch the sun set over the capital of Tuscany.

Wednesday came and it was our last full day to explore Florence. We were scheduled to enter Accademia at 5 pm to view the David, so we had plenty of time during the day to grab some souvenirs and see some of our favorite sights one last time.
We grabbed some lunch at an awesome sandwich place (homemade breads and balsamic vinegar, freshly sliced meats and veggies) before getting in line to enter Accademia. The museum is a school that had an area specifically built to house Michelangelo’s David.
We check out the first room of the museum, turn the corner into a large hall and BAM! There He is. The David is something you see pictures of, think to yourself, “Sure, it looks pretty awesome. It was done by Michelangelo, cool cool, yadda yadda.” And then
you see it in person. Standing at 16 feet tall, glowing under the sky light; it is unbelievable.  It was done by Michelangelo at the age of 27 out of one solid piece of marble that was left over from the construction of a church. Not only was it done from
one piece of marble, a feat that already seems amazing, but it was also a “veined” piece of marble, meaning it was full of impurities or a mix of different marble. The detail in the body, the veins and bones, grooves and shadows make you question how
someone, a human being, could be capable of doing something like that.  Let alone over 500 years ago without modern technology and at the age of 27.  The scale, the size and proportions of the body are also what make it so beautiful.  To be able to take
something, a human, that is five or six feet tall and scale it to 16 feet tall with perfect proportion of arms, head, feet, legs, torso, etc, etc, was unheard of at the time.  In other sculptures you can find these small imperfections, ears slightly too big or a hand a bit too elongated. But the David, is simply perfect. We spent over an hour marveling at arguably the greatest masterpiece ever done.

Our four days in Florence went way too fast, but the experience is one of the greatest we have ever had.  After visiting Rome, and comparing it to Florence, Abby and I agreed on several main points. Rome is Roman. Yes, it is in Italy, but the Roman Empire is a being unlike any other.  It is ancient, eternal, and, just…Roman. However, Florence seems “Italian.” It is beautiful, “enlightening,” charming, and what you may think of as an “Italian” mindset. Overall, the two are completely different, Rome being “Roman” while Florence feels “Italian.”  Hard to put into words what we mean, but if you have visited the two, you can probably put your finger on it.  If you haven’t, well, you are missing out on one of the greatest experiences of travel we have ever had. Finally, like I’ve said before, if I wasn’t such a biased Czech, GO TO ITALY.  We had only visited two of their major cities (with two more to go) and we could already say that Rome and Florence are arguably two of the greatest cities we have ever visited.


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