Tag Archives: Exploring Florence

Christmas in Italy – A tale of two churches

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Christmas in Italy – A tale of two churches

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

Wednesday, 03-Jan

Of all the churches in Italy, I’m glad we walked into this one. It’s called the Abbazia Di San Miniato al Monte, and while it’s not the biggest in Florence, it was definitely the most memorable for me.

While this wasn’t the most ornate, impressive, largest, or… really any adjective like that, this church was honestly the most real church that we saw over the course of the whole trip. It was being renovated, with some sections closed off for work, but even with those blockages this place simply seemed more human than any other.

The building itself was unobtrusive. Even though it was perched on the high hill above the Piazza De Michelangelo, in full view of the entire city, it somehow seemed subdued. The walls weren’t gilded, and the doors were simple wood. Inside there were exposed rafters, simple wooden pews, and monks quietly cleaning the floors. It was… austere? Almost? This building still rivals the Cathedral in Boston in size, of course, but still somehow had a humble air about it.

It simply seemed lived in, as if it were used by everyday people.

 

Further evidence of everyday use lay surrounding the building, in the cemetery and tombstones that we walked through. This was honestly the first real graveyard that I’d seen in Italy; most churches seemed to have crypts, but none had the beautiful headstones and monuments that I’ve grown used to. I ended up just wandering for nearly an hour (I think), looking at engravings and memorials.

One of the most memorable ones was the tomb of a World War 1 pilot, and his family. It was done in marble and bronze, with a shattered propeller cast on top. Somehow that shattered prop was really moving to me, especially with the weather-etched bronze staining the marble below.

 

 

Our second church of the day was a lookback at the first day in Florence, when Sarah and I had been wandering around after the Uffizi – the Basilica di Santa Croce. A large church near the middle of town, with a huge Star of David adorning the front.

Turns out, this church houses the tombs of some rather famous people. You know, those guys named Galileo and Michelangelo. Their tombs were arrayed around the perimeter, above beautifully inlaid stone walkways. The kind that also have tombs inset in them… which always slightly messes with my head, since I don’t like the idea of walking on top of someones grave.

I steeled myself, though, since the tombs of the giants of the Renaissance were completely worth seeing. Their sarcophagi were fairly simple, but the adornment around the sarcophagi was what stand out in my memory – beautiful sculptures that seemed nearly lifelike, as if they were simply mourners who had been frozen in time.

See, most of the sculptures that we’d seen so far had been figures in obvious poses. The technical skill was obvious, but the figures didn’t look lifelike… they seemed stiff, as if they were flexing for the camera and holding a specific pose on command.

The figures surrounding the tombs here seemed alive. They weren’t posed, they were simply standing nearby, mourning the loss of those within. Cloth was draped over the step, or a hand was stretched out, steadying the figure against the wall. Simple motions that conveyed life and emotion.

I probably spent a bit too much time here, but I wanted to somehow get the perfect pictures… I’m sure I didn’t, but I’m still proud of how they turned out.

Christmas in Italy – Il Duomo di Firenze

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Christmas in Italy – Il Duomo di Firenze

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

 

Tuesday, 02-Jan

In the heart of Florence is a huge cathedral called the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria del Fiore, or more commonly called  Il Duomo – named after the huge dome at the center of the building. It was by far the most popular attraction in Rome, separated into four different sections: The cathedral, the bell tower, the baptistery, and the dome itself.

We had initially planned on visiting on Saturday the 30th, but had run into the issue of tickets being sold out. Not just for the day, but for the next three days. So we had picked up tickets and headed out for our daily adventures, aiming to come back on Tuesday.

Our tickets had a time on them for the Dome itself, but the other three aspects were un-timed, basically a “go as you so choose” situation. We’d seen the lines back on the 30th, and consequently planned for a bit of queueing… but even with Bill and Greta’s Scottish queue-fu, we weren’t prepared for the lines we ran into.

Our Dome tickets were for 2:00, so we started by going into the cathedral… and no joke, the line was multiple hours. I honestly don’t remember exactly how long it is, and I don’t even have any notes on it. It was seriously so bad that I completely purged the memory from my brain. Thankfully we had six people, so we took shifts standing in the line itself; two people stood, while the other four explored and got breakfast.

 

We did eventually break through to the entrance, finally entering the main hall of the cathedral itself. It was beautiful, but honestly kind of underwhelming after just having been in Rome, and seeing the Basilica Majoris there. Not to say that it wasn’t beautiful, of course! The crypts below were especially interesting, since they gave a lot of information and detail about the originals of the cathedral, and thus the origins of most of Florence itself.

After the stress of queueing for the cathedral (and everyone getting a bit turned around in the crypts) we needed a rejuvination. And since the Duomo square is home to that amazing panini place that we went to on the 30th (Ed Note: See upcoming post on meals in Florence), we stopped in for a bite to eat and a drop to drink. As before, the panini were gloriously amazing, hand-crafted with the individual ingredients meticulously presented by the head chef.

Thus fortified, we stood in line again.

 

Turns out, the time on the tickets is… well, more of a guideline. That no one abides by. So not even a guideline at all, really.

We persevered though, and finally found ourselves thigh-mastering our way up roughly fifteen trillion stairs, winding ever upward.

Our views alternated between small stone passageways and grand vistas of the Duomo itself. The stairways seemed to originally be intended as maintenance corridors, or priest passageways, unintended for the number of people that were currently using them. But the views were worth the short bits of claustrophobia, as we repeatedly lost our breath at the beautiful art and sculptures that we were passing by.

The Duomo… I tried to take pictures of it, and you honestly can’t. I mean, maybe you can do a panorama, or one of those cool 3D pictures, but even those probably wouldn’t do justice to the sheer complexity of the composition. There were countless characters telling unnumbered stories, starting with heaven at the top and ending with a demon near the bottom. It was beautiful, soaring, and honestly breathtaking. Though our breath may have been taken by all the stairs, I guess.

After we passed above the catwalks around the Duomo itself, we continued upward along the outside of the Duomo, in between two layers of the “shell” that makes up the architecture itself. It was really cool, and almost felt like we were exploring some secret Indiana Jones style building.

Then, we broke out onto the top of the Duomo, with a soaring view of the entirety of Florence laid out below us. It was beautiful, and we spent a ton of time sightseeing, enjoying the breeze and the sun, and taking what probably amounted to a truly unnecessary number of selfies.

After our descent, we made a group decision: although our tickets could get us into the other two portions (the bell tower and the baptistery) we simply didn’t have the energy to survive any more lines.

And let’s be honest – the Duomo itself was beautiful, so it’s a pretty good note to end on, don’t you think?

Christmas in Italy – Florentine Street Art

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Christmas in Italy – Florentine Street Art

In keeping with the tradition of adventure, Sarah and I went on a big trip for Christmas and New Years!

This year, we met up with Sarah’s family in Italy, traveling to Rome and Florence; not quite a perfect midpoint for everyone, but it was close enough. And, also, you know. Rome. Florence. Amazing!

Please forgive me for some of these being a bit out of order… the posts are organized somewhat chronologically… but also organized by theme and location.  Some may not be exactly in chronological order, so for reference please see the initial summary post, which has a complete day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the adventure.

 

Various days while we were in Florence

Street Art – it can be spray paint tags, stencils, or huge murals. It’s one of my favorite things to look for when I travel to a new city, I feel like it gives me a rare look into the psyche of the city, and a glimpse into what the people who actually live here enjoy and appreciate.

Rome did have some street art, but it was pretty few and far between… whether this was due to city laws, the fact that there were so many statues, or something else, I couldn’t tell. Florence, however, was alive with random small little stencils and sprays.

I didn’t see any graffiti or tags, such as you’d see in a subway tunnel in New York City, but I did see a lot of little artistic sprays around the side streets. There was one series of famous paintings, but stenciled with the subjects wearing swimming goggles, that became a minor obsession of mine. Every time we saw a new one, I’d get super excited and stop to take a quick picture.

So, please sit back and enjoy the following two galleries: The Swimming Goggle Collection, and the Street Art of Florence collection.