Florence is a compact little town made up of narrow streets (like a huge maze), intersected with bridges over the river. The whole city is really like an "open-air museum", no wonder it's regarded by so many as the art capital of Italy. There, I felt a certain something special...you know, the sensation of being in a great sphere where your dreamy estrangement from real life is preserved...? That was why Florence is special.
The city lies on the River Arno and is known for its history and its importance in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, especially for its art and architecture. It has been the birthplace or chosen home of many historical figures, such as Dante, Boccaccio, Botticelli, Niccolò Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Donatello, Galileo Galilei, Catherine de' Medici, Antonio Meucci, Guccio Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Roberto Cavalli and Emilio Pucci.
We had just arrived by train from Trieste 5 hours ago. It's very comfortable traveling by train in Italy. Except for those gypsy thieves that we needed to beware of at the stations. Be especially careful though, when in the Rome station. Anyway, the trains are clean and with decent leg room. I thought the power points next to each seat a genius idea... a real life-saver for laptop-holics or the absent-minded owner of uncharged mobile phones.
The cab ride from train station to hotel consisted of meandering through the narrow cobblestoned streets just about wide enough for one-and-a-half of a horizontal me. The sun broke into daylight like an egg being cracked against our cab window.
I wound down the window to catch some heat, waking my mind to a slow-turning kaleidoscope of smells and noises. I heard Florentinos 'ciao-ed' to one another outside their trattoria and pasticceria as our cab swung by the curb. Sounds of bustling tourists too, I heard Japanese and American.
After we checked into our super nice hotel room and ready to ramble, I was about to find out Florence is my favourite city in Italy.
This delicious little township is lined with eye-candy shops that sold Italian leather bags, shoes by artisan cobblers, antiques, separated by real candy shops.
Shops that display heaps of gelato, piles of merrigue, paneforte, paninis, waffles and sweets of sorts in between. 2 days of unadulterated schnarfing, never have I been so turned on by food.
You just wanna eat whatever you see... it's so NOT funny! Everything looked extra delicious in Florence. Thank god my hotel has a gym. The gelati were awesome (I snacked on these after almost every meal), they have flavors that are only found in Italy, like Kinder, Mascarpone, Gianduia chocolate. I'm not a gelato fan hence was pretty convinced I won't be tempted. But I guess my eyes betrayed me. But you see, this sort of thing can only happen in Florence.
The pastries were always fresh and crisp, the cakes and candies were never stale and hard. How could anyone with a sweet tooth resist these?! I found myself gawking whenever I walked pass the window of a pasticceria, like the fashion of an insatiable nymphomaniac.
Oh oh and then there's the fresh dark chocolate truffles (1.50 Euros each only), oh my GOD... they are seriously TO DIE FOR. Buy them from Gelateria Santa Trinita on the corner near the bridge just 5 minutes' walk from Hotel Continentale (where we were staying) - good news is, they're open till late night. Their gelati was so super yummy too...
....even the doggie agrees :D
So that was our dessert stop one night after dinner at a gorgeous high-end modern Italian restaurant called Nove IX (Lungarno Guicciardini, 50100 Florence, Italy Tel/Fax: 055 2302756)
I would recommend Nove IX to anyone despite my disappointment in the main course (I thought the fish with shoyu + ponzu reduction was way too salty for my taste). Their service though, was somewhat impeccable (which is something I greatly appreciate at any restaurant). Do order the Foie Gras to start! Y.U.M.M.Y
Our room at Hotel Continentale here (one of those very nice Lungarno Hotels) was so very comfortable. It was such a steal. I highly recommend this trendy boutique property for comfort and convenience at only 165 Euros/night. (a: Vicolo dell'Oro Firenze t:+3905527262 e: email@example.com)
Staff are very nice + POLITE.
The perfect place to stay for the shopaholic-culture-vultures because this hotel is just around the corner from Via Tornabuoni (it's shopping galore and calling fans of H&M, yooohooo! Your pockets will burn!) and minutes-walk to the die-die-must-go Galleria Uffizi (at the Palazzo Vecchio), then the neighbourhood hang-out Piazza della Signoria, another musuem just next to the Piazza called Bagello and then the Pitti Palace which is slightly further away.
The Pitti Palace
Don't cramp your style, but be clever. Wear NOT stilettos here (or in Rome) even if you may be sure you'll only be mosey-ing about most of the time. Comfy wedged or low thick-heeled boots that aren't too high are most ideal, and you'll last a lot longer;)
a copy of Michelangelo's DAVID standing on its original location - at Piazza della Signoria
Signoria Square (Piazza della Signoria)
At the Signoria Square : These marble sculptures of Hercules & The Centaur and Rape of the Sabines both by Giambologna from the 1500s decorated the Palazzo Vecchio. The original piece of the latter is displayed at the Galeria Academia, which is the other NOT TO BE MISSED museum.
Because if you didn't see the most spectacular sculpture of all time which many men are named after (including Madonna's Malawi son; including the world's most revered soccer star; including the most famous magician on tv), then you can't say you've been to Florence nor can you say you've paid your respect to the great genius Michelangelo.
The Uffizi opens from 10am and closes early, 6.30pm. Go early to avoid hordes of queue.
I was most excited to visit the Uffizi. It's there that I saw many paintings I've been longing to see for years! Leonardo Da Vinci's, Michelangelo's, Botticelli's, Ghirlandaio's etc...
The gallery is big - double-storey with many rooms - so we bought a guidebook. Smart choice;)
Make your way upstairs into the rooms. It's a bummer but yeah, no pictures allowed in most of these mseums:(
ROOM 10 - 14 (Botticelli) :
Adoration of the Magi Interesting, we eavesdropped on someone analyzing the painting that 'gayness had since the beginning of Christ been accepted' through Botticelli's interpretation. Pay attention to the 2 men at bottom left side of the painting. And present in this painting is also Botticelli's alleged self-portrait, as the man with yellow mantle on the far right.
tempera on wood (tempera is made of egg white that produces an enamel-like surface finish)
Birth of Venus This painting is my answer. It's beautiful. In there, I saw The Hanging Garden...I love the rush of excitement that was oozing from my pores as I looked at Venus. Because I saw me.
"...in wind-blown draperies and falling roses, in rippling waves and tossing locks, in the swift action and glad gesture of the welcoming nymph, in the gliding motion of Venus herself."
tempera on wood
Forms of fantasy concocted by my imagination on too many things as I stared at the painting, studying the details and reading about the meaning of it all. By then, I could no longer deny that meeting Venus here in the Uffizi in Florence was meant as a sign.
I left the Uffizi later but with a terribly toyed psyche. Everything I looked at it was as if I couldn’t escape my own reflection! Venus lived in the spoon I used to stir my green tea; it was undulating in the tea itself, in the burnished wood of the table at the cafe, Venus was also in my husband's eyes. This, is beyond doubt, an epiphany.
This surely consummates the birth of my "new beginning" which I still wasn't sure I had. I guess now I do. Nothing could've been more perfect. The timing, the purpose, the reason behind it all... the reason I was led to see this painting is positively indisputable, it's fate. I grew scared nonetheless. Scared, ecstatic and confused all at the same time.
Well, the saving grace is this. As if by calling or a twist of fate, I was drawn to this specific piece by Botticelli also because of the striking resemblance between Venus and Madonna (the singer not the virgin)....I remember how her hair looked on the cover of my favourite album Ray of Light - long, flowy and orangy - and her face on the cover, pale and snowy - that whole phase of Madonna's life.
Zephyr appears on the left of this painting blowing his soft breath at the Aphrodite, and was of course mentioned too in the lyrics of Ray of Light. Was Madonna somewhat inspired too by this same painting? Not too far-fetched in the case of an art collector, is it? Well, I may be seriously going off my head right now assuming this and speculating that like a total nut case but whatever it is, this whole thing is making me unusually effusive and my heart is racing still as I'm writing this... I have got to accept that The Birth of Venus is my new beginning! That's it!
It's funny how I've always loved a school excursion...especially with great teachers. After some half-hour staring at Venus, i walked a few steps to the next painting, which also has Venus in it. There was a bunch of American kids crowding around at the front of this painting, listening intently to a teacher. And I've always loved a good story.
tempera on wood
I learnt a few things eavesdropping : there're the 3 dancing graces, Mercury the angel of death (far left), Venus (right below Cupid), Zephyr (in blue on far right) and Cupid (Venus' son). All the women in the painting looked pregnant for Spring signifies the time of fertility when everything blooms. Mercury seems oblivious to his surroundings because death knows no season. Chloris appears twice in this painting to demonstrate her metamorphosis into Flora - Zephyr captures her, flowers comes out of her the mouth then manifests into Flora (lady in flowy floral dress).
"As she talks, her lips breathe spring roses:
I was Chloris, who am now called Flora."
ROOM 15 (Leonardo Da Vinci)
Annunciation I continued to tag along with these kids to the next room - where paintings of Da Vinci are displayed. He was an artist who painted with science, the teacher said. While volume is important, he loved depth too - she asked to observe the snow-peaked mountains and sky and shapes of clouds that formed the background.
And the most impressive of all, Da Vinci was like a magician or rather, an illusionist how he created these deep perspectives to his paintings. In this one, watch Virgin Mary's lap. The teacher asked everyone to walk around and away from the painting, towards any direction from there but without taking their eyes off Mary's lap. It is true. No matter where you look from, her lap follows you!
Baptism of Christ A painting by Leonardo Da Vinci's master Andrea del Verrocchio which he assisted. This painting is famous for Da Vinci's kneeling angel holding the mantle. He also helped touch up the backgrounds demonstrating great originality in water, mist, sunlight and shadows (compared to the rather stiff even plastic look by his master), even the tuft of grass under the angel's knee speaks life. It was typical of Da Vinci to follow his own artistic path despite coaching. It shows in this painting in 2 ways. First, compare the 2 angels, Da Vinci's pays close attention to the event and has brightness in the eyes while his master's looks away staring into space looking bored. Second, An x-ray of this painting was apparently done to examine Verrocchio's original sketching of Da Vinci's angel and was found to be entirely different from what Da Vinci had painted in the end. It's said that after seeing Da Vinci's angel, Verrocchio never again wanted to lift a brush because his apprentice had proven to be better at it than him.
tempera on wood (except for Da Vinci's parts which was oil)
ROOM 25 (Michelangelo)
There were not many paintings of Micheangelo here at the Uffizi. I remember just this one significantly - The Holy Family - because the frame is original and was designed by him. This was commissioned by some merchant and was used as the head board of his bed.
It's alot to take in for that couple of hours. The walking, the standing and the mental arousal. Take a coffee break (or in my case, Cordino break) up on the terrace of The Uffizi and then continue on to the other rooms or move on with your museum-hopping!
We tried to get in yesterday but it had already shut - CUISO. Do go before 5pm. There're alot of marble sculptures here that came from the fountains and garden of the Medici Palace. The Medici family was fiercely fashionable during their time, having commissioned Da Vinci and Michelanglo amongst others to sculpt and paint. Amazing stuffs in here too so try not to miss. I had wanted so bad to come here because I read in the guidebook that Micheangelo's bronze David was here.
This statue is part of a much bigger fountain as illustrated here. There were many pieces of white marble sculptures as such, each signified something - goddess of this and that, angel of this and that, and even a few put together to display a story of some sort like this one.
David (bronze) by Michelngelo, one of those hard-to-see pieces. The "real" David, the famous one sculpted in marble is housed at Galleria del Academia
Gallery of Academy
Turn left at the yellow block and you'll come to the Gallery of the Academy on Via Ricasoli. There was no queue when we got there... lucky.
It's absolutely indispensable to remember that nearly all the museums in Florence, as in the rest of Italy, are CLOSED ON MONDAYS!
The World's Most Perfect Man
No pictures of DAVID of course, I thought that to be rather absurd. Why not??!! People have flown across the globe just to see it, one of the world's greatest work of art in history and NO PICTURE?
I was again hit in the face, like when we stumbled upon the Duomo 2 days ago. I had no idea he was such a giant! (Errrr... not in the 'manly' sense unfortunately...) He towers at almost 4.5m high (13.5 ft) and is absolutely stunning. First of all, placed majestically in the middle of this huge room under the domed-ceiling, this colossus of a sculpture surely meant WORSHIP. Then, the meticulous details. As I stood staring from toe to head at David, he, in no way resembles a mundane statue. How the hell did Micheangelo do this without screwing up on the perspectives??! He must have definitely climbed a ladder, sat on some scaffolding etc... but it's not like he could erase a wrong stroke or throw away the piece of paper and start again... Every chisel deserves to be marveled.
I felt hypnotized in timeless quietude as I observed the magnificent details of David's veins. The veins on his right hand, right bicep and right foot. Michelangelo's incredible skill in creating this life-like human whose moment, like as if he had just returned, fresh from battle. He exudes this strong energy like any athelete would, frozen in time and space. I couldn't believe I finally got to meet him face to face.
got this pic from the internet
I could not get over those veins. My god, I've never seen veins on a statue! I scrutinized the artery that runs down on the right side of David's neck. INCREDIBLE.... All contours of a perfect man's anatomy, all virtues of the universal male, Michelangelo had carved it. Pay attention to the shadows and contrast cast by light in his technique too - the contours of David's ribs, knee joints, muscle tone, it was as if David was a real man only plastered with marble. Don't forget to check out his ass :D There're benches behind him for people to sit on to admire his stark behind.
David was created in 1501, it took Michelangelo 3 years to finish. Such superb work had apparently, never been seen before either in Florence or elsewhere. Nude is obviously Michelangelo's power-statement as demonstrated in almost all of his work, David was however the largest ever sculpted in Renaissance. Michelangleo had ostensibly challenged the ancient Greek and Roman masterpieces. So impressive that Michelangelo was called back to Rome by the Pope himself (Giulio II) to paint the famous Sistine Chapel later.
We also strolled past Santa Maria Novella which is another to-see sight. It's a railway station with beautiful architecture. Ever since the Middle Ages it has been used for feasts, tournaments and other events (some things don't change..). Architectural design and colors of its exterior bear similarities to the Duomo.
we walked past the basilica at night so didn't manage to take a good shot. Got this pic from the internet... look at the facade and the colored marble used. Looks like something out of a fairytale storybook.
Piazza Del Duomo
And I thought the Notre Dame is Paris was the most magnificent...
My first encounter in Florence was the Duomo. Stumbling upon it after snaking through the maze was as if we were 2 blind rats bumping right into a mammoth. The sun had begun to wane then... the sight of the Duomo was surreal in that light.
Notre Dame is rather Goth-ghostly, but the Duomo of Florence is best described as a gaudy beauty. The colors of the marble are amazing. The building looks almost like a doll-house. Built on the ancient sacred area of the Roman castrum, The Duomo of Florence is one of the religious buildings which formed the original nucleus of what was to become the religious heart of today's Florence.
For this, you gotta have stamina. No pain no gain is exactly right. Work your athletic muscles if you're compelled to show the rest you've "topped" the world. Climb those 464 steps to top of the Duomo because it won't be a fruitless attempt. This is the Brunelleschi's Dome, the most photographed object in Florence (besides David's genitals). Well, the best thrill is to come home with a postcard-adventure captured by your own lens!
It usually takes 10/15 minutes to get to the top and since the route is often a tight squeeze through the dark stair well, it's not exactly ideal for claustrophobics! But look out in the light for panoramic surprises and small brilliant details.
Doesn't the ancient city look like it's a lush candyland of sunbaked Christmas gingerbread houses?! Hmmm...told you Florence makes my hungry!
What else to do in Florence?
Meat lovers, what you do NOT wanna miss is the Florentine Steak. This is seriously a real treat....a much coveted meal to not try when in Florence. You can find this dish in almost any restaurant, so not to worry.
There's a cafe at the Palazzo Vecchio called Rivoire, right next to Chanel, and facing the Galleria Uffizi which serves an Espresso at only 1 Euro and they make their own chocolates too.
the outdoors of Rivoire facing the Piazza del Signoria
Rivoire and Chanel both at the Piazza della Signoria
Truffle lovers brace yourselves! Go to Procacci. It's a small place right opposite Roberto Cavalli that serves panini tartufati (mini bread with plain truffle butter or pate or smoked salmon).
Also a potato-egg-carrot quiche topped with shavings of black truffles. They sell everything with truffle in it, including chocolates;) Well, if you happen to come here, do ask them back our Florence guidebook which we accidentally left behind - and you may use it if you like :D
For delicious paneforte of sorts, croissant, pastries and desserts - go to Bar la Borsa (left and left from our hotel)
The proliferation of the 'pasar malam' culture is obvious in touristy destinations in most parts of the world - Florence included. Stalls are found at various prime spots around Florence and these are manned by foreigners, pretty much like KL's situation in Petaling Street. Goods sold range from leather bags, fur coats, knick-knacks, souvenirs, hats & scarfs and some bootleg brands.
So here i have, an immaculate collection of the best in Florence. I'm just really really glad I got to see all the original masterpieces and brilliant works of art by my favourite artists, which for years have merely been as real as my text books. Florence, has just the right ingredients for a Tiramisu aficionada... and rightfully so.