So much beauty out there

June 16, 2009

Firenze and Rain

Filed under: All,Dear Diary,Travel — Josh @ 8:07 am

On the train to Florence and for the first time in my life, at least that I can remember, I’m travelling first class. I’ve always been ideologically opposed to the concept of first class travle (well, second class actually, but you know what I mean) plus I’ve usually been to poor to afford it. But on this trip, for some bizarre reason it was actually marginally cheaper, and I’m all for saving money. Still, travelling first class does make me feel slightly dirty. Actually, I am slightly dirty, I deliberately dressed scruffily just to discommode the rich people who thought they’d manage to escape contact with prole scum for a couple of hours. Of course, after 5 weeks living from a backpack I didn’t have much option about dressing scruffily.

Anyway, so here I am in the promised land of first class, trying to work out whether all the stuff they keep handing me is free or not. Ok, no-one else is handing over any money. Woo Hoo. Free drinks, free sweets, free biscuits, thank you ver much, mille grazie. I even consider taking a free, Italian, newspaper just out of principle. I fully expect rose petals to be strewn in front in front of me when I leave the train (if only to mask my odour, boom tish).

Now in Florence, and it is extraordinary. Pretty much had my blinkers on, wanting to head straight for the Uffizi, but my peripheral vision keeps screaming at me to look left or right (and not just because I’m about to be run down by a scooter) but so far I’ve managed to ignore it with the single minded determination that is my hallmark.

And I’ve been rewarded, maximum 1 hour queuing for the gallery. Result! And for you guys too, writing this entry is about all I have to do to amuse myself while waiting and the shorter the line, the less ramblings you’ll have to wade through. It’s cool that the gallery does have a timer indicating approximate waiting times, but they could do a bit more to liven up the walls we all have to stare at – unless all the graffiti is some kind of modern art work. If it is, it’d be difficult to attribute it, there seem to be several thousand people who’ve signed their name.

Get inside, and it’s a slow start, lots of altarpiec frescos that would doubtless look better in their original setting. It starts getting going a bit with Filipinno Lippi before kicking off with an amazing room of Botticelli’s. I came back 3 times to it, so fantastic was it. The most famous work there was the Birth of Venus, but that’s probably been reproduced too often to have its full impact. My personal favourite was the Madonna of the Pomegranate (not so named because she was actually the mother of the pomegranate but because there was so many paintings at the time of the Madonna and child that other little details are used to differentiate them).

The (magnificent) standard set by Botticelli couldn’t be replicated and there wasn’t anything else there that I loved. The other floor in the gallery was a bit later and after the glory days of Italian renaissance art and was pretty much solely worth seeing for Caravaggio, in particular The Sacrifice of Isaac. There was lots of perfectly good stuff in the Uffizi, and doubtless connoisseurs of the period would appreciate it more than me, but compared to the Prado it fell a bit flat. Still here are a couple of shite visual jokes for you:

What women had to do before doggy bags, or Dosso Dossis Allegoria  di Ercole

What women had to do before doggy bags, or Dosso Dossi's Allegoria di Ercole

Matthias Stomers Annunciation controversially suggests that Mary is going to have twins.

Matthias Stomer's Annunciation controversially suggests that Mary is going to have twins.


Having visited the Uffizi I then had some time to look around some of the bits of the city that I’d ignored on the way there. It’s a very beautiful city and the most obviously stunning building is the cathedral.

At least, it’s stunning from the outside. Less so inside though. There is a magnificent marble floor and the campaign for real candles is satisfied (though the display rather resembles christmas lights). However the walls are just plain beige which doesn’t work at all. Even worse is the atmosphere. There are no seats at all in the main part and so its just a horde of people taking phots and chatting. I’ve seen more reverent atmospheres in public toilets.

By contrast, the baptistry is glorious. It’s only one room, but I easily managed to spend an hour there. A beautiful floor and an elegant lower section set it up. The middle section is damn near perfect. As for the roof, I’ve suggested earlier in this blog a preference for less ornate design, but this roof manages to carry it off in an assault of colour and gold leaf. The font design complements the rest of the building too. The overall effect is jaw-dropping.

Between the cathedral and the baptistry is the bell-tower, designed by Giotto. Pretty enough in itself, it offers a magnificent view of Florence for those willing to climb 414 very steep steps. Personally I reckon Stendhal collapsed after trying the ascent and made up the “overwhelmed by the beauty of Florence” story up afterwards as a cover story.

One thing that caught my attention while I wa sthere was just how universal the terracotta tiled roofs are. I did a quick scan in each direction from the top of the tower (after having fully marvelled at all other aspects of the view) and only saw 2 buildings without them. And the universality of terracotta roofs does highlight one problem with Florence. The extent to which it has preserved its renaissance glory is impressive and it is beautiful because of it. But it does lack the variety of cities which have amazing buildings and attractions from several eras. Its a great place to visit for a couple of days, but unless you luurve the Italian renaissance then it begins to pall quite quickly.

Oh, and the rain? Well, it did tip it down one evening. And I was desperate for a pun.






View from Michelangelo Piazza

View from Michelangelo Piazza


  1. So which of your 3 countries so far could you live in mate?

    Comment by Taff — June 16, 2009 @ 9:50 am | Reply

    • The Italian nationalists would be proud of you. They’ve never really accepted that Nice is part of France.

      I’ve liked Spain the best so far as a tourist, and I think I could live in Granada most of the year. Maybe come back for the British summer!

      Comment by Josh — June 16, 2009 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  2. well I wasn’t counting france, you’ve already lived there!

    Comment by Taff — June 16, 2009 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  3. But did you see the frescoes by Fra Angelico on the monks’ cell walls and the Adam and Eve by Mercutio ( or a name like that)???
    And how’s the food?

    Comment by annie — June 17, 2009 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

  4. I think Annie means the frescos in the Brancusi chapel by Massaccio. (Mercutio being a character in Romeo and Juliet, which we are seeing the weekend after next). The Fra Angelicas are in the San Marco monestary but I can’t see you going for those. I personally would have recommended the Benozzo Gozzoli frescos in the Palazzo Medici Riccardo, source of one the massive posters that has been on my wall the last 11 or 12 years which still fascinates me.
    But it’s probably too late for all this.
    Did the Uffizi have the Botticelli we did the jigsaw of?

    Comment by Ian — June 18, 2009 @ 12:59 pm | Reply

  5. Well, I didn’t see any of those things. Sorry. There was an awesome Adam and Eve in Front of God by Tintoretto (although I can’t find any reference to it online) in the Uffizi though.

    I didn’t eat out much in Florence either. Sorry.

    Ian, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on display, but I can only vaguely remember the jigsaw design!

    Comment by Josh — June 20, 2009 @ 6:45 pm | Reply

    • Hi Josh, Adam and Eve in Front of God by Tintoretto was one of the most fascinating pictures in the Uffizi for me, too. If you google its German title Der Sündenfall, you will find out some more about it. Best wishes from Germany

      Comment by Ralph — October 20, 2012 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  6. Been here ! Have to say I loved it, and though we didn’t stay for more than 2 days, the mere thought of it beginning to pall is quite upsetting.
    P.S. Am obviously being thick but I don’t get the rain pun, sorry.

    Comment by Lucy — June 22, 2009 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

    • Lucy, I reckon it’s all about context. Florence is all about renaissance art and architecture and I’d spent the best part of 6 weeks looking at renaissance art and architecture (among other things) – if I’d come direct from Cardiff thenI think it’d have been different.

      Comment by Josh — June 24, 2009 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: