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:
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.