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March 27, 2014

Art! And gelato!
Posted by Patrick at 02:19 PM * 49 comments

the-essence-of-florence.jpg By popular demand, pictures from P&TNH’s vacation (and 35th-anniversary celebration) trip to Italy, now in progress. Reload frequently!

We started in Florence last Thursday, March 20. We took a day trip from Florence to Siena on Monday, March 24. We moved on to Rome yesterday, Wednesday, March 26. We’ll be returning to NYC early in the week after next.

The Flickr photo set linked above currently goes through Sunday, March 23, but it’s only captioned through the middle of Friday, March 21. Reload for more photos, and more explanatory captions on the photos already there. Also, reload this Making Light post for the URLs of further Flickr photo sets, because we’ll probably start some new sets soon.

We have to thank Jo Walton, whose forthcoming My Real Children is critically full of Florence, and Ada Palmer, whose web site served as pretty much our primary guide to what to do and see. Just to be clear, we’d also like to thank Italy for being completely awesome.

Comments on Art! And gelato!:
#1 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 03:16 PM:

Thanks for sharing. Am envious. My one visit to Europe 4(?) years ago included a week in Florence. It was magical.

The four of us rented an apartment next to Piazza Santa Croce. Our initial disappointment at the marquees in the square obscuring views of the Basilica Santa Croce turned to delight when we realized it was for the annual Florence Artisan Chocolate Fair. The apartment turned out to be an excellent idea, giving us the option of home-cooked dinners with local produce or dining out.

#2 ::: Peter Hentges ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 03:18 PM:

Having recently played through all of Assassin's Creed 2, set in large part in early-Renaissance Italy, my first reaction is that the game designers did a remarkable job of capturing the city. It's also cool to see that some features that seemed added to the game to make it easier for your avatar to climb various buildings seem to be reasonable accurate or at least inspired by similar features that remain on extant buildings.

#3 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 03:35 PM:

I was very surprised to see in a recent Nat Geo article on the Duomo that it is bigger than the Hagia Sophia, bigger than St. Paul's, and bigger than the US Capitol.

Does it feel that way, i.e. just immense?

Nat Geo link here:

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 03:46 PM:

The captions on that photoset are great.

I particularly like the notion that you're taking all kinds of fantastic shots in your perpetual, and perpetually failing, attempt to adequately photograph the Duomo. It makes me want to invent a character who describes his entire life as a failure, to a greater or lesser degree, to photograph it.

"There we are eating dinner in Indonesia, during one of my less successful attempts to photograph the Duomo." "Yes, my son, your baby picture was not my best photograph of the Duomo, being, as it was, taken in Akron, Ohio." "We were nearer to photographing the Duomo than ever before when we stopped for gelato."

#5 ::: sherwood Smith ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 04:59 PM:

These are wonderful. Making mental note to check back when all the photos have captions--there are some of the later ones that are intriguing.

#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 05:48 PM:

Are you getting to Venezia as part of this? Karen and I are hoping to be there early next year. One of the artists my grandmother represented was based there, and we're planning to attend an opening of a show of his work (and maybe make some contacts to sell some of his artwork). Cool Beans in any case, and have a wonderful trip!

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 06:17 PM:

Spent nearly a week in Florence last summer. The experience is still sinking in. And I still need to sort through the 10 GB or so of photos taken by myself, my nieces, and my sister.


* Go around to the left side of the Palazzo Vecchio, and there's a public water fountain. There are two spigots. The one on the right (if memory serves) dishes out fizzy mineral water! A recent mayor put that in to cut down on the number of plastic water bottles littering the streets.

* Patrick's "Street Scene" photo shows an overhead walkway. This might be one of the most extraordinary overhead walkways in the world. It runs from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi ("Offices"), across a bridge over the river and to a church. So the Doge's wife wouldn't have to walk the filthy streets to go to services.

* View of the city from the hills. Oh, yeah (the Duomo is right of center):

* If you go to Florence, get an Uffizi Pass, or the similar Florence city pass. About $80 as I recall, but you get free entrance without waiting on the hideous lines to many, many museums and historic sites.

* You should go to Florence.

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 06:19 PM:

Oh . . . my niece found nearly a dozen of those modified traffic signs. I'll need to post them to Flickr.

#9 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 07:56 PM:

Italia Turrita would graciously acknowledge your thanks, if she were not busy with her quarreling children, North and South.

#10 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 08:43 PM:

Looking at those photos makes me nostalgic for the trip I took to Italy with my family in December 2010. Venice, Florence (with a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano) and Rome. At this point, quite a number of the photos I took on that trip are major wall art in the apartment that my Amazing Girlfriend and I live in.

#11 ::: The_L ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2014, 09:29 PM:

I went on a bus tour of Italy about 6 years ago. I remember when Assassin's Creed 2 came out, and Florence was so similar to how it looks today that I could guide my brother through the intro levels.

Sadly, I was only in Florence for a day. I got some nice leather gloves there, though.

#12 ::: Sebastian ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 12:14 AM:

I must say, there is a way to get much of the Duomo into one shot - take the bus up to Fiesole and look back down at the city.

Also a great place to have dinner.

#13 ::: Sebastian ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 12:17 AM:

And if I'd been paying attention, I'd have seen that Stefan Jones @7 got a similar shot, and not been nearly so proud. Ah well.

#14 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 01:23 AM:

#13: Your shot is a lot prettier!

I'm blanking on the name of the church / monastery up on the hill. A very nice spot. You can hike up there, or take a bus.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 02:43 AM:

Stefan Jones, #7: "Patrick's 'Street Scene' photo shows an overhead walkway. This might be one of the most extraordinary overhead walkways in the world. It runs from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi ("Offices"), across a bridge over the river and to a church. So the Doge's wife wouldn't have to walk the filthy streets to go to services."

This is slightly garbled, although it's certainly true that the Vasari Corridor is extraordinary. In fact the corridor (named for the architect who designed it; he also built the Uffizi) runs further than that; it goes all the way to Palazzo Pitti, the vast estate south of the Arno that the Medicis purchased to live in when they were made actual Dukes. And it wasn't just built for the Duke's wife; it was built because the Medicis had a pretty reasonable fear of assassination, since their rule had permanently eliminated the last vestiges of Florence as a republic. And no Medici ruler was ever a "Doge"; that term refers to a particular kind of elected lord which Florence never had. (Fun fact: The wife of a Doge is a Dogaressa.) It is true that the Corridor allowed the Medici to attend services, at Santa Felicita, without mingling with the hoi polloi. But that wasn't its primary purpose.

More on Vasari -- architect, biographer, Medici stooge, and visionary -- can be found in Ada Palmer's terrific post on the subject, complete with hilarious digressions about Florence's peculiar form of republicanism and how it led to direct Medici rule.

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 02:45 AM:

Tom Whitmore, #6: No trip to Venice on this go-round, alas. Possibly next time. (I know, I know, see Venice while it's still there.)

#17 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 02:51 AM:

Oh, and also, let me echo Stefan Jones's recommendation that visitors to Florence avail themselves of one of the deals that allows you to skip the lines. We purchased a year's membership in the Amici degli Uffizi, which gets you free admission to the Uffizi and a whole bunch of other places of interest. And as Jo Walton points out, by joining the Amici you're joining an organization whose purpose is explicitly the defense of civlization against barbarism, and who wouldn't want to do that.

#18 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 03:44 AM:

Dug out a few old photos for a trip down memory lane:

The Duomo from the other side of the river Arno.

We were glad we made the climb up between the inner & outer dome to get to the top though the last bit was rather steep.

The reward was a spectacular view of Florence.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 03:57 AM:

The first time I visited Italy, my traveling companions and I lodged in Fiesole, in a villa that started life as a blockhouse or gatehouse in the old wall around San Marco, back before the monastery moved to Florence. The kitchen walls were about three feet thick.

The view of Florence from Fiesole is swell. And since this was during the summer, the breezes you get up there were much appreciated.

#20 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 04:01 AM:

Soon Le, #18: Great pictures. Thanks!

#21 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 04:02 AM:

Great pictures, Soon Lee.

Even in my rock-scrambling building-climbing youth, that last approach to the top of the Duomo would have gotten to me. It's not the steepness; it's the claustrophobia.

#22 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 04:09 AM:

Okay, the Florence photos are now captioned up through our Sunday-morning trip to see the Fra Angelicos at San Marco. And the very beginning of a separate photo set from Monday's day-trip to Siena is here.

More photos and captions to come in both sets.

#23 ::: Jp ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:06 AM:

Stefan #14 - it's San Miniato. Good views from there! (Here's the view just after sunset

#24 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:53 AM:

The "whatever it is" is a thing to tie up your horse while you visit a palazzo. The one you have a photo of is on the Palazzo Strozzi, and is higher than any plausible horse, so I figure they either had giant horses or were being deliberately ostentatious. But it led Sasha to consider that they were places to hang your horse, which gives a rather different image.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:59 AM:

Those photos make me quite jealous. I'm glad you're enjoying your trip. Now I'm adding Tuscany to my bucket list.

#26 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 08:17 AM:

And this is exactly where Lee Harvey Oswald stood to shoot Hitler and Mussolini! When I get my time machine working.

#27 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 08:46 AM:

These are wonderful photos.

Why am I not in Florence?

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 09:05 AM:

Jo Walton @27:
Why am I not in Florence?

That's a soluble problem.

#29 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 09:07 AM:


But that can't be the place--I see no grassy knoll!

("no' lo vedi?? ecco!" "grazi'!")

#30 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 09:59 AM:

How wonderful. The grownup me is so glad you guys went and brought back photos. The juvenile me is sitting in a corner pouting and saying "envy, envy, envy!"

#31 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 10:39 AM:

RE #15 We must have gotten the quicky tour guide description of the corridor. Didn't know it stretched all the way to the Pitti Palace, which we spent a long afternoon in. ("Doge" was my insertion; inappropriate use of generic city state leader name.)

Our tour guide's main task the one day we had her was pointing out sites related to my brother-in-law's family (Macci). It amounted to a little plaza and an ally near the wonderful granary-turned-church heavily patronized by various guilds.

SIGH. I wish I annotated my and my nieces photos earlier on.

#32 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 11:18 AM:

The Beato Angelico Judgment in San Marco is the only one I've ever seen where the revived Blessed actually look happy.

On the other hand, Michaelangelo's David isn't, you know, Jewish.

#33 ::: tchemgrrl ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 12:31 PM:

Teresa @#21: The walk to the top of the dome is a rare thing that can peg the meter for both the claustrophobic and the acrophobic. I was fine with the stairs, but the tiny ledge that goes around the inside of the dome is another matter. The height! The echoes! The architects we were traveling with who kept stopping in admiration!

#34 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 02:32 PM:

It was interesting seeing photos of Siena in not-horribly-crowded mode.

When we went on our afternoon visit the city was gearing up for the annual horse races. The gray-stone-paved walk around the Campo was layered with packed brown sand, and a bleachers had been set up in front of the shops. The place was packed!

My sister, who had spent a college semester in Siena, was deeply dismayed by how commercial and slick the place had become. Little neighborhood bakeries had been replaced with tony boutiques. But I thought it was cool: An actual walled city!

Here is a close-up of one of the statues in the fountain on the Campo. A grinning, big-pawed, huge-boobed she-wolf: Wolf Fountain

The pigeons perched on the snout and delicately sipped at the water shooting out of the wolf's mouth.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 02:44 PM:

Theophylact: That's it exactly. What I love best about it are the saints and angels stepping off, one and one, to dance.

The big Annunciation fresco is gorgeous and luminous and everyone loves it, but to me what makes it wonderful is that there's no trace of posing or attitudinizing or condescension in it. Mary and Gabriel are intelligent beings who are having an intelligent conversation about the astonishing thing that's about to happen.

I suppose I'm saying that in both cases the visuals are glorious, but what's at the heart of the paintings are the transactions.

#36 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 03:11 PM:

Wish I had known you were going to Florence. I would have revealed the location of the Secret Steampunk Scientific Instrument Collection (about which I have yet to blog, but I really should).

It's here.

I also would have mentioned, in case you passed near San Marco (as indeed you did), Gelateria Délice Glacé, across the piazza from the church. I seem to have gone the whole winter without adding it to Ex Urbe's Gelato Atlas, but it seems to have qualities she prizes. In particular the pistachio is quite a revolting shade of olive green, and as she teaches us, ugly color = good gelato.

I hope you have made notes so as to contribute to this fine Gelatopedia. I have spotted a nice place in Batavia, and it would be fun to drive up and down Harlem Avenue some weekend surveying Chicagoland's gelaterias.

Not that I am actually a reliable judge of quality gelato. I like all of it.

#37 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 03:49 PM:

The worst gelato I had during last summer's trip was still good!

Often, the combination I chose was more important than overall quality. The Santa Trinata gelateria, on a corner on the south side of the Arno, was rated worth visiting by our guide but wasn't her best-of-the-best choice (which we never got around to visiting).

But Santa Trinata had a deep chocolate and a coconut that went perfectly together. That cone was just awesome. My thoughts as I ate it went something like: "I don't need to eat anything else today, and any gelati after this would likely be a come-down."

Well, I did eat later that evening, and did have gelati, but nothing matched that cone. Daaaang.

Food-wise, the best thing I ate over there was pasta with wild boar ("chingiali" sp?) meat sauce. Had that twice. Just wonderful.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 04:47 PM:

Bill Higgins, #36: Bill, you did know we were going to Florence; we talked about it at Boskone, and you told me all about the Secret Steampunk Scientific Instrument Collection.

#39 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 04:49 PM:

Stefan Jones, #37: Teresa had pappardelle with wild boar in Siena. I tasted it; it was impressively good.

#40 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 06:25 PM:

Stefan Jones #37:

cingiali. Italian pronunciation is weird but logical. The "ch" in "chingiali" would make it start with "keen". Which boar sauce is, but ...

#41 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 06:47 PM:

Cingiali. Ceck!

I am very, very tempted to look up local sources of wild boar. They apparently are a Thing in Oregon. As an invasive species, I don't feel too bad about them being hunted. And they only have themselves to blame for being so darn tasty!

I feel very foresighted for getting the meat-grinding attachment for my KitchenAid.

#42 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:06 PM:

Patrick #38: Oh. I forgot just whom I told that story to. You mentioned it in a later conversation, by which time I somehow thought you had heard it from a third party... Sorry, I was maybe a little distracted during Boskone. (Was a fabulous time, though, and I spent a week hanging with Geri Sullivan afterward.)

There are 77 charming demonstrations of the Fondazione's antique apparatus on Youtube. Start with "Behind the Scenes" to get the flavor.

#43 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:32 PM:

Stefan #7, Patrick #17:

After studying tourist guides, we opted for the Firenzecard. As I wrote in my blog:

The costly all-the-museums-you-can-eat Firenze Card made gluttons of Brother Guy and me. It confers the privilege of avoiding ticket lines and the necessity for reservations, so if one likes, one can imagine that one is a distant Medici cousin or something. However, its clock is ticking, so the value-minded will race to cram in enough museum visits to break even on the combined admission costs in a mere 72 hours. This might be Avarice rather than Gluttony. I will need to consult Dante.
Having nothing else to do in Florence but eat and sometimes pray, we blew well past the break-even limit. The official count is not yet in but I believe we did eight before Guy got on the train back to Rome and I squeezed in 2.5 before the card expired. This was not exactly sane. It sure was educational, though.

The official count turned out to be eleven museums. Turns out that even an expired Firenzecard, while it no longer gets you in for free, entitles you to a discounted admission at many museums. Another plus is that the card comes with WiFi privileges for some of the public buildings downtown.

I would by no means insist that cramming into your eyeballs every religious painting you can possibly reach is the best way to spend your time in Florence. If you do attempt the Higgins-Consolmagno Strategy, though, I have two pieces of advice:

1. Read the Spot-the-Saint series before you travel. It will reward you.

2. Between museums, gelato breaks. Probably you knew this already.

Bro. Guy will be running a summer-school for young astronomers in Florence this year (in fact, he was administering the application process by Iphone as we stood by the Duomo. Ah, the twenty-first century!). Though he already knew the city somewhat, I figure I helped him gather experience, the more sagely to advise fellow astronomers on Places To Go In Florence.

#44 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:36 PM:

Of course, no trip to Firenze is complete without a visit here.

#45 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:49 PM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey #43:

"It sure was educational, though."

Oh yes. Visiting many museums/galleries in quick succession (we took breaks when we got fatigued) had an unexpected benefit for me. I'm not terribly knowledgable when it comes to art. But after a few, I began to acquire an eye & was better able to appreciate the sights. "That looks like a Caraviaggio", and sure enough, it was.

#46 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 07:58 PM:

Oops. In correcting one error, I allowed two more to creep by. It's "cinghiale". "Ceen-ghee-all-ay". where "ghee" is the best I can do for a hard g.

#47 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 08:03 PM:

I managed to do at least twelve museums, churches and outdoor sights over about 30 hours. Not sure any more how many were charging admission, but it was a crash course in Advanced Florence after several art history courses and grad seminars. Finally packed it in after I fell down in front of the Rucellai Palace.

#48 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 28, 2014, 08:14 PM:

For those who can't afford a trip to Florence, How to Recognize the Artists of Paintings.

#49 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2014, 02:02 AM:

I just finished watching "It It's Tuesday, This must be Belgium," a silly movie about Americans on a packaged bus tour of Europe.

In one of the last scenes, the characters are boarding a bus in front of the hotel where they spent their night in Rome.

And it is the hotel I stayed in four days last summer.

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