As with many of my blogs this one will be ongoing. The first few museums I’m writing about are some of my favorites in Florence and Fiesole. I’m sure many readers will say I have a lot of nerve writing about these Renaissance icons, given the multitude of books that have been written about them. And that may be true but I’m hoping to show them in a slightly different light with both my photos and my personal observations.
Museums of Florence and Fiesole
I’m starting with Florence and since the city is basically a giant museum, what I say here may overlap somewhat with a blog article I’m writing on Florence and Fiesole. But again, I hope I can add a little something different to both articles.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
I visited the Museo many years ago on my first trip to Italy and have wanted to return for the past several years. But it wasn’t until this past September (2016) that I was able to see the newly restored Museo. It is an amazing and stunning juxtaposition of modern restoration with medieval and renaissance art and architecture. When I saw online that the museum would be open in time for our trip, I signed up for their e-mail newsletter which I still receive. I think it was in late May that I received an e-mail with a video of the restoration. While I think the pictures I have placed in the gallery below are great, you can’t really appreciate the beauty unless you first watch this video.
I particularly enjoyed the manner in which the Museo is organized around themes such as music, the models for the restoration proposals, (probably my favorite area) the exterior statutes, the bronze doors, the design of the dome, vestments and religious arts…. At the same time the museum incorporates modern technology such as music including Gregorian chants, videos of the stained glass in the Duomo, the history of the Meidicis. For example in the room dedicated to music, if you select a page of the illuminated manuscript, you can hear what it sounds like when sung by a choir. Plus the use of balconies and walkway to overlook the exhibits as well as to have views at different levels of the exterior architectures is breathtaking. When you reach the top level, you can walk out on the roof top and the Duomo cupola is right in front of you. It is absolutely not to be missed.
As an aside we purchased tickets ahead of time on the museum’s website (which I think is stunning in itself) https://operaduomo.firenze.it/ , paying 10€ for the entire Duomo complex. While we were glad we had relatively early reservations for the museum on a Sunday, since there was a long line when we finished, the rest of the complex did not open until 1:30pm and the other times we stopped at the Duomo, the lines were snaking around the cathedral. Luckily we came back to Florence with our Tuscany walking group and my sis was finally able to see the interior, something she has wanted to do since she first came to Florence.
Since the first time I was in Florence, following a bike trip in Chianti, the Palazzo Vecchio has always been one of my favorite destinations. I think it symbolizes for me the meeting of art and history found throughout Italy and especially in Florence. As I wander through room after room, I’m both amazed at the beauty of the art and architecture and the sense of how Florentine leaders lived in the 14th and 15th centuries. I usually finish my visit in the map room. Somehow it makes me feel like I’m in Renaissance Italy.
I hadn’t been there for a number of years when we ended our 2015 trip in Florence. We only had a few hours before leaving for Milan so I just had a short time to visit but it was enough to remind me how much I’ve always enjoyed it. Weirdly enough I had started reading Dan Brown’s Inferno just before we came to Florence and both then and every other visit, I can’t enter the main hall without thinking of the scene where one of the characters falls through a huge painting.
So in 2015 my sis and I decided to end our France/Italy trip with 5 nights and 4 ½ days seeing as much as we could, including the Palazzo. My sister loved it and took a ton of pictures which I’ve displayed below. During our 2016 trip, we came to Florence with our walking group. Sue wanted to take the tour of the Duomo so I wandered off and spent nearly 2 hours in the Palazzo Vecchio. Despite its name, it never grows old and I always see something I hadn’t noticed before.
I’m sure many readers will think that I have some serious ego to write about the Uffizzi Galleries and they may be right. A college art history course and 7 trips to Florence don’t qualify me to critique Renaissance art or one of the world’s greatest museums. But hopefully as I said in reference to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, I can add some personal insights that may be interesting or informative, along with what I think are some beautiful pictures.
My first visit to the Uffizzi came when I spent a few days in Florence after my first bike trip. And that was back in the day when you could just walk up and buy a ticket without a wait. I can still remember standing mesmerized in front of the Botticelli Venus.
I came back to Florence in May of the following year to visit a guy I’d met on my first trip (bad idea!!) and was sitting in his apartment on the Piazza del Duomo when there was a huge blast, which we found out later was the bombing of the Uffizzi Galleries. According to a NY Times article written immediately afterwards (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/28/world/bomb-outside-uffizi-in-florence-kills-6-and-damages-many-works.html ) the blast killed 6 people including a family of four and destroyed or damaged many priceless works of art.
An article written on the 20th anniversary, http://tuscantraveler.com/2013/florence/1993-uffizi-bomb-georgofili-mafia/, states that the bombing was done by the Cosa Nostra which I had heard was the case at that time. It still baffles me that anyone would commit such an act.
I have looked online for information on how long it took to restore the museum and in the process learned that the most significant damage was done to the Torre dei Pulci, which imploded and killed the family of four.
Despite my best laid plans it was many years before I returned to the Uffizzi. When I was planning our 2015 trip and we had agreed to go from France to Lucca and Pisa, we decided to end our trip with 5 days in Florence and see the Uffizzi among other museums and galleries.
According to a travel forum I’d read, it’s best to buy advance tickets by phone which I did and that was definitely the way to go. As I wrote in my travel journal:
‘We got to the Uffizzi a few minutes early but other than finding to my shock that there was an 8 euro surcharge (Yikes!!) it was easy peasie getting our ticket then going back to the reservation door.
Even fairly early it was hugely crowded and I got fairly pissy about people taking pictures, trying to shame Sue into taking just a few but that didn’t happen. (Post trip note: One of my major gripes is people taking pictures in museums and cathedrals. They not only block everyone’s view but, in my opinion, are showing disrespect to the art and building itself. That said I guess it’s good my sis took a lot of pictures ‘cause I didn’t write much.)
The art was amazing though, especially seeing the Botticelli Venus again. We spent 3 ½ hours wandering the exhibits including a half hour on the rooftop café having an uber expensive cappuccino and croissant.’ (Post trip note: Even though the cappuccino and croissant were expensive, it was definitely worth the cost, if for no other reason than the great photo ops we got of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and surrounding skyline.)
When I was in Florence in October 2014 the owner of a B&B where I stayed two nights recommended the Brancacci Chapel. (While I didn’t care for the B&B, the owner also recommended the Bargello and the Bardini Gardens; all great places to go that I’ll be writing about.)
On my 6th trip to Florence in September 2015, my sister and I took the opportunity to visit and decided it is definitely an overlooked gem–for which I was very glad. Not only are the murals beautiful but it is one of the few truly peaceful places in Florence where people sit and enjoy the art and history. While I love Italy in general and Florence in particular, anyone who has visited during September or October knows how insane most of the major sights can be. So I truly appreciated not only the art but the respect that other visitors showed.
When I brought my sister to Florence, for her first visit and my fourth (although my first in 8 years) we stumbled upon the Palazzo by accident. I’m embarrassed to say I was looking for Palazzo Vecchio and had forgotten that it was in Piazza della Signoria. (Duh?) As we wandered along via Cavour from Piazza del Duomo, we noticed the signs for the Palazzo and despite its somewhat grim façade, decided to go in and were glad we did. Here’s what I wrote then:
There is some stunning art in the Palazzo especially the room with matching frescoes on the ceiling and floor, making the ceiling look like a reflection. Based on the fact that my sis didn’t have any pictures of the interior I assume it’s one of the few places where you’re not allow to take them, plus the pictures I’ve seen on line don’t do it justice but we loved the garden and took lots of pictures there.
Even though I was somewhat bummed because I lost (or someone stole) a 50 € bill while I was buying the entry ticket, we wandered the rooms and gardens for close to two hours and hopefully I’ll return on my next trip.
Fiesole Archaeological Site
I thought that I walked through the ruins my first time in Fiesole but I only have a photo showing the ruins from the park above the town.
As I recall, at that time you could walk through the ruins without paying a fee (and the same was true of many places in Firenze) but somewhere in the intervening years between those first trips and when I brought my sister to Fiesole in 2010, it become necessary to pay an entrance fee. And I know it’s extremely expensive to maintain the many museums and archaeological sites throughout Italy so I don’t mind the fees. But having spent quite a bit for entrance fees at other museums, we passed on the archaeological site that year.
It wasn’t until we came back in 2015 that we decided to see the ruins. As I wrote in my journal: Sue had offered to pay for the museum but didn’t understand that she had to buy a combined ticket for the ruins and the museum. Still the ruins were fantastic, especially the fact that you are allowed to walk through them and even sit in the amphitheater. Plus it was an absolutely beautiful day and Sue got lots of gorgeous pictures.
This gallery is probably over the top but the pictures were so great I included almost all of them
We came back again in 2016 but I think the heat had made my niece cranky and we only stayed about 40 minutes. Still we did get some more great pictures.
In the countryside throughout Tuscany
Florence American Cemetery and Memorial
In September 2016 my sister and I joined a walking tour of Tuscany. We met in Montecatini Terme and after 4 nights there the group headed to Siena. From the itinerary I knew we would be stopping for a hike in a vineyard near Greve but was surprised when we stopped not far from Impruneta. When our coach parked, our guide explained that we were visiting the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial. Despite having been in that area multiple times, I had never heard of much less seen the cemetery. The manager provided us with the fascinating history of the cemetery where there are more than 4000 headstones of U.S. soldiers, mainly from the 5th Army, killed in the liberation of Italy. In addition there are Tablets of 1409 missing persons, predominately airmen who flew bomber strikes to Germany and lost their lives when their planes crashed in the Adriatic.
The grounds along the Greve River are beautiful as is the loggia which holds not only the tablets of the missing but tablets showing the Army’s march from Sicily to Genoa. Walking through row after row of headstones of young men who gave their lives is a deeply moving experience.
The Devil’s Bridge
As I was planning our 2015 trip to Lucca and NW Tuscany, I happened to look through a magazine on the area that I’d had for many years and found an article on hidden treasures of Tuscany, one of which was the Devil’s Bridge. I believe it’s actual name is Ponte della Maddalena and from what I’ve read online and in travel books, it got the name Devil’s Bridge because no one believed that a bridge made totally of interlocking stone could be built in the 11th and 12th centuries without the help of the devil. It’s not too difficult to find (although it took me two tries in 2015); the most challenging part being getting on the SS12 out of Lucca. But once you get there, you will be amazed. My sis took some gorgeous pictures which I’ve placed in a gallery below.
We liked it so much we went back in 2016. Unfortunately we were both pretty grumpy with each other that day plus it was cool and breezy so we didn’t linger. Still Sue did a good job on the photos as usual. (As an aside, it’s a short drive from there to Bagni di Lucca which is a lovely little town that I’ll write about in another blog.)
On my first bike trip our leaders took us to a beautiful ceramic shop—Ceramiche Rampini— where a number of people in our groups spent wads of money which is easy to do. The hand make beautiful pottery of every type in unusual colors. It’s located of the road between Radda and Gaiole and there’s a decent map on their web site: http://www.rampiniceramics.com/contact/workshop.php)
When my sister and I came back to the Chianti area in 2010, I took her through Castellina and Radda and to my amazement we found Ceramiche Rampini. I wrote in my journal at the time: ‘We were the only ones there and the guy working wasn’t very friendly so we just looked for a few minutes, picked up a card and strolled the grounds.’
When we brought my daughter to this area in 2014, we stopped again and my daughter bought a salt and pepper set for a friend and I bought small bowls with a lizard design for my grandson. My daughter took lots of pictures of their pottery in hopes she might be able to order some dishes in the not too distant future but none of us has hit the lottery yet.
Even though their pottery is quite expensive, it’s definitely worth a stop; not only is the pottery beautiful, the grounds and the setting are lovely.
Pont du Gard
On my first trip to Provence (and first bike trip ever) we rode along the Rhone River from St.-Remy de-Provence to the Pont du Gard. I’ve not located my journal but I remember it as a wonderful afternoon, sitting with the group having a fun lunch while gazing at the aqueduct. I’ve always loved history, especially ancient history and to see something built nearly 2000 years ago left me awestruck.
So I knew I had to bring my sister here in 2015 but I was nervous about the drive.
I first looked on the website for the cultural area http://www.pontdugard.fr/en where it stated that parking was 18 € (yikes) and gave the following directions to get there: “The main entry parking is on the left bank (rive gauche) side of the river, on the D19/D981 road between Avignon and Uzès (just northwest of Remoulin). The main visitor center is on this side, where you walk through to access the bridge”.
Our plan was to go to to L’sle sur la Sorgue that morning, then make our way to Abbaye Saint Michel de Frigolet (which I’m writing about in my Cathedrals and Abbeys post) and then to the Pont du Gard. So I had to do a lot more online research to get directions from near Tarscon to the aqueduct. Apparently that was successful because I wrote in my journal: “Surprisingly we found our way through Tarascon and Beauclaire and got on the right road to the Pont du Gard. Despite the crowds I was still awestruck and it was a definite high point to sit at Les Terrasses having a glass of wine like so many years ago.”
As an aside the 18 € parking fee is well worth the money; you can spend hours not only seeing the aqueduct itself but the surrounding cultural area and the visitor center which has been significantly expanded since I was first there.
Here is a collage from the 2015 trip and hopefully I’ll have the photos from the first trip digitized in the not too distant future so readers can compare.
Carrieres des Lumieres
When I returned from my first trip to Provence, I babbled constantly about everything but especially the Carrieres des Lumieres. Most people looked at me like I had two heads when I tried to describe walking through an abandoned bauxite mine watching a slide show of French Cathedrals. But it was jaw droppingly beautiful even though the technology was quite simple.
So when my sis and I started planning a trip to Provence in 2015 I checked online to see if there were still light shows at Les Baux. I was excited to see that not only had the light shows continued at that point the shows were of the Impressionist painters, probably my favorite genre of art.
As I’ve written in my ‘Provence, Provence, blog we drove from Villeneuve les Avignon to Les Baux on our last day in the area and not only didn’t get lost for a change, we decided it was our best experience in Provence. I had considered getting reservations but didn’t want to be tied down to a particular time. While it was busy and we had to park fairly far away on the road, there were no other complications.
The light show is more than worth the 10.5€ fee. When we first arrived, we walked into an underwater grotto; i.e. it was presumably filmed by a diver since it felt as though we were alongside the diver as we walked through the various rooms. There was a break before the main show which I was initially disappointed to find had changed to the Renaissance artists–Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael. While I love the art of that period also, I had been looking forward to seeing Monet in this setting.
We walked around outside for a bit during the break then re-entered the rooms.
My initial disappointment quickly changed to complete awe especially during the scenes of the Sistine Chapel. As I wrote in my journal, it was like being inside art while listening to classical music. And like the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, it was one of the few places where the tourists stood in complete silence watching the show.
I wish now we had purchased one of their DVD’s since it’s almost impossible to describe in words.
St. Raphael Archaeological Museum
On our first full day in St. Raphael, my sister and I wandered through the residential area near our B&B down to the marina and then to the historical center stumbling on a small, but lovely archaeological museum. The museum had everything from the amphora used by the Romans to transport oil and wine throughout the Mediterranean (something I learned in a PBS program) to an old diving suit. We took the somewhat vertigo inducing stairs to the roof top where my sister got some spectacular pictures of St. Raphael.
Fragonard Museum, Grasse
On our second full day in St. Raphael I drove us along the corniche/coastal highway to Cannes and then to Grasse. As usual I had a tough time getting us near the center and finding parking but we thoroughly enjoyed walking through the town and visiting the Fragonard Museum. Here are a few pictures of the museum.
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