Firenze off season, parte uno

In November 2021 I returned to Firenze after three nights in Sorrento and four nights in Naples. (see Three Days in Naples and Three Days in Sorrento, Positano and Pompeii posts)  My goal was to stay until December 10th to see the lighting of the Christmas trees as well as the Christmas decorations and the annual Firenze Light Show.  I did manage to do that and while it was challenging at times, especially my experience at Istituto Michelangelo, it was well worth the effort.  I thought the lights and trees and decorations were fabulous. See, The Holidays in Italy  post.

My original plan for this post was to include all the places I visited during my 5 weeks in Firenze as well as an update on Istituto Michelangelo and its activities. I quickly realized it was going to be too long and unwieldy.  So I’m writing two posts, Parte Uno is about the museums and other places I went, and Parte Due is mainly about Istituto Michelangelo and the school activities plus places to eat and stay.

Before I talk about places to go and things to do, I want to mention a few pros and cons of off-season travel.

The biggest ‘pro’ was the lack of crowds.  It was relatively easy to walk around, get into even the most popular museums and eat at most restaurants without reservations.  Plus I got a roundtrip ticket on Delta for $900, about half what I paid in 2019.

The biggest negative was weather.  I had some spectacularly beautiful days and you’ll see photos of those days in several galleries.  I had some cool, cloudy days where it was still possible to enjoy the city, (for example, see the section on the Bardini/Boboli gardens below).  And then there were days when it rained most of the day, sometimes in deluges where it was stay in the apartment and do laundry, then maybe take a quick walk for a cappuccino or a vino.

Another frustration was lack of accurate information on the city’s various websites as well as blogs such as VisitTuscany.com.  For example, several websites said the lighting of the Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo would be the evening of December 8th but it was held December 7th.  Often ticket costs were not correct and one day I walked all the way over to the Brancacci Chapels only to find them closed for two months.  That information was not on their website. 

Another bit of incorrect information involved the tree lighting in Pistoia. Once I had finished classes, I started researching places to go and saw an announcement on VisitTuscany.com that the city of Pistoia, about 40 Km NW of Firenze, was having a celebration to light its Christmas tree on Tuesday November 30th.  I was immediately interested but thought it was strange since most cities were supposed to light their trees on December 8th.   So I did more research and the official city web site said the lighting would be Saturday, December 4th.  I had my doubts about that and when I woke up to rain on Saturday I gave up on that side trip.

Where to Go/What to Do

Just Wandering:  Piazzas and Ponte

Piazza della Signoria to Piazza Santa Croce

The second Friday of my stay, while I was still attending school, I walked out of class to find a relatively warm sunny day with crystal clear blue skies.  So I dropped off my school stuff at the apartment and began a two hour walkabout.

I walked from my apartment down via Verdi to Borgo dei  Greci and into Piazza della Signoria.  Normally you can barely move in the piazza since it’s very popular with tourists, some coming and going from the Uffizi or Palazzo Vecchio, others just milling.

But it was November 19th so there were far fewer people and I could wander at will taking lots of pictures and remembering the first time I saw this beautiful piazza many years ago.

From Piazza della Signoria I walked up and down various streets, eventually working my way to via de’ Tornabuoni, the main fashion street in Firenze and then to Ponte Santa Trinita.  I stopped there for more photos.

I crossed the bridge and took Borgo San Jacopo to the Ponte Vecchio and then via Bardi to the lungarno.  I walked along the Arno River, getting what I thought were some spectacular pictures of the river.

I crossed the river at Ponte alle Grazie, then walked up to Piazza Santa Croce, where they were starting to set up the Christmas Market.  setting up the Christmas market

Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza del Duomo

The day I visited Orsanmichele (see below), it was spectacularly beautiful also.  So when I came out of the museum I took via Calimala to Piazza della Repubblica.  I stopped there for probably 15 minutes to listen to and record some street musicians.   I loved watching them and all the people walking up and down the streets.  Piazza della Repubblica

I continued up via Roma to Piazza del Duomo where I saw them setting up the huge Christmas tree.  Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo I turned down a side street and saw a group of people dressed in Renaissance costumes.  Eventually a group of officials joined them and they marched through Piazza del Duomo towards Piazza della Signoria. 

You can see more photos in  The Holidays in Italy  post.

A Short Walk to Piazza Poggi and Torre San Niccolo

From November 21st to December 7th I stayed in an apartment near Piazza Ferrucci in the Oltrarno.  On Saturday November 27th, I got up to a cloudy day, raining off and on. I decided to go to a nearby laundromat early afternoon to dry some of my clothes.

Before I left for the laundromat, it looked like it was clearing off so I walked  along via dei Bastioni to via San Niccolo and Porta San Niccolo.  Then I walked part way up the stairs to the rose garden.  I got some interesting and pretty pictures, but as I was standing on the stairs to the garden, it started to rain.  I hustled  back to the apartment but still got pretty wet and had to dry my pants on the radiator for 15-20 minutes.

During my two weeks at the apartment I walked through Piazza Poggi in front of Torre di San Niccolo multiple times and one night got a photo that I thought was really cool. Torre San Niccolo

Fiesole

I’ve written about Fiesole in several posts (see Florence and Fiesole and Museums, monuments and interesting sights) and was thrilled when the weather turned nice my second full Saturday in Firenze.  There was supposed to be a school trip to Lucca but only two people, including myself, signed up so, like most of the school activities, it was canceled.

When I went out for my cappuccino, it seemed gray and chilly and I was afraid I’d be stuck in my hideous apartment all day.  But after doing some packing, I went back out and it had turned into a beautiful day.

Delighted, I decided I should celebrate my last day in the horrible student apartment by going to Fiesole.  So I walked through Piazza del Duomo to Piazza SS Annunziata, one of my favorite piazzas in Firenze, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.

From there, it’s just a few blocks to Piazza San Marco.  I bought my ticket for the number 7 bus to Fiesole which came relatively quickly.  (And just a reminder you should never try to get on a bus in Firenze or anywhere in Italy without a ticket.  I’ve seen people get 50 euro fines for doing that.  And always, always time stamp your ticket in in the yellow ‘box’.)

As always I loved the drive up through the hills above Firenze, wishing I knew someone who lived in one of the beautiful villas.

It was exceptionally quiet so I walked up the steep street to the steps that lead to a park with beautiful views of the town and the valley.

Then I continued up to the convent at the top of the hill.  I walked around the grounds, smiling to myself because there seemed to be a bike group visiting the convent.  It made me think of my bike trips in Italy and struggling up some of the steep hills.  I walked back down the hill and circled the piazza, taking photos, then caught the next bus back to Firenze.

After returning to Firenze, I walked slowly back to my apartment looking for scarves and shirts.  I packed for a while, then went back out to walk through the Christmas market.  I wrote in my journal, Mama mia!!  The food!!  The beautiful handmade gifts!!    You can see more photos in my The Holidays in Italy post.  Firenze Christmas market

OrsanMichele

In 2019 two of my classmates in the 50+ class at IM opted for Art History rather than the cooking class.  One of their afternoon itineraries was a trip to Orsanmichele which is both a church and museum.  They both raved about it so I put it on my to do list for 2021.

The back of the church sits along via dei Calzaiuoli where there is a ticket office for both Orsanmichele and other museums in Firenze. The entrance to the church is on a small street on the side opposite the ticket office and the entrance to the museum is across from the chiesa.

The Tuesday after I had finished with classes at IM, the forecast looked good so I walked up to the church.  Getting into the church and the museum was something of a cluster.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal:  I overshot the location of the museum/chiesa and had to double back to via dei Calzaiuoli.  There’s a state museum ticket office there but it didn’t list Orsanmichele so I walked around the building to the entrance to the chiesa.  The guy there waved me off indicating I should go back to the ticket office.  The guy there said it was closed (or full).  Seeing my dismay he agreed to sell me a ticket and I bought an Uffizi ticket too, getting royally screwed.  It’s only supposed to be 10 euros but he charged me 16!!  (In retrospect that was because I chose a specific day and time which I regretted later.)

From the website I thought we went directly to the museum but you go in the chiesa first which is lovely.  The ceiling frescoes are especially beautiful but I had difficulty getting good photos partly because the light from the high windows tended to create a glare.

At that point in time, due to COVID restrictions, you waited in the chiesa until the staff decided you could go in the museo, then walked across the street. (The building that houses the museum is also home to the Societa Dantesca.  In 2019 I attended a concert there and I noticed that the ceiling frescoes in the Chiesa are almost identical to those in the concert hall.frescoed ceiling of Sala Mazzoni, Societa Dantesca )                                                                                                                                                                                                                              From the entrance you hike up about 4 flights of stairs, then walk through a door to an outside walkway.  There are beautiful views of the skyline of Firenze from the walkway. 

On the other side of the walkway is a room with huge sculptures.  These sculptures were originally made for the niches on the exterior of the church.  I’ve looked at several websites for information on the church and the sculptures and found that the various sites weren’t  always consistent.  However, the information at this website seems accurate. http://www.bargellomusei.beniculturali.it/musei/3/orsanmichele/

According to the site referenced above, the church was originally a granary and was consecrated in the 14th century at which time, the niches on the exterior of Orsanmichele’s impressive building in pietra forte were adorned with sculptures commissioned from the most famous fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florentine artists. Today, the versions you see outside are copies, and the original sculptures can be found on the first floor of Orsanmichele’s museum. On the museum’s second floor—the highest point of the structure— visitors can enjoy a unique and unparalleled panorama of Florence.

The various guilds of Firenze including the Cloth Merchants, Physicians, Wool Workers and Stonemasons commissioned the sculptures and competed with each other to acquire the best of the best artisans.

Finally, as noted in the quote above, there’s another flight of open stairs to a huge empty room with windows looking out over the Duomo.

Il Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

The day after my visit to Orsanmichele the weather was the complete opposite, gloomy and chilly and raining off an on. 

So I set off for Piazza del Duomo and il Museo with a bit of trepidation. After leaving my coat, backpack and umbrella in the cloak room (guardaroba) I purchased my ticket.   Due either to COVID or the time of year, tickets were only 10 € and included only the Baptistry in contrast to 2019 when tickets were 18 € and good for 72 hours and all the monuments in the piazza.

The entrance hall has a wall of names of all the artists whose works are found in the museum.     The hall leads first to the ‘Introductory Room’   then to Sala del Paradiso, my favorite room.  The 2-3 story ‘sala’ contains the Gates of Paradise from the Baptistry, as well as beautiful sculptures of saints and the Madonna and child.

There were only a handful of people (plus a security guard who seemed to be stalking me for a while) so I thought I’d be able to take some exceptional photos.  They were good but not exceptional.

 

From there I walked through Sala Maddalena, devoted mainly to Mary Magdalena and then stood in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta, absorbing its beauty.

I went upstairs and walked along Galleria del Campanile which has sculptures of saints and popes on one side and what I would call bas reliefs, some by della Robbia, on the other side. The room right behind the Galleria del Campanile is the Galleria della Cupola with models of the dome as well as drawings and models for the façade of the duomo which was reconstructed in the late 19th century.

There are two rooms behind the Galleria della Cupola, one of which has some beautiful artwork that looks almost Byzantine and the other room, the Sala Cantorie, has  choir stalls and other art related to music.

From those rooms you can walk down a hallway with drawings and designs for the duomo.  The top level that leads out onto the roof was closed and I could not find my way to the level that has a gallery overlooking the Sala del Paradiso which was disappointing. 

So I made my way back to the ground level, walked through the book store and then went to the Baptistry.  It is undergoing some type of reconstruction so I just took a few pictures of the beautiful ceilings.

Firenze Baptistry

Boboli and Bardini Gardens

My visit to the gardens was  spur of the moment due in part to incorrect information and in part to weather.   On  Saturday the 4th it poured most of the day so I was glad I didn’t go to Pistoia.  But by Sunday morning, the 5th, I was stir crazy and searching for something to do.  It was partly cloudy and mild so after my morning cappuccino and some cleaning and packing (since I only had 2 more days in the apartment), I decided on the gardens.

I walked from my apartment near Piazza Ferrucci along via San Niccolo to via Bardi and then via Giucciardini, following it up to the Pitti Palace where I bought my combined ticket for both gardens. I first went in the Palace/Garden bookstore, thinking to buy another Christmas ornament but couldn’t get waited on.

By the time I headed up the steps from the courtyard to the garden, it had started to rain lightly so I put up my umbrella and walked along the paths I love taking pictures of the fountains and trees and views.

I, then, hiked up to the Rose Garden where there were still some beautiful roses blooming.  I took photos of the surrounding hills and the gardens, although no matter how hard I tried, I ended up with puddles in the pictures.

I had to take shelter for a few when it started to rain again but it didn’t last long.  After it stopped, I walked back down the steps to the garden and long the path that leads to the back entrance, meaning to walk past Ft. Belvedere to the side entrance to the Bardini.  Nope.  It was closed.

I hiked back down the somewhat slippery paths to the main entrance and the piazza then back to via Bardi.  I was somewhat annoyed over the detour but it gave me a chance to stop at Conad’s, the closest grocery store to my apartment.

I took the steep street up from via Bardi, Costa San Giorgio, and wasn’t sure for a while if I’d taken the right one.  But I finally spotted the upper entrance to the gardens.  That entrance brings you out next to Villa Bardini, just below the ‘Kaffeehaus’ with views of the city.  Bardini Gardens

 

After taking some photos, I walked up to the café.  Unfortunately it was closed although it was a nicer day than when my sister, niece and I were here in early October. (see Three Days in Firenze post)  So I walked around the open area below the café where you can see out over Firenze and then up the  hill a ways where there was still some fall color.

I followed the path through the ‘Pergola of Wisteria’ which eventually comes out below the ‘Baroque Stairway.’  There were also roses blooming here.   While to some people my pictures may look gloomy and dark, I thought  both the Boboli and Bardini gardens had a melancholy beauty I had never experienced before which provided the serenity I needed for the coming week. 

(I’ve included a map of the Bardini Gardens to show where I walked.  Bardinigardens )

The Uffizi Galleries

I was a bit annoyed that I had purchased a reserved ticket for Friday December 3rd, partly because it was a nice day and I wanted to spend it outside and partly because there were so few people visiting the galleries that you could purchase a ticket there and walk right in.  But everything worked out for the best.

I hadn’t visited the Uffizi since 2015  when it was so crowded you could barely move much less see the art around the ‘photographers.’  So it was wonderful to visit when there was hardly anyone there. Once I reached the second floor where you start your visit, I could wander at will and initially spent a lot of time in a room with religious art, mainly paintings of the Madonna and child.  That’s not usually my favorite art but the beautiful colors and gold leaf captivated me.

From there I walked to the rooms with Botticelli’s painting and wrote in my journal: It was wonderful to be able to stand in front of the Botticelli Venus for as long as I wanted and truly absorb the beauty. In the same area there was also a beautiful Fillipo Lippi painting of the Madonna and child.

It was so peaceful and lovely that I started taking photos of the ceilings thinking that they are as much a part of the art as the paintings and sculptures.  I also took a really pretty picture of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio from one of the windows. view of the Arno from the Uffizi Galleries

 

 

 

 

There’s a beautiful and interesting new ‘sala’ for Leonardo da Vinci’s works, that seems to be a work in progress, and some rooms have a new style of exhibit that reminds me somewhat of il Museo dell’Opera.

After walking through the ‘sala’ for Michelangelo and forgetting to take some photos, I continued down to the lower level.  None of the works on that level really spoke to me and I started getting a bit stressed that I wasn’t sure how to get back to the ‘guardaroba’ and get my backpack.  But a nice guard gave me directions and from there I continued through the bookstore which was a bit of a maze and out into the nice afternoon.

While I was in the Uffizi, my niece texted me to say that I now had to take my COVID test within 24 hours of my flight.  So I hustled up Farmacia Selvia and changed my appointment to December 9th, then celebrated with a glass of wine at my new favorite spot, Pino’s

You can read about Pino’s and other restaurants, places to stay and my experiences at Istituto Michelangelo in Firenze off season, parte due.

I spent the last 10 days enjoying as much of the holiday lights and decorations in Firenze as possible.   Despite the challenges of the previous weeks, it was worth the work.

 

 

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