photo: The view of Firenze from Piazza Michelangelo
The weather report promised plenty of rain through the afternoon, so I decided I'd rather deal with that in Firenze and Siena was put off for a day. In its place, I decided that the day should be spent in Oltarno (the other side of the Arno river).
My first stop was one of the remaining major churches that I hadn't hit yet, Santo Spirito. There was a small market in the square in front of the church - vegetables, shoes, brassware. But some light rain drove me inside having taken only one or two exterior pictures, and that brought me up against Santo Spirito's "No pictures" rule. That's the first time I've seen that, at least applied to a whole building (I've seen it applied to a single room a couple times). Most places say loud and clear "photography okay, no flash." And often "no tripods" and occasionally "no selfie sticks." I'm okay with all of that, but get a bit pissy about "no pictures." Worse, I'm blanking on the building: I remember the external facade, but not the inside at all. <sigh> Sorry about that.
Palazzo Pitti is an incredibly forbidding bunker of a thing with what amounts to a cemented stone lawn out front. It isn't what you'd call "inviting" ... despite which, large handfuls of tourists sit on the "lawn" anyway, because places to sit are hard to find in Firenze. Pitti is massive, and houses multiple museums. And, by the logic of the time it was built, if you're in the courtyard you're entitled to a pleasing view - it's much nicer than the front. I paid for the combined ticket to the Galleria Palatina and the Galleria Arte Moderna. The Palatina is an immense collection of paintings housed in the former apartments of the Medici: the rooms are gaudy, spectacular, and cause retinal overload all on their own - each has a name and a description and a history, usually with sculpted, painted, and gold-leafed ceilings - although they came in an astounding variety of styles. And then there are the paintings on the walls: the Rough Guide says "an art collection second in importance only to the Uffizi." Now I'm dreading the Uffizi, because the Palatina is incredibly extensive and impressive, representing the entirety of the Renaissance art.
The Palatina collection takes up very large portions of the first and second floors. On the third floor is what they rather oddly refer to as the "Modern" collection: it's "modern" only with respect to the Palatina, with a time period from about 1800 to 1920 - although heavily slanted to the older end of that scale. As is so often the case, the Rough Guide is very close to the mark: "... there's a lot of mediocre stuff here, with ranks of academically proficient portraits, bombastic history paintings and sentimental dross ..." It's one of the things I love about RG: not only do they call it as they see it, I almost always agree with them. Certainly, the Modern collection doesn't compare well to the amazing richness of the Palatina. But it does have a lot of sculptures, and I found some good stuff among those. I went into the Pitti around 1000, came out around 1400. The sun shone while I was in there, the skies opened up about 10 minutes after I emerged - my luck wasn't at its best. I found a local supermarket and bought a slice of pizza and some water: happily, they had a few seats to eat at. They also had a chocolate bar I've been wanting for ages: hazelnut and DARK chocolate. In North America, for some reason, hazelnut is only combined with milk chocolate. I'm not much of a fan of milk chocolate but I do like hazelnuts, so this was a treat.
I headed up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo through medium rain and light hail (not as bad as it sounds: the pellets were about 3mm and didn't last long). I bypassed the Piazzale because it was still raining, heading further uphill to San Miniato al Monte. That's a strange church: you know split-level houses? It's like that. The organ, church, altar, and pulpit are on the upper level, with all but the pulpit invisible to the main set of pews on the middle level. The middle level also contains a mid-sized tabernacle. And in the lower split is the crypt and another set of pews, presumably for smaller services(?). This was also the darkest church I've been in, by far. Not just because of the clouds outside: very few windows, and maybe three lights in the whole place. There was also a student organist at work for a good part of my visit. My first take on the organ (not the player's fault) was that it sounded like a bullfrog swallowed a harmonica. Definitely a bit on the wheezy side. She (the player) wasn't consistent, but when she hit her stride it actually sounded pretty good and my respect for the organ mostly recovered.
On the way back down the hill I got a better look at Piazzale Michelangelo. It's essentially a huge car park with a brass David surrounded by Day, Night, Dusk, and Dawn (other Michelangelo sculptures from the Medici tombs). The real appeal is the view over Firenze, which is spectacular and definitely worth the trip. By pure luck, my shortest-path-down-the-hill took me straight through the city's rose garden. The roses were almost all in bloom too: it was a nice accidental detour.
I walked all the way out to Ponte San Niccolo at the far eastern end of the tourist zone, then back toward the west via the Oil Shoppe, where I had a #11 panini (smoked prosciutto, caramelized onion, gorgonzola, rucola sauce). It wasn't quite as good as #20. Second-visit let-down? But still a very good sandwich. While I was there, Rush's "Tom Sawyer" was playing on the radio. It's surprisingly comforting to hear a hometown band when you're far from home (and, as I do, you like the song).
photo: Palazzo Pitti museum