Two days, and it’s still raining, despite the weather forecast. Actually, except for the near-miraculous 15 minutes of sun while waiting on the sidewalk with our bags for the Apartments Florence check-in attendant, the rain has been incessant, light but annoying and no less wet.
That didn’t stop us, however. We walked down to the train station and finally found the Hop On Hop Off bus stop, after walking right past its fairly prominent sign. (The garbage bins would be another blind miss, right near our apartment.)
After paying cash for the 48-hour ticket at the tobacco shop, we boarded for the full tour, then stayed on the bus to go to Santa Croce, where Michaelangelo, Dante, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo, among other notables are buried. Leonardo de Vinci, Enrico Fermi and Marconi also have monuments erected to them.
Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world. Construction began in 1294 to replace a church that had been there already for a few hundred years. Over time Santa Croce was enlarged in stages to its present configuration. The imposing Italian Renaissance facade in typical decoration of different colors and shapes of marble is fairly recent, dating back to the 19th century.
A young college student from Iowa gave us a free private tour through the huge basilica, showing us the major tombs and monuments, the altar pieces painted by Giotto and the spectacular side altars sponsored and paid for by prominent families in Florence.
After our tour and a beer, we caught the Hop On bus back to the train station and stopped at another grocery store we found on the walk back to the apartment for more wine and food. Later, we walked through the rain around the corner to Cafe Guelfa, which turned out fairly ordinary food with enthusiastic conversation and service from the owner’s wife, who is a big fan of the Clinton family.
We woke up the next day to a better weather forecast but the same weather. Not deterred, we marched off in the light rain for the bus again, this time headed for the Pitti Palace across the Arno River.
The Pitti Palace was constructed in 1458 by the Pitti family to outdo the Medici family. It didn’t work. In less than a century, the Medicis had taken over the Pitti Palace and started to house their extensive art collection in their new digs.
After the Medici line died out in the early 18th century, the successive ruling Hapsburg-Lorraines and then the Savoys moved in and performed their own renovations and “improvements.” In fact, according to our Italian tour guide (again free), the palace was lived in as late as 1919 by the Savoys, who electrified the mammoth kitchen. Years later, the palace also housed displaced Florentines in late WWII when the city was being destroyed by warring factions of partisans and Mussolini supporters before the Allies could arrive and liberate it.
Inside, the Pitti Palace art display rivals any Renaissance collection anywhere. One room alone displays six Raphaels. Tintorettos, Titians and Caravagios are everywhere. Ironically, a number of the most significant works have been removed and are on loan to a temporary exposition in, of all places, Venice. In the one museum we did not bother to visit, because it is fairly small, seemingly unimportant and out of the way in Venice. After a while, a lot of these threads tie together.
In view of the persistent rain, we decided to put off the Boboli Gardens to a drier day, so we caught the Hop On bus back to the train station. Needing just a few items from the grocery for Lynn’s latest success at beef bourguingnon, we managed to completely miss the store just steps from the the train station. So after we got home and dried off for a few minutes, I ventured out again in the rain to the Carrefour Express on the way to the Accademia.
As long as I was in the store, I figured I would grab a bottle of white wine for Lynn while I was there. But when I reached for the bottle, the store manager came up to me and said “non” in no uncertain terms. He pointed to a temporary sign that even my rudimentary Italian could translate:
City of Florence forbids alcohol sales from 3 p.m. today until 6 a.m. Friday.
When I looked incredulous, the manager said simply, “football.”
It was 3:05 p.m.