Biblioteca Nazionale

DSCF1297.

One morning I had my mind set on the main library in Florence. It is just across the Arno from the flat I rented. The grand building looks (at least to an untrained eye like mine) like it is from the mid 1800′s, but it was built in 1935. (The church spire to the right is Santa Croce.)

.

DSC_0006.

Placing the new library with its invaluable treasures just by the river bank proved not such a great idea when the Arno decided to flood in 1966. Many books and prints were lost in the flood, but thanks to the “mud angels” who came from all over the world to help, lots could be saved. Such heroes!

.

DSC_0009.

I was really keen to get in and see the interior which I had only caught glimpses of on the internet. The facade is promising, with turrets, sculptures and renaissance style vaults.

.

DSC_0010.

But no. Access is only granted if you are a student. The place is like a fortress with guards at the entrance, which gives away nothing of the halls and reading rooms inside. Baffled I had to turn around and go out again.

.

DSC_0007.

Well. This is often the case in Italy. One gets used to it. On the positive side, there is always something lovely around the corner to make up for any disappointments. In this case the view over Giardino Bardini across the Arno which I had never seen from that angle before.

Frills of Florence

DSC_0011.

If you like frills, there are lots of them to be found in Florence. Here a few examples in wrought iron. First a common type of window grid that allows the lower part of the wooden shutters to open, hence the curved shape.

Or to fit a flower pot, of course.

.

DSC_0101.

Shutters can be opened like this. But it was actually the balcony I was after in this photo.

.

DSC_0233.

I am very fond of this little roof on Teatro Verdi. Frilly indeed!

.

DSC_0271.

A bit more restrained are the ornaments of the gate up to San Miniato al Monte.

.

DSC_0272.

The same gate and its shadow.

.

DSC_0053.

The bottom floor windows usually have some kind of bars. These are of the more elaborate kind.

.

DSC_0096.

And we finish off with a lampione. There are so many kinds, but all of them more or less frilly. Usually more.

.

Theatrical lions

DSC_0065.

In via dei Serragli, in the corner of via S. Maria you find this church like facade. And it used to be a church, belonging to the 14th century monastery of Santa Chiara. The complex had extensive gardens and orchards, of which there are no traces anymore in the crowded streets. The monastery closed in the early 1800′s and after that the ex church was used as a theater. The apse moved to Victoria and Albert museum in London. And into this building moved the sculptor Pio Fedi.

.

DSC_0068

.

He was the one who put these lions up on each side of the entrance. Nowadays the old church is occasionally used for temporary exhibitions.

.

DSC_0066

.

Badia

Resan 2.2 1117

.

There are lots of towers and spires to keep track of in Florence. You might recognise the Duomo by now, with Giotto’s belltower. And maybe the smaller cupola of San Lorenzo to the left. But the two brown brick towers in the middle? They are a bit more anonymous. Well, the right, square one is the Bargello, former prison, now art museum.

.

DSC_0188.

And the hexagonal one is the campanile of Badia Fiorentina. Badia means Abbey and this is the oldest monastery in Florence, consecrated in 978 for Benedictine monks.

.

DSC_0213.

This was a main building in medieval Florence, and Dante would have heard the monks singing, as he lived just around the corner (although probably not in the museum called Casa di Dante).

.

DSC_0212

.

There are two entrances to the Badia, one from via del Proconsolo and one from via Dante Alighieri, and the opening hours are generous. Don’t be shy to enter, even though it might look a bit dark and private. It is well worth a visit. Not Benedictine anymore, the Badia is housed by a mixed monastic congregation who sing Vespers beautifully and run a shop in the courtyard loggia.

.

DSC_0219.

The interior is reconstructed in baroque style but the art is partly renaissance. The most famous piece is perhaps The Apparition of the Virgin to St Berhard by Filippino Lippi, which is easy to miss in the dark near the back entrance.

.

DSC_0218.

The Badia Fiorentina, a lovely church in the medieval city centre, fairly tourist free and quiet. Perfect for an uplifting breather. Just look for the hexagonal spire! ;-)

More interesting, and even older stuff in the same street: Roman traces, see Florentia.

.

Sunny details

DSC_0830

.

Last day, lunch on the terrace. Everything on my list is done, or at least all that I can muster. Last day stillness descends.

And while I enjoy the meal and the sun I discover how much there is to look at in this courtyard. The colours and the shadows, peeling paint, a dove fooling around, lovely dead climbers creating art on the walls…

I hope you enjoy some of it too.

.

DSC_0842

.

.

.

DSC_0839

.

.

.

DSC_0835

.

.

.

DSC_0831.

The fall of the golden ball

DSC_0050

.

The Cupola of the Duomo is crowned with a golden sphere, designed by Verocchio in 1471. It doesn’t look very big from down here, does it?

.

DSC_0055.

But I’m sure it seemed huge that June day in the year 1600 when Florence experienced a tremendous thunderstorm and lightning struck the Duomo. The golden ball came tumbling down the cupola roof and hit the ground, digging a great hole. Miraculously nobody was hurt.

.

DSC_0056.

400 years later, we can still see today where the golden ball landed, as the spot is marked with a marble circle.

.

Sleeping beauty

DSC_0449

.

Behind this gatepost lies my other main reason for wanting to go to Livorno.
(The first was, of course, the Terrazza Mascagni.)

.

DSC_0448

.

It is a dream in Art Nouveau, sadly covered in rust and thorn bushes,
with caved in roofs and smashed hand painted glass windows.

.

DSC_0445

.

This place used to be a spa. A huge and glorious complex for thermal baths
and medical treatments with salty water from the spring found by a farmer in the 1850′s.

.

DSC_0440

.

The Terme del Corallo was built in 1904 and attracted people from near and afar.
There was no holding back on the artistic embellishments. Signs in gold lettering, halls with majolica decorations, handpainted tiles, coloured glass ceilings…

.

DSC_0430

.

Even the more plain, not public buildings were richly decorated.

.

DSC_0417.

Unfortunately, this beautiful railing was not the only one surrounding the area.
Double, sometimes triple fencing effectively kept nosy visitors like myself out.

.

DSC_0419

.

And it certainly didn’t help when trying to take photos.

.

DSC_0453.

The main entrance of the park is now reduced to a forgotten alleyway beneath a busy overpass from the 60′s.
Sneaking around the area I was all alone and didn’t feel entirely comfortable. A man stopped his car and shouted something to me in Italian, don’t know whether it was a threat or a warning.

.

DSC_0439

.

But despite the slightly worrying feeling I couldn’t leave without trying my best to capture this beauty in decay.
How stunning it must have looked in its days of glory!

.

corallo

.

Speaking of which, I found this old postcard online. Just to give you an idea.

.

DSC_0416

.

It hurts to see deterioration like this. The buildings seem forever lost. But – praise and joy! – there are plans to save these remaining parts of the spa and the park! How great that would be. I daren’t think of the astronomical cost, but I know it would be worth it.

.

DSC_0454

.

Looking at the next door Hotel Corallo, built as luxury accomodation for the spa guests, one can easily imagine how the Terme would appear in a renovated state.

.

DSC_0409.

If you are just a bit intrigued by this Sleeping Beauty spa, please have a look at Brian Preciousdecay’s stunning pictures here. He went inside the fenced area and got the photos I could only dream of from the outside.
I wish I was a little bit younger, a little bit leaner, and part of a great Urban Exploration group as he is, travelling around photographing deserted and beautiful places. Enjoy!

.

areal

.

Areal view courtesy Google maps.

.

Dressing appropriately

DSC_0380.

Bologna. No wind. 28 degrees C. (That is 82 degrees F.) The Bolognese ladies wrap themselves in – wool.

Because it’s only April. And Italians dress according to month, not temperature.

And most importantly: They dress in style. No matter what.

(American tourists appeared in shorts and t-shirt. Northern Europeans, like myself, were sweating away in jeans. And none of us looking half as cool as the Italians in all their winter garments ;-) How do they do it??)

Shopping in style

DSC_0391

.

The entrance to one of Livorno’s shopping temples. It states above the gigantic door that it was built between 1889 and 1894.
So what is it that you can buy inside this impressive palace?

.

DSC_0386

.

Food!
This is the Mercato Centrale, by the Fosso Reale, the grand canal that I wrote about here.

.

DSC_0389

.

I walked in just when they were closing for the day, so I was lucky to see this grand building from the inside.

.

DSC_0388

.

Imagine doing your daily grocery shopping in here.
I could get completely used to it, I think ;-)

.

DSC_0378

.

Silent stories

DSCF1221

via de’ Bardi

.

If walls could talk… Especially these old walls, many centuries old, altered over and over…

But they can talk and they do! We just need to use our eyes and our imagination instead of our ears. Then they speak loads.

Just a few examples:

.

DSC_0911

via del Monte alle Croci

.

.

.

DSCF1247

via Toscanella

.

.

.

DSC_0151

via Lambertesca

.

.

.

DSCF1290

Lungarno Torrigiani

.

.

.

DSCF1212via de’ Bardi

.

.

.

DSC_0054

via delle Caldaie

.

.

.

DSCF1204

via de’ Bardi

.

.

.

DSC_0062

Piazza del Duomo

.

.

.

DSC_0177

Borgo dei Greci

.

.

.

DSCF1236

via de’ Bardi

.

.

.

DSCF1211

via de’ Bardi

.

.

.

DSC_0134

Palazzo Vecchio

.

Transportation

DSC_0294

 Bus stop at Porta Romana. Not called Porta Romana, of course. That would be too logical and easy.

.

Your own two feet are by far the best means of transportation when in Florence. The historic centre is a manageable size to walk for most people.

But for those of us who don’t always have great walking feet, or want to go a bit further outside the city, the buses are a blessing. Or at least, they are there. Well, sometimes.

Should you decide to go by bus, there are a few things that are useful to know.

~ Tickets are sold at tobacconists and at ATAF service point at the back side (where the tram station is) of Santa Maria Novella train station. At ATAF you can buy multiple day tickets (for info see ATAF website), but you need cash since they don’t accept cards.

~ For many sights of interest there simply is no bus stop, so you’ll have to walk anyway.

.

portasanfTraffic at Porta San Frediano.

.

~ Only buses with letters instead of numbers run in the narrow streets of the oldest city centre. Their routes are a mystery. They are small and orange and are called C1, C2, C3 and D. No idea what happened to A and B.

~ Don’t expect the bus to go back the same way it came. Most streets are one-way and the route is unpredictable.

~ Bus stops can temporarily change location without any notice or information, not even on the ATAF website.

~ Florentines walk around the city centre and usually don’t have a clue about bus stops and routes, so not much point asking them for help.

~ Around Santa Maria Novella train station (“Stazione”) there are countless bus stops, all with different names in order to get visitors completely confused.

~ You need strong arms to go by bus. The seats (if you are lucky enough to get one) are plastic and quite slippery. You will slide off and end up on the floor or in someone else’s lap if you don’t hold on tight in the curves. I strongly suspect many of the drivers would rather work at a funfair.

~ Don’t count on catching a bus in the morning if you need to go to the Stazione. They are usually overfilled with suburbans on their way to work and will simply drive by and you will end up missing your train. Walk or take a taxi if the walk is too far.

~ The ATAF website is bilingual Italian/English but you are lucky if you manage to get some useful info out of it. I find one needs to know a lot of local geography to understand how to make a correct search. I usually fail.

If this have slightly put you off going by bus in Florence – go anyway!
It’s part of the adventure!
And whatever you do, don’t miss taking the number 7 from Piazza San Marco to Fiesole!

.

tramvia2

Trams at Scandicci end station.

PS If your feet are really tired and you’re still hungry to see more, why not take the new tram line to Scandicci and see something equally genuine Florentine as Piazza Duomo but far away from the tourist crowds?

.

Upside down house

DSC_0684

.

If you stroll along Borgo Ognissanti you will come across this peculiarly oversized balcony. But that is not the only odd thing about this building. There is something disturbing about the ornaments, they don’t look quite right.

.

DSC_0685

.

That’s because they are all upside down!
And I’ll tell you why.

.

DSC_0686

.

In the 1530′s a Florentine gentleman wanted to build a house for himself. He was particularly fond of the classic Roman architectural style with large and jutting balconies. Unfortunately, Florence’s Duke at the time, Alessandro de’ Medici, happened to dislike the Roman style and denied the man planning permission several times.

.

DSC_0689

.

The story goes that the Duke finally dared the gentleman to build his house upside down. The man took up the challenge and built his palazzo literally upside down.

And that is the way it’s been ever since.

.

DSC_0690

Livorno Fosso Reale

DSC_0401  .

In Livorno one is always close to water. The port dominates the skyline with its cranes and cruise ships, and gulls sit on every statue’s head. But it’s not all about the sea. The historic centre is  surrounded and criss-crossed by canals. The main canal Fosso Reale is strictly speaking not a canal but a moat that used to enclose the fortified Medicean city. Nowadays it is filled with boats and the quays are used as terraces or fishing sheds or even restaurants.

.

DSC_0392

.

The city suffered severely during the second world war and was badly damaged by bombs. The old San Benedetto bridge is the only one still intact, all the others were destroyed.
Many of Livorno’s houses are painted in really bright colours. Such a contrast to Florence’s sober yellow plaster, or to Siena’s racy brown bricks!

.

DSC_0365

.

I will come back to this part of the Fosso Reale since there are interesting buildings on both sides. The Mercato Centrale on the left and the wonderful but sadly ruined Dutch church on the right. More about those later!

.

The window that cannot be closed

DSC_0081

.

Piazza Santissima Annunziata is not only a beautiful square with terrific history (for instance the birth of the Renaissance in Ospedale degli Innocenti, the angel who finished the altar painting in the Santissima church, etcetera). It also has its own tragic and romantic ghost story.

A young girl married a gentleman of the Grifoni family and moved into the Palazzo Grifoni (above). The couple were in love and very happy until the day came when he was called off to war. He promised her to come back soon and she waved goodbye to him from her window.

.

DSC_0078

.

She waited and waited, but the young man didn’t return. Weeks and months turned into years, and every day she sat by her window hoping to see him again. The shutters were always half-open.
But she waited in vain, he was forever gone.
The woman grew old and eventually she died. When she was carried out of the room someone closed the window that had been open for all those years. Then a whirlwind swept through the room, throwing books out of the shelf, lights were blinking, the floor shook and furniture flew across the room. It scared the people present half to death and it didn’t stop until the window was opened again.

.

DSC_0079

.

Since then the shutters of that window are always kept ajar, and if you ever come to Piazza Santissima Annunziata you can see for yourself. Top floor, the window next to the corner. You will find the bottom of one of the shutters open, sometimes both of them, like on these photos.

Thus the woman can go on looking for her husband and the house is calm and peaceful.

.

Michelangelo’s portrait

DSC_0155

.

Palazzo Vecchio is a house of many secrets. I’ll let you in on one of them now.

If you look closely on the front wall just behind the Hercules sculpture, near the corner of via della Ninna, you will see a stone that looks different from the others. There is a portrait of a man carved into it. And there is of course a legend to go with the image.

The story exists in different versions, but all of them accredit Michelangelo as the artist. And it is told that he made the portrait with his hands tied behind his back, not seeing what he was doing, as part of a bet.

So who is the portrayed man? Some say it’s a self portrait, others that it is someone who every day stopped Michelangelo at that very spot and made him listen to his problems. Another version tells of a man who owed Michelangelo money and that he had somehow fallen out with. And yet another of a man that was sent to the gallows in the Piazza Signoria.

We will never know. But all stories agree that the skillfully made image is by the hand of the master himself.

.

Dante’s lions

DSC_0042

.

Piazza Santa Croce with its grand basilica. In 1865, when Florence had become capital of the united Italy, a marble statue of Dante was placed in the middle of the piazza. There it remained up until 1968 when the Florentines wanted to play football in historic costumes in the piazza and Dante was hopelessly in the way.

.

DSC_0030

.

So he was moved to the side of the church instead. Along with his eagle and his four lions. They are a terribly serious lot. Dante of course the most grumpy of them all. But this time, let’s leave the literary giant aside and take a closer look at the cats instead.

.

DSC_0034

.

Each of them resting one paw on the city’s coat of arms, representing the power of the people during the Republic of Florence.

.

DSC_0038

.

These kitties are really majestic, strong and muscular. And with a gaze of steel.

.

DSC_0032

.

One can tell they are brothers, but not identical quadruplets. Their individual differences and personalities emerge at closer inspection.

.

DSC_0041

.

The artist who created this work is Enrico Pazzi, a sculptor born in Ravenna, which happens to be where Dante died in exile. Relations between the two cities have been strained for centuries, since Florence has asked repeatedly for Dante’s remains to return to his birthplace and Ravenna has refused. So, the tomb built for him inside Santa Croce remains empty, and Dante still rests in Ravenna.

.

Arriving in Livorno

DSC_0458

.

Going by train in Tuscany is easy. The ride from Florence to Livorno is about 1h 20 mins and there is at least one train per hour. But don’t forget to validate your ticket in the green machine before you board the train! Otherwise you will be fined.

.

DSC_0465

.

Livorno Stazione Centrale opened in 1910 and there is lots of faded charm and an air of La Belle Époque over the whole area.

.

DSC_0460

.

The station building is grand, not to say monumental. It makes one feel like arriving in a coastal health resort a hundred years ago in a corset and long crisp skirts, twirling a little parasol while the carrier takes care of the pile of trunks containing more crisp skirts and striped long-legged bathing costumes…

.

DSC_0462

.

Well.

.

DSC_0457

.

A few steps from the stazione you walk in to a small park with a pond.
Next surprise. The pond is filled with not only carp fish but turtles!

.

DSC_0533

.

Real alive small lovely turtles. That had me wondering a bit. Don’t they ever get stolen? It would be easy to just go in and grab one. But maybe that sort of behaviour is unknown in civilized Tuscany?

.

DSC_0534

.

Now, since I didn’t have a porter and a carriage and crisp skirts, I took my little suitcase and trudged off, following this great sign. “Mare” it says. The sea. What else do you need to know?

To be continued.

.

Arrivederci Firenze

DSC_0322

.

It’s time to say goodbye and arrivederci and go home. Tomorrow morning I’ll be walking along the Arno to the train station, and maybe it will look something like this. The blue hills in the haze, the smoke from the burning of cut off olive twigs, the stillness of the river and the little waterfall.

I’ll see you in a couple of days, when I have sorted myself and my photos out. I really look forward to showing you what I’ve seen this week!

.

 

Bologna

DSC_0501

.

To me, Bologna was mainly about three things. And this photo sums them all up: the colour red, sharp shadows and vaults upon vaults upon vaults.

There is a lot more to be said on this matter, and it will be said. When it’s not 28 degrees C! ;-)

.

The heat is on

DSC_0107

.

It’s hot. Hotter than I expected and hotter than the forecast said. Luckily I brought sandals which are slowly painting my feet red and white in stripes. Face and arms are all red.

Coming from icy streets to summer was a shock for the skin. But what a relief for squeaking muscles and crackly joints and a soul oh so tired of winter!

:-)

.

 

Certosa

DSC_0194

.

So. I ended up in a monastery today. La Certosa di Galluzzo just south of Florence. I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon in the Tuscan countryside, but it turned out to be a bit of a struggle getting there. More about that later.

.

DSC_0240

.

Anyway, I made it in time for the guided tour (which is free and the only way to get inside), colore pomodoro in the face and sweating like a jazz musician as I had raised up the hill in 25 degrees C.

But.

.DSC_0202

.

When I got inside and felt the stillness and saw the utter beauty of this place I turned all calm and cool and happy again. The monk who guided us spoke only Italian, so I could ignore him with a clean conscience and concentrate on the important stuff.
Photographing!

.

DSC_0141

.

I am really glad I found and bought a new memory card for my camera today, since I used at least 400 frames just this afternoon. Again, as with everything I post while travelling, I will return to this fantastic place several times on the blog. These few pictures are merely appetizers :-)

.

DSC_0115

.

Eight out of a thousand

DSC_0317

.

Back in Florence again, before I crash into bed I want to share just a few of all my impressions from Livorno. Here are eight of at least a thousand photos. Good grief, what will I do with them all? First the Terrazza Mascagni, the gorgeous beach promenade with something for everybody. For me: the roaring sea, the shapes and the shadows. I adore it!

.

DSC_0573

.

Fortezza Nuova, which of course isn’t very new at all, and the odd looking Santa Caterina church. The canals and bridges formed an interesting pattern, and I  found it quite easy to get lost,  but then just as easy to get unlost again!

.

DSC_0718

.

Livorno is full of beauty, even if it may not be as obvious to some as the beauty of Florence.

.

DSC_0853

.

The Terrazza again. A magical place.

.

DSC_0705

.

Villas like these two beauties in an almost surreal architectural form, line the waterfront south of the city. Disneyland? Fairytale? Or just wonderful?

.

DSC_0440

.

Other gems are forgotten, overgrown and decayed beyond salvation, like this art nouveau style luxury spa. How very sad.

.

DSC_0782

.

To reach this place you need to go on a hundred year old funicular, unbelievably high up on a hill. I’ll show you the stunning views in another post.

.

DSC_0871

.

I loved everything about Livorno. And I’ll come back many times to show you all of this and more, in detail. But what I kept coming back to, and which blew my mind everytime, was the sea. Here the sunset from the roof terrace swimming pool at the hotel. Need I say it was breathtaking?

.

Livorno – or paradiso?

DSC_0824

.

This morning I decided this was Livorno Day so I got on the train and have had a simply fabulous day! City walk, fish Livornese style for lunch, checking in to a wonderful hotel, becoming mesmerised by the sea over and over again, riding a funicolare halfway up to heaven…Full day!

I’m sitting in my room trying to upload all my photos from today, but there’s too many for my tiny laptop! I promise there will be more photos and posts from Livorno than you can wish for over the months to come, but for now you’ll have to do with this one, sunset at the gorgeous Terrazza Mascagni. I love it! In fact I love it so much I want to stay here and never go back home!

Well, we’ll see about that tomorrow… Now I will have a good night’s sleep and wake up early tomorrow to catch the sun rising over the Mediterranean sea.

Buonanotte followers and visitors!

.

Did I mention how much I love it here?

A day in a life

DSC_0123

.

So, what do I do with myself from dawn till dusk here in Florence, you might wonder. So I thought I’d give you a quick report on a typical day here. Or as it happens, this particular day today.

First I walked to Piazza della Signoria just to see how David and the gang were doing.

.

DSC_0144.

Couldn’t see much though, there were police and a military band and parading and pomp and circumstance all over.

.

DSC_0159

.

This unfortunate (?) view was all I got. Poor little David.

.

DSC_0192.

Then I walked around for a bit and was happy to find the hidden passway I was shown in November. How much warmer and sunnier the secret, narrow alley seemed now in Spring!

.

DSC_0204

.

Then a quick visit to the tiny but lovely Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, just in time before hordes of American tourists crowded the place.

.

DSC_0242.

After two hours and 6000 steps, according to my pedometer, I went home for lunch. I enjoyed sitting on my little terrazza where the sun shines in during the siesta. A plate of lettuce, hardboiled eggs, prosciutto and mozzarella with olive oil and mayo plus vitamin D from the sun worked its magic and after a while I felt recharged and was ready to go again.

.

DSC_0250.

I caught a bus and went uphill

.

DSC_0257.

to Piazzale Michelangelo to see Il David again, while the bus driver had a smoke and drooled over a brand new red Ferrari on display.

.

DSC_0273.

Then I climbed the two million steps (ok, slight exaggeration) up to

.

DSC_0276

.

my favourite Romanesque beauty, the basilica of San Miniato al Monte. Tons of tourists and kids on school trips and lots of noise. But I wandered further, into the lovely cemetery behind the church.

.

DSC_0397

.

The Cimitero Porte Sante is mostly 19th century and very eclectic. Lots of Art Nouveau though, or Victorian if you wish. A peaceful and interesting place, where I could spend hours. Actually, I think I did.

.

DSCF1370.

After that uplifting encounter with the dead I went home for a meal and a hot water bottle for my poor back. Now it’s past 9 pm and I’m beat. Exhausted. Erschöpft.  It’s a tough job being a tourist. But someone’s gotta do it.

Over and out from San Niccolò.

.