tirsdag 22. april 2014

Down and Up in Florence

The great thing about Oslo Airport is that you are constantly reminded why Norway is horrible and why you are leaving on holiday. The airport itself is nowhere near Oslo, and often it takes a lot longer getting to the airport than actually flying to your scheduled destination. At the airport, everything is twice the price than anywhere else; a true achievement considering Norway is the priciest country in the world. There is something almost pleasing about shilling  out 100kr ($16) for a shitty beer and 140kr ($23) for an even shittier sandwich before finally escaping the crushing monotony and mediocrity that is Norway for something better. Italy's Tuscany region for example. Florence (actual name; Firenze) is the cradle of the renaissance, the rebirth of western civilisation and should be visited by all westerners.

A short and very picturesque bus ride from the airport into the city centre and I was beating the same cobblestones that the Medicis, Donatello, Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Brunelleschi, Vasari, Dante and Machiavelli had about 650 years before. Florence is spread on each side of the beautiful river Arno and rests between low, green hills on every side. The city is blissfully devoid of the glass- and- steel modern monstrosities seen infesting most large European metropolises and it didn't suffer as much bombing as many other prominent European cities during WWII. And luckily the Italians has had enough sense that when building new structures they are kept in a similar architectural style as the renaissance-buildings. This way, the city actually looks gorgeous instead of as something puked up by a brutalist architect from the 60s very high on acid. On arrival the first thing you see in Florence is not, as it is in Oslo, drug dealers, junkies and human wreckage on every street corner; but rather stylish Italians, tourists and of course the Duomo.

(View of Florence north)

(View of Florence East)

(View of Florence rooftops)

(View of Florence west)

My hotel, the Hotel Balcony, was located 5 minutes walk away from the famed cathedral and as such right in the centre of the city. In exchange, I suffered quite the uncomfortable bed and noisy Russian neighbours; both of which were easily remedied by various delicious Tuscan wines.

My first day consisted mostly of trying to get my bearings and simply walking around the city centre for a few hours. I also fell into the same trap as thousands other stupid tourists, i.e. sitting down at an outdoor café overlooking either the Piazza del Duomo or Piazza della Signoria. These places, due to their gorgeous surroundings; have shitty food, bad service and the prices are the same as back in Norway (ranging from 6 to 9 euros for a beer). Buy a tourist-guide upon arrival, and you will avoid such foibles.

The second day, and to be honest; the third and fourth also, was spent mainly exploring every piece of renaissance architecture, sculpture and painting I could find. And Florence being a full city of just that, my cup raneth over.  There are six main museums one should try to see as much as possible of while in Florence:

- The Uffizi
- The Palazzo Vecchio
- The Accademia
- San Lorenzo Church and Library
- The Bargello
- The Palazzo Pitti

There are, of course, many more sites to explore, but these contain (in my humble opinion) the pillars of the renaissance. I, sadly, did not have the time to explore Palazzo Pitti (though I did take a look at its 'Grotta di Buontalenti'); but all the rest I examined in detail. Naturally with generous breaks for brunch, lunch and dinner.

(Grotta di Buontalenti)


On Thursday, my third day visiting, I had booked a private tour starting at 8 am. This early in the morning there are far less people about and I was extremely lucky to have the tour-guide all to myself. Her name was Barbara, a pleasant married mother of two with a treasure-trove of knowledge regarding Florentine history and art. We started in the Uffizi (the name simply means 'Offices'), a building originally built by Vasari for Cosimo Medici to house the Medici rulers' civil servants. It also happens to be world's oldest art museum still in operation. As with most of the art galleries in Florence it is strictly forbidden to photograph inside the museum. This is very annoying, but is due to the fact that the Italians want to sell postcards and souvenirs; sale of which goes drastically down if the tourists can photograph their own mementos. Sadly I have no photographs from inside, but I was extremely lucky to have my own private tour of the Vasari corridor from the Uffizi, accross Ponte Vecchio all the way to Palazzo Pitti. Since I was alone with my guide, and a security officer who seemed to be sweet on my guide, I was allowed to snap off a few shots. I must admit I felt very much like Robert Langdon in the book Inferno. He too was being led through the Vasari corridor alone with a female companion. There even was a security guard who let them through! I didn't have murderous shadow corporations chasing me (or did I?), but it was still a memorable experience. The main gallery floor of the Uffizi contains several masterpieces (well, to be fair; only masterpieces) by f.ex. Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Caravaggio. My main reason for going was, of course, Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' and Da Vinci's 'Annunciation'. I had never seen an original work by these masters before and it was very much worth it.

After Barbara and I had lunch on the very nice and sunny museum veranda she led me through the Varasi corridor. The corridor is not open to the public except for small groups who pays quite a bit extra. The reason is apparently that the security in the corridor is very lax (no alarms or glass shielding the paintings there). The art in the corridor changes all the time as it functions as temporary storage for much of the museum's art collection not currently on display in the main gallery. When I visited there were lots of little gems hanging there: A renaissance 'facebook' of most of the Medici family, self portraits of many of the old masters and even a fake Da Vinci. The gallery also gives its visitors a wonderful alternative view of the cityscape of Florence, not otherwise accessible.

(Vasari corridor going from right to left)

(Vasari corridor interior)

(Vasari corridor view of Ponte Vecchio)

Palazzo Vecchio:

(Perseus statue outside Palazzo Vecchio)

If anything other than the Duomo defines Florence, it's Palazzo Vecchio (meaning 'Old Palace'). Home to Florentine rulers and their administrations for centuries. Even today the local government has offices here, among them the mayor's. It's famed 'Hall of the 500', named so because Florence once had only 500 men elligible to vote in civic matters and they met in this very hall, still regularly sees use for municipal meetings. Luckily for me, there were none when I arrived and my guide (a lovely young girl from America) could inform me of its many treasures. The hall, as so many other venues and buildings in Florence, was enlarged significantly and decorated by Georgio Vasari. Vasari was, next to Cosimo I and Lorenzo Medici, Florence's most influential man. He had Cosimo's (not Cosimo the Elder, but the duke) ear, a rare position as Cosimo was extremely narcissistic, power-hungry and vain. Today you can see frescos covering the huge ceiling, with Cosimo I being its centrepiece (replacing the spot usually reserved for Jesus or Mary). There are a few original statues by Michaelangelo and the statue of Leo X, the first Medici pope, stands in the hall's place of honor. In the Palazzo's 1st and 2nd floors you have the apartments of the old Medici rulers; one room more extravagant than the next. In every room Cosimo made sure to place either his face or his personal symbol; a turtle with a sail on its back. This symbol signified his motto of thinking slowly, but acting fast. In the Vecchio I also came across one of my primary goals of exploration; Dante Alighieri's death-mask. The mask is not actually a true plaster-cast of Dante's face upon his death, but is recreated from the original one which has been lost.

Among my top 5 favourite artists of all time ranks Jackson Pollock, the father of neo-expressionism. One would not expect his works to be seen in the capital of renaissance art; but Florence has this year dedicated a large portion of the Vecchio and a small government building on the Piazza di San Firenze to his life and works. The latter being home to a magnificent multimedia-display consisting of an entire room (floor, walls, ceiling) covered in Pollock-inspired films and images.

(Mr W-T and Pollock)


The only reason why one should waste the good amount of cash you need in order to skip the kilometre long line to enter the Accademia is, of course, Michaelangelo's 'David'. It is the absolute defining masterpiece of the Renaissance. Again, photography was prohibited, which is a shame because none of the museum postcards comes close to doing David justice. It is not often I am actually short of breath upon seeing a work of art, but David did the job. It is absolutely divine and the 'copy' standing in front of the Palazzo Vecchio is nothing like the original. Michaelangelo did have a perfect name: 'Michael the angel'.

San Lorenzo Church and Library:

The Medici's own parish church, San Lorenzo, is well worth a visit. There are almost no queues there and both its library (the first open to the public since antiquity) and church are magnificent. The façade of the church is unfinished, left like that since the days of the Medici. The insides, however, are filled with treasure. I highly recommend using the audio-guides provided at the entrance. But, the true gem is the library. As the first library open to the public in Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, its historical importance is staggering. It is also an architectural masterpiece. On display are various tomes from the Medici collection. Hand written versions of Dante's 'Commedia' and a handwritten Greek copy of Aristotle's  'Physics' were both gorgeous. It was a very cool feeling seeing those books in the Medici library, made me feel like I was in the film 'The 9th Gate'. The books are so gorgeous, it made me wonder; are there anyone writing books like these by hand anymore? That would cater to a certain market, to be sure.

(Medici library)

(Medici library catalogue)

(Dante's 'Commedia')

(Aristotle's 'Physics')


The Bargello is a hidden gem, I would say. While the lines to climb the Duomo and to visit the Accademia were almost a kilometer long, there were almost no one at the town's one-time prison. The building is beautiful on its own, pre-dating the renaissance and clearly medieval in style. I would say its very masculine, compared to the slender feminine elegance of renaissance buildings. Its contents, however, are pure rebirth of Roman sculpture. The Bargello has the largest collection of my personal favourite sculptor; the genius Donatello. Donatello, like many of his contemporary artists in Florence, were very gay. This is seen in the sensuality of his male sculptures. Donatello's 'David' is the direct opposite of Michaelangelo's. Where Michaelangelo's is white marble, masculine, huge, stern and very muscular; Donatello's is black bronze, small, feminine, slender and I would say more coy than stern. It was also the first full nude sculpture made in Italy since Roman times. Though, if you compare the two figures it is clear that Michaelangelo used Donatello's 'David' as a template for his own masterpiece.

(I had to take this photo in secret, the guard was watching; so I had to try to conceal my action. Therefore, the image is a little out of focus.)

(Michaelangelo's crucifix figurine)

But the Bargello is far more than Donatello's sensual tempter. One of my little side-quests while in Florence was to seek out Roman god of wine and festivity; Bacchus. There are many depictions of him in Florence, I found him in the Boboli gardens and in the Bargello. I must say I prefer the rather corpulent wine-god in the gardens.

(Bardello's Bacchus)

(Bopoli garden Bacchus)

Breakfast, lunch and dinner:

I was surprised to see that no establishments offered breakfast after 10 am. Since I didn't get up that early, I had to eat dessert-meals for breakfast. Usually croissants or calzone with chocolate. The latter being very much recommended. The best place for lunch is Yellow Bar. They make their own pasta and both this (I recommend their Gnocci) and their pizzas are fenomenal. For dinner you have a plethora of choices. Some bad, some great. Again, buy (don't use the free promotional leaflets) a proper tourist-guidebook and explore. My two favourite places to eat dinner was 4 Leoni, a handsome trattoria in the Oltrarno district (also a locale in which Sir Anthony Hopkins ate dinner while 'Hannibal' was being shot), and L' Osteria di Giovanni. The latter has magnificent service and delicious food, but the wine I was recommended did not impress. In 4 Leoni both food and wine tasted amazing, but the service has room for improvement.

(Hand-made pasta at Yellow Bar)

(Me at the 4 Leoni)

Even though my main goal of visiting Florence was to experience first-hand the masterpieces of renaissance art, I was still on holiday; and as such I wanted to experience Florentine night-life. Florence is not a city for wild parties, not unless you know the local youths at any rate, and you won't find any strip-clubs anywhere in the centre (I looked). You will, however, find hundreds of cosy trattorias and a selection small bars; some of which are actually quite excellent. The best bar I found is called Art Bar, not just due to the ever- changing gallery of local contemporary art on its walls; but due to the artistry of the bartender and proprietor. Their cocktail- selection is outstanding, the service friendly and the atmosphere very reminiscent of a 1920s jazz-bar.

(Art Bar)

And with that my excursion to Florence is over. 4 nights was neither too long nor too short and I got to see what I had come there to see (except the strippers, of course). For my journey home I travelled first by train to Bologna (a terribly boring and dull city it appears), then by Ryanair to Oslo. Coming back always leaves me depressed (Norway does that to you), but I can always reminisce.

(Reminiscent of 9th Gate, yes?)

(Arno at sunset)

(Arno at night)

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar