On to Firenze

Florence is a majestic, low lying yet sprawling city and an ideal image of Tuscany. The brick buildings with red roofs sprawl out around the Duomo and has a much calmer feel to it than Roma. This is the only city where we stayed in an apartment (not Air BnB though) so it was a neat experience to sort of live as an Italian.

The Duomo is sort of like the opposite of the churches in Rome. Instead of a plain exterior, its interior is not especially impressive although it’s exterior is magnificent. It took several decades to build the patterned facade that truly makes the Duomo instantly recognizable from any other church. The ticket you purchase covers the five separate parts: the Cathedral, Crypt of St. Charles, Duomo Museum, Baptistery, Terraces, and climbing the top of the Duomo itself. The last one requires a (free) reservation which is understandable since, unlike St. Peter’s, there’s only one staircase at the top leading up and down so it gets a little crowded trying to enter/exit. The Terraces are just a little shorter than the dome but has an equally spectacular view of the surrounding area.

We also covered the Renaissance Walk and passed the Medici chapels, Medici-Ricardo Palace, Laurentian Medici Library, Piazza Della Signoria, and Loggia dei Lanzi (sculptures housed outside the Uffizi Gallery). Among the subjects I want to learn more about, the Medicis are near the top (along with religion, Chinese calligraphy, and how to change a tire). They were so important to not only putting Florence on the map but very much financing the Renaissance.

We also hit almost all the major Firenze sights. We visited David at the Accademia (he’s huge and so are his hands). We viewed dozens of Medici and Madonna with Baby Jesus portraits at the Uffizi as well as saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Da Vinci’s Annuciation. We marveled at the various globes, machines, telescopes, and fingers (two of Galileo’s plus his thumb) at the Galileo Museum. We walked across the shiny jewelry store lined Ponte Vecchio, the only bridge not bombed during WWII. And we took pictures in the Giardino Boboli in Palazzo Pitti. Again, we sort of stumbled across the Boboli Gardens as we were walking through the Oltrano neighborhood. The gardens turned out to be much bigger than we thought (they evidently partially inspired Versailles) and since the palace was at the top of a hill, it also happened to be another great spot to snap Duomo pictures.

On to Firenze

Città del Vaticano

The Vatican is a small, beautiful, artistic, extremely Christian sort of place. St. Peter’s Square (actually an oval) is hugged on two sides by giant marble columns with saintly sculptures sitting on top. In the center of the square is a fountain and an obelisk. Only after this visit did I start to appreciate how many religious symbols are represented on our currency.

St. Peter’s Basilica is easily the most grandiose and cavernous church I have ever been to. It’s interior and exterior are both richly decorated with ornate sculptures and art. There was a huge gold and brown altar in the center with twisted columns towering over visitors. You could even give confessions there in more than 5 different languages!

We climbed the stairs all the way up St. Peter’s dome and the view was breathtaking. Aside from St. Peter’s, we also toured the Vatican Museum which includes the Sistine Chapel. There were many rooms dedicated to Raphael (his School of Athens was my favorite) and several Michaelanglo works too. I wish the Sistine Chapel had room for you to lay down and fully appreciate Michaelangelo’s ceiling since it’s a substantial strain on your neck to keep looking up and take in the enormity of his work. As we wandered away from the Vatican, we stumbled across Castel Sant’Angelo (Mausoleum of Hadrian). It was a very stony and stoic structure but had a great view of St. Peter’s from afar!

View from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica
Vatican at twilight
Città del Vaticano