Monday, May 12, 2014

Mercato Nuovo, Piazzele Michelangelo, San Miniato al Monte

We got up a bit late, but still managed breakfast on the terrace, getting there at about 9:30 AM. Today, we decided to start at Mercato Nuovo, so that we could rub the snout of Porcellino, which is supposed to ensure one's return to Florence. (I suspect that it is not as effective as having a good salary and no children to pay for, but I'm willing to indulge in a little superstition and shopping.)

Porcellino, photo by Shawn
After scoping the market, I purchased a washed leather bag, and a beautiful blue silk scarf with large, stylized, watercolor flowers. There may be other scarves and bags there calling my name, and I think Shawn may want to try on a water buffalo leather jacket for size...

We went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases, and then back to Toscanella Osteria for lunch as we've decided to try not to wait until late in the day to eat; makes for grumpy Hales when we do that. Today, I enjoyed the pappa al pomodoro that was already gone when I asked for it last night, and for Shawn, penne (be sure to pronounce both of those n's, or you are ordering something quite different) with Carrettiera sauce, a 'mildly spiced tomato sauce with fresh parsley.' We shared a half carafe of the house rossa, a 2011 Sangiovese, and very good, as well as the ubiquitous Tuscan bread, crusty and salt free (I could eat it forever).

After lunch, on to Piazzele Michelangelo, as many things are closed on Monday, but the view is always open. Today, we agreed, was the perfect sort of day for walking; it never got warmer than about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and there was a lovely breeze all day. We walked down Via dei Bardi to San Niccolo, and then up and up and up long sets of stairs (Florence is all about the climbing—have I mentioned that?), with a brief but lovely garden break in the middle.
A portion of the 'stairs'--you get no sense here of how steep this is... (photo from
The garden, the name of which neither of us could find, was filled with roses and peonies (it smelled so good!), and offered pretty spectacular views of Florence; all of the morning clouds had cleared away, and that sky was that glorious cerulean blue seen so often here—and so rarely in Michigan.

To the south, a fairly large section of the 14th century city wall is still visible. 

A asction of the 14th-century city walls, and roses, photo by Nancy
A clearer shot of the wall, photo by Shawn
The Duomo dominates, as it does in every view of Florence.

Duomo, Campanile, Arno, photo by Shawn
The Arno is more prominent than in views from other directions, muddy now in the spring, but full this year.

Ponte Vecchio and the Arno, photo by Shawn
We agreed that the view from Bellosguardo is perhaps better, as one sees the facades of most of the landmarks: Pitti Palace is huge and clear there, and one sees the fronts of Santa Maria Novella, Santa Spirito, Santa Croce, the Duomo, and Palazzo Vecchio. But the city is lovely from every angle, and I’m glad to be able to compare it from each one.

On up more stairs and on to the water closets, as lunch and too many stairs makes one need them. At least they were clean, as we had to pay a Euro each to use them.

Back then to the Piazzele,  FULL of tourists from everywhere on the planet. Again, a very large space from which to view Florence, and one easy to get to by bus, with ample parking, and thus, popular with all of the tours. I was glad that we had eaten in Oltrarno rather than waiting to eat at one of the (I suspect) expensive restaurants nearby, though the views from them might be worth paying a bit more for one’s food.

Shawn at Piazzele Michelangelo, Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio  Santa Croce and the Arno in the background, photo by Nancy

Nancy at Piazzele Michelangoe, Duomo and Campanile in the background, photo by Shawn
After a bit more of the view, we walked again uphill to the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, a Romanesque church we had seen off in the distance on our last trip and wondered about.

San Miniato al Monte from Giardino di Boboli, near the Museo delle Porcellane, photo by Shawn
The facade is covered in the white and green marble seen throughout Florence, but the church is much older than most, dating to 1018. It is surrounded by the most wonderful cemetery, which to us Americans reminded us of New Orleans' cemeteries, but far more ornate, with a combination of many, many mausoleums, as well as large structures with niches for bodies and doors with inscriptions over the niches (rather like a concrete morgue). It is both a lovely and a vaguely disturbing city of the dead; I kept wondering what it would be like to be there in the dusk, rather than on a brilliant spring afternoon.
A small portion of the cemetery at San Miniato al Monte, photo by Shawn
Inside, the church looks as one has seen Roman buildings represented: huge columns covered in marble, a dim, dim interior, marvelous marble mosaics with pagan overtones on the floors and some walls, faded frescoes on the side walls, and brilliant ones—blue and gold and primitive, after looking at the rich variety of color, depth and perspective of so much Renaissance art--over the choir above, and in the sacristy.
San Miniato al Monte, Interior (photo from
Crypt, San Miniato al Monte (photo from
Aretino Fresco, San Miniato al Monte (photo from
We briefly visited the farmacia, where one could purchase gelato, honey, beeswax candles, pottery and oils prepared by the Benedictine brothers. We stayed until 5:30 PM to hear the brothers chant very briefly in the crypt; the building has lovely acoustics, and I couldn't help but feeling that priests speaking there must feel especially powerful as they hear hearing their voices swell in that space.

Once again, lovely views from in front of the church; we had approached from the left as one faces the church, walking up through green space and past a memorial ground for Red Cross volunteers in WWI and WWII, so we did not use the huge flights of stairs that lead to the 'gate of heaven' until we descended, which considering who we are, is perhaps appropriate. I was very glad to have seen both the views and the church; Italian churches do make me feel spiritual, if only because of the awe they inspire at what we humans can create when we feel moved.

Stairs up to front of San Miniato al Monte (photo from
The way back from the Piazzele seemed much shorter to both of us, though Oltrarno was filled with those on passegietta, so the walking was more difficult. We stopped at a supermarket on Via dei Bardi and loaded up on goodies to make a picnic in our room: strawberries, grapes, Taleggio, Toma from Piemonte, good Tuscan bread, Santa Cristina Toscana 2013, Vernaccio di San Gimignano, marinated olives, and fiocchi sfogliatelle, wonderful little twisted cookies that are a bit like a pinwheel in flavor, but much less sugary.
Fiocchi sfogliatelle (photo from
After fighting our way back to La Scaletta through the crowds, we very much enjoyed our solitary picnic, with the doors and shutters thrown wide and our view of Fort Belvedere and the Kaffeehaus to soak in. It is nice to have an evening in, but to still feel very much in the heart of Florence and Tuscany.

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