With only two days left in Florence I had to decide upon a visit to Fiesole or to Boboli Gardens with sunset at Piazza Michelangelo.  After discussing the options with my barista I chose to stay in Florence. I would visit the garden and finish with sunset at Piazza Michelangelo which overlooks the city.  It was another very hot day and the park and the piazza are on a hill on the other side of the Arno River.  I decided to take the city bus to the garden and then walk up to the piazza.  Boboli is an 11 acre garden next to the Pitti Palace (which I also would have liked to visit). The Pitti Palace was built in 1458 and purchased by the Medici in 1549.  In 1565 Cosimo de’ Medici commissioned Vasari to design a build a corridor between the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi across the Ponte Vecchio.  Vasari had begun construction of the Uffizi, office buildings for Florentine magistrates, in 1560.  At the time of the design and construction of the corridor, butcher shops lined the Ponte Vecchio and the offal was dumped into the Arno River. This made an unpleasant odor and an ugly view, so at the same time, the butchers were replaced with jewelry shops – which still reside there to this day.  The corridor is one meter long and is now a museum.  Sadly it was closed while I was there.

Back to Boboli.  It was so very hot that I didn’t explore it to the extent I would have liked.  I was also considering the time with my intention to go to Piazza Michelangelo for the “golden hour”.  The garden is full of art from the 1500’s all the way to modern day.  There are trees centuries old and many “garden rooms”, foliage tunnels and a sloping path that leads up to a nice view of the city at the top.  There are also a number of fountains and ponds.  A green building at the top of the hill called “Kaffeehaus” was built in 1776 by the Lorena family.  It was a place for them and their guests to enjoy a coffee with a lovely view.

As I was exiting the garden I found that in order to get to Piazza Michelangelo, one must walk all the way down to the Arno and then back up a different hill to get there.  I was too spent to do it and sad that I hadn’t spent more time in the garden.  So instead I had lovely dinner at the Golden View Restaurant (which I so wish I had discovered sooner, as I would have gone back several times!) 

Palazzo Vecchio is the Town Hall of Florence.  It was built between the 13th and 14th centuries.  The oldest part was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and completed about 1299.  It was built on the ruins of an ancient Roman theater that dates back to the first century AD.  You can visit areas of excavation below the building – it’s quite fascinating!

It is located in the Piazza della Signoria where there are a number of statues, including a remarkably poor copy of Michelangelo’s David.  One statue in the piazza is truly remarkable, and I am honestly puzzled as to why it has not been moved into a museum out of the elements.  That is the bronze Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini.  He worked on this statue for nine years starting in 1545.  It was an extremely ambitious undertaking because of its shape and size.  Getting the bronze to flow from top to bottom and side to side was very difficult.  This is a masterpiece!  If you look at the back of the statue Cellini has put a self-portrait into the helmet and hair of Perseus!  (As a side note, Cellini was probably the most arrogant person ever born and a terrible human being.  He was sexually abusive and a murderer who thought himself above the laws of man. We read a portion of his autobiography.  A very interesting person to learn about!)

The courtyard is lovely. The statue Putto with Dolphin (this is a copy of the original) was done by Verrocchio (mentor to Leonardo Da Vinci) and the frescoes are by Vasari.

First Courtyard Palazzo Vecchio

The Salone dei Cinquecento  (Hall of the Five Hundred) was built in 1494.  It was the seat of the Grand Council which consisted of 500 members.  It is a long beautiful room that has paneled ceilings, wall frescoes and statues. Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo were commissioned to paint the frescoes.  Both of their works were incomplete and have been lost.  Da Vinci, who was always experimenting with new materials, decided to mix wax into his pigments.  When braziers (pan for holding burning coals) were brought in to facilitate drying, the wax melted ruining much of the work.  Later Vasari painted the murals that are seen today.  It is said that Vasari, not wishing to cover Da Vinci’s work, built a false wall over it before painting his fresco. Michelangelo never progressed beyond the preliminary sketches because he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Hall of the Five Hundred

The other room that really impressed me is the Hall of Maps.  It is so lovely and the old maps are so interesting.  It was meant to show the world as it was known in the 16th century.  Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo Medici to design the room. 

The walk up the bell tower to get a wonderful view of the city at several different heights is a must do.  There is a walkway about half way up that gives you another opportunity to photograph, albeit through openings in the walls. 

I decided to get out of the crowds and head over to the island of Burano.  I had seen pictures of the colorful buildings and wanted to see it.  I assumed that most of the pictures were way over saturated.  Not so, the buildings are very brightly colored!  According to Wikipedia it was settled by the Romans in the 6th century.  My first thought about all of the brightly painted homes was that it was a scheme to attract tourist but I was wrong.  Starting in the Renaissance period a color system for the houses was developed.  Then and now if you wish to paint your house you must submit a request to the government and they will let you know what colors are approved for that lot! It became known for high quality lace in the 1500’s which became an exported good.  A school for lace making was opened in the 1872.  Now, however, lace is no longer hand made.  They sell a lot of lace and linen products.

When I first arrived on the island a pretty linen shirt caught my eye (many of the stores there have outdoor displays).  A handsome young man hovered and explained that the items were hand made in Burano.  They did display tags indicating this was the case.  I made a comment about how it wrinkles and he told me that you did not need to iron it, just cold water wash and hang to dry.  Then he told me that the shirt I was looking at was made by his grandmother.  How much, I asked.  180 euro but today it is discounted you can get it for 160 euro.  I thanked him and walked away.  Later, I saw the same shirt elsewhere for 160 euro.  I’m wondering if his grandmother made that shirt too!  It was a lovely shirt but troppo caro per me

Later that afternoon, back in Venice, I went to a less touristy neighborhood for a look around and to have dinner.  I walked to the Grand Canal and turned right, away from San Marcos Square, and walked until the neighborhood changed.  I found a beautiful park bordered by some lovely old mansions.  I heard John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” playing loudly and as I crossed a small bridge I realized it was coming from a boat pulled up to shore next to the bridge; it was really nice. I got dinner at a sidewalk café and then walked back toward the hotel as the sun was setting

The next day on the way to the train station I visited the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.  The first church was built on the island in 790.  An earthquake  leveled it in 1223 and a new church was built.  The island was owned by the Benedictine Monks until Napoleon claimed it for military purposes.  The island was purchased by Count Vittorio Cini in 1951 who had the church restored.  I visited a museum exhibit ‘Maurice Marinot. The Glass, 1911-1934′ and went up to the top of the church bell tower for some pictures.

I spent the last two days in beautiful Venice… and just at the right time!  While Venice was hot and humid and pretty uncomfortable, Florence was even worse experiencing 100+ degree temperatures with humidity in the 70% range.  At least in Venice I had air conditioning!  Such a treat! I arrived on Friday morning about 10:00.  The fast train from Florence to Venice takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. 

I took the vaporetto to Mercato Rialto and looked around.  I bought some cherries to munch on at the market and found a little sidewalk café to have a small bite of lunch.  I walked to the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Rialto to access the rooftop terrace to grab some photographs only to find that you need to make a reservation.  Fondaco dei Tedeschi is a large department store with some very upscale merchandise and interesting décor.  The building was built in the early 1500’s and was the warehouse, offices and living quarters for German (tedeschi) merchants.

Tired of carrying my luggage I took the vaporetto to the San Zaccaria stop and found my hotel.  The Hotel Fontana is a little family run establishment that I would highly recommend.  It’s comfortable, the location is great and the staff is fabulous.  Cousins Diego and Gabriel were so helpful with directions and recommendations.  The first morning I was tired and slept in missing breakfast.  When Gabriel heard this he went back to check on the status of the food and got me breakfast!  Honestly they couldn’t have been better hosts. 

I decided to get all of the compulsory must see things out of the way the first day.  I visited St. Marks Cathedral, the Correr Museum and the Doge’s Palace.  Honestly St. Marks Cathedral and the Correr museum were not that impressive to me but the Doge’s Palace is truly a must see.  Fabulous!

That evening I went to hear a Vivaldi concert at the Scuola Grande di San Tomaso.  At the recommendation of Diego I had dinner at a little very small and inexpensive place visited mostly by locals called Rosticceria Gislon. I had a plate of risotto ai gamberetti (risotto with shrimp). It was delicious! From here it was a short walk to the concert venue. The music was very good and to add to the mood of the Vivaldi music the performers were in period costume.  I enjoyed it very much.  I got turned around on the way back to the hotel which doubled the time it took to get back.  I was very tired and annoyed with myself over the extra walking but since it took me by a Grom I consoled myself with a gelato!  I slept very well in my air conditioned room!

June 24th is the day that Florence celebrates its patron saint, John the Baptist. San Giovanni day is a big holiday in the city. The day starts out with a parade and special mass at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Fiore. It is also the day of the Calcio Storico final tournament. The day is finished off with a big fireworks show.

What is Calcio Storico? It’s an archaic form of football, part wrestling match, part street brawl. Tackling, punching and kicking are all permitted. The players literally put their lives on the line, at least their health because there is a very real chance of serious injury.

There are four teams that represent districts in the city. These districts are named after churches in their districts and each team has a color. Red is Santa Maria Novella, green is San Giovanni, blue is Santa Croce (my neighborhood) and white is Santo Spirito which is across the Arno River. The players do not get paid, the winning team gets bragging rights and a ceremonial white cow. Competition for a place on the team is quite competitive and making the team in considered an honor.

I set myself up on a path for the parade and waited for a couple of hours but I was not clever enough to secure a good spot. The police are out in force blocking the streets and the crowd gets intense. I got a few shots but not what I was hoping for.

I went to a Scottish pub to have a Guinness and watch the game on TV. There is much pomp and circumstance, the costumed men parading around the field and colored smoke in the end zones. When the game finally gets started it lasts about 45 minutes… which is all that they can probably handle. I saw several well bloodied players before the match ended.

The two teams that made the finals this year were the Red and the White. The Red team won 8-2. I was expecting more rivalry among the folks watching in the pub but everyone was very well behaved…. maybe because it was an Irish pub with about 50% tourists!? Anyway I’m glad I was able to experience it!

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What a great place to visit! The palace itself is stunning, it contains some wonderful artwork, the courtyard here is where Donatello’s David originally stood (what a sight it must have been with it’s gold hair gleaming in the sunlight!), there is an archaeologic display as excavations are being carried out beneath the building and to top it off they currently have a photography exhibit titled “Heroes” and an exhibit of work by Jorio Vivarelli who designed the Hymn to Life in Nagasaki and Tuscan Girl Fountain at the Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia.

The beautiful palace with all of its frescos and a few of the paintings enable you to image the opulence and splendor that it once was. I imagined it filled with important art, with David in the courtyard, the people who must have been regular visitors there! The Magi chapel with it’s incredible ceiling is so beautiful. It was painted by Gozzoli in 1459. Also there is Lippi’s Madonna with Child c 1460.

The archeological finds are also very impressive. Glassware, bronze instruments, human remains among others from the Roman Age. These excavations have given them a glimpse into the past of this building across seven ages and dating back 2000 years.

I also very much enjoyed the Photography exhibit. Heroes is the work of photographer Masayoshi Sukita in an exhibit devoted to David Bowie. The photographs span from the early 1970’s to 2002. Several of them are so moving; you feel as though you are seeing the person, not the celebrity. Two of my favorites were Just For One Day (1977) and KI 1989. Here’s a link to view the pictures in the collection plus a few others. https://www.snapgalleries.com/portfolio-items/david-bowie-by-masayoshi-sukita/

. Also, I heard an Italian version of “Space Oddity” playing so I looked it up. The lyrics were rewritten and it is a love song titled “Ragazzo solo, ragazza sola”. I actually got teary looking at this exhibit.