Tuesday, July 5th, we took a bullet train from Venice to Firenze (Florence). It was about a two hour ride.
We took a taxi from the train station to our apartment. It was interesting trying to get a big enough taxi for six people. It didn’t take that long to get to the front of the taxi line, but it took a good twenty minutes for a van taxi to come through.
Once we got to the apartment, we got the keys and settled in. Some of us napped and some of us made a quick grocery store run.
Around 5:30, we headed a little outside of the city center to hear a Gregorian chant at San Miniato al Monte (church). It was about a 30-45 minute walk from out apartment to get to the church. It’s not that far away, but you have to go up many many flights of steps to get up to the church. From a distance, the church looks like one of the highest points in the city.
Built in 1013, San Miniato is one of the best examples of Romanesque style architecture and interior in Tuscany. The exterior of the church is a geometrically patterned marble facade. The interior of the church has everything from frescos, to a golden mosaic altarpiece, to painted wooden ceiling beams.
When we arrived at the church, the daily mass service was in process (the Gregorian chant was happening after the mass). We looked around for a little then found a spot to sit and listen to the chant.
I have always loved the sound of Gregorian chant. Even though I usually don’t understand the language in which they are singing, there’s something very calming and pleasing about it. I have a couple of vinyl records of Gregorian chants that I listen to regularly and it’s always been a dream of mine to hear it in person.
After the mass finished, the two priests left and then came back several minutes later with a group of ten monks to do the Gregorian chant.
The chant lasted about thirty minutes. It was one of the most beautifully profound things I’ve ever heard. For the service, the monks stood under the alter of the church in a little alcove. This made their voices bold and echo throughout the whole church.
After the chant was over, we walked around the grounds of the church.
Then we walked back down several sets of steps to get to the Piazzale Michelangelo- which has by far the best view of the city.
The siblings and my mom saved a seat on the steps of the square while dad and I went to get dinner for us.
Thankfully we didn’t have to go too far – we found a small pizzeria back down a little closer to town. We got three different types of pizza, a calzone and some wine. With pizza in tow, we walked back up to the square to find the rest of the family.
We ate a picnic dinner on the steps of the square as the sun set over the city.
Once it was dark, we made our way back to the apartment and went to bed.
July 6th (Wednesday):
Right across the street from our apartment, (more like three steps out our door) was a great little cafe, Caffe degli Artigiani. We were all up around 8:30 and went to get breakfast at the cafe – Cappuccinos and pastries.
We brought breakfast back to our apartment and ate it there.
After finishing, we headed out for a busy day of museum visiting and city exploring.
Our first stop was the Museo di San Marco, one of my very favorite sites in Florence. It was about a fifteen minute walk to get there from our apartment. This 15th century Dominican monastery houses works by Fra Angelico and Fra Bartholomew. One of my favorite pieces of art is housed there, The Annunciation fresco by Fra Angelico.
After finishing up at San Marco, we grabbed a quick snack at a little sandwich shop. I got one of the most delicious frozen beverages I’ve ever had – it was like a cappuccino flavored frosty. I drank it so quickly I didn’t even get a picture of it. We ate our snack in a little park near San Marco. Naturally, pigeons and other birds started to flock around us because we had food. (For those of you that don’t know, I am terrified of birds – especially in large numbers). My family thought it was funny to throw bread at me and watch the birds swarm. They claimed, “Oh. We’re just trying to help you overcome your fear of birds.” Yeah right…
After this traumatic experience was over, we walked down the road a little bit to get the the Accademia Gallery. The Accademia is most famous for housing Michelangelo’s iconic David sculpture, as well as his lesser known but equally amazing prisoner statues. This group of statues was commissioned by the pope for his tomb, but were never finished. Because they are unfinished, they look as though the subjects are trying to break their way out of the marble.
I really enjoyed getting to see the David and prisoner statues for the second time. What I enjoyed even more was getting to see my family’s reaction to seeing it for the first time. Peter especially was in awe of the sheer size of the sculpture.
After a couple of hours admiring David and Michelangelo’s other sculptures, we walked about five minutes to the Church of San Lorenzo. The Church of San Lorenzo is often considered to be the sister church of the duomo because of it’s similar dome designed by Brunelleschi.
Next, we walked back to the Piazza del Duomo to go inside the Baptistry of San Giovanni. The ceiling of the baptistry features an incredibly large and overwhelming golden mosaic depiction of the Last Judgment.
When we left the baptistry, we noticed that there was hardly any line to get into the duomo. Taking advantage of this, we hopped in line only to realize we were actually in the line to climb to the top of the duomo!
The first part of the climb was narrow spiral stairs.
Once we reached the base of the interior of the dome, the path led us around the interior perimeter of the dome. We were able to see down into the church and get a close look at the fresco of the last judgment on the ceiling.
Some 400 steps later, we reached the top. The 360 degree view of the city was amazing.
For dinner that night, a certain young boy in our family spotted the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald’s, and insisted that we eat there. We caved and it was embarrassing.
After “dinner”, we leisurely made our way back to our apartment. On our way we stopped to get gelato at Gelateria della Passera, which was right beside our apartment.
[click here to read part two of the Florence blog]