What a way to end the day… Friday, Aug 30 2013 

This week (and next), Friday is our Saturday and the beginning of the weekend. Some have departed for a little travel (Paris, Rome and Barcelona, to be exact), so for those who choose to remain in our “home town,” there’s still plenty to do.


We started with a tour of Florence’s markets, beginning with San’Ambrosio. A smaller and less touristy version of the Mercato Centrale, it provides fresh produce stands under awnings on the exterior of the building, along with clothing, household products, jewelry, shoes, etc. Inside, there is everything from cecce (garbanzo beans) to tripe. Clearly, this is where the Florentines shop.


Next, a stop at the Straw Market near Orsanmichele. Lots of leather (primarily purses and wallets). For leather jackets, the best market is San Lorenzo, our final stop on our tour.


Later in the afternoon, five intrepid students joined us for a walk up to the Forte Belvedere. This military structure was meant to protect Firenze from its hillside position, but it’s not exactly clear whether it really accomplished much (or met with any attacks.) The Belvedere was turned over to the commune of Florence as a historic site and was an exhibition space until six years ago, when it was abruptly closed due to the unfortunate death of a visitor who fell from one of the walls. It has just reopened in July of this year with a fantastic exhibition by the Chinese contemporary artist, Zhang Huan.


A rather steep hill climb was rewarded by an amazing show. Monumental sculptures by Zhang explore Christianity and Buddhism through images of Confucious and Christ. Materials such as aluminum, copper, and ash from the incense burned in temple throughout China, contributed to the unique quality of each work. We spent a great deal of time at the Belvedere which also provided another panoramic view of the Florence skyline, dominated by the cupola. Jenille, Marijke, Lac, Alex, and Claire each put in seven miles of walking with us today!


Those Medici and their scientific interests Friday, Aug 30 2013 

A leisurely morning with breakfast and then some time in the studio before heading out to our appointment at La Specola, the zoological museum, and a private tour of the Camera dei Scheleti (hall of the skeletons). La Specola is one portion of the Medici’s vast collection and includes more than one million specimens and the famous anatomical waxes.

Our guide, Emmanuele, was terrific and provided a 30-minute, in-depth introduction to the collection of bones, ranging from a tiny mammal no bigger than a finger-joint to the jawbone of a sperm whale. The Medici’s elephant, used for ceremonial purposes in and around Piazza Signoria, was on display with a wide variety of other specimens, including chimpanzees, humans, sea lions, sloths, sharks, badgers, and camels.

We then visited the main galleries of the museum to gaze upon thousands of examples of zoological forms: from insects to mammals, birds and fish.

The section of anatomical waxes was not fully on display, due to renovation of some of the galleries.

We then broke for lunch and agreed to meet back at the Foresteria at 3:00 to venture on to the Gallileo Museum of Science, an optional site visit for anyone interested. A stop at our favorite gelateria (La Carraia) was unavoidable since it was right on our way!

In the Gallileo Museum, the Medici’s collection of scientific instruments (navigational tools, astrolabes, measurement, optical, etc) are beautifully displayed along with didactic videos and wall text in both Italian and English. Along with the permanent collection (which even contains the relic of Gallileo’s fingers), was a special exhibition on the history of the bicycle.

As we prepared to depart, a torrential downpour ensued. Some decided to wait it out in the foyer of the museum while others made a dash for Ponte Vecchio and ultimately home. Firenze never ceases to surprise!

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A gallery of people doing what people do in Firenze… Thursday, Aug 29 2013 

When a deal is not a deal… but we ended on a great note! Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

Another quick breakfast and a dash out the door to make it to the final stop on our combined ticket, the Museo del’Opera. This museum holds the original sculptural works from both inside and outside the baptistery, the campanile and the basilica. Highlights include many major works by Donatello, the della Robbia workshop, Arnolfo di Cambio , Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise , and Michelangelo’s Pieta’, created for his own tomb.

Imagine our dismay to learn, upon entry, that 3/4 of the museum is now closed and inaccessible to visitors as the structure is now undergoing a major, multi-year renovation (to reopen sometime in 2015). The one consolation was that the Gates of Paradise were there in their entirety — all eight panels, displayed as they were when they decorated the baptistery. Jenille, who had researched Ghibert, gave us a great presentation on the doors and how the narrative in each panel is structured.

Not to be daunted, we made a quick decision to head to the Bargello to satisfy our sculpture craving and to carry out a drawing assignment. After a brief introduction to the history of the Bargello, we dispersed to enjoy the collection and to find a work from which to create a drawing (our benchmark drawing — to give each of us a baseline  to assess our progress over the next four weeks.) The Bargello is an excellent place for students to draw — benches and chairs are available in every room, allowing one to spend extended time on a drawing. We will bring these back to the studio this afternoon to share.

Lunch break and some down time before returning to our studio, the aula magna (ballroom) of the Foresteria.

Book-making: the history of paper, binding techniques — a whole lot of information to get everyone started on designing and making our own sketchbooks. These will be used for individual purposes — journaling, drawing, watercolors, scrapbooking. First decisions to be made: how big? What do I want to use it for?

We use the rest of the afternoon to begin working. Tomorrow morning, there will be additional time before heading out to Florence’s most quirky museum, La Specola.

You climbed over 900 steps in one day? Why, yes we did. Tuesday, Aug 27 2013 

Reports of various sleep patterns (some slept through the night, others woke up at 3:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep) were shared over an early and brief breakfast before we were out the door at 8:20 for a full day experience of the complex associated with Santa Maria dei Fiori, the cathedral of Florence. Several structures make up this religious center: the basilica, baptistery, and a campanile (bell tower).  On our combo-ticket, we had exactly 24 hours to:

  1. Climb the cupola (460+ steps)
  2. Visit the basilica
  3. Check out the excavation of Santa Reparata (the earlier church over which the “new” cathedral was constructed
  4. Explore the Baptistery
  5. Go through the Museo del’Opera

Ready, set, GO!

At 9:00, we were ascending the steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s dome. Spiral staircases, narrowing as we move upward, lead us to the base of the dome and a close-up view of the fresco that spans the entire interior surface of the dome, designed by Giorgio Vasari. More stairs, more climbing, now running into other visitors who are descending, squeezing by, waiting, more climbing and we arrive to sunlight, fresh air, and the top of the dome. This is the best 360-view in the city and gave us all a chance to locate landmarks (the Pitti Palace, San Lorenzo, the Synagogue, San Miniato, etc.)

By 10:30, we were back on firm ground (with shakey legs) and queued up to enter the basilica. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio with the grand goal of being the largest in Christendom, the crossing at the transept providing an almost incomprehensible challenge of designing a dome to cover a span not yet seen in the history of architecture. The interior of the basilica is both inspiring and underwhelming (space vs. ornamentation.) A quick visit to the excavation of the earlier church ended this portion of our program.

Then, out to the piazza to line up in front of the baptistery, dedicated to St. John, the Baptist. Completed nearly two centuries before the basilica, the eastern influence of Byzantine mosaics is readily apparent. One could imagine the shimmering qualities of the tesserae when illuminated by candle, pre-electricity.

Lunch time. Off to the Mercato Centrale to pick up panini and beverages to take to a park by Piazza Independenza. Salami, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated zucchini and cheese on a crusty ciabatta roll. Delicioso.

Wait, there’s more! Back to SM dei Fiori to climb one more monument — Giotto’s tower. Slightly shorter than the cupola climb (by maybe 50 steps), we pushed ourselves to the top to enjoy another fantastic view of our new home (and a unique view of Brunelleschi’s dome.)

Basta (“enough”). Time to call it a day. It’s now 2:00 and we disperse to run errands, take a nap, finish unpacking and ponder the possibilities for dinner. We agree to regroup in the morning at breakfast to head out to the final site: the Museo del’Opera.

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Hello, Florence! Monday, Aug 26 2013 

Siamo insieme, tutti! (“We are all together?!)

Today saw the arrival of Team Tuscany 2013. It wasn’t pretty, but by 8 p.m. we were all assembled and ready to head out for our first group dinner. Flights were delayed, luggage was similarly so, and some ended up covering a significant amount of Firenze before finding the Foresteria, our home for the next three weeks.

Orientation began with a presentation by Ani, our host and the manager of the Foreteria. We then covered some general topics before heading out for our first group dinner at Il Gatto e’ la Volpe (The Cat and the Fox), one of our favorite Florentine restaurants to accommodate a big group like ours. An enormous antipasti platter of grilled vegetables, mozzarella di buffalo, and various bruschetta began the meal. Then, three primi (penne with vodka sauce, tortellini with funghi and truffles, and riso and chicken were served up next, family style. The dinner was capped with a wonderful tiramisu.

Back home and attempts at a good night’s sleep before an early rise tomorrow!