Crossroads Tour: A Final Day in Florence – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos.  My Crossroads Tour series details my travels to Florence (and a few other cities) and Istanbul in May 2011.

May 8, 2011 – Mother’s Day in Firenze

I wake up at 6:30 AM, but roll back and try to go back to sleep. Forty-five minutes later, a neighbor starts playing Spanish guitar in the lobby just outside my door. There are worse ways to wake up on a Sunday morning… 

Today is ‘everything breaks’ day. I have a cold but my blisters are less severe this morning. Paint chips fall from the bathroom ceiling and shatter on the floor. A light fixture near the bed has pulled away from the wall and the other one no longer works. I pop coins into the vending machine for a bottle of water and something I was expecting to be yogurt, but was actually peach juice in a yogurt shaped container. Sadly, the coffee vending machine is out of order today.

I climb back into bed with my fluids and a protein bar from my stash, and catch up on my journal as Italia news and other programming flash across the TV: a home shopping network selling Iranian carpets, I wish they would show more of the loom sitting in the corner. Spongebob Squarepants dubbed in Italian. Italy’s version(s) of America’s Got Talent. It’s just as bad here as it is at home. Five hours later, my journal is caught up, and my feet are much better after being elevated for the last several hours. It’s time to find some food, and some coffee, and perhaps some flipflops. And maybe a garden… 

I walk along the Arno, and up to the Ponte Vecchio to look at gold I cannot afford. On my way I find Signum, a great little shop with handmade journals, sealing wax, and Florentine papers. I buy myself a pocket calligraphy pen and a multi-nub pen, used to draw scales when you are writing music. It’s quite ingenious. 

Sunday is a good down day here as most of the San Frediano district is closed. I had to cross the bridge to find food, and found a pizzeria where I ordered a veggie which included slices of zucchini, carrot, potato, olives and portabella mushroom, imbedded in a piece of focacia and drizzled with olive oil. There’s a potato pizza here but I’m not brave enough to try it. 

I end up at the Loggia where everyone sells variants of the same leather bags, scarves, t-shirts and leather folio covers. It’s worth a walk through just to rub the snout of the Boar Fountain (to assure your return here, according to local legend) and to take in the smell of new leather goods. 

In spite of it being Mother’s Day, the city isn’t horribly crowded and I get some decent shots of the the storefront shutters. One of the locks was stainless steel but of Chinese design. 

A building on the corner is full of bikes. You Must Be Kidding! I can’t tell if these are antiques, or a fanciful art installation.

Pompiere – a firefighting bicycle

I find a book later in the day. “The Florentine Workshops on Wheels” by Luke Giannelli, looks at Florence of the early 20th century, and the bicycle as a working tool, used and reinvented according to the trade: knife sharpener, barber, shoemaker, postman, garbage collector, fireman, salesman. Each artisan of the time adapted to the needs of the case, making them, in our eyes, similar to real works of art.” If you can read Italian, here’s a website.

Shown below are bikes for a priest (lower left), a photographer (center), and a wool processor (at right) with a cotton gin on the back, and a wooden box of roving which would be spun into yarn. Not shown here are a barber’s bike with its chest of shaving implements; a Cantastorie with a hurdy gurdy strapped to the front; and a portrait painter with paintbox on his handlebars and portrait samples over the back fenders. By the time I have finished my walk through I’m laughing so hard I’m nearly crying!  Here are more of my photos from this exhibit.

My next discovery is the Palazzo Vecchio. The ground floor is a public area and covered with some of the most amazing archways in the city, and would inspire one of my hat styles when I returned home. This palazzo contains the Chapel of the Magi, which I have detailed in a separate blog.

The Uffizi is hosting an exhibit of the works of DaVinci, and the lines are around the block. I look up to notice a “living statue” dressed as a cherub on the steps, posing for pictures. He’s only the first… the next one is dressed as an Egyptian sarcophagi, the one after that a statue from the Duomo.

I hand my camera to a standerby and pose with the statue for a photo. The crowd starts to gather and giggle, and while the standerby is trying to figure out my camera, I feel a rustle of cloth and turn to find that the living statue has slowly moved towards me to provide a better photograph. It was really fun to get my camera back, not with one shot, but a sequence of shots…

The statue was very friendly and unwilling to let go of my hand but I finally made my escape. The woman who followed after me, also had trouble retrieving her hand from his affectionate grip.

The last living statue was DaVinci himself, who, after I deposited a coin in his can, motioned for me to approach. He pulled out of his book three squares of paper, “Il codice da Vinci dell Economia,” (For a new constitutional order in the contemporary democratic revolutions).  You can learn more about this manifesto at  which you can read more about at creditosociale (in Italian).

  • Travel tip: Do Not photograph the polizia in Firenze!  My request was answered verbally with a curt “no”, accompanied by a scowl that read “Hell No.”  Whenever they spotted a tourist with a camera, they were quick to turn away to avoid being photographed.  I will now treasure those shots I have of the two polizia at the Lanterna in Genova.

I find the Museo Galileo – the science museum that I will compare to the one I’m seeing in Istanbul in a few days. This museum is housed in the Palazzo Castellani, an 11th century castle and one of the oldest buildings in Florence. Many of the early works it contains were collected by Cosimo Medici in the 1500’s. The collection was moved to the Uffizi in about 1600, and then to the Accademia del Cimento in 1657, and again to its current location in 1930. 

Photography is not allowed, but at least they have a catalog to take home.  Searching high and low through the gift shop for a replica astrolabe, I come up empty handed. It is the singular souvenir I had hoped to bring home from this trip.

I’m now looking for the Bardini Mansion that I saw advertised at the Pitti Palace. I stop at a grocer and buy a picnic lunch, which I enjoy in the solitude of the steps of an old fortress wall, which turns out to be the Belvedere Fortress which surrounds the Bardini mansion and its gardens.

The artworks I came to see are interesting, and although I enjoy them, they’re not interesting enough for me to photograph. The next galleries are a completely different story…It’s a Roberto Capucci exhibit. I know nothing of this designer, but his work is super impressive in both design and detail. I always appreciate visiting mannequins that I can walk completely around. The “Red Bride” below is one of my favorites from this beautiful and unexpected exhibit, which you can see more of at August Phoenix Hats.

Down one of the hallways is a glass door with a view of the city. One of the museum staff kindly unlocks the door and lets me out onto the balcony. Although I was told that the best panorama of Florence was from the Michelangelo Plaza, the best view is actually from the third floor balcony of the Villa Bardini.

Back down at street level, I wander through the delicious Bardini Gardens, and stopped for refreshment at a rustic tea house at the top of one of the knolls. A fellow traveler offered to snap a photo of me next to one of the garden lions. Such strangers are the only reason I have photos of myself from this trip…

As I exit the garden and navigate back toward the Ponte Veccio. I see a number of cutaways in the stucco that expose the original parts of the building, an architectural feature that’s a fascinating way to preserve the original architecture. One of the “bottleglass” windows encased in a protective steel grate, and “love locks” near the Signum. These locks were originally on one of the bridges, but were moved to a plaza after the weight of them threatened to damage the bridge.

My final day in Florence is capped by a beautiful sunset on the Arno. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be watching the sunset in Istanbul.

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