We are settling into Florentine life. I’ve been working a little more than I had intended and poor Frank has been super patient waiting for me to finish up each night so we can finally go to dinner (in the meantime, he has joined a gym and seen a variety of museums on his solo jaunts around town). But we took a well-deserved day off together and went sightseeing. What a day!
Monastery of Painters
We started at the Museo di San Marco, which is a former monastery full of painting monks. They painted frescoes everywhere – including in their individual cells (43 of them!). We could walk all around from cell to cell and see an original 15th century fresco in each. The monastery also housed Savonarola, a radical figure of the day who drove out the Medici Family and then was turned over to a mob (right in the courtyard) and later hung and burned at the stake at the Piazza della Signoria, in the center of town.
Lunch on the Piazza
All of tht led us to the Piazza itself, where there is a plaque commemorating Savonarola’s fateful demise. It was a beautiful day so we sat outside at a cafe that has been there for over a hundred years watching the world go by – and having a much better time than the controversial monk.
Then it was time for a tour. We like being on our own, but sometimes it’s good to have a guide, too. And we needed one for this tour – it was to a secret passageway, the Vasari Corridor, which runs across the top of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from the Palazzo Vecchio (Medici Family offices) to the Pitti Palace (where they lived) so that their subjects wouldn’t see them. It is locked and closed to the public, unless you have a guide. We were lucky to snag a spot with about 15 other people.
Our guide led us through some of the highlights of the Uffizi Gallery first (more on that in another blog) and then – opened an unobtrusive wooden door to reveal a stone staircase descending down into the secret passageway. The door closed loudly behind us as guards watched our every move. And so we began our walk on the same path as the Medicis.
There were iron-barred windows every now and then so we could see the tourists on the bridge below who had no idea we were up in the secret tunnel. The tunnel even runs by a church with a window where the Medici Family could watch worship services sight unseen.
The corridor also houses the world’s largest collection of self portraits. One of the Medicis started this collection of self-portraits of the important Renaissance artists of the day. The collection evolved so that later artists, including those of today, donate their self-portraits to the museum hoping to be included.
Finally, the guards opened a locked gate, shepherded us through a final passageway, and out a small wooden door into the outside. We had made it across the Arno River and were in the gardens of the Pitti Palace. The door closed and locked behind us, and when I looked back, I just saw a little blue door with no name, which cannot be opened from the outside. To the rest of the world, it looks like a garden shed. But we know it is the opening to the famed secret tunnel.
The Grapes of Volpi
Before crossing back across the river – on the regular tourist path this time – we ducked into a local wine bar we had heard about – Le Volpi e l’uva (The Fox & the Grapes). We loved this since Frank’s last name is Volpe, and Volpi is the Italian spelling (means “fox”). It had 10 seats so filled up quickly. They offered Tuscan wines by the glass and small plates of cheese and salami. Yum!
A perfect ending to a perfect day.