Florence, Part 2: Museums as Plentiful as Cobblestone

Florence is packed full of more museums than anyone could see in one visit, so it’s important to pace yourself or face being overwhelmed by all the beauty. As I’ve mentioned before, if you need a break the best treatment is a generous serving of gelato and a slow stroll, but a glass of wine at a streetside café table will also work wonders.

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Perhaps the most famous and important museum in Italy is the Uffizi Gallery. As the former offices of the Florentine magistrates, the Uffizi now houses an astonishing collection of some of the world’s most important works of art. It can be a crowded place any time of year for good reason, but by purchasing tickets in advance you can avoid waiting in a line that stretches far off into the distance.  No one wants to waste precious time standing behind Buzz and Marge from Cedar Rapids for three hours as they complain about the food at their hotel. The Uffizi is shaped like a horseshoe, with rooms lining the corridors, and each room is packed with beauty. In one of the larger rooms, usually filled with a crowd murmuring quietly in awe, is Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” The painting is beyond beautiful and I had a difficult time grasping that this was the original, painted by a master artist for his Medici patrons. I always imagined this masterpiece as a small work, but it’s huge; five and a half feet tall by nine feet long. It’s the painting I still remember my first glimpse of many years later, but I would be hard pressed to pick out a favorite piece from the museum.

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Florence is also the home of Michelangelo’s David, a sculpture with no equal.  He’s housed in the Academia Gallery, a very nondescript building on a quiet side street.  There is a copy of the David in the Piazza della Signoria, but the original that once stood there was moved to the Academia to protect it from pollution and the elements. In the museum, the David stands at the end of a long gallery lined with several of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures. David is larger than I’d imagined, the marble shining under the natural light from the domed skylight overhead. While he’s basically a big naked guy, it’s easy to stifle your inner snickering adolescent when you see the veins in his arms or the wrinkles on his knuckles and realize he was carved from a single piece of stone. You can circle the statue and view it from every angle behind a barrier to keep you from touching it (or taking a hammer to it like one deranged visitor did in 1991), but no pictures are allowed. Try taking a stealthy shot if you dare, but I for one am not going to risk getting yelled at by a guard again.

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My very favorite museum in Florence is the Bargello, a former prison that now houses sculptures by many famous artists. I particularly loved Michelangelo’s marble Bacchus (the god of wine), and was surprised to find the bronze sculpture of Mercury, exactly as it appears on the famous florist’s logo. I wasn’t aware that Mercury stands perched on a tiny zephyr, representing the wind, but it’s one of those details you’d only notice from up close. In fact, it’s fascinating to examine all of the sculptures in detail, where the chisel marks can be seen and the delicate fingernails and individual strands of hair make the entire piece look flesh and blood. I can’t peel an apple without the threat of lopping off a thumb, and yet these graceful figures were carved from stone by the hands of someone who died centuries ago. It’s very humbling.

There are scores of museums in Florence, but just wandering the cobblestone streets is to walk through an open-air museum, and it costs nothing. A stroll in any direction will take you past amazing architecture or through beautiful piazzas, where you can linger in the sunshine as long as you wish and enjoy being in a city so packed with beauty. A double scoop of chocolate hazelnut gelato in hand will enhance the experience, but I might be biased.

Stay tuned, more to come …

Matt Grigsby is a Redding native who has learned how to tell the difference between fresh gelato and machine-made. He owns a beautiful imaginary six-room villa in the hills above Florence, as well as a very real cottage on the west side of town. By day he’s a computer analyst toiling for the public good and he dreams of one day owning a robot servant. Matt only uses the fancy ketchup.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Janet says:

    Aaaah, what a lovely way to start the day, thinking of the beauty that is Florence and the gasp of wonderment when a piece of art moves you.

    Thank you for sharing this joy.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it! There's really nothing like the feeling of being moved by a wonderful piece of art, is there?

  2. Avatar Carol says:

    Thank you for a nice report. I am in the process of planning a trip to italy and in fact just booked a guide for the Uffizi. We will only have 5 nights in Florence and will make the most of it.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Wonderful! Five nights in Florence will allow you to see most of the highlights at a leisurely pace without feeling like you've got to pack it all into a few hours.

      Have a safe and fantastic time!

  3. Doug Cushman Doug Cushman says:

    Yep, David is one of those things that makes one believe that humankind is worth reserving. I've spent a whole hour just staring at that magnificent piece if art. Did you get a chance to explore the plaster casts in the next room? Some pretty amazing stuff as well.

    Thanks for the reports; looking forward ti the next one.

    Doug

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      There are lots of other interesting items in the Accademia with David, including an exhibit of Stradivarius insturments (harpsichord, cello, etc) and it's worth exploring the entire place.

      But I know what you mean about the David. Stepping back and looking at him and then moving closer, it's hard to grasp the perfection achieved by one man. And Florence is filled with other examples of such wonders!

  4. Doug Cushman Doug Cushman says:

    ps. I meant PRESERVING but maybe reserving is okay too…;-)

  5. Avatar Ursula says:

    Thank-you Matt!

    Loved the read.

    Great way to start the day. This piece brings creative inspiration.

  6. Avatar Debbie says:

    I love reading your perspective of Italy. Do you blog or post more pictures? I would love to escape to Florence, if only for an hour.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I'm glad you're enjoying the articles! I do indeed have a blog with more photos. I'd be happy to send you a link.

      • Avatar kim says:

        Hey Matt. Can you send me the link for your blog? I can give you my e-mail address tomorrow at work or on here if only you see it. Kim Misner

  7. Hi Matt, I agree–Florence is wonderful with so much to see and it has such charm. Did you go to Palazzo Piti- wonderful art and architecture. Also, the Convent of San Marco which is off the beaten track, but lots to see. Yum, yum, Italian gelato can't be beat. Keep up the wonderful descriptions.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I did see the Palazzo Piti, and along with the Boboli Gardens, it's a spectacular place. I haven't been to the convent of San Marco, but it's on my list. So many wonderful places in the city yet to see!

      There are also a thousand different gelatos yet to try!

  8. Avatar Carol says:

    Matt, which is more prevalent, fresh or machine made gelato? I have read that Grom has the best in Florence. I think they are in other cities as well. Did you find a favorite shop in Florence? We are lucky to have 2 places (that I know of) to get gelato in Redding, but I guess neither will compare with Italy. I have heard it is to die for and we can hardly wait to find out for ourselves!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Unfortunately, machine made gelato is far more common, but it's not bad at all. You can always tell if the gelato is fresh or not by looking at the banana flavor. If it's gray, it's fresh. Yellow banana gelato came out of a machine.

      Grom is indeed my favorite (it's only a block from the Duomo) and their product is always fresh and always tasty. I cannot recommend the pear gelato highly enough, but since you're allowed more than one flavor in a cup, be sure to experiment with different combinations and you'll find your favorite too.

      On my last night there, I came across "Festival del Gelato" and they had the most interesting variety that I never saw anywhere else. I had the kiwi and rose (yes, rose!) and they were amazing. If I had found them sooner, they may have surplanted Grom as my favorite place in the city.

      Gelato is just as good as you've heard, and I urge to have some after lunch AND dinner. You won't be sorry. You'll be doing all that walking anyway, and besides, you're on vacation! Indulge!

      • Avatar Carol says:

        Thanks Matt. I've added Festival del Gelato to my growing list of gelaterias. We have had gelato in other countries in Europe, but I have heard nothing compares to what we will find in Italy. This will be our first visit and we will be there for 30 days, so they will probably be rolling us off the plane!

        I went back and read your other reports and enjoyed them all. Can hardly wait to see all these wonderful places for ourselves!

        Thanks again for the information.

  9. Avatar Sunny says:

    I am in awe of your descriptions…I feel like I'm right there with you, such great detail. Can hardly wait for the next one!

  10. Avatar Luna Arps says:

    Good post! jfoprhggf