Day 48 - Pitti Palace, Museum of Natural History, Santo Spirito, Santa Croce
On Sunday afternoon, the lines into the Uffizi made my hair stand on end. It frightens me enough to come up with a strategy to beat the line. The Firenze Card is our blunt, expensive instrument of choice. 72 euros for 72 museums, chapels, crypts, etc and all public transport, valid for 3 days. No lines but to recoup our money, we have to average about 4 museums a day. I feel up for the challenge. The Renaissance is my art era of choice and I'm in its capital city.
We walk across the bridge to the Pitti Palace. It's big and brown and clumsy. I pray that that isn't the case inside. Last time, I found out that Donna Velata was being restored so I didn't bother to go inside the museums, instead choosing to wander around the Boboli Gardens.
It isn't big, brown and clumsy inside. It's actually super comfortable and if anyone wants to offer me a chance to live there for a while, I'll take a sala or two, thank you very much.
Rob's head explodes with all the stuff crammed into every room and has to sit down. There are walls being scaled with elaborately framed canvases, gilt tables, ceiling frescoes, velvet curtains, tassels, chandeliers, statues in extra dramatic poses, veined marble in different colours, information cards in English and Italian, grand vistas outside stained glass windows, fire extinguishers, tapestries, silk wallpapers, doorknobs in the shape of heads and clamshells and on and on and on. They really let loose with the interior decoration but cheaped out on the outer facade.
But really, I'm only here for one lady. Donna Velata is my beacon. I shriek when I find out I'm in the same room as her. She glows cream and gold, clutching her undone gown. She photobombs my selfie. I'm reading Mary McCarthy's Stones of Florence. She describes Florence as a "manly town" and its Renaissance heroes were "all bachelors". "Except for the Madonna with her boy-baby, woman saints count for little in the Florentine iconography."
Donna Velata stands out as the most feminine, sensuous Renaissance portrait of a normal woman; not a saint, nor any royal that we know of. Titian's Venus of Urbino shares the same language but Raphael achieved that glowing sensuousness without taking a single piece of clothing off his subject. She's Raphael's favourite mistress and muse, captured in a moment of, not religious adoration, but simply the adoration of a person capturing someone beautiful and beloved.
After I've come down from my Donna Velata high, I'm humoured some more and allowed to run around the costume museum. There are beautiful vintage gowns from every era, handpicked from the collections of women like Anna Piaggi. Rob finds the clothes that Cosimo, Eleanor, and Don Garzia Medici were buried in. Trust him to find the most macabre things in a floor of beautiful clothes. To be honest, they're probably the most interesting clothes in the museum.
The glass cases are incredibly low lit; so low lit that I actually cannot see into the gloom of some of them. The clothes are in meticulously arranged tatters. They are covered in suspect stains; the product of being wrapped around a decomposing body exhumed centuries later.
We blast through the Treasures Museum because the promise of sparkly things is always a drawcard. The sparkles are there, but so are hundreds of little cameos and pretty little miniatures. Rob takes a picture of the one that looks like Wolverine.
There's also funny little figurines made out of irregularly shaped pearls. Because sometimes, people are so rich, they don't bother turning pearls into jewellery and instead, turn it into whimsical little knick knacks. In front of the Porcelain Museum in the Boboli Gardens, I complain about the rope barriers preventing people from sitting around ledges. I have sunset-soaked, idealised images of my first time at the Boboli, sitting with my legs dangling down, watching workers gathering fruit from the orchards below.
At La Specola, just down the road, we don't see another soul amongst the cramped, echoey and draughty rooms. At the entrance, there's a pleading sign that says Buy a souvenir. Support the museum. Every step I take I'm watched by the glass eyes of taxidermied mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and aquatic animals. There's even an enormous narwhal tusk. It's like the Medici's hoarded and hunted every single animal alive only to execute bad taxidermy then stash them in cabinets around their various palazzos and villas. I don't know whether these centuries old dead animals are cool or sad. Or both? The wax anatomical models are spectacularly creepy. Rob has to assure me many times that they aren't real people before I step into one of the rooms.
Hungry after a late afternoon of looking at the wax insides of human beings and stuffed, extinct animals, we retire to Santo Spirito again. It's the hipster part of Florence. I swear, we just find these places sometimes. Around the square, you don't know who's a bum and who's a student. I'm not being unkind. You really don't. At Pop Cafe, we order burgers because it's the only thing on the menu. The patty of mine is barely cooked. At the Museum of Natural History, I spent a bit of time squealing at the tapeworms pickling in their formaldehyde. This burger is so raw, I'm in danger of contracting my own tapeworm. I lay the beef to rest under my napkin and sip my Coke instead.
Due to our history with terrible map reading, our plan to get to the Bargello takes us to Santa Croce instead. It's only in Florence that you'd try to aim for early Renaissance bronze sculptures by Donatello, take a few wrong turns, and have to settle for a grand church with Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Dante's tombs and a beautiful little grey and gold Annunciation by Donatello. That's the kind of booby prize you get as a tourist here. I stalk a girl dressed in a sparkly sequinned tracksuit around a side chapel.
Out at the piazza, it's getting dark and I'm watching a segway tour wrapping up in front of the church. A segway is, frankly, the naffest thing you can get around in. To my left, a garrulous Spanish girl is excitedly recounting her big night in Spain. "....and then I woke up and Jorge?! He tries to give me a beer. And I say JORGE! NO! We have to eat something." Oh Jorge. At San Carlo across the road from our apartment, you buy a cocktail and you get all-you-can-eat aperitif type things. There's deep fried camembert, slices of zucchini and eggplant, tiny paninis and pizzas, wedges, a delicious salty vegie patty of some sort. I am so tired I'm slumped with my head on the table when the waitress takes my order but I get up the energy to hulk smash my way through five plastic plates of food.