Adventures in Catsitting Part 8

April 7, 2014

Well, here it is. Part The Last. My last full day in Florence. If I were to write about my last half day, it would just be mentioning buses and planes, and a vague sense of awkwardness wondering if my host actually liked me as she seemed a little irritated, and if I should get her a thank you gift. In the end, neither of us got the other a gift. I don’t know what to do in situations like that, especially when the other person has been away for a week and you are only seeing each other as you’re packing to leave. The day before though, the last full day! I always tell myself I won’t have built up a list of things I need to do that I haven’t had time to do yet but, er, I had a list of things to do that I hadn’t had time to do yet. There was a patisserie that had been staring at me every day when I got my bus home, so I called in there and had quite a sensible Italian conversation with the shop assistant when I asked if a certain amazing-looking pastry had rice in. She said no, it was ricotta and pointed to a frankly pathetic looking article that contained rice. I chose the ricotta. As it was a lovely 20-something celsius day I decided to eat it outside, and what better location than the courtyard of the Bargello? The main sculpture museum in Florence, the only reason I hadn’t made it there yet was because it closed at 2pm daily. What’s with that? A lot of people go here to see Donatello’s Davids. Yes, he sculpted two Davids and still neither of them is famous. The marble David has a slight campness but is nothing compared to the bronze hat-wearing, hand-on-hip, sword carrying [don’t remember a sword in the Bible story] Ru Paul’s Drag Race David. Not quite sure why everyone was sculpting Davids. Italians, eh? The ‘you can take photos in the courtyard but not indoors’ rule was confusing, especially when one wannabe indoor photographer was told to desist and just snapped away anyway, smirking. I hated that man right then. A large part of my job is trying to stop people from taking photos of shows, and it’s one of the most powerless positions ever. The Bargello is also famous for displaying the runners-up in the competition to design the Baptistery doors, but as the second floor was closed when I was there they will just have to remain unseen by me. For now. Florence is at any time full of closures for refurbishments but on the whole I had it pretty lucky. One floor of the Bargello, the Museo dell’Opera, certain other things covered with sheets and room 40-something of the Uffizi. Not bad.

Speaking of the Uffizi, I did return there to watch the parade of proud penises. I did the Third Corridor and it wasn’t as horribly packed as I had been led to believe on a Saturday. Maybe the crowd just hadn’t got to the Third Corridor yet. I became quite taken with Bazzi’s Saint Sebastian.



The Niobe room was also quite impressive. Daughter of poor sod Tantalus, she bragged about having more children than Leto so Apollo and Artemis killed them all. Basically a roomful of statues poised in flight, running from vengeful Gods. It’s always nice for me to hear new Greek myths too. An old hobby of mine. I went home to cat-tidy and have a quick nap before what would be my main adventure that day: the hike to San Miniato al Monte.

There’s no real reason why I saved this walk for the last day. I was supposed to do it on Sunday, but there was a thunderstorm which… dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. Then the weather was a little grey for a few days, and you don’t really want to see an amazing view in grey weather. The forecast for Saturday was good so… Saturday it became! I decided to do what my guidebook suggested and start the walk at Ponte Vecchio. But because I can never do anything in a straightforward fashion, I realised this was my last chance to look at the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, founded in 1221. Free entry and although I didn’t have a lot of time I enjoyed the peacefulness of the place, wanting to try the testers but not wanting to be nabbed by an overeager salesperson. Imagine an Apothecarist’s, with different ingredients in neatly labelled drawers stretching up the ceiling with an abundance of mirrors, glass jars and the obligatory statues, ceiling frescoes and Jesuses.

Now I hadn’t really planned this walk at all, as I knew there was a step-by-step description in the guidebook. Unfortunately the description was slightly more confusing than I had expected, telling me to turn onto Costa di San Giorgio after Santa Felicita, neither of which I could find. Probably because I was assuming an alleyway was the first turn, instead of looking for a real street. I found Costa dei Magnoli though, a steep hill through a dark, narrow entryway and figured that this hill would probably meet the other at some point. I was right. I ended up on Costa San Giorgio before long, joining the panting pilgrims, all slightly embarrassed but all in exactly the same state because of the steep incline. So steep I nearly missed Galileo’s house, as I was fixating on putting one foot in front of the other. It’s just that I saw a man step back from the path and take a photo of the house which made me step back and notice the paintings, the plaque dedicated to Galileo. A fork in the road led to me following two confused-looking bald men, knowing full well I was probably going the wrong way, but when I turned around and realised everyone was then following me because of my guidebook and confident solo stride, I kinda had to carry on. Sure enough, we reached the locked gates of Forte di Belvedere and realising the mistake, I immediately went to the previous turn, while everyone else stood around and assumed Piazzale Michelangelo was closed that day. I still wasn’t completely sure I was on the right path, but I was told to look out for a large gate with St. George fighting the dragon on it. I found a large arched gate with a faded painting that could have been that… It could have been the English flag, although the Florentine flag is the same, so who knows?

Once again my book seemed to differ from everyone else’s, telling me to make the radical change of going downhill now along the Forte walls, one of the nicest parts of the journey. Also one of the quietest, I imagine because everyone else thought going downhill was going the wrong way. Huge walls, Spring trees in blossom and just a little time to myself. At the bottom of the hill civilisation rears its ugly head again, traffic and cafes appearing along with all the other people who took a different route. Then the steps begin. I didn’t have the presence of mind to count at the time and have searched online to see how many steps there are up Via di San Salvatore al Monte, but have found nothing. More than you would expect, although I did walk steeply downhill five minutes previously so… The steps are lined with stations of the cross, but I confess I was more concentrating on my apple juice right then, and surprised to find a chicken coop. When we arrived at the top we were delighted, assuming we were at the back of San Miniato because it didn’t look familiar. Careful studying of signs revealed that this was the other church up there and there was still a way to go. As San Miniato was out of view, I just started heading uphill and found it within about 5 minutes, another steep staircase not daunting me as my destination was in sight. Such a giddy good mood came upon me that some charity workers at the gate got me to sign what I assumed was a mailing list – “Would you like to sign for solidarity?” – only at the end realising that they expected a donation. I escaped quicksmart, the charity guys laughing at their friend who hadn’t been able to persuade me to part with my money. I had been told that the monks sang Eucharist at 5:30 daily so had tried my best to time it reasonably well. Imagine my delight when as soon as I entered the church they began singing! They were my soundtrack for exploring the cool interior of the church, watched by peace-sign Jesus on the ceiling as I climbed the steps to the high altar, eventually settling in the crypt where the service was going on. Perhaps the monks singing weren’t really monks, as the singing seemed to be done by a group of middle-aged males and females in plain casual dress. Some of the men had monk-like hair, but they may have just been balding. I did see some actual cassocked monks later with rope belts, but managed to restrain myself from taking a photo. The service was as puzzling to me as I guess a service in a foreign language would be to someone who hadn’t been brought up in that religion. Everyone stood up on the sound of a bell but I didn’t, in case I was expected to accept a wafer in Italian, or something. I was just a silent observer at the back, enjoying the calm and the music. Other observers were not so silent, snapping photos of the priest and forgetting to put their phones on silent.

After a while I went outside, unable to enter the graveyard as it closes at 5 but I could view it from certain angles, seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s grave. I found a seat and ate my chocolate, watching everyone mill about. The top steps were pretty full with seated tourists even in late March. As I hadn’t been to the famed Piazzale Michelangelo yet I made my way down a hill via the only-open-summers rose garden and approached the Piazzale, which I was expecting to be a rather small lookout point. It actually stretches quite far, although the farther North you go the less likely your photos will include the Duomo. Instead of one or two burger vans, there was a full on market, most offering free samples of biscotti, bread with olive oil, chilli pepper paste and… flavoured honey. Mint honey. Raspberry honey. I could have tried them all, but realised there’s a point where it looks bad if you don’t buy anything. I filled up from a few different stalls with enough to get me through until dinner at 7:30. Perhaps it was that the sun was setting and that the lights below were coming on, maybe it was knowing it was my last night, maybe it was tiredness from the walk or the acoustic covers singer on the steps, but I did become a little emotional, my face on the downhill route twisted in a big grin. Just… grinning at nothing and nobody. The risk of a solo holiday had been worth it. Should you take a risk? Well, research it well. Take a map. Get a good hotel or a host with references. Plan in advance. Don’t just up and book something for next week and if you’re cautious, choose a city, like I did and not an isolated rural area. But if a weirdo like me can do it…

I got down to the river bank at about 7:15, pondering a locked tower with stairs and wondering if it was open in the daytime. By 7:30 I was at St. Mark’s near Santo Spirito to meet Annie and we got a quick meal in the nearby Il Cantinone, which you enter through a staircase that leads underground. At the time we were taken aback by a rude waiter, who couldn’t understand why we were leaving so quickly [we had theatre tickets] but a quick look on TripAdvisor shows that the waiters are rude to everyone, which helps a little… Still though, my Crespelle Fiorentine were delicious, pancakes with ricotta and spinach in a tomato and bechamel sauce. It was certainly the most reasonably priced place in the area.

So we finished the evening and indeed both our holidays with La Bohème in St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Yes, it’s 30 euro although if you’re lucky like we were, someone will not show up and you can move to the 36 euro seats. It’s edited slightly, down to a five-hander but the cast are incredibly likeable, with a narrator who explains things humorously in English between the acts. Certain things are edited because of the church setting, for example Marcello’s naked lady painting is of a boat, as the narrator comically points out. Singing and acoustics are wonderful though, as they would be in a church and the single pianist deserves a standing ovation just for himself. As there are just 11 rows, no balcony and with definitely fewer than 200 seats – again, I wish I’d counted – it’s a special experience. We walked the 10 minutes to my bus stop beside Santa Maria Novella station and got a quick coffee and a [horrible, my first bad food in Italy] pastry in the station, and said our goodbyes.

And there you have it. Go to Italy. Go with me! Go with me somewhere else. Take me somewhere. PLEASE. Or else I’ll go and annoy some more cats. Nobody wants that, least of all the cats.

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