Day 2 in Italy began at 7 o’clock in the morning.
The earliness of the hour, however, was more than made up for by breakfast!
We met down in the common room at 7:30, and we got rolls, packages of cookies, and packaged pieces of tiny toast (try saying that 5 times fast). There were several options for drinks: grapefruit juice (dear lord it was nasty; all watered down and gross); some sort of orange juice/fruit punch; various versions of coffee; hot milk (it was…interesting…); and hot chocolate (which was absolutely delicious). Our entire group turned into hipsters as we unashamedly took pictures of our food. It was fantastic.
After our first Italian breakfast, we headed over to the Palazzo Vecchio (literally the Old Palace). In the Piazza Vecchio (Vecchia? I have no idea) there is a smallish sculpture collection, a large fountain, and a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David outside the doors. The sculptures are absolutely amazing, and quite massive. When you first walk into the Palazzo, there’s a huge open courtyard area, which was completely unexpected. If you look up, you can see the roofline and the bell tower of the Palazzo. There were several carabinieri [policemen] patrolling the courtyard, so I took a chance and asked to take a picture with one of them. Thankfully, he was nice and understood at least enough English to know what I was asking, so I now have a picture with an Italian policeman.
The Palazzo Vecchio was one of the several palazzos around Florence that were owned and used by the Medici family. The main room on the ground floor was and still is used by the city council for large meetings, and the rest of the rooms on that floor were private apartments of the Medici. The study of Lorenzo the Magnificent (…I’m pretty sure that’s who it belonged to) is open to visitors, and the walls and ceiling are covered with mythological and allegorical paintings. The other half of the ground floor are officially known as “The Apartments of Pope Leo X” (who was the Medici pope), but I don’t believe he ever actually lived there. There are portraits of most of the male Medici family members in the various rooms on that floor, and some of the original furniture (mainly ornamented bureaus) remains in the rooms. The second floor has a second set of apartments directly above the apartments on the ground floor, and apparently the theme of each apartment on the upper floor represents the spiritual side of the theme of the apartment directly below it. On the other side of the Palazzo’s upper floor, there are the apartments of Eleonora of Toledo. Each room in her apartments is dedicated to a different historical woman, which is fairly unusual for her time. The colours of these rooms were still bright and cheerful, yet not overwhelming. They seemed like a set of rooms that might actually be quite fun and comfortable to live in, even today.
I should mention the stairs between the two floors: there were surprisingly few of them, but they were very old stone steps which were worn from years and years of people walking on them. After about the third one, I basically flew up the rest. They were terrifying. Seriously panic-inducing. I mean yeah I have a fear of stairs so that was probably part of the reason but THESE WERE AWFUL STAIRS. The rest of the Palazzo was gorgeous though!
Lunch after the Palazzo was “whatever you wanna do”, so me and a couple of the other students stopped by a sandwich shop to try out some more of the food we’d heard people talking about. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the man making my sandwich, so I accidentally got the wrong one…so it had goat cheese…and I don’t like cheese…so I just tried the prosciutto…but apparently I don’t like prosciutto…so I had one of the two slices of bread on the sandwich and that was my lunch. *headdesk* but then we had around an hour to just hang out, and I had snacks up in my room, so it turned out fine.
After lunch we went to another (former) Medici residence: the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. This palazzo was slightly smaller than the Palazzo Vecchio, which was mildly disappointing once we’d gone through it all, but it was just as gorgeous.
The main attraction of the Medici Riccardi is the Chapel of the Magi, so called because of the fresco entitled “Procession of the Magi” painted on all four walls. We’d looked at pictures of it in class before we left, but it is so much more impressive in person. There was another chapel later on in the Palazzo, the Chapel of the Signoria, which did not have a fresco, but instead had a lot of gold leaf. The rooms that we walked through in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi seemed more barren than those of the Palazzo Vecchio, but they were still very richly decorated. There were several rooms with massive tapestries hung on the walls, and one room where the walls were covered in mirrors painted with grasses, trees, and tiny Cupid-looking beings. A set of doors leading into one of the tapestried rooms had an image and quotes of Boccaccio on one door and Petrarch on the other, which was quite excited for me and the other four members of our World Lit class that had studied them. Our favourite part of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, though, would have to be the bust of Machiavelli that we found tucked away in a small room near the end of the palazzo. We liked it so much, in fact, that we took a group picture that makes it look almost like Machiavelli was a member of our class!
The reason our trip through the Palazzo Medici Riccardi was so short was because much of the palazzo is still used as offices and workplaces for city officials, so obviously they don’t want hordes of visitors traipsing through there, staring at all the ceilings. There was, however, a small garden in the courtyard of the Medici Riccardi that was home to several pieces of modern art, and several trees that had oranges hanging off them. It was quite beautiful, even with the tiny drizzle.
Since our visit to the palazzo didn’t take nearly as long as the teachers had planned, we had the rest of the afternoon as well as the entire evening to wander around the city and do whatever we wanted. My roommate and I took this opportunity to visit the monthly farmer’s market in the Piazza della Repubblica that just happened to be taking place the weekend we got there. Everything looked tremendously fresh and delicious, and I ended up buying homemade beeswax chapstick, handmade wheat (I’m pretty sure it’s wheat) penne pasta to feed my pasta addiction, and a tiny jar of apple & violet jam. The two of us also went to the department store at the edge of the piazza, called La Rinascenta (meaning The Renaissance [more or less]; it felt like a cross between World Market and Macy’s), so that I could buy a washcloth, since none were provided in the room. I also ended up buying another bag of pasta there. I regret nothing.
…Actually I just realised: I think my roommate and I went shopping in our lunch break, between palazzos. After the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, I think we all walked down to the Arno because one of the teachers had seen something about a carnival to celebrate the last weekend before Ash Wednesday. It turned out to be a carnival meant for small children, so we were mildly disappointed that we’d walked all that way for nothing. We crossed to the other side of the river, though, and found a gelato shop with a huge line, which seemed to indicate that it would be really good. We would’ve all waited in line and bought gelato, but my roommate, another music major, and I wanted to listen to the vespers in Gregorian chant at the Duomo. (For those of you who don’t know, vespers are the traditional evening prayers, sung in Latin [or partially in Italian, in this case], and Gregorian chant is a style of singing from the medieval period which is the typical drone-like chant singing that you may have heard in some movie where they have monks sing.) So the three of us forewent gelato and instead went to hear vespers.
That was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. We understood almost literally none of it, and a few of the choir members weren’t exactly on pitch, but it was still entrancing to hear.
After vespers, I stayed to hear Mass, since it’d been years since I’d gone to a Catholic mass. Of course, it was all in Italian, so I don’t know how much I really gained from it, but it was still almost like time-travelling to be hearing Mass in a Renaissance church.
I’m not sure what we did for the rest of that evening. I think I and a couple of the other girls went to eat dinner somewhere and probably wandered around for a while, but alas, I’m writing this two weeks later instead of the day it happened, so I apologise for the gaps in my memory.
And thus ended day 2 of our trip.