Sunday, May 4, 2008

Medici villas and sightseeing

The weather has gotten warmer (no more jacket needed, not even a rain jacket), and I’ve mostly finished with organizing the apartment, so I decided to do some sightseeing today. I decided to visit two villas of the Medici located on the outskirts of town. These were originally country retreats, but are now situated in the suburbs (and importantly, close to bus lines). Also important, they didn’t charge admission. The first place I went was the Villa La Petraia, dating to the 16th century. I guess nobody read the note in the Lonely Planet that “May is an exceptional time to visit,” since I was apparently the only person visiting. I wouldn’t call it exceptional, but the gardens were quite pleasant and offered a nice view of the city (and the airport), and plenty of shady benches on which to relax. The gardens could probably have used a little more care, but I guess that’s what you get for free admission. A short walk further was the Villa di Castello, also with quite a nice garden. A few more people had discovered this villa, but all in all it was still quite empty, which was a relief compared to the situation in downtown Florence.
I did venture into town afterwards, taking the bus back. First I visited the Duomo, which I hadn’t seen from the inside yet, if you can imagine that. I had been under the impression that it charged admission, but that’s only if you want to climb to the dome. I think the most impressive thing about the Duomo is it’s size (apparently the fourth-largest cathedral in the world), whereas the interior decoration is rather sparse. After a quick gelato at Grom (it takes a while to sample all the different gelato places that come recommended), I went into the Chiesa di Orsanmichele, which is located between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. The building was originally a grain market with an altar standing under the arcades. After a while, people decided to convert the building to a real church, walling in the altar, and creating the somewhat strange shape of the church. This church boasted more decoration, with several interesting frescoes.

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