Friday, October 06, 2017

Florence: Santa Maria Novella la bella

One of the big advantages of our motorhome travel in New Zealand was the flexibility to change plans and pick and choose where we'd be on any given night and how long we'd stay there. Since we were driving, we kind of planned out our Italy honeymoon along the same lines. We made an itinerary and booked hotels for every stop (unlike NZ, where we didn't book anywhere in advance), but we were careful to book places that could be cancelled if we changed our minds. In fact, so far we've stuck to the plan. Turns out it's a bit more complicated to change things around with hotels and apartments than when you're a travelling snail in your shell. The upshot of this, though, is that we didn't make any advance bookings for things like museums or tours, just in case we weren't where we thought we'd be on the day in question. Mostly, this hasn't been an issue. The season is over now and places are definitely getting quieter. There was one spot, however, where it is big enough and tourist-filled enough to make a difference, and that is Florence.

There are SO many tourists in Florence. I don't remember it being quite so bad the last time I was there in 2009, at around the same time of year, although I do remember there were long lines at the Uffizi even then. Since we didn't have advance tickets for these sorts of places, and could be bothered neither to stand in line for them nor to monkey around with Italian websites, we decided to skip some of Florence's big hitters and go instead for some slightly lesser-known attractions.

First, though, we had to arrive - by car. This wasn't actually quite as traumatic as I was expecting (easy for me to say, I wasn't driving), although we did end up accidentally driving through a pedestrian-only zone in the Santa Croce square. Not that you could really tell, since all those million tourists just walk in the road whether it's a pedestrian area or not. We'll see if there's a fine waiting when we get back to Brussels though... After a pause while Jules waited in the car and I did some on-foot reconnaissance to discover whether it was actually possible to get to the parking garage by car (you'd think so, or it would sort of defeat the purpose), we were happy to abandon the car for a couple of days and explore the rest of Florence via Shank's ponies.

While we were waiting for our apartment to be ready, we picked up some panini and then checked out the Duomo.

Outside the duomo

The inside of the famous Duomo domo

The inside is not so spectacular

Jules and my sandwich, I think. In one of the famous hole-in-the-wall places on Via dei Neri

Then it was on to our main attraction for the afternoon, the church of Santa Maria Novella. I went back in 2009, but since then they have actually opened up the cloisters and associated monastical structures, which adds a ton more to see, including the famous Uccello frescoes. I'm not sure how long this part has been accessible, but if you visited a while ago, it's well worth going again to see the rest of the complex.

Massaccio's Trinity, said to have induced terror in viewers when it was first revealed, due to its trompe l'oeil perspective

Beautiful Ghirlandaio frescoes behind the altar

Harmonious ceiling vaults in the cloister cemetery

In the cloisters

Ucello's flood. I had to study this via a black and white photocopy at school, you can imagine how uninspiring that was. In real life, the dramatic perspective and foreshortening is much more effective. It was originally in an arch in the cloisters, hence the shape, but has been moved inside for preservation

The Spanish Chapel, located off the cloister

Ceiling and wall of the Spanish Chapel

I can totally picture this as an ad for some hipster perfume or something
Fresco in the Spanish Chapel

Jules in the Great Cloister
It's not quite the Uffizi, but the amount and quality of artworks in situ in churches and cathedrals across Italy is still mind-blowing, and SMN is a particularly good spot to while away an afternoon. And we didn't have to queue!

We recovered our energy at Florence's Central Market, a destination which was new to me. It wasn't, to be honest, the *most* amazing food Italy has to offer, but you've got to hand it to them for making a really slickly-branded, tourist-friendly place to people-watch and sample some food and wine. They have common branding and staff (bussing tables) that make it, if perhaps a little antiseptic, at least a very inviting and easy place to spend some time. I think my favourite market experience is still the place we went to in Madrid, which was more authentically markety, but this was fun too for an early dinner grazing session.

Jules in the Central Market

Tasting some Tuscan reds

Staff hard at work


  1. Yes, Florence has so many tourists! And this is from someone who works in New York. When I went, I chose two places I was willing to wait in line for (top of the Duomo, which had a beautiful view, and the Accademia Gallery to see David) and spent the rest of the time walking around outside and eating.

    That’s pretty funny that you drove through a pedestrian street.

    I didn’t know that markets like that were a thing. I went to one in Amsterdam. And they’re becoming a thing in New York, but it’s a very recent trend here.

  2. Great photos. and cunning way of avoiding the crowds. Great time of year to go - I see why your wedding date was mid September! xx

    1. Yes, September is a great time to travel

  3. We went on a food tour in Perugia where one of the other guests worked at EatItaly in New York. Heard way too much about all the great Italian products available in New York haha. I just looked, the Florence one dates to 2014. Obviously based on older markets but I think this food court version is a modern idea.

    1. Struggling on my phone sorry. Meant to be reply to I Say Oui

    2. What's funny is for years I thought that the Eataly NY was the first one. I didn't realize it actually started in Italy until I visited Milan, saw one there, and looked up its origins. I will not espouse Eataly's good points since it sounds like you heard enough for a lifetime! I'd be curious to know if the person who talked to you was Italian American.

    3. No, it sounded good, I just thought it was a bit weird to go on about a sort of fake Italian market in Italy!


Feed the Comment Monster! Rawrrrr