Category Archives: Giny & John’s personal recommendations

fresco of a monster devouring a woman's head in hell from the Santa Croce museum

Florence: Personal favorites from John & Giny- Part 1 of 3

Friends have asked us to share some of our favorite things to do in and around Florence, Firenze, with the idea that we wouldn’t recite well-known highlights. Guidebooks are best for making strategic use of limited time. Perhaps an idea or two from our experience will grab you.

A couple of the biggies:

Giny’s favorite museum—The Bargello, via del Proconsolo 4, Florence’s oldest public building and with typical medieval features, is filled with sculpture, mainly from the 15th & 16th centuries. Giny doesn’t get too excited about large museums. The family joke is that her memory of the Uffizzi was her tired ooo-feetsy. But she likes the Bargello, maybe because it is laid out rather loosely, not a sequence one must follow. You can simply go this way or that.

John’s museum highlight: Museo dell’Opera del Duomothe Museum of the Works of the Duomo, is at Piazza del Duomo 9. There’s a nice write-up at the VisitFlorence site. Historic elements from the duomo complex—the baptistery, the campanile and the Duomo (cathedral)—are displayed and preserved along with related historical displays. My pick for the most powerful sculpture in Florence is Donatello’s sculpture of Mary Magdalene. Its traditional home has been this museum, and I believe it is back there after some time in the Bargello and in restoration. Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà supposedly features his aged face as Nicodemus. An easy read about the development of the Renaissance is Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. It will enhance your enjoyment of this museum. The operai, the lay institution in charge of everything, is an ongoing group.

Less well-known spots in Florence:

Palazzo Davanzati, Via Porta Rossi 13. This home has been restored to its medieval style—a step further back in time from famously Renaissance Florence. Decorative and colorful, with period furnishings, this will be especially interesting to designers and architects.

“Original language” movies in English are regularly offered at the Odeon, Piazza Strozzi, 2, a classic old theatre/performance hall where a plush if faded seat is always available, along with wine and beer at concessions.

My soul was stirred at the modest Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino, located where via de’ Magazzini meets via Dante Alighieri. This is only a single room with frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio (or his workshop). The Oratorio is on no one’s list of things to see. It continues its charitable work—buonomini is from buon uomini, good people.


Some folks may only occasionally step into a church, but we advise you get your ass in there! Entry is free (coin boxes are plentiful) and each has something to offer—the architecture, of course, and historical tie-ins, and often a masterpiece or two. A mark of a good guidebook is that the highlights of the churches are covered. When accessible, the interior courtyards offer a bit of greenery. The masterpieces may have coin boxes nearby that trigger a few minutes of illumination, and maybe you’ll get lucky and encounter a tour group receiving a talk.

David Byrne made the point that “Heaven, heaven is a place…where nothing, nothing ever happens.” Whereas depictions of hell, often found in the church frescoes, show bodies consumed in multiple ways and where no human orifice is safe. Hell provided an especially creative spark to many an artist’s imagination.

Grander churches have museums attached with entry fees, and these are not overwhelming and generally terrific. I’ll highlight Santa Croce for over-all grandness. On a more intimate scale, nothing compares with the Fra Angelico frescoes in the small individual monks’ cells at San Marco.

This post was updated in 2017.

Florence: Personal favorites 2: Walks, a bus ride, more favs

It is a fine walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, on up to San Miniato al Monte, and downhill through a nice residential area. The stairway up to Piazzale Michelangelo starts at Piazza G. Poggi, located on the south side of the Arno exactly midway between the bridges Ponte Alle Grazie and Ponte S. Niccolò. You’ll naturally linger, enjoying the famous vista from the piazzale, big piazza. Che bella veduta!

Then continue up the main street, viale Galileo, past one church to the next one, the richly decorated San Miniato al Monte. The church design, with a crypt below and the choir above is in a style pre-dating the Renaissance called Tuscan Romanesque. Across the wide street viale Galileo and a bit down from the church, take the stepped section, called via di San Salvatore al Monte, though maps may show only a few serpentine lines to depict it. You’ll find yourself heading downhill, back toward the river, on via del Monte alle Croce. I wonder if the cat houses (small houses for real cats, that is) are still in the fenced off wooded area? As we approach the old wall, we stop for wine at the enoteca Fuori Porta, Outside the Wall, at via del Monte alle Croce 10r.

We take the #7 city bus up the hill to Fiesole. The steep-ish street off the main piazza (and end of the bus line) affords one of the famous views of Florence. We dawdle, and have visited artisan shops and once hit a great market day. I led us on a walk back down via Vecchia Fiesolana. I was thinking I had got us lost (again), especially when some other walkers turned right, and I convinced myself we should head left. We all came onto the same street below. We walked to the church San Domenico, then caught the bus from there into town.

Some short recommendations

Giny recommends Ponte Vecchio at set-up time—0900.

I Due Fratellini, the two little brothers, via del Cimatori 38/r, for wine and panini. If you always wanted to drink some wine on a Florence sidewalk, action all around you, and have a numbered slot where you can set your wine glass, you’re there!

At the Pitti Palace, a ticket to the fabulous Boboli Gardens includes entry to the Costume Museum, Galeria del Costume. Giny learned about the tutta, a one piece overall type of clothing that suited the visionary Italian Futurist era. And did you know that the Italians originated bluejeans? Yep, that’s from blu de Genova. 

Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, the Office of the perfumery-pharmaceutical of Santa Maria Novella (but you knew that) near the train station at via della Scala 16. It is a store for their soaps, perfumes, candles and elixirs, it’s free, with great spaces and a glimpse into the Santa Maria Novella courtyard. A perfumery with style and history.

Il magazzino La Rinascente, the department store The Renaissance, at Piazza della Repubblica 1, has an eating area and veranda overlooking the piazza off its 4th floor.

This post was updated in 2017.

Florence: Giny & John’s recommendations 3:
a focus on art history

The Capella Brancacci, Brancacci Chapel, in Santa Maria del Carmine church on the south side of the Arno at Piazza del Carmine, features a frescoed story cycle begun by Masolino and Masaccio and completed much later by Filippino Lippi. It is Masaccio’s talent and story that is central. For painters, his work on this fresco heralds the arrival of the Renaissance. At 22, he began the project as the older Masolino’s assistant. Masaccio’s flesh and blood portrayals outshone Masolino and inspired, among others, Michelangelo. His Adam and Eve expelled from the garden is, in my book, not so realistic, but achieves on another level a timeless heightened expressiveness. Masaccio died three years later.

Cenacoli, dining rooms, refectories, (cena means dinner) are the old dining rooms connected to the living quarters at various church complexes. They feature a central painting, often a well-done version of the Last Supper, and usually include additional displays. One needs to track down these interesting spaces during their limited open hours.

When we visited the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, via Cavour 3, there was, on the entry level, an interactive screen display of Benozzo Gozzoli’s (cool name– 4 z’s) painting in the palazzo’s chapel. Dialing in a language and standing under a metal umbrella, one could point at various parts of the screen and hear the story of the individual depicted or something more about the painting. It didn’t work perfectly, could only serve a few people at a time, and was rather comical when folks kept pointing, then pointing harder, to get it to work, but I cite it here for exhibit designers. Having written this when the technology was new in 2010, does anybody have an update for me on the entry area?

Not only does the Salvatore Ferragamo store, via Tornabuoni, 2, feature our favorite window displays, but we enjoyed a special exhibit on color in shoes at the store’s shoe museum.  We sprang for it and enjoyed not only the show but the inspiring rags to riches life history of Salvatore himself. Call it modern shoe history, with plenty of celebrity stories along the way.

Art Store

Inspired by all those frescoes? Supplies are available at the art store Zecchi.

This post was updated in 2017.

Random, but still useful, notes

An etto, 1/10th of a chilo, kilo, about a quarter of a pound, is the common unit of measure in the marketplace..

Bio, pronounced bee-oh, means organic.

Use the 24 hour clock to express time, especially for transportation and hotels and the like.

The American month/day/year sequence for dates is, in Italy, day/month/year: 28/2/11 = February 28th, 2011.

When writing numbers, Italians use a period where we use a comma.

20° is a mild 68, 25° is a pleasant 77, 30° is 86, 35° is 95—fa caldo, It’s hot. Centigrade 28° is the palindrome to Fahrenheit 82º. Similarly, Centigrade 16º is close to Fahrenheit 61º, and the high of Centigrade 40º is Fahrenheit 104º!

Sometimes, under a via, street, name, you’ll see già followed by another name. This is the street’s former name.

The country is organized as follows: Regione (pl. regioni, 20 in number) > Provincia (pl. provincie– 110) > Comune (pl.Comuni) > Città. I think that’s right.

Gli Stati Uniti, the United States, may fly the red, white and blue. The Italians honor their verde, bianco e rosso, green, white and red.

Non calpestare l’erba means Don’t walk on the grass. You may see non calpestare l’aiuole, Don’t walk on the flowerbeds. I mention this to observe that aiuole has all five verbs and only one consonant! Other favorite words: cucchiaino, teaspoon; dopo domani, day after tomorrow.