Our plan for our last full day in Florence was to get tickets to Galleria Uffizi, which is the second oldest museum in the world (the first oldest being The Louvre - which is most famous for The Mona Lisa which is an Italian painting - all of this was told to us by Yuri, our enthusiastic hostel manager and seems like an age-old argument for Italian pride). Anyway, this museum has a reservation office that we were going to visit to buy tickets before heading to the Basilica de Santa Croce. It turned out that we were actually a bit early and that the reservation office wasn't actually open so we thought we would try the Galleria itself as the line might be short enough. Apparently this place is very popular as, even as early as it was (9am) the line was ridiculously long; even longer that the one at the Colosseum had been! We decided to go to the Basilica first and hopefully by the time we'd done that the reservation office would be open and we could skip the queue.
Now, Shelley and I have this theory that the outside of a church is usually the bit that is most interesting and the part that sets it apart and makes it different to other churches - inside they are all pretty much the same really. However, when we found Santa Croce, we had a moment of wondering if we had gone in a circle and were back at the Cathedral, see:
Ok - so they look quite different in these pictures (which I had to borrow from the Internet because we can't get photos this good when we try), but they definitely look alike in real life, they are both all Green and White and wedding cake like. Anyway, we realised of course, that this was a different church and went off in search of an entrance. For possibly the first time in our adventures we not only turned up somewhere before it had opened, but also before a queue had formed! The only other people there were two lovely young girls from Brazil who we spoke with while we waited for the church to open. A little bit of an interlude is needed here to explain why we waited around for the church to open. Yuri had told us that this church is where quite a few famous people are buried, Michelangelo, Galileo and Dante amongst others; very helpfully they give you a map that points out where the "Tombs and Sepulchres of the Great" are. Having previously done a project on Galileo Galilei, I was most interested in seeing his tomb and, happily, his is the first you come to when walking around the church.
As you can see Galileo is shown holding a telescope and resting on a globe. Directly below him is carved a representation of the solar system, with the sun at the centre. The two marble muses standing on either side of him are holding geometrical drawings. The whole thing is a beautiful testament to the visionary buried there! I had tears in my eyes when I saw it. Anyway, enough of my enthusing. . .
Next up was Michelangelo himself. Above his tomb is a picture of 'The Pietti', which is the bible story his sculpture in the Vatican is based on (you know the one - woman holding a dead Jesus tenderly). Directly below this is a marble bust of the man himself and below that, three statues of women that represent Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Pictures in order follow:
Pietti and marble bust
The whole thing
Next was Dante:
Then there was a Machiavelli (The Machiavelli to be exact, but we didn't know that till we got home) and a couple of people whom we didn't recognise, including this guy:
Anyway, we then saw the rest of the church which was, you know, church-like. (except for a couple of GIANT paintings that creeped the hell out of us!). Our tickets included entrance to Casa Buonarotti which was Michelangelo's family house that has since been made into a museum/shrine to Michelangelo so we went in search of this. One very unhelpful guard simply told us that it was 'around the corner', but another one gave us slightly more detailed directions and off we trotted. We arrived at a relatively non-descript on the outside house and arrived. Michelangelo's descendant, Michelangelo the Younger, had set about collecting together as much of the Master's work as he could, along with images of the man and some other things he found interesting. The most notable of which is a giant stone eagle that stands at the top of some stairs, ready to give all visitors the heebie-jeebies!
In one room, I raised the camera to take a photo of something only to be told by an official that no photos were allowed. We hadn't seen any signage to indicate this, which is why the camera had been out anyway, but as soon as I was told that, I turned the camera off and relegated it to my shoulder. This didn't deter the woman however as she had obviously decided we were bad news and followed through the rest of the rooms, trying to look as if she wasn't! It was extremely frustrating as we are decidedly NOT 'those' tourists and there were other people who were not only taking photos, but also using flash which is like ten times worse! (Something about the light emitted causes damage to old things that require a controlled temperature and low lightling). Anyway, it was nice to be away from her and I think the whole experice would have been much more enjoyable if she hadn't followed us, as this building actually had some really cool things in it but knowing that someone was watching us really put a damper on things.
Our next stop was the Ponte Vecchio or 'jewellery bridge' where we found some pretty things to buy each other. It being a Saturday, it was EXTREMELY crowded and when I got back from buying Shelley's present, she clutched on to me as all of the people had made her worry she would never see me again. Lunch was found and then much shopping for presents for other people was done before heading back to the hostel to escape the masses (and masses, and masses) of people.
After a brief rest, we sadly packed our bags in preparation for tomorrow's journey home. We then decided to enjoy our last night in this beautiful city by drowning our sorrows at having to leave it. We were in the Hostel's common room and the TV was on, the news came on and, as it was in Italian, we didn't understand it. But we saw a picture of The Pope and then something about a vigil in St. Peter's Square. Us not knowing a lot about Catholicism, we thought that maybe the pope was seriously ill or something! Later on, Yuri and his friend joined us in the drinking and, Yuri's english being not that great we attempted to ask about the vigil. For those of you who remember the Waikato ad that didn't have any talking in it, Amber used the sign for 'Does the pope wear a funny hat?' to ask about it. Turns out that this is what Catholics do the night before Easter Sunday.
Which brings us neatly onto Easter Sunday.
As you all know, Shelley and I are extremely unreligious, so, when we booked this trip it didn't even occur to us that we were going to be in a Catholic country over Easter! By the time we did realise it, it was Good Friday. As we had to travel on Easter Sunday, I looked up public transport over Easter in Florence and discovered that if you have to be in a Catholic city over Easter - Florence is THE place to be. With this place in mind, our alarm was set early. We go reasonably good positions at the square in front of The Cathedral to witness just how exactly Florence celebrates the rising of that Christ guy (sorry to our religious friends, every thing we say during the following is in jest, please remember that). Anyway, I've always been fascinated with how Catholicism manages to mix paganism and christianity and never has this been more in evidence that Easter Sunday in Florence.
After a couple of hours of waiting and watching people running around a lot and armed guards keeping people back a certain distance.
The action started. First to arrive was a parade of olde worldy style people with drums and trumpets.
These people were followed by a donkey pulling a cart and then four, pure white, very decorated, bulls pulling a GIGANTIC decorated cart.
(Shelley thinks it looks like a Dalek here - and she calls me a geek!)
Some 'peasanty' style women then bought out carts filled to overflowing with flowers and sprigs.
After a slight delay where men in tights entertained us with dances and flag throwing, Lating chanting and 'hallalujiahs' could be heard. A procession of priests meandered past us carrying crosses, chanting and waving incense. Finally, a cardinally looking priest guy, with an entourage of lesser looking priests and carrying a brush and some holy water, splashed water on the giant cart (the animals and plastic had been removed by this point), and blessed it. He then walked about the square blessing and throwing holy water over all the people gathered, (Including us - We looked for burn marks but couldn't find any), the olde-worldy people and then, finally, wagons of flowers. After everything had been thouroughly holy watered, he disappeared back inside the church and all the peasanty people started handed out sprigs, flowers and eggs. (the last is for 'bambinos'). We can only assume that this is for luck in the coming year. We were given a sprig each, and Shelley was even given an egg!!
After a slight pause, the following happened:
Basically, a dove shaped rocket comes flying from the church to crash into the giant cart and fireworky madness ensued. They even create a smoke wall so you can see the fireworks during the day!!