Firenze Day 4

photo: The Arno river in Firenze

Buildings reflected in the Arno River.

My first stop of the day was Santa Maria del Carmine, in Oltarno ("the other side of the Arno") - the first time I've really ventured over there. The church itself is for the most part fairly traditional, but I was overjoyed to see they had a trompe-l'oeil ceiling ('oeil ). Roman columns and arches extend upward above you ... but the middle of the ceiling opens up to heaven. I love those things.

One of the side chapels is cordoned off: this is the Capella Brancacci, for which you go out the church door and through a side door past the ticket office (the church itself is free). I had a timed entry that my B&B manager helped me get; I seemed to be the only person who'd called ahead. But they were under quota so everyone got in. My guidebook compares the Capella Brancacci to the Sistine Chapel in importance, and even I can understand that when it's pointed out that Masaccio's "Expulsion of Adam and Eve" shows real human emotion as never seen before in the period - with Adam stumbling out with his hands over his face and Eve wailing.

Something else I noticed: when you get up close and at an angle, the light reflects off bumps and bulges, showing that the people in most of the big scenes have had at least one facial reassignment surgery. This is indirectly discussed in some of the church documentation: faces were literally removed and re-added later. But I suspect it was more than that, and had a lot to do with politics, as churches are constructed over hundreds of years and dynasties rise and fall, and the person who plays the part of the rich merchant in the fresco is no longer in favour and so is scraped off and replaced by the new person who's footing the bills. But this may just be my over-active imagination.

On the way to the centre of town, I stopped at a store called Alberto Cozzi that Lonely Planet mentioned sells marbled paper. They do a bit more than that: they marble the paper themselves, they bind (and re-bind) books, and on Saturdays they have demonstrations of how to make marbled paper. I'm very interested in that: I've been fascinated by marbled paper since I went to Venice in 2002. I bought five sheets then and expect to bring home at least a couple more. I spent a lot of time trying to recreate the marbled paper process in The Gimp (one of Linux's several image manipulation software packages), but with only limited success.

Next up, Orsanmichele. This is a looming shoebox of a building right in the centre of Florence. Lots of sculptures on the outside - but they're all replicas now because the originals are in the Museo di Orsanmichele ... which is only open on Monday. Aside from the sculptures, the building gives none of the usual indications that it's a church: I don't recall a cross, and there certainly isn't a peaked roof or spire. It's just a very tall brick of a building that's impossible to photograph because it's not on a piazza, it's just packed into Firenze's narrow streets like any other building. The centrepiece is a huge tabernacle (I'm taking that word from the Rough Guide - I assume they're right), a structure in an area that might usually be the choir, that holds a painting of the Madonna.

Upstairs in what apparently used to be the grain silos (this church has an interesting history) is the museum with all its sculptures. Evidently they were by famous people (Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Brunelleschi, Donatello) but again, none stood out to me ...

photo: Looking out from Orsanmichele

Tile roof and window, with church ornamentation reflected in the window.

Palazzo Vecchio is the fortress-like building in the centre of town that I think still serves as the city's town hall - but also houses a number of medieval apartments-turned-museum - preserved much as they were, although with less furniture - and it also has a more traditional museum. The apartments seem to have been mostly the product of the Medici again, and the many, many artists they employed to paint and decorate the walls and ceilings. It's spectacularly ornate, and more than a little gaudy. I found several illustrations of Hercules, including two apparently by different artists, in two different rooms, of him battling the Hydra.

The attached museum is surprisingly small - only five or six rooms - and didn't particularly register on me.

But then came another fun part: Palazzo Vecchio has a tower, and you can climb it. So of course I did. More nice views of the city - and this time you can see the Arno - you're lower down than at the Dome or the Campanile, but you're also closer. The Arno is just beyond the Uffizi - the other really famous museum I haven't visited yet (that and the Accademia, which I'm booked into tomorrow).

Next was Badia Fiorentina, another nice church - and we're visiting today because it's only opened by volunteers from 1500 to 1800 on Monday. And hallelujah, we have a piece of medieval art that I liked: Filippino Lippi's "Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard" was very nice. And the attached Orange Tree Cloister is really lovely - it's two storeys, although only the upper one is open to the public.

It was getting late in the day, but I risked going to the Galileo Museum. I should know better than to enter a science museum with an hour and twenty minutes until closing, but I did okay: all those fabulous astrolabes, sextants, telescopes, microscopes, and gorgeously worked demonstration equipment (with woodworking you don't see on furniture these days, never mind on what amounts to school equipment).

Dinner was at the multi-personality Fiaschetteria Cambi ... that's what it says on their menu. But I came in the door that said "Antico Ristreto di Cambi" (sp?), and not the one that said "Trattoria." My only complaint about the place was that nearly all the seats are stools: not ideal for the back when you've just spent eight hours walking. I had an "Aperitivo Prosecco," then "Penne gorgonzola e asparagi" (you can probably figure that one out) which was really good. For dessert I had "Sfogliantina di mele con la creme calda," which my waitress was kind enough to translate as "(apple) strudel with fig jam and hot cream on the side." Also very good.

photo: a wall sculpture at Santa Maria del Carmine church

A wall sculpture at a church with a seething mass of horses and warriors.