Be Italian - Day Three

We made it to Florence in one piece earlier this afternoon, after a two hour train ride. Unlike some of our European train travels, this one was not particularly scenic. My only observation for the trip? I can't tell if they indeed only grow cypress trees in Italy, or if they just landscape all the other trees to look like them.

Santa Croce, in Florence, where this building style seems fairly popular.
Once in town, we walked 10 or so minutes over to the church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried, along with Galileo (who was moved to his current spot a hundred years after his death, when the church finally acknowledged that he was right about the whole heliocentrism thing) and Machiavelli.

Here rests Michelangelo, beneath none of the sculptures he had started as adornments for his own tomb.
We had to pay an entrance fee to see the church, which always bugs me, and then the frescoed altar was under renovation, so we couldn't see it. The tombs were interesting, and Dad was glad to pay his respects to his hero. I was most impressed with how bright it was in there. I practically needed sunglasses indoors, and that rarely happens in European churches.

The cloisters of Santa Croce.
Santa Croce also had an elaborate series of cloister gardens and associated chapels, which were pretty enough, but they contained no famous masterpieces. Sadly, the entire facility was flooded under 15 ft of water, mud, and oil from the nearby Arno River in 1966, requiring a vigorous restoration of basically everything in the church at the time.

As it turns out, Micelangelo is buried at Santa Croce because his family home is about a block away. Though it wasn't in the guidebook, Dad, who seems to have an eagle eye for all things Michelangelo, spotted it on the map and insisted we go. It was kind of lame, I thought, though they did have two pieces he completed as a teen -- the "Madonna of the Stairs," supposedly demonstrating the influence of Donatello on his work, and the "Battle of the Centaurs", showing his interest in Classical works. I thought the Madonna was more interesting; it was a surprisingly down-to-earth image of Mary breastfeeding the infant Christ, not the usual regal depiction of her.

Dad, in front of Michelangelo's family home, which is fairly nondescript.
They also had a couple of his sketches, very rare in the art world, as the artist burned most of his drawings because of his perfectionistic streak. He didn't want people to see that he had to experiment and try different things to get things right. It certainly seemed like the family did pretty well for themselves living off his legacy -- many of the rooms were pretty swank, including one done in painted panels to commemorate scenes from Michelangelo's life that was just slightly over-the-top.

It was getting close to 5, when everything closes for the day (despite the 2-3 hours most places are closed for lunch)n so we walked back to the hotel, pausing quickly at a small church dedicated to St. Ambrogio to see some 14th century frescoes on a whim. It's amazing the things that are just quietly lurking in all these centuries-old buildings! You never know what you'll find if you just stop and investigate.

For dinner, we relied on an impressive list of recommendations given to me by my friend Stephanie, who lived in Florence as a grad student getting her master's degree. (Now she's at Wash U, my alma mater, getting her PhD in art history, because she is awesome.) We opted for La Giostra, a restaurant in a historic building (is there any other kind in Florence?), run by some Hapsburg-Lorraine princes. There, I had what I would come to consider the best meal of the entire trip, a plate of tortelloni stuffed with burrata cheese (one of my absolute favorites, though it's very difficult to find in the U.S., served in a cream sauce and topped with shaved white truffles. Fall is truffle season in Italy, and they've been prominently featured on menus everywhere we've gone so far. I wouldn't be surprised if the smell of them starts oozing out of my pores soon, but it will be so, so worth it!

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