Masters and Masterpieces: Our Final Day in Florence

Becoming Art at Uffizi

Knowing it was our last day in Florence was not a pleasant thought to wake up to. Our first activity of the day wasn’t especially exciting either, but it was required, so off we went to the Red Cross COVID testing center. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me hoping we’d all be positive and have to stay another 10 days. Alas, we were all COVID-free and reality was barreling towards us like a high speed European train.

After our tests, we were famished so we stopped for some pizza on our way to our next destination. There’s something I can’t believe no one talks about, so I’m going to talk about it. Italian restaurants do not, I repeat, do not cut their pizzas before they serve them to you. I can’t even tell you how confused we were the first time they put whole, uncut pizzas in front of us and walked away. We all just kind of sat there for a second, looking at our plates and waiting for the waiter to come back with a pizza cutter, until we realized we were on our own. Now at the end of our trip, however, we were seasoned and experienced Italian pizza-eaters, so we hacked away at our pies with a knife and fork, and hit the cobblestone streets for our last day of Florentine touristing.

The Basilica of Santa Croce is an ornate building similar to the Duomo in its use of pink and green marble, and is as filled with history as anyplace else in Florence. In fact, it’s what’s, or who’s, inside the basilica that sets it apart. Buried inside Santa Croce are celebrities so big they only need one name, like Madonna or Prince. But these celebrities are a bit more old school: Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

For some reason, this was the only place that we had difficulty getting into. There were two obstacles. First, Carey was told she had to cover her shoulders. Apparently the god that supposedly created us doesn’t like shoulders. Or legs. Or really any skin on a woman’s body. They were passing out mesh wraps to all women in shorts, as well, which I found bizarre considering the wraps were see-through. Maybe God likes a peepshow, who knows. The second obstacle was that Carey had received the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, which only required one dose and wasn’t used in Europe, so the man checking cards was very confused. Language was a challenge in this particular instance, but we were eventually able to convey the information to someone who understood, wrap a shawl around Carey’s shoulders, and walk our heathen selves into the basilica.

We’d grown accustomed to the decadence and grandeur of the churches we’d seen, and the Basilica of Santa Croce is no exception. A cavernous building filled with intricate stone and woodwork, priceless statues and paintings, ornate stained glass windows, and ledger stones covering the floors to commemorate the deceased parishioners buried beneath. But it wasn’t the parishioners under our feet that got this history nerd crying for the billionth time in Europe, it was who was interred along the walls.

The first I came to was Machiavelli. Arguably something of a douche, and certainly not my favorite, so I continued on. No tears, I got this. Next up was Michelangelo. GOAT alert! There lied one of the most magnificent talents in human history. Masterpiece after masterpiece, he filled our world with beauty, and I felt privileged to pay my respects. Shit, I don’t got this. Finally I reached the burial place of Galileo Galilei, Father of Astronomy and nemesis of the Catholic Church. There was no more holding back the tears, so I settled for not ugly-crying. Galileo was brilliant, curious, and filled with a courage none of us can even comprehend. He stood on the shoulders of other brilliant minds of antiquity, and allowed future brilliance to stand on his. All I could do as I stood there was choke out a broken, “Thank you,” and try to pull my nerdy-ass self together.

We walked outside to the courtyard and heard some rather eerie music coming from inside another room within the Santa Croce complex. We parted thick curtains covering the doorway, and when we got inside I wondered why there hadn’t been a sign above the entry saying, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” cause we had just walked into Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell (such a lost opportunity). The room was dark, and on every wall were moving pictures, all weird scenes of humans in anguish, as freaky-ass chanting played through hidden speakers. Were I obsessed with Dante the way I’m obsessed with the Medici, I may have enjoyed the experience. But it was hot and stuffy, and I quickly went back outside to the fresh air.

There was one more highlight hidden inside Santa Croce. In the Refectory, hanging on a mechanical pulley system so it can be lifted quickly in the event of a flood, is Vasari’s massive painting, The Last Supper. No, this is not Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting by the same name which hangs in Milan, but a masterpiece none the less and, though I’m a big da Vinci fan, I may like Vasari’s version better.

Next, we headed to the Uffizi Gallery, our last museum of the trip. It was a somewhat cloudy day, and we arrived at the Uffizi with time to spare before our scheduled entry, so we sat on the steps in the courtyard, people watching and debating whether or not to purchase a painting from one of the sidewalk artists selling their work. After a few minutes, the clouds began to cry (for once, it wasn’t me) and we were in a downpour. It was the first rain of the entire trip, and given how hot it had been, it was quite welcome.

The Uffizi occupies a huge, gorgeous building right on the Arno River. There are statues, busts, paintings, tapestries; seemingly something amazing around every corner. We walked the hall lined with busts of Roman rulers, saw works by da Vinci, Vasari, Rembrandt, so many Botticellis, and countless others. I gushed over Medici portraits, Carey high-fived ancient statues, both girls posed as art in places that had none, and we even saw a window imprint in a stairwell, left there in the 90’s by the detonation of a mafia bomb, but there were two particular pieces in this gallery that I was on a mission to see.

When I walked into the rooms where they were displayed the usual teary-eyed Steph was back. There they were! The Birth of Venus and Primavera, Simonetta Vespucci looking radiant as a goddess, just as Botticelli intended. They were bigger than I’d imagined, and just so magnificent. I stared at them, studied them, wiped away the tears, snapped endless photos, and finally relented and moved on, but not before swinging by the gift shop to pick up some prints. Sure, you can get Botticelli prints anywhere, but where better than the museum the originals call home?

When we left the Uffizi we headed back to the flat to begin the ultra-depressing task of packing. We had one more day in Europe, but it was our last day in Florence. As we walked, I was trying to mentally soak it all in. The narrow, cobblestone streets, the centuries old buildings, the smell of the leather shops and trattorias as we passed by. I wanted to engrave every detail into my mind. The entire trip had been incredible, and despite my swollen ankles and sore feet, I didn’t want it to end.

We enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner that evening, free from coked-up, singing waiters. The night was beautiful and warm, and the waiter immediately fell in love with Liv and brought us a round of Prosecco on the house. Our meal was delicious, we ordered more wine, and were questioning whether we had room for our dessert when the waiter complimented Olivia’s perfume and promised a free surprise if she indeed finished her dessert. She was stuffed, but she’s no quitter, so she joined the Clean Plate Club, and the waiter brought us a round of limoncello, also on the house. The perfect end to a magical time in this Renaissance wonderland.

I stared at Brunelleschi’s Dome for hours that evening, as if I could somehow bring a piece of it with me if I stared long enough. Our time in Florence, and in Europe as a whole, had been absolutely incredible. In the morning we would pick up our rental car and hit the roads of the rolling Tuscan hills, but first one last sleep in the city I’d fallen head over heels for. Come back next week to read about the final day of our epic European Ladycation! Until then, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!


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