The sun came out! A Magic Monday beckoned as we set off on the bikes to run some errands nearby, starting the ride in puffer jackets and stripping off layers by the time we returned. With supplies gathered early, in the local fashion by loading up the bikes with our groceries, we dropped things off at the little apartment, had an elevenses/lunch combo, since it was now afternoon and then set off again.
We rode through the city streets again, looking in some new areas, weaving our way through pedestrians, traffic and streets stalls and along those lovely narrow lanes.
We rode into the square beside the Basilica of Santa Croce, another grand building and the main Franciscan church in Florence. Then as we pedalled past the Baptistery of St. John again, we saw that some of the scaffolding had been removed, so we managed to see the East doors, which were gorgeous.
As we continued our two-wheeled explorations, we stumbled across the famous pig of Florence. It’s actually the ‘Porcellino’ Fountain, but the bronze statue is said to bring good luck to those who rub its snout. The shiny patina of that porcine nose should attest to many thousands of folks blessed with extraordinarily good fortune!
Time to get some hill work in! We planned to visit the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, a church high up on the hill above the city, above the Piazzale Michelangelo. We didn’t park the bikes and walk today, we kept to the road and pedalled up the long hill. This was great fun! No extra weight, no loaded panniers, just us and the bikes and a winding road. Up we powered, around the corners, sweeping left, now a right hand bend, up, up, climbing up. We made it to the top, with our breathing just a little heavier than normal and then walked the bikes into the grounds of the Basilica. What a special place this was. The view was every bit as spectacular as the one we had admired yesterday, from the nearby Piazzale Michelangelo, with the beautiful church sitting above the grounds and 19th century cemetery.
One of the names we recognised in the cemetery was the family vault for Franco Zeffirelli. As far as we know, that famous Italian film director is still alive, so I guess it’s just sitting there, waiting for its moment with one of Florence’s famous sons.
When we went inside the Basilica for a look, oh my…it was breathtaking. What an absolutely beautiful place. The walls were covered in centuries old frescos, the ceilings were painted with coloured tiles and the alter was adorned with mosaics. I actually had a knot in my stomach walking around because it absolutely took my breath away. It was such a peaceful place, no crowds at all and walking along the quiet aisles, into the various rooms and the sacristy, looking at the beautiful pictures on almost every surface, it became my Florence highlight, it was that beautiful. We’ve been inside many different churches and cathedrals in many different towns and cities in different countries, but so many of them are what you would describe as garish. They are so often over the top with gilt and gold and bordering on obscene wealth. This always came across as quite jarring, to see the money and gold and ornate trappings, so front and centre. The beauty in the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, was in how understated it was. It was so respectful in its simplicity.
I loved just walking quietly, enjoying the peace and looking up and around at the beautiful frescos and images, that were in themselves, just stunning pieces of art. The Basilica is 1000 years old, so to be walking in such a historic place, of that age, was again very hard to process.
After walking through the interior for some time, we went outside to see the sun setting over the city. Another beautiful sight.
We then returned inside to wait for the Benedictine monks to begin their prayers and Gregorian chants. We heard the bell ring and then the voices. Oh my…goosebumps! We sat and listened to the voices of the monks and one nun fill the space in that stunning building, as they chanted and sang the prayers and prepared for Eucharist. It was beautiful!
When we finally took ourselves outside again, the sun was getting very low, so it was time to get back to the apartment before the light left us completely. We freewheeled down the long hill and rode past the Piazzale Michalangelo again and it was absolutely packed with tour buses and people and the same souvenir stalls and hawkers. We had just come from a beautiful place, with a beautiful view, with no crowds, no stalls or buses or hawkers, just peace, quiet, tranquility and beauty. The comparison between the two places couldn’t have been greater and I would always recommend taking in the view from the Basilica rather than mixing with the crowds and bustle of the Piazzale Michelangelo.
We zipped in and out of traffic, through intersections, dodging the frantic and hectic city peak hour and eventually rolled up to the door on the street that would take us into the courtyard where our little apartment sat waiting. With the light all but gone, the shared courtyard that we walked through to get to our apartment, looked so pretty all lit up with fairy lights in the potted olive trees. A lovely little place to return to.
Today I had my Florence highlight. A beautiful place, with a beautiful view, listening to beautiful voices singing and chanting, as the sun set on a beautiful city. Visiting the Basilica just really struck me, it was so lovely, so tranquil, so serene in its simple, but striking beauty. I loved it. We’ve seen some wonderful things in Florence, but I said to Steve, “This is the best thing we’ve seen.” It was for me. Tomorrow is our last full day here, so we will spend time saying goodbye to the lovely Firenze before we move on. It has been such a treat, to have the extended time here, to feel settled for a while in our own space, without the rush of packing up and moving on day after day. It’s been lovely and restful and to have done it in such a lovely place has been special indeed.
Lucky doesn’t begin to describe these two, simple, small town travellers from Tasmania. Our experiences continue to be so special and so memorable, that we are constantly reminded of what it takes to find joy and pleasure in life. A view. A voice. A place. A moment. A picture. A sunny day. Peace. It doesn’t take much. Joy is there in the smallest, simplest things. We just need to see it and appreciate it a little more. We’re learning to do that every day. Learning, learning, always learning.