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Why We Love Italy: Small Group Tours of Florence
Episode 1: Nooks & Crannies of Florence

As the world’s latest plague comes to an end (think positive here people!) and the variants begin to peter out, visions of Tuscan landscapes begin to dance again in our heads and pull on our heartstrings. Reruns of Stanley Tucci’s CNN Italian show continue to beckon our return, and even Frances Mayes’ many Italian themed books begin to weigh heavily on us — again, urging us to pick them up and read through their pages. 

Some might say our love affair with Italy is ‘much ado about nothing.’ But those folk have obviously never been on a true small group tour through Italy; they haven’t supped from the fountain of “no big bus groups, no long lines, and no fretful running” after a flag-wielding, umbrella-scarved tour guide! 

The modern traveler has many more advantages than even our recent traveling predecessors such as the modern trend of farm-to-table cuisine served in authentic Italian family-owned restaurants. Every nook and corner in Italy has something to share: take for instance the tortured expression on the sculpted face located outside of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; Palazzo Vecchio which is translated Old Palace is located in Piazza della Signoria and is the old stomping grounds of the family Medici, prior to moving to their more modern palazzo located Oltrarno or across the Arno river. 

Florence: The Legend of Michelangelo’s Graffiti

Okay back to the face on the palace: Michelangelo was into art and at least for our modern 21st century understanding, graffiti. The piece in question is literally attached to the Palazzo Vecchio and is not seen by the majority of the tourist hordes as they invade each day the piazza. But for those souls who seek out the nooks and crannies, they will discover L’Importuno di Michelangelo (loosely translated as the annoyance of Michelangelo or the one who annoyed him!). The story goes like this…

Michelangelo would often find himself in a conversation with a man who just wouldn’t stop talking to him. The practice went on long enough apparently to push Michelangelo over the proverbial artist’s edge. One day while listening in dreaded boredom to the gent, he decided to carve the mans’ portrait. Legend has it that he didn’t take his eyes off of the man while doing the sculpture, and the man, so enamored  by his own topics (apparently) never noticed Michelangelo’s toiling. 

Well, that’s one telling of the story. There are at least a couple more legends that explain how the sculpture became what it is today, but we prefer this story as it’s the most creative. 

Florence: More About Oltrarno and Palazzo Pitti

Another interesting occurrence which happens more than not, is the tourist’s tendency to stay on only one side of the Arno river in Florence. Located just across the Old Bridge or Ponte Vecchio in Italian we find the Renaissance palace of Florentine banker, Luca Pitti. Around 1418, the wealthy banker purchased the property from the Boboli family with the intention to build a palace that would be equal to that of the Medici family; displays of wealth and success were very important back then (unlike today :)). Luca commissioned one Brunelleschi to design the building but before work began, the architect died. More trouble followed Luca when in 1466 he was implicated in a conspiracy against Piero d’ Medici, son of Cosimo the Elder. Luca’s fortunes soon declined thereafter and due to this disaster, his descendants ended up selling the palace and gardens to the Duchess Eleonora of Toledo in 1549 thus the Medici family bought it in 1549 as Eleonora of Toledo was the wife of Cosimo I de’Medici, and it became the ruling family’s main residence.

Today it is home to the Palatine Gallery featuring more than 500 Renaissance paintings. The collection includes works by  Correggio, Titian, Perugino, Raphael, and Rubens. Some of the palace rooms feature frescoes by the Baroque artist Pietro da Cortona. The palace also features several lesser-known collections devoted to silver, modern art, porcelain and fashion.