>What a day! The weather was absolutely perfect, which was a relief after Husband and I were rained out yesterday afternoon. (Which was fine because we needed naps, anyway.) While Husband did his conference thing today, I explored the "Oltarno," or left bank of the Arno. The nice thing about the Oltarno is, other than the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens, there are no super famous sites there. I was hoping to avoid all the other tourismos while I looked around places that I have never seen before.

The day began with a much anticipated visit to the Museo Zoologico della Specola, which has an enormous display of preserved wildlife (including an enormous walrus), and more importantly, the largest collection of anatomical waxworks in the world. I rushed through the taxidermied animals to get to the good stuff. Besides being utterly grotestque, I was pleased to note that all the female wax bodies had copious amounts of pubic hair. For some reason, the male wax bodies had none, which I found strange. I was also intrigued to note that at least half of the wax penises were circumcised. Also odd since the waxworks were mostly made in the 1700s and I didn't think most men were circumcised back then. The only incorrect models were the enlarged wax sperms, which portray a mini baby in the head, ready for implantation. Hilarious. Sadly (although most readers will actually be very happy), no photos were allowed.

After the museum, I headed up an enormous hill to Fort Blevedere.This is Porta San Giorgio, one of the old city gates that I passed through on the way. It turns out that Ft. Belvedere is closed for repairs (or something, that's what I decided the sign said, as it was only in Italian). So I took another scenic route down the hill.Hence I encountered the second drawback to wandering around alone: if I was hit by a car, how would anyone know? (The first drawback is that I had no one to chat with during my journey.) Seriously, the road was narrow and wind-y, and there was no sidewalk. It was a little scary.

At the bottom of the hill, I went up another hill to see a few churches. This time there were stairs, which was much more convenient.I thought it was funny that the first thing that I saw at the top of the mountain was a "smoke machine."I mean, I was huffing and puffing after all that climbing, so I can't imagine how smokers make it. Is this a reward? Like, "If I make it to the top, I can have a cigarette?"

Anyway, the church I wanted to see is San Miniato al Monte, but first I stopped by San Salvatore al Minte because my guide book said that Michelangelo "was very fond of the understated two-floor structure... [and] nicknamed it 'his pretty country lass.'"I don't know. I thought it was OK, but I wouldn't have climbed a mountain for it alone. What do you think?

San Miniato al Monte, on the other hand, is worth a climb of even double the height of what it took to get there.It had an amazing mosaic over the alter (my picture didn't come out, though) and an awesome crypt with some piece or another of San Miniato himself.I couldn't get close enough to tell what it was, but I adore relics, so I was happy. The rest of the church was also beautiful, with lots of marble and gorgeous frescoes. An organist began playing while I was there, so it was just a great experience. And it had the most unusually laid out cemetary I've ever seen.

From there it was back down the hill a bit to Piazelle Michelangolio, which has nada to do with the master artist but is an enormous overlook with stunning views of Florence. Partly obscuring this view was the MTV Italy Total Request Live stage that was set up and semi-operating.None of the zillions of skanky teens milling around paid the least bit attention to me as I hacking up impressive wads of viscuous mucus into piece of toilet paper that I tore off the roll I have had in my backpack ever since I helped Dr. P move last weekend and took it to blow my nose in. I'm hoping that this stupid sinus infection is finally starting to clear up. Despite challenges both sinus and MTV, I got some nice scenic pictures:The second one has the Florentine synagogue in it, which is the building with the lovely green dome. I had
lunch up there (yogurt and a banana that I took from the hotel's breakfast buffet) before heading back down for good.

Then I wandered around more, and as I headed toward Porta Romana, which was the way out of the city in 1326, I noticed that my map showed a Jewish cemetary not too far away. I doubted that it would be open, but i hoped I could peek through the gate and get a glimpse. When I got there, I was disappointed to find that the gate was solid metal. I stood around reading the sign, which mentitoned that the cemetary was used in the 1700s after the other Jewish burial grounds, which were just outside of Porta Romana (Jews were not allowed to bury their dead within the City limits), were too full. Cosimo III gave them permission to open this. Incidentally, he also forced them to live within a walled ghetto for the first time since Jews arrived in Florence in the 1300s. It seems that the pope would not allow Cosimo III to be a Grand Duke unless he discriminated against Jews. But that's another story...

Anyway, I was debating about where to go next when a car pulled up to the gate and a guy jumped out. Turned out that he was the caretaker of the cemetary or something, so when he opened the gate I asked him if I could look inside. He invited me in, and I had a very fast look at it. The place is very overgrown with weeds and the tombs are in bad shape, but there was a very etheral beauty to it. I was very, very touched by it. The Jewish community in Florence is only about 1,500 people strong, so I can imagine how difficult it must be to keep things up.

I wrapped the day up with gelato (it was my third gelato stop) and the Brancacci Chapel, which was famously painted by Masaccio and finished by Filipinno Lippi. Very nice.