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Published: September 22nd 2013
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and Campanile
To get to Venice's Santa Lucia train station to catch our train to Florence we caught another water shuttle. Once you get your head around the public transport system in Venice getting to where you need to be is quite easy. Forget about being patient and polite though. We've discovered that there is no such thing as waiting in line and taking your turn in Europe. You have to allow yourself sufficient time to arrive at the station/stop from where you are departing and then position yourself as close as you can on the platform where you have to board. It's not about being rude and pushing in so much as standing your ground and ensuring no one pushes in front of you. Last time we were 'polite' was in Prague and we ended up separated and in two different train stations! The train to Florence was an Alta Velocita high speed train and they are brilliant. Large comfortable seats, complimentary drink and snack, WiFi and the journey takes so much less time than a normal train.
Our hotel in Florence was ordinary, adequate but ordinary. Nothing wrong with adequate but when you are paying for a four star hotel
Cupola of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore
you expect more than marked walls, worn furnishings, fluctuating water temperature and an unpleasant odour coming from the drains in the bathroom. On the plus side it was clean, had lovely staff and was brilliantly located. This is the first hotel where we have felt a little let down so we really have been very fortunate overall.
We had no idea what to expect of Florence and very little knowledge of the city full stop. We knew it was the 'capital' of Italy's Tuscany region and a good base to visit other Tuscan cities like Siena and Pisa. As we walked down Via de Panzani and then Via de Cerratani, where our hotel was located, we were confronted by the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria del Fiore on the Piazza del Fiore. The red, green and white marble Gothic cathedral is completely overwhelming. It's massive! At 153 metres long and 114.5 metres high it's one of the world's largest cathedrals and has an enormous cupola. Beside the cathedral is the Campanile (bell tower) and Battistero (baptistry). The three buildings completely engulf the Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square). It really is an incredible sight.
According to the forecast the weather
Torre Pendente and me!
was going to be a little dubious during our stay in Florence so we took advantage of the fine weather on our first full day there to travel to the Tuscan countryside and visit a few famous sights. First stop Pisa and the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Dreams) with its Duomo, Battisteri and. famous Campanile or as the Italians call it Torre Pendente . . . Leaning Tower! The Tower is a bizzare sight. If you didn't know better you'd swear it was about to topple. It was closed to the public in 1990 because it was continuing to tilt and only reopened in 2001 when a group of engineers were able to stabilise it. They managed to decrease the tilt and could have lessened it even more but the Italian Government insisted a sizeable tilt be retained because of the role that it played in promoting the tourism industry of Pisa! Our movements were restricted a little while we were in Pisa. There were police and barricades everywhere and a whole lot of unhappy stall owners who weren't allowed to open for business. We don't know exactly what was happening but there were some raised voices and a
Exiting the Medieval City
whole lot of gesticulating. The Italians sure do like to use their hands and arms to get their message across!
After Pisa we had lunch and did a little wine tasting at a local winery. They had a delightful dry white wine and a couple of very nice (and very expensive) Chiantis. We also sampled their olive oil and a 52 year old balsamic vinegar. Divine. Others at the winery were ordering crates of wine to send home but unfortunately Australia's import duties make it too costly to consider. Probably a good thing because after a wine or two I like to spend money. (Much to Clive's dismay!)
Lunch and wine tasting done we headed for the Medieval town of San Gimignano, a particularly beautiful walled city. San Gimignano sits on a hilltop and has the most wonderfully preserved Romanesque and Gothic architecture and an unforgettable skyline. They also have international award winning icecream. I couldn't resist so had a lemoncello flavoured icecream . . . delicious! I'm not usually a great fan of icecream but haven't been able to resist indulging here in Europe. I don't know how it's different to icecream back home but it is
superb. Could be it just tastes better because we are on holiday! Back to Sam Gimignano and we have decided that next time we travel we will perhaps rent an apartment and stay here for a few weeks. It is just so gorgeous you can't help but fall in love with the place. Cute as!
The last stop for the day was Siena, another, but much larger, medieval city. Siena is one of the most visited towns in Italy and is famous for the Palio, a medieval horse race held twice a year.Ten horses and bareback riders represent ten of the seventeen c
ity 'wards' (think suburb) in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano. When you visit the Piazza del Campo (city square) it's hard to imagine the horse race. It was busy enough the day we were there so the mind boggles how a horse race and thousands of people could possibly be crammed into the Piazza but it does and without incident apparently! Siena also has the most beautiful cathedral which was originally intended to be the largest in the world but at some point during its construction they ran out of money and the extensions to the
View from the top of the Cupola.
Cathedral were abandoned. Still, it is one impressive building with sculptures by Donatello and other famous Italian sculptors and frescos that are just so beautiful you could just sit there all day admiring them.
As for the Tuscan countryside? Low hills, olive groves, orchards, vineyards, cypress trees and farm houses . . . it really is as beautiful as we were told it would be.
We spent the rest of our time in Florence visiting the must see cathedrals, museums and palaces. Florence is full of museums and you would need weeks to see them all properly. We purchased a Firenze Card which works the same as the pass we had in Paris. They're not cheap but so worth it. The Firenze Card is a three day pass that gives you admission to the major museums, villas, churches and historical gardens in Florence and priority access so no waiting in long queues . . . and goodness are the queues long! Who wants to waste a minute let alone hours waiting in a line when you are in Florence?
Couldn't possibly recount everything we did and saw in Florence but it was all magical. Here are a
View of inside of Cattedrale di Santa Maria Dell Fiore from the Cupola.
few of the highlights:
The Cupola (dome) of the Cattedrale Di Santa Maria del Fiore. The only way to see the inside of the dome up close and enjoy the extraordinary view of Florence is to climb its 463 steps. (Steep and sometimes very narrow!) The view of the interior of the Cathedral as you climb up the dome is amazing. Giorgio Vasari's frescoes of the Last Judgement are beautiful;
The Battistero, the oldest building in the Piazza, originally a Pagan temple but converted to Christian use in the 5th Century. Famous for Lorenzo Ghiberti's three sets of bronze doors depicting the life of John the Baptist, Christ and scenes from the Old Testament. Michelangelo called the doors depicting scenes from the Old Testament the 'Gates of Paradise'. All the doors on the Battistero are copies. The originals are held in the Opera di Santa Marie dell Fiore to ensure their preservation.
The Opera di Santa Maria dell Fiore Museum, previously an office and storage place for the Cathedral. It's where Michelangelo carved David and also where you'll find the second of his three Pieta sculptures;
The Galleria Dell Academia, the home of Michelangelo's David, 'the'
The Battistero's original Gates of Paradise
most exquisite thing I've ever seen. The detail in the sculpture is absolutely incredible. Clive had to drag me away. Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the Galleria so we could only take a photo of the copy that stands in the Piazza dell Signoria;
The Galleria degli Uffizi, one of Italy's biggest galleries, full of magnificent Renaissance arts and sculptures including work by da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli. We spent the best part of day there and even then had to 'skim' view some if the exhibits. Again, no photos allowed so as a result we are starting to gather quite a collection of books;
The Palazzio Vecchio, once the home of the Medici family and from the middle of the 19th Century the seat of the Florentine Government. The apartments open to the public are magnificent and provide a interesting insight into the excesses of the Medici's. The Palazzio stands on the Piazza dell Signoria and it's here, at the entrance of the Palazzio, that the original David stood until 1873;
The Ponte Vecchio, a bridge lined with jewellery shops. It was built in the 14th Century and originally was lined with butchers'shops but when
Michelangelo's second Pieta sculpture
the Medici family built a corridor through the bridge to link two of their palaces, Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio, they ordered the butchers be replaced with goldsmiths! Excess?
The Loggia dei Lanzi, an open air showcase of 14th and 16th Century sculpture on the Piazza dell Signoria;
The Basilica di Santa Croce a beautiful Franciscan Gothic church full of unbelievable 14th Century masterpieces and also the final resting place of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. Standing in front of Michelangelo's burial tomb was a special moment for me.
Florence is crowded and chaotic and old but that's all part of the appeal. Its unbelievable wealth of history, fashion shops, fantastic markets, restaurants and cafes make it such a must see. Ciao Firenze. Ti vogliano bene!
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