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Published: April 8th 2016
We were spending a sunny afternoon walking the narrow back streets of the ancient Oltrarno neighborhood on the other side of the Arno River from downtown. We had already passed the massive Pitti Palace and were heading towards the Santo Spirito church and square. The lilac bushes have just reached full bloom and overpoweringly scent the air with a fragrance so intense that the entire neighborhood smells of a fancy French boudoir. We heard the commotion of glasses clinking and theatrical voices coming from down a cobbled alley past a colorful bakery. The large group of well-dressed people standing in the alley were smoking and enjoying champagne half way down the narrow street. It was Wednesday afternoon so it couldn’t be a wedding and they were dressed too brightly for a funeral. We were curious enough to make the decision to take a detour to see what was happening.
We followed a tall and very thin young lady wearing extremely high heels and a very short dress towards the group. She was smoking a long cigarette and walking a huge pit bull on a thick, expensive looking silver chain. We wondered how she
Florence at Night
Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio, Arno River
maintained her balance on the rough surface of the alley. As we grew closer the people were even better dressed than we had realized. Everyone was very tan and had perfectly coiffed hair. The women had expensive jewelry and the men were all sporting trendy sunglasses and designer cut jackets.
We began to feel extremely underdressed in our well-worn jeans and scuffed shoes. We become very aware of our overdue haircuts and pasty skin that has been covered by large jackets for most of the last six months and only yesterday was exposed for the first time to the light of day. It is too late to turn around, so we clumsily make our way through the crowd trying our best not to make eye contact. The sign inside the courtyard of the beautiful Palazzo says GUCCI in large letters and it is obvious this is a fashion show for the elites of Europe. We feel hopelessly out of place and regret our decision to be so nosy.
As soon as we uncomfortably finish squeezing through the stylishly elegant group, pleased only by the fact we didn’t cause anyone to spill a drink, we
realize the full extent of our error. The other end of the narrow street is tightly barricaded and we will not be able to complete our exit. Instead we are going to have to return the way we came- directly through the group again.
We finally completed our uncomfortable foray into the world of high fashion and exited onto the beautiful Santo Spirito square. We found a bench and looked across the square to where there was a group of rather rough looking characters. They had unkempt hair and seem to be sharing cigarettes and drinking from a common bottle. We realized that our clothes don’t look too much different than theirs and decide that now that spring is here we definitely need to upgrade our style as soon as possible. Not the Easter Bunny
Easter is celebrated in many ways throughout the Christian world. Usually very solemnly and with great reverence. Lots of robes, candles and pageantry. But not fireworks. In Florence it is all about fireworks.
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) is one of the biggest yearly celebrations in Florence and takes place in
front of the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly called the Duomo here. The Duomo is a majestic building that stands tall over the center of the city. The opulent façade faces the large piazza. The entire church is covered with pink, green and white marble in intricate designs. Statues adorn the entire building and the massive Brunelleschi dome completes the architectural masterpiece. The equally impressive Giotti Tower and Baptistery sit alongside to make this one of the most elegant squares in Europe.
On Easter morning thousands fill the piazza to watch the festivities. Groups of uniformed men begin arriving in the square. Elegantly dressed in 15th
century costumes and carrying flags, drums, banners and various armaments they form themselves on the steps of the cathedral. Music is broadcast from inside the church to the square. Eventually several huge white oxen appear. They are decorated with garlands of flowers and are pulling a huge wooden cart, nearly 30 feet high, which is extensively loaded with fireworks, rockets and other pyrotechnics.
The massive doors to the cathedral are opened. At the end of Easter mass the “Columbina”, a dove shaped rocket, is
lit from a holy fire and is shot on a rope from the altar to the cart. For almost 30 minutes the cart explodes as the bells ring in the tower above. Smoke fills the air and everyone cheers. If all the fireworks explode it is said that a good harvest and successful year will be had by all.
Definitely not the somber occasion that takes place in most of the world! An Eerie Tour of the City
One morning we were searching for some new ideas for things to do in the city. We did a Youtube search for “Florence Tours” and found a strange video of a huge parade and tour of Florence that was taken in 1938 by Mussolini and Hitler when they were at their prime. Throngs of people lined the streets as they passed in their motorcade throughout the city. They stood in their limousine and waved to the masses. Of course we recognized all the major sites and were surprised at how little the city had changed in nearly 80 years.
The night before we had stood high above the city
in the beautiful Piazzale Michelangelo. The square provides an amazing view over the whole city and is must see stop for anyone who has ever visited the city. It gave us a surreal feeling when the video showed Hitler standing in the exact corner of the square where we stood as he cast his evil gaze over the entire area. In a city filled with centuries of history, it was the first time we felt so closely attached to it.
Later that day we crowded onto one of the tightly packed city buses that weave their way on circuitous routes throughout the city. It was rush hour and we were forced to stand in the very front of the bus, just behind the front window. We drove across the Arno River at the Santa Trinita Bridge, near the Piazza della Repubblica and its famous arch and past all the huge ancient Medici Palaces. We both had an eerie feeling that this must have been much the same view as the two evil dictators had while they stood in their limousine and viewed the city on their tour. When we thought of how in just a few years
they had done so much destruction to the world and caused so many deaths it made for a very strange tour of the city. Thanks to the Tourists
We have become very independent travelers. We usually avoid group tours and very crowded tourist areas in general. Florence (and all of Tuscany) is very full of visitors and we have found it is often difficult to avoid the crowds. We took day trips to San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa and Lucca in midweek just so we could have some part of the town to ourselves instead of fighting the flag following masses for a chance to see anything.
We have not enjoyed as much of the wonderful Renaissance art that makes Florence such an interesting place to visit as we would have liked. Partly because of the desire to avoid the massive lines but mostly because our limited budget necessitates that we be very choosy about which museums we can afford to visit in an area.
We were sitting in Piazza San Marco on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We had been here for 3 weeks already and generally knew our
way around the city pretty well. We were looking at a bus map and trying to figure out a route. A lady sat down next to us and asked if we needed help. She told us that she had been in Florence for two days already and also had visited Rome and Cinque Terre. She spoke with such enthusiasm about her trip that it was actually contagious. We enjoyed her excitement as she told her stories of all the things she had seen in Italy and expressed how lucky she was to have gotten the opportunity to visit. We enjoyed hearing her stories and even shared a few of our own. I have to say that we kind of enjoyed being tourists again.
We ask her if she was by herself and she said that she was waiting for her friend who was visiting the nearby Accademia Museum where Michelangelo’s famous David statue is. We continued to talk to her about travel for another 15 minutes until her friend arrived. Her friend said she enjoyed seeing David and then mentioned that because today was the first Sunday of the month, the museum was free.
Field of Miracles
If she had not told us we would not have had a chance to see the museum. Perhaps we have spent way too much time avoiding tourists. These two had an enthusiasm that was contagious and without talking to them we would have missed one of the true treasures of the city. We have enjoyed our 2 months in Italy and will be moving on soon. We are often asked what our favorite country to visit is. We always hesitate to answer because they are so vastly unique. But if we really had to be honest, Italy would be the answer, not even close…
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