Our day in Florence dawned cool and cloudy, and stayed that way for most of the day. We even had a little sprinkle of rain that evening...a rare occurence on this tour...we had such amazing weather for most of it. Warm and sunny with temperatures in the 20-25 degree Celsius range...lovely!
First thing in the morning we drove up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a group photograph. From there we had an absolutely amazing view of the city and the River Arno.
There was this high stone wall around the edge of the lookout which some of the group hoisted themselves up onto. Admittedly, it did look like an excellent seat...wide and flat with a great view...until you looked down on the other side. Way down. To the street below. Visions of slamming into the pavement had me changing my mind, so I contented myself with taking pictures instead.
You can see the huge dome on the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, which is so much shorter to say! The slightly smaller dome to the left is the Baptistery and the light coloured tower is Giotto's Campanile, the bell tower. The tall brown stone tower on the left is part of Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.
The main bridge below is the Ponte Vecchio. It has many little shops built along it's length, originally occupied by butcher's, but now filled with shops selling gold and jewelry.
If you look closely, you can see the cream section that spans the entire width of the bridge and is studded with square windows. That is the Vasari Corridor which connects Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall in the picure above) with Palazzo Pitti, the main residence of the ruling families. The corridor was built at the order of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici so that the Duke could travel in safety and privacy from the town hall to his residence. You can see it through much of the old city, this covered passage high above the ground, connecting buildings and bridging above the streets. The passageway was built tall enough that Cosimo could ride his horse up the steps in the town hall, into the passage, and out across the river to his home. Oh to have that much power and time on your hands!
It's very amusing, but didn't he have better things to be doing with his money? :)
We began our day at this church here, Santa Croce.
Just down one of the streets/alleyways was our first stops, the Leonardo Leather Works. We were given a small demonstration and informative talk about the history of leather in Florence and an explanation of how to look for real leather. Basically, look for suede, it's hard to fake! And don't listen to the labelling, it isn't always honest. I'm shocked. Really. :)
Across the street was this cute little Pinocchio and wood toy shop:
We had this little, local Italian lady lead a walking tour for us. In Italy, they have strict regulations over who can lead a tour group, so our tour manager wasn't able to do so.
Piazza della Signoria, the large square in front of Palazzo Vecchio, was the first place our tour guide almost lost us. She had this pink umbrella that she was holding up as she wound through the crowds (and it was crowded!), supposedly to help us keep track of her. It's lucky that she did have the umbrella, because at times we would have lost her within seconds if she hadn't had it. She sure could move fast!
Piazza della Signoria was full of sculptures both marble and bronze. The large white marble aboe is the Neptune fountain. Nearby was a replicate of the statue of David.
Below is Perseus, holding up the head of Medusa. In the background is Palazzo Vecchio.
You can see in the picture above a few of the statues that were placed along the outside of the gallery. I especially like the one of Machiavelli below. It's the expression on his face, and the way you can almost see his hand stroke his chin as he ponders...it makes me smile. :)
A close-up of the bridge with the little shops below and the Vasari corridor above...
This next one is taken on the bridge itself with the gold and jewelry shops. Everything glistened here, and if you had the money, well...you could have spent a lot of it, that's for sure.
This covered market was much more my style...
We didn't see many cars in the city of Florence, but this was probably the smallest one we found...not much bigger than the bikes it's parked next too!
A random carousel...
This 3D map of Florence was really neat, and your fingers itched to touch it. The popular spots are obvious to see, just look at where the patina was rubbed away. There were braille markings on the buildings and streets, so that anyone who was visually impaired could decipher it as well.
Our last destination on the walking tour was the Duomo. This is the front entrance to the Basilica. The sliver of building you can see on the left side of the photo is the edge of the Baptistery, and the sliver on the right is the bell tower.
This next photo shows a better view of the dome on the Basilica. There are actually two domes, one built inside the other, and a staircase winding up to the top between the two layers. You could walk up to the small balcony at the very top if you wanted.
But considering that meant 460-plus steps one way, only a couple of people were brave (or crazy) enough to do it.
All of the coloured portions on the exterior were created using white, pink and green marble.
I`m alway amazed going inside these massive churches. Not only by the size and height and beautiful interiors, but also by how old they are, and how incredibly difficult it must have been to create such a thing so many years ago without the benefits of modern technology and tools. The dedication of people to begin such a project and to continue on with it over what often turned into hundreds of years....well, it`s mind-boggling and awe inspiring all at once.
From the Basilica, I headed for the Accademia Gallery, home of David. No pictures were allowed, but I`ve since discovered that someone else on the tour did manage to get a decent picture, which is who I`ve stolen this one off of...
Now, I`ve looked at a lot of marble statues so far on this trip. And taken quite a few pictures of them. You`d think that I`d be sick of them by now. Plus, there`s all this hype about David, and quite often I find that reality just doesn`t live up.
This was one occasion where I was pleasantly surprised. I was really quite in awe of the statue of David. For one, it`s way larger than you`re expecting, and two, the detail is just phenomenal. Pictures don`t do it justice. :)
From the Accademia Gallery, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering and poking in and out of shops. I do enjoy doing the touristy sights and activities, but on the other hand, I also really enjoy just wandering in a city. When you`re not in a hurry to get somewhere at a certain time and then be somewhere else right after, you get to relax and just soak things in. Maybe get lost. Find a neat little shop or an amazing restaurant. People watch.
(Or find that pharmacy you`ve been looking for to get sore throat medication...yes, it`s about this point that I succumbed to the same lovely sore throat and cough that the rest of the tour group was developing.)
At the end of the day we all met up back at the plaza in front of Sante Croce and then were headed for a special Tuscan dinner in a Florentine restaurant. I have never seen so much food at one meal in my life.
There was wine and bread. Appetizers. Salad and three kinds of pasta...and the ravioli was the best I`ve ever had. And then when we thought we were done, out came the roasted chicken. And the mashed potatoes and meatballs. And then dessert and limoncello shots.
Seriously, after the delicious pizza I`d had for lunch and then this food. I felt like I`d never have to eat again. And I felt like I hardly touched any of it. People can`t seriously eat like that on a regular basis, must be a special occasion kind of thing!
It was late by the time we left the restaurant. I had to option of heading for a club or getting back on the bus to go to the cabins to sleep. And I chose the option to sleep. Mostly to rest and try get rid of my cold (I wouldn`t...it lasted over three weeks), but also being so full was making me sleepy! The rain was actually falling by this time, but being a good west coast girl I was well prepared with my rain jacket...and happy that it was getting some use and having packing it be a waste.
It really was a great day in Florence. For my first real experience in Italy it couldn`t be beat. I`m already planning on going back some day to spend some more time. There is so much history and art and culture to soak up, I just couldn`t get to it all!
Sounds horrible right? Having to go back to Italy?
Life is so hard.