DM and MM's Italy Trip Diary

Day 13 - Firenze

Friday, 11 May, 2001

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We slept in a bit this morning - the effects of constant travelling and sightseeing were starting to take their toll with tiredness the result. We woke at 07:00 with what appears to be a common practice in Italy of all the churches ringing their bells, but didn't actually get up until about 07:45. After showering we went to the hotel's breakfast room, just around the corner from our room. A few other guests were there, eating already. We sat at a table, but didn't see any sign of food apart from a buffet table full of tubs of yoghurt. I grabbed one, and a friendly American woman said the hotel guy would be in soon with some bread rolls for us.

The rolls were nice and soft, and came with some slices of a wonderful type of bread, with thick and crunchy crust around a moist and chewy centre with good flavour, in plain and wholemeal varieties. I had some with plum jam and some with butter and Michelle had apricot jam. There were no croissants or pastries today, but the bread was so nice it hardly mattered. After finishing it off I grabbed another yoghurt for good measure.

Then it was off to the Galleria degli Uffizi to see the famous collection of artworks. We arrived just after 09:00 (it opens at 08:30), hoping the crowds would not be too bad so early. There was a short queue outside, which we joined, and we were immediately ushered inside by a gallery employee. Signs outside indicated that the wait to get in was an hour long, and the wait once inside the building was a further 30 minutes, but thankfully we had avoided the first wait. Once inside we bought tickets and a guidebook to the collection so we could know what we were looking at. Then we queued once again at the interior admission door. A group of people was ushered through, but the man counting them off stopped immediately before us and roped off the door again. Not sure how long the wait would be here, we sat down on the seats provided. A large group of schoolgirls entered behind us and walked right up to the roped off doorway, forming a second queue next to the orderly queue of other people politely waiting with us, though nobody complained.

We didn't have too long to wait - about 15 minutes - before the man came back and let us through. We climbed the stairs to the second floor which is where the collection is housed, and came to another barrier, where a woman checked our tickets before we finally entered the gallery itself. It is laid out in a long U-shaped hallway, with sculptures along the sides of the halls and rooms off the long arms of the U. In the rooms were the paintings, beginning with 13th century religious works, mostly painted on wood panels for church altarpieces and later moved to the gallery - these used a flat artistic technique with no perspective and made heavy use of gold leaf for embellishment. Colours were muted.

As we moved along through the rooms and the centuries the styles changed, experimenting with perspective and colours derived from lapis lazuli for rich blues. By the time we got to the Botticelli room there was full perspective and the style was getting much closer to realistic. Botticelli's works were a highlight, including the famous Birth of Venus which was astounding to see in real life and up close. Continuing on, we saw works by Leonardo da Vinci, including one badly damaged by layers of varnish used on it in the intervening centuries. By now the styles were quite realistic and the subject matter had moved on from religious scenes to portraits and scenes of daily life or from classical mythology. Further on was a masterpiece by Michelangelo, the Doni Tondo - the only painting of his which can actually be moved, since all the others are frescoes on walls or ceilings. Following this were more important works by Raphael, Titian, and van Dyck along with many others.

All paintinged out, we headed downstairs to the exit. On the first floor was a special exhibition of Science in Italy, which we detoured to have a quick look at. It contained a collection of old drawings dating from around Leonardo da Vinci's time of scientific apparatus, and original glassware and working models of some of them, including thermometers, barometers, and telescopes. Sketches of planets and charts of astronomical motions were also included.

By now it was lunch time. We walked back to our hotel via Piazza della Signoria, picking up some moderately adequate focaccia on the way. The day was once again hot and we could see why the Italians take the early afternoon off to have a siesta. Instead, we picked up our dirty clothes and walked to a nearby laundromat to wash them. At least we were sitting inside in cool shade. After the clothes had been washed and dried we walked back to the hotel, stopping at an Internet place quickly to check our e-mails and send some. Back at the hotel, we took some time out to relax out of the heat of the day before setting out again.

Ponte Vecchio
On the Ponte Vecchio

After a bit of a siesta we geared up again for the afternoon and evening excursion. The plan was to browse the famous jewellery shops on the Ponte Vecchio, then head up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo for the view over Florence.

The heat of the middle of the day had lessened considerably by the time we left at 17:00. We walked along the Arno to the Ponte Vecchio and wandered up and down the tiny glittering shop-fronts. Michelle saw some gold and diamond crosses she liked and went into a shop to have a closer look. It was blissfully air conditioned inside - I suppose the gold merchants can afford to outfit their shops properly. And the view out the window, directly down the river from close to the middle of it, was magnificent.

Gold shop on the Ponte Vecchio

Once off the other side of the bridge, we wandered around some of the streets for a bit looking for somewhere decent to grab a quick dinner, trying not to fall prey to one of the tourist-trap snack bars which littered the main tourist haunts. Unfortunately, as soon as we were out of the immediate vicinity of the Ponte Vecchio we were among urban style streets with houses and no places to get food. We did find a small fruit shop and bought two apples, but were forced back to the bridge area to grab some slices of take-away pizza. The pizza here in Florence (and previously in Venice) is not on par with the ones we had in Rome. The ones we had at least had thicker, doughier crusts, less like the thin crispy sheets which make the Rome pizzas so good. Perhaps it's possible to get a good pizza in Florence away from the touristy areas.

Florence view
View over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

After eating, we walked up the hill along Costa do San Giorgio, as instructed by our Lonely Planet as the way to get to Piazzale Michelangelo. It was a steep and tiring walk up towards the Forte di Belvedere, where the guidebook said to turn into Via di Belvedere. Obligingly, we did so, only to discover that all our hard work was undone by an equally steep run all the way back down the hill again, depositing us at the base of the hill upon which Piazzale Michelangelo was located. From there it was up another steep road followed by a long series of steps to the top and the lookout point.

Florence Sunset
Wide view over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

Upon attaining the summit we hardly had any breath left to be taken away by the view. It really was fantastic and well worth the effort. We rested and watched the glorious sunset - much better than yesterday - over the River Arno, the huge dome of the Duomo, the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio, Ponte Vecchio, and the entire city of Florence laid out expansively below us, surrounded by layers of misty mountains in the distance. We could see why it was a popular place, and so could the several tour groups and large number of other people assembled there to admire the view.

I set up my tripod and camera and took several photos as the sun went down. When the lights of the city came on and the sky was aglow with the pink and burnt orange of dusk the effect was magical.

Florence Sunset
Ponte Vecchio and River Arno at sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo

After gathering as many photos as was reasonable, we packed up for the walk back to the hotel. We trudged our way down the huge flight of steps again. When we were halfway down, we saw a man at the bottom start his stopwatch and start running up them. He flew past us on his way up, and was still running when we lost sight of him near the top. We continued down into the streets below, this time taking a more direct and almost perfectly flat route back to the Ponte alle Grazie. Halfway there, the mad runner whistled past us again, having apparently run all the way up the steps, back down again, and onwards, not even puffing hard.

We walked back along the south bank like last night to the Ponte Vecchio, which we crossed again after I obtained a large cup of gelato from a place near the southern end. The dark cherry was at least as good as the one from Gelateria Vivoli, but the lemon and strawberry were sadly lacking. Michelle had a chocolate craving, so we walked onwards into Piazza della Repubblica in the heart of the city centre, but didn't find anything but gelaterie and restaurants open.

Arno at night
River Arno at night

Since it was getting late and we have to be up early tomorrow for the train to Perugia, we headed back to our hotel and ended our last full day in wonderful Florence, thinking there must be so much to this city we haven't had time to see.

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