Thursday, April 11, 2013

6 hours in Firenze

We've been to Firenze before - twice in fact - a L-O-N-G time ago, but we thought it would be fun to visit the city again - for a day, free from the obligations to do all the art works and museums which we pretty much covered on our first two visits.

It's only an hour and a quarter train trip from Lucca so we were there before 10.00 this morning. we headed straight out of the crowded stazione and up Via Nazionale to the (covered) Mercato Centrale.  I could have stayed here all morning, trying all the produce, people watching, admiring the obvious passion for food (especially the ham), coffee and olive oil!

Outside, the streets were filled with hundreds of tacky leather goods and scarf stalls and it was soon becoming obvious that we were going to be joined by thousands of other tourists on our visit to Firenze today.

Nevertheless we headed south west past the beautiful old Basilica San Lorenzo (where most of the important members of the Medici family are buried) until we found ourselves in familiar territory.... the Piazza di San Giovanni and the amazing Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore - the famous Firenze Duomo.

I love everything about this building and have a very strong memory of our view of the beautiful Brunneleschi Dome from the window of the little pensione we stayed in near the stazione all those years ago. And I still remember so many of the facts I learnt about this building from my art history teachers - why I don't know!!

The small octagonal Baptistry di San Giovanni is a little gem too. Michelangelo called these north facing gilded bronze doors on the baptistry "the Gates of Paradise".  Unfortunately the doors today are a copy, substituted in 1990 to preserve Lorenzo Ghiberti's originals.

I was amused by (and later a bit exhausted by) the thousands of well managed, but exuberant school groups in Firenze today - they were even doing worksheets today!! - as you would!

We couldn't face the long, slow moving queue to climb the duomo dome, but found we could get straight into the Giotto designed Campanile, standing adjacent to it.  Climbing over 400 steps to get to the top of the bell tower was quite an undertaking, but the views from the top, of the duomo and the rest of Firenze, made it all worthwhile.

That's Forte di Belvedere on top of the hill on the right of this picture below. Later in the day we'll be walking there.

That's the dome of the Basilica San Lorenzo in the centre of the pic below; the green roof is over Mercato Centrale and Stazione Centrale FS SMV is over on the left of the pic. 

From the Duomo we made our way through the Piazza della Repubblica......

.... and down Via Roma to the Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio...

and the Loggia dei Lanzi....

...... and of course this famous copy of Michelangelo's "David".  I suspect there are many tourists who may not realise that the original is kept at the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenze.  The Piazza was CROWDED today - and yet my memory is that this was a lovely quiet space in Firenze back in October 1975! 

The Uffizi Gallery is nearby. Rob is relieved we don't have to visit it again - after having spent many hours there on a previous visit.  Instead we continue on to the Ponte Vecchio.  The Ponte Vecchio is a bit of a bun fight today - and we are glad to be clear of it eventually.

but the view of it from, and out to, the River Arno is as picturesque as ever.  This was the only bridge left standing in all of Firenze after Hitler's army retreated at the end of WW2.

We stopped for lunch on the other side of the river at Pino's Caffe on Via Guicciardini where I really enjoyed the house speciality antipasto plate, followed by their handmade gelati, and Rob could have drunk much more than the one glass of chianti classico we allowed ourselves.

We walked on some more to the  Piazza de Pitti.  By now it's heading up to the 22oC max that Firenze enjoys today and it is starting to feel really WARM.

We walk past the Palazzo Pitti - now one of Florence's largest art galleries and enter the Palace's Boboli Gardens.

This view is looking down towards the palace and the anfiteatro of the gardens.

After admiring the thousand different uses for Photinia hedges that are evident in this garden - and paying tribute to the way Europeans use extreme pruning on their plane trees, we make our way from the top of the garden through the grounds of the Forte di Belvedere which overlooks Firenze from its strategic position on top of the hill. 

We then walk down the length of Via di Belvedere behind the massive fort wall. It's a very narrow street and it's down a steep hill.  There was a crowd of young French students walking with us who very helpfully cried out "Voiture" every time a car came in sight!

Then we got to the really hard bit.... walking up Via del Monte alle Croci...finishing with almost as many steps as the duomo bell tower......till we reached Piazzale Michelangelo - and a wonderful vantage point from which to view the city in the afternoon light.

The pic below shows where we've just walked from....

To be able to see this below us...

By now we're feeling exhausted by all the walking and climbing we've done today and the crowds of visitors and tourists and hawkers around us.  It's a four or five kilometre walk back to the stazione and we decide we can do it - rather than catch a bus or a taxi.

In the process we walk back through the Oltrano district of Firenze. It's nice and quiet and relaxed, free of the crowds of tourists and full of little artisan studios and quiet cafes and bars. This would be a nice area to explore more - but we don't have anymore energy today.

By some miracle we make it back to the stazione by 4.10pm (just) and manage to catch our train back to Lucca. It's been an amazing day but I would say we have been somewhat disappointed that Firenze is now so overrun with tourists, which has made it a very different experience for us - and it's not even high season yet!

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