Firenze, or Florence – with the emphasize on the second syllable and pronounced with a French ‘ah’. Ah, Florence… ancient Italian city with iconic cathedrals and towers, first city in our month of exploring Italy.
I flew in from Vancouver, via Seattle and Amsterdam – a long sit but pretty much on time and not too uncomfortable. Especially seat and meals on Delta Airlines were good.
Florence’s airport is small. Right outside is the platform for the new T2 tramway into the city. For 1.50 euros you end up downtown in 20 minutes, on a ticket that is valid for 90 minutes so you can even explore more: http://en.comune.fi.it/administration/tramway/line2.html You buy the ticket on the platform and don’t forget to validate it in the stamp machine inside the tram. A great way to reach the city centre!
It was less than a 10 minute walk to the hostel we booked: Leonardo House turns out to be located in the very heart of the city but on a tiny old street with almost no traffic noise: https://leonardohouse.weebly.com It is very quiet and comfortable, the room is spartan but we don’t need more than a large room, a kingsize bed and our own bathroom. The staff is extremely nice and helpful. No breakfast included so we walk around the corner for coffee and croissants. There are also ATM’s and lots of eateries nearby. A supermarket, near the train station, is harder to find. Kees arrived a few hours later and we found each other easily at the T2 platform final stop: Unitá.
We explored the city on foot. Of course we visited all the famous landmarks. The Santa Maria Novella church is right around the corner on a nice square with pricey eateries. The Duomo, the most important monument, is packed with hordes of tourists around but also open for actual services. The Bell Tower next to it is an impressive piece of gothic architecture.
We really do want to see the interior of this cathedral, which is among the largest of the world. But we do not want to traipse through it amongst thousands of tourists. So we make the choice to attend a service. Mass it too long and probably just as crowded. So we chose 5 PM vespers on a Sunday. With only a handful of people we relax in a quiet part of the impressive church. The Gregorian chanting is a massage for the mind, almost putting us to sleep. A fabulous way to see the church and to give thanks for this amazing trip. Several times we cross de Ponte Vecchio, an ancient bridge clustered with merchants’ stalls. The medieval looking stalls themselves, built from dark wood and cast iron hinges, are more impressive than the souvenirs they hold. I love the serene views of the mirroring water of the river Arno as it meanders through Florence. Go early in the morning to avoid crowds, or enjoy the lights of an evening stroll across the bridge.
The Church of Santa Croce is also an impressive building. Its square especially pleasant when a man with a violin plays wonderful classical pieces. We sit on a bench and soak in the atmosphere. At night we eat a toasted ham and mozarella sandwich before heading into San Stefano for a Vivaldi, Mozart and Pachabel’s concert. It’s beautiful in this ancient setting. Although going to a soothing concert right after arriving from a very different time zone is not a good idea: we kept drifting off to sleep…
Early on Sunday morning we climb the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s 500 years since his death but his legacy lives on in his hometown. The hill is a steep climb with stone stairs part of the way. We pass under the ancient city walls. A replica of David looks out over the city and we follow his gaze over the Duomo and palazzos. Nearby is the Palazzo de Medici. We also walked by the house where Michelangelo lived. The ancient walls and cobblestone streets make it easy to believe that he roamed these very same streets. So many famous people lived in this city, names I had to learn in history class: de Medici family, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Donatello, Botticelli, Amerigo Vespucci, the famous explorer, Florence Nightingale was born here… and even Pinnochio.