Florence, or Firenze. Matt asks how one name became the other, but I have no answer. Florence is both a dream and a nightmare. The number of tourists that flock here are atrocious. That is a bit hypocritical, as both Matt and I are tourists. At least though, we don't arrive with 50 clones on a large AIR-CON tour bus. Our arrivals are somewhat less comfortable.
Having seen glimpses of the "important bits" the night before, we took our time in the morning. First, we stopped at the Piazza Michelangelo, to gawk at the hawkers and the rooftop view. It really was a glorious way to start the day. The sky was hazy, so the Apennines were lost in the distance. The close view was that of the red roofs of Florence. The cupola, and the bell tower, of the Duomo stood out. Various other large edifices also peeked above the regular surface height of the residential buildings. The hillsides were also coated in red roofed homes, but these were too far to see properly - and probably too far for us to visit in our short time.
We rode our bikes into town - screaming down the road and scaring small children. Witnessed a photographer work at a destination wedding, which helped us avoid a 4€ espresso (to put that in perspective, an espresso should only cost 1€). As usual, our light breakfast and late start meant that it was lunch time. Sitting in a quieter piazza, we had pizza. The piazza was in front of the Basilica di Santa Croce. A closer inspection of the ticket booth told us that the entrance fee was 8€, and the sights to see were the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and a few other important dead guys.
I'm viscerally against wonton tomb worship. There is little to gain from standing near someone's dead body. If the tomb is a work of art (such as those by Bernini, or the Egyptian sarcophagi) then I will enjoy it as a work of art. When it comes to someone like Galileo, who has been despised by his church - and then reinstated in full glory - paying to see his reconsecrated burial location feels like an agreement with his previous mistreatment.
Anyway, there were too many people going in to do the circuit shuffle. Matt decided that walking around town would be better than taking the bikes, and boy was he right. Florence was a doozy. The streets were packed, and the streets were tight and narrow. Crazy car drivers were everywhere, and even the scooters were deadly. We putzed around until we hit the famous Duomo, which we went in (partly because it was free!). Toured around the outside of it, the baptistry and the campanile. ??????? In another church - Basilica di Santa Maria Novella - I was made to wear a weird skirt cover thing because my sinful knees were showing (but skintight leggings were A-OK). We'd gone in to see frescos and art from a large variety of Italian masters, but ended up getting caught in a student-run anti-AIDS fundraiser. Previously, we'd witnessed a beggar trip an old lady - evil time we live in.
Somehow, after several gelato and coffees it was the end of the day. We pedalled our bikes back up the hill to Piazza Michelangelo. Looking across the eastern side, I was astonished to see a lush olive grove. I was more astonished to realise that it was our campsite. Our little nylon home was safe and sound.
The next day we started in the same manner. Probably went downhill faster than before though. We spent the morning in the small Galleria dell'Accademia - where the original David and other works of Michelangelo are found. There were also a large number of medieval religious iconographies?? (it was dull as most of it looked the same as the stuff in the Louvre and all the small churches we'd been in). There was a small local food market, where our purchased proscuitto came in ¼ inch thick slices. There was also a clothes and leather market that wound through the city streets. Markets can have a great atmosphere and be functionally useful, especially if one is good at haggling (neither of us are).
Continuing the shopping motif, we headed across the Ponte Vecchio. Earlier, we had crossed it during a marathon run. Now, it was packed with the tourists and even worse to get our bikes across. Live and learn. The bridge was originally crowded with butchers, but one of the Medici decided the stench was too offensive for his nose as he strode across his personal upper walkway. He had the butchers replaced with goldsmiths - which is how it stands today. Luckily standing, as all other Florentine bridges were destroyed during WW2.
Across the river, we tried to get into the terraced gardens of the Palazzo Pitti, but the entrance fee for some grass seating was too steep (it included 4 museums and a tour of the palace). Instead, we hung out on the awful 1980s concrete porch restoration. Funny hawker antics included finger wagging beration? by a pair of teenage girls, and a subsequent flirting. The heat of the day was till lingering at 4 o'clock, so we headed back to the tent to finish our domestic chores (just call me Queen of the Washer Women).
Think that's the end of our day? Oh no. I was adamant that we go into Florence at night. Our arrival that first night was stressful, but not enough to miss the fact that all of the city was quiet. For the second time that day, we wheeled our way down to the Arno river, and crossed a bridge. The campsite curfew was midnight, afterwards we would be locked out. Our time was limited, but then again, so were our options. We got a bit lost - things are so different in the dark. Finally, we found ourselves in front of the Loggia della Signoria. Precisely where I wanted to be. Here stand sculptures dating from Roman to Renaissance times. My favourite is still the Rape of the Sabines, while Matt preferred the bronze Perseus with Medusa's head. A guy with a guitar was crooning top 40 songs, the surrounding piazza was empty and the lights were just right for some shaky photography. Afterwards, we went into the mismatched Palazzo Vecchio. MIsmatched because it has been renovated by numerous people, each in the current architectural vogue. Inside was a "special" exhibition showing a £15 million diamond encrusted 17th century skull. Being cheap, we stuffed the idea of the skull and only visited the permanent exhibit - which was really just the decorations of the rooms.
And the decorations would put most wallpaper producers to shame. Rooms were designed and themed around mythological gods, artistic benefactors, and the ruling family. The walls and ceilings were all painted - intricately and delicately. The palazzo, as mangled as it was on the outside, had been pulled together on the inside - mainly due to the genius of Giorgio Vasari. Somme of the apartmental rooms were closed off, as the palazzo is currently being used as the Florentine mayoral offices. Which is good, as that was one of its intended purposes. Better as a public office with a museum than as an unkempt private residence.
Late as it was, I stopped outside to just take it in. My chosen route home wasn't the most direct, and let us see the Duomo and the Basilica di Santa Croce at night. Matt was getting time-crunched, so finally we headed back up that damned hill to the olive grove that had been our home.