On Wednesday morning, as we dragged our luggage down narrow sidewalks of uneven cobblestones en route to our Florence hotel, I found myself wondering why I had such warm memories of this city. We checked into our hotel, Il Bargellino, and found it to be a lovely spot on an unlovely street, with a sort of fading elegance and a wonderful large terrace in back. We met our hosts, Boston-bred Carmel and her Italian husband Pino. Carmel kindly offered us a map of the city and some suggestions, and we headed out to explore. We ambled through the outdoor stalls of the San Lorenzo market, passing dozens of sellers of purses, scarves, jewelry, and cheap clothing. For the first time on our trip, we found ourselves the targets of masculine attention and compliments; sadly, it was just from merchants trying to attract our business. As we continued on our way, we turned a corner and there, in front of us, was the Duomo in all its glory. Suddenly I remembered why I loved Florence. The Duomo (apart from the actual dome) and its campanile (bell tower) are covered in a mosaic of white, pink, and green marble, and I find it breathtakingly beautiful. Apparently some people agree with me; others disdain it as "the cathedral in pajamas."
We continued on past the Palazzo Vecchio with its huge outdoor statues and the Uffizi Gallery. Crossing over the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio with its jewelry stores and crowds, we finally made our way to the Pitti Palace and passed through to the Boboli Gardens. This seems to be the only large green space within Florence. The gardens and statuaries are beautiful. As we progressed through the various levels, we climbed a final set of stairs and reached the highest point. This was a lovely rose garden in its own right, but the view from its walls was possibly the most glorious I had seen in my life - to that point. Tuscany lay spread out before us, layer upon green layer, out to the distant mountains. Cypress trees, vineyards, villas, towers, farmhouses, and the sound of church bells floating up from the city below. What a welcome!
Later, back at our hotel, we dined al fresco on the terrace and began a nightly ritual of sharing travel stories with the other guests. Leopoldo the hotel parrot offered commentary from the sidelines, sometimes "laughing" loudly, sometimes just murmuring "ciao" in a low, throaty voice. There were even nightly visits from the neighbour's cat, Yogita, who would brush by each table with her huge plume of a tail, looking for a little attention. The hotel really turned out to be a lovely oasis each evening after a day spent jostling through crowds in the city heat.
Thursday was the start of our museum tour. We had appointments at the Accademia in the morning and the Uffizi Gallery in the afternoon. At the Accademia, we saw Michelangelo's statues "The Prisoners." They were very impressive, but nothing surpasses his famous, massive statue of David. You can view it from every angle for half an hour, and still feel like you could sit and stare at it all day. There was so much to see in the Uffizi, but the highlight for me, as it was 31 years ago, was the paintings of Botticelli. I find myself transfixed by them.
We pushed on from there to the church of Santa Croce, where we viewed ancient frescoes and the tombs of many famous Italians, including Galileo, Marconi, Michelangelo, and DaVinci. It is amazing to be in a city surrounded by buildings and art created 600-700 years ago that still exist and function.
After all of our museum touring, we refreshed ourselves with a stop at the famous gelateria, Vivoli's, where we tried their signature flavour, riso (rice). It doesn't sound good, but it is - Wendy was so impressed that she immediately converted from her usual vanilla (?!) and went back for seconds.
Friday was our last full day in Florence. Among other things, we toured the lovely Bargello museum, where we enjoyed sculptures by the likes of Donatello and Michelangelo. That afternoon, we climbed the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo for an amazing view of the city. It was challenging, but not nearly as much so as the hiking trails of the Cinque Terre. By all logic, I should be wasting away to nothing due to the amount of walking and climbing we have done...gelato must have more calories than we imagine.
We finished our stay in Florence with another quiet evening on the patio, enjoying pizza picked up at a neighbourhood restaurant. Saturday, we pick up our rental car and head for our much-anticipated week-long stay in Tuscany.