Good morning folks! How are we all doing? I hope that life is treating you well this Friday morning :O) I am reunited with my laptop after a few days apart and looking forward to catching up with you guys although I am reading through slightly bleary eyes as I am somewhat sleep deprived….
I got back from Florence at about 11 last night having set off on the 4 and a half hour drive at about 2pm, I’ll explain why later. Anyhoo, my best friend and I arrived in this amazing city at about 8pm on Monday and went straight to the hotel. As one of us was moaning about being starving (I do not like being hungry) we pretty much threw our bags at the porter and dashed off to find the restaurant. The food was good, no complaints there, but the dining room itself had obviously been decorated by someone with distinctly hippy tendencies who may or may not have been on LSD at the time. It was a riot of orange, red and yellow and the wallpaper was shiny which meant that the light bounced off it and burned directly into our retinas. Not to worry, we both had sunglasses…..
A couple of glasses of wine later and it was time for bed. Now bearing in mind it’s the middle of November I was a little surprised that my room was, shall we say, a tad on the warm side. In fact, I think it may well have been the place that Dante had his inspiration for Inferno! Not to worry, hotels have air-conditioning so I’ll just wack that on for a while……right, so that doesn’t work…..I’ll just tell myself that I’m nice and toasty and I’ll soon nod off. Let’s just say that, after the first night, I was wondering whether I could sleep in the mini fridge……..
However, I was undeterred because I was in Florence and it was time to explore! So, after a hastily eaten breakfast we ventured out into the narrow streets. We immediately came across a market that was filled with every kind of leather good you can imagine – bags, jackets, belts, shoes – I was in heaven. There is something about the smell of leather that’s intoxicating to me and brings out a deep desire to shop. However, I resisted and we carried on walking (actually I was dragged along by the scruff of my neck with the assurance that there was more to Florence than shopping). The market came to an end and the stalls were replaced with shops; a slight scuffle ensued when I made a manic dash for one of the open doorways and the leathery delights that awaited me within and then we were off again. I have to admit, at this point, I was wondering what all the fuss was about; the narrow streets filled with shops were a thing of beauty but it wasn’t the cultural extravaganza that I’d been expecting. However, we then rounded a corner and walked into one of the piazzas. Oh My God!!
The buildings before us were simply enormous, bright white, soft pink, subtle green and deep grey stonework that seemed to glow in the watery sunlight. This was the Piazza Del Duomo and it houses the Florence Cathedral. The workmanship, intricate carving and attention to detail was absolutely extraordinary as was the fact that it had all been done over 500 years ago! We wandered around with mouths open trying to avoid pigeons and other tourists as we gazed up at these incredible structures. The vast domed roofs, in shades of umber, drew our gaze and we wondered at the skill of the men who had created something so magnificent without the aid of machines.
We stopped and had a coffee in one of the many cafes in the square and then headed off in the direction of the Ponto Vecchio, the famous bridge that takes you across the river to the other side of Florence. What’s so special about a bridge I hear you ask? Well, it’s not huge and not particularly imposing, I suppose what makes it so interesting are the tiny shops and apartments, painted in delicate shades of yellow, that are perched on top of it. It’s like a miniature city that seems to hover over the water that flows beneath. Despite the tourists, who numbered in their hundreds even though it was a chilly November Tuesday, I found the place to be oddly peaceful, it had a strange kind of serenity.
We walked along the narrow path that led to the bridge, stopping every few feet to take photographs and trying not to walk in front of other tourists who were doing exactly the same thing. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but I wasn’t really prepared for the dazzling display that greeted us as we started to cross the bridge; every single tiny shop window was jam packed with jewelry. Gold, diamonds and precious stones in every colour imaginable glinted and enticed, it really was an amazing sight. However, by this time it was 2.30 and my stomach was feeling as though my throat had been cut so we headed off to find a restaurant. We were lucky enough to find a place, on a terrace, right on the river’s edge and, although it was a bit nippy, the view and the atmosphere were totally worth it. We dined on homemade pasta and then, fortified, continued on with our journey through Florence.
It seemed as though, every time we turned a corner, there was something else to wonder at. The statues, carved from white marble, seemed to be everywhere; so realistic, they were like looking at people frozen in time; beautiful buildings everywhere, huge piazzas, surrounded on all sides by restaurants and cafes. Between the locals and the tourists, the place was like the tower of Babel, so many different languages, so many excited voices, Florence is filled with energy, as was I…..until about 6pm.
We had walked all day and I must admit to feeling a teeny bit weary. This was remedied by me failing to see a step and falling arse over head into an Italian gutter. I did the usual thing of pretending that I was unhurt, glaring at the offending step and departing the scene of the incident as quickly as possible. Fortunately we were very close to one of the hundreds of little bars that abound in Florence and Will secured me a medicinal glass of wine (which, I have to say, was very good).
By this time, night had fallen and we were forced to take more photographs; although they were of exactly the same places that we’d photographed that morning they looked entirely different in the changing light. Tall, iron streets lamps bathed us all in gentle glow whilst strategically placed spotlights lit up the magnificent buildings in such a way that they almost seemed to breathe; it really was a magical site. However, all the magic in the world couldn’t distract us from the fact that we were, once again, hungry and we set off in search of dinner. We eventually got back to the hotel 12 hours after we’d left it, exhausted but very happy after a wonderful day. I’d like to say that I went out like a light but the room temperature was bordering on volcanic…..
The following day we were joined by another friend, who lives in Rome, and after a coffee and a catch up (which involved the two guys speaking in extremely rapid Italian and me looking blank for the most part) we set off once again into Florence to see what new delights awaited us. The previous day, Will and I had stumbled across an enormous building which apparently housed some pretty impressive artwork and had acres of beautiful gardens so we made that our destination. The Palazzo Pitti, was once the home of the Medici family and I have no doubt that at least a 100 families could been comfortably housed within its massive brown stone walls. It is simply huge!
We started our tour in the gardens which were situated behind the main house, built on a steep slope, flanked with statues and with fountains in the centre, they were a sight to behold, as was the house itself once we’d staggered to the top of the slope. We followed the paths through wooded areas, where we found follies and the palatial stables, then back into open areas with huge ponds and yet more statues; to say the grounds were impressive really is an understatement!
After lunch (an exceptionally fine concoction of melted cheese, bread, chopped tomatoes and ham) we headed into the house itself to view the works of art and immerse ourselves in ancient culture. There were pictures by Raphael and Titian and marble sculptures that were simply breathtaking; if you are someone who is never happier than when wandering around a museum studying beautiful and famous artwork, this place is for you. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a philistine and after looking at the umpty umpth painting of someone in a hat or a depiction of some bible story or another I found myself a little bit bored.
It was then that I started thinking about the sculptors and the hours that they must have spent rendering a lump of marble into a human form. I then started thinking about how annoying it would be if you’d just spent days carving the perfect set of male appendages and your chisel slipped. It was at this moment that I caught sight of a beautiful statue of a naked man who had appeared to have suffered this very fate (let’s just say he was without the thing that men hold most dear) and I got a fit of the giggles. Museums are, as a rule, quite serious and quiet places so I tried to control myself and not embarrass my two friends.
Unfortunately, this became impossible. For some reason or another an artist, who’s name escapes me, seemed to enjoy carving young children with demonic expressions on their faces. I don’t know what caused him to have this predilection and quite frankly I don’t want to know but his work really was most odd! Anyway, we came across one of his statues and I just burst out laughing (loudly and with a highly unattractive snort); it looked for all the world as though this demonic child was having carnal relations with a chicken (see for yourself…). I explained to my friends what had gone through my mind and we left that part of the palace shortly afterwards as none of us could stop giggling…
However, our laughter stopped when we entered the final room in the palace. I have never seen anything like it in my life! The entire room was white and was lit with the most beautiful crystal chandeliers; there were no furnishings other than a battery of white chairs and huge mirrors hung on the walls. Light was reflected and refracted everywhere, brilliant white with tiny rainbows everywhere; it really was quite stunning and most definitely worth the couple of hours spent looking at paintings of people who had not been told to smile before their sitting……
Dinner that night was Fiorentina steak and a couple of glasses of red which was a great finish to an amazing day. Hotel room still like an oven, sleep once again evaded me for the most part but I was still in good spirits and ready for the journey home. We all had a quick lunch together and then we said our goodbyes to our friend who was taking the train back to Rome before setting off. We hadn’t been on the road long when Will suggested that we stop off at the Cinque Terra on the way back.
The Cinque Terra are a series of 5 villages on the Italian coast and they are famous for the houses which are painted a riot of different colours and the amazing scenery that surrounds them. The road which went between each of the villages was high up in the mountains and twisted and turned in a seemingly never ending series of hairpin bends! The view was absolutely incredible and we stopped to take one photo after another; we were lucky enough to arrive there just as the sun began to set! We stopped in the largest of the villages and had a drink and a wander around, taking yet more photos before hitting the road again.
We stopped for dinner somewhere (couldn’t tell you where) and I dined on filet steak with bacon and coconut, it sounds bizarre I know but it was absolutely delicious. Will finally dropped me off at home at around 11pm and I crawled into my waiting bed, in my non-inferno like bedroom. We had walked more than 25kms in 3 days, we’d laughed, eaten too much and seen the most incredible sights; I fell asleep last night with aching feet but a happy heart after my little break in glorious Florence :O)