on November 9, 2010
I had read so many guidebooks, online guides and reviews about Florence, that I wasn't sure I actually needed to visit in person. However, since we were in Tuscany anyway, and the hotel we were staying in was a mere 40km distant, I though it would be somewhat amiss not to see the city and all its glories. Florence is a dream destination for art-lovers - some of the planet's most famous works of art jostle for position in some of the greatest galleries of the world. I'd like to tell you a bit about some of these treasures, but I'm not going to. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't. I didn't see any! I'm afraid I wasn't willing to queue in blazing sunshine and temperatures in the mid-30's just to see some old paintings. Call me uncouth and uncultured if you will, just don't call me at 3am! So, if you're looking for a guide to the museums and art galleries of Flo, then you're out of luck. This is a barbarian's guide to Florence. Ignoring all the advice I had gleaned regarding the driving conditions in Florence, rather than take a train into the city, we jumped in the car and hoped for the best. As it turns out, driving into town couldn't have been simpler and soon after turning off the motorway, we arrived at a car park near the bus station where we were promptly fleeced (actually, we paid around 15 euros for most of the day, so it wasn't that bad). Our first destination was the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city and one that's worth writing about in more detail. These days, in fact for around the past 400 years, the bridge has been home to a collection of goldsmiths and jewellers - and very sparkly it is too. It's a picture-postcard attraction and surprisingly entertaining for a 'river crossing'. After eventually crossing the bridge, we found ourselves immersed in a crush of seething humanity...or in other words, the queue for the Uffizi. It wasn't moving much either. Added to this, the area around the building is semi-enclosed and airless which only emphasises the city's dire drainage problems. Still, the poor bedraggled souls in the queue provided a captive audience for the ubiquitous mime artists (hasn't anyone ever told these guys that mime is deadly dull?). We were starting to appreciate our lack of refinement about this point. From there we side-stepped our way past the crowds and the pavement artists towards the Piazza della Signoria where, by standing on tiptoes, it was just about possible to see the magnificent renaissance facade of the Palazzo Vecchio - home to the city council. There's a copy of Michaelangelo's David outside this building (the real one was displayed on this spot in 1504 and remained, open to the elements (especially the cold weather apparently!) until 1873 when it was moved to its present home at the Galleria dell'Accademia. I don't know how good a copy it is, but a quick inspection of that, and a souvenir pair of 'David' boxer shorts (use your imagination) from a nearby stall sated my sculptural appetite adequately...and no queue. Next port of call was most definitely the Duomo - Florence's gem of a Cathedral. Florence is an old city. A very old city. And unusually for such an ancient place, the old town is relatively flat and the streets relatively straight. It was still a bit of a maze to navigate though, which was proved beyond doubt when we arrived at the Piazza and gazed towards the marbled wonder. Neither of us was mightily impressed with this monument - we couldn't see what all the fuss was about. It was also suspiciously quiet all around. No wonder, we had walked in the opposite direction and ended up at Piazza Santa Croce. To be fair, a pleasant enough building, but not the Duomo. It was only later that we found out that Santa Croce is the final resting place of, among others, Michaelangelo and Gallileo. I then had the brilliant idea of looking at the map and we were soon on our way...the right way. Window-shopping our way along, we soon arrived at the real Duomo and...wow! Any picture I've seen of it just does not do it justice. I had the impression that the different colours of contrasting marble used in its construction tended to look random and somehow unsightly. Not a bit of it. It's only close up that you can appreciate the true beauty of the masonry. And to think it was completed way back in 1327. Just for a change, the queue for tickets stretched around the Cathedral and half-way up the stairway to heaven. Actually, it wasn't nearly as bad as the Uffizi's queue and it was a lot more fluid. The Cathedral deserves a review of its own, but suffice to say, it was breathtaking. Sadly, we didn't have a lot more time to spend in Florence. It's not really an easy place to move around in due to the massive numbers of tourists. In fact, it seemed as though tourists outnumbered locals (anyone who's been in Edinburgh during the festival will know what I mean). We bought a few trinkets and souvenirs, but we weren't really there for serious shopping, which was just as well because we didn't bring serious money with us (you'd need it)! As for eating and drinking, we found that having a coffee or a soft drink at a pavement cafe was fairly expensive, as were many of the restaurants, but there were lots of cheaper options. Self-service restaurants were particularly abundant and offered good value for money. In conclusion, I can't say visiting Florence was the most enjoyable experience I've had. It was far too crowded for a shy and retiring type such as I. I'm thankful that ticking off the masterpieces of the art world was not high on my agenda, as I think most of our time there would've been spent in horrendous queues and would have spoiled the experience somewhat. It was also quite difficult just trying to walk around the city as tour groups seemed to take over whole streets and trying to make your way through them was nigh impossible...without a cutlass anyway. That said, it's a pretty amazing city. You don't necessarily have to visit the Uffizi to see works of art, sculptures and frescoes await round almost every corner. I soaked up the architecture and for that alone, the visit was worthwhile (for me at least), and the Duomo is something special. But all the while, I couldn't help thinking that for a city that's home to some amazing feats of engineering, perhaps some effort should've been devoted to improving the sewage system. It was positively ripe! It all adds to the atmosphere I suppose.
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