We set off from Viareggio by train (you can click here to read about my stint there) to Fiorenza aka Firenze aka Florence in Tuscany. The birthplace of the Renaissance, it is known as the Athens of the Middle Ages.
We checked into the quaint San Giorgio Hotel which is very close to the central train termini. A quick wash later, we donned our sneakers and set off on our “Walking tour” of Florence. That is the best way to do it – don’t bother with the bus tour. You can absorb the essence that is Florence only by walking its cobbled streets and paved sidewalks.
The most famous ancient family of Florence was the Medici. They struck fear into the hearts of people as they were extremely powerful and rich. Two Popes (Leo X and Clement VII) belonged to this family. Catherine Medici married King Henry II of France (watch The Reign on Netflix). The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – simply known as the Duomo is very popular with tourists. My jaw dropped as I gazed up in wonder at this magnificent piece of architecture!
The dome built by Filippo Brunelleschi is built with brick and mortar and is said to be the largest one in the world. The frescos and stained glass in the dome are unparalleled. My jaw just stayed dropped!! The beautiful building in front of it is called the San Giovanni Baptistery. In Piazza della Signoria, is the Fountain of Neptune – a brilliant marble sculpture. Attached to it is a still much used Roman aqueduct. The Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio or the town hall (in layman terms) dominate the skyline of Firenze.
The River Arno wends its way through the old part of Florence. The Ponte Vecchio (also known as Old Bridge) is built on stilts. Numerous shops dot the edges of the bridge. The Vasari Corridor connects the Palazzo Vecchio with the Palazzo Pitti (home of the Medici family). The Uffizi Gallery (which houses Botticelli’s Venus) is in the middle of this corridor. It also passes over the Santa Felicita Church – the Medici family could, therefore, follow Church services without having to hobnob with the general population! The main purpose of this corridor was to allow the Grand Duke Cosimo di Medici to move at will between his residence and place of work without having to encounter any people.
Our guide Roberto was a kindly gentleman who insisted on spelling out every single word – so he would say this is the Pitti Palazzo, ie. P-I-T-T-I and so on. Had us in splits most of the time. His knowledge was tremendous though and he gave us so a lot of background information. We walked through the fashion street of Florence, Via Tornabuoni, and peered into the shop windows of Gucci, Pucci, Cavalli, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani and the like. Way too many Euros for me to spend but it was nice to just look!
Other Churches we saw were the San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce (which has the graves of famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Marconi). Famous artists who lived and worked in Florence include Donatello, Settignano, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi (but of course), Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli!
We then wandered over to the Piazza della Signoria which has many statues by other sculptors such as Donatello, Giambologna, Ammannati and Cellini. Most of them are copies as the originals are safe in the Galleria del’Accademia. I stood before Michelangelo’s David completely awestruck. I can’t even begin to describe the tumult of feelings – it’s exquisite (even if it is just a copy). Close at hand are a huge statue of Hercules and one of his tasks and the Fountain of Neptune, with an absolutely amazing array of Satyrs, seahorses and several bronze river Gods around the perimeter. There are other sculptures all around the square. I had to be literally dragged away by my hubby who was hankering for a beer!
Firenze is indeed the art capital of the world and has what is believed to be the highest concentration of fantastic and enviable works of art – be it paintings, sculptors or buildings.
Absolutely lively and fabulous squares like the Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Santa Croce are a must to visit. Numerous cafes which serve great Cappucino and pizza dot these squares. You can just sit back, relax, sip on a latte and watch the world go by! Or skip the coffee and have a Chianti or a Super Tuscan Red wine!
Florence’s literature includes Dante’s Divine Comedy, writings by Cavalcanti, Gianni, Boccaccio and the like. Famous musicians and actors like Strozzi, Caccini, Puccini, Benigni lived in Florence.
For food lovers – try the famous Fiorentina T bone steak (not for the people who dislike rare – which is bloody and actually very raw – as they will be very offended if you say you want it well done), antipasti and tripe (again – not for the faint-hearted).
For those who love History and the Arts, Florence is a veritable paradise! So much of culture to be imbibed and wonderful art to be enjoyed.
From Florence to Padua
From Florence, we took the train to Padua. Beautiful scenery en route. We had done our train bookings beforehand and booked hotels close to the station so we didn’t have to lug suitcases around. We also travelled very light!
We reached Padua or Padova, which stands on the Bacchiglione River, early afternoon and took the tram to our hotel which was just off the main square Piazza del Signori.
We went primarily to visit the most famous of the Paduan churches ie. the Basilica di Sant’Antonio da Padova, simply known as “Il Santo”. The bones of the saint rest in a chapel which boasts of the works of great artists like Sansovino and Falconetto. Construction of the Basilica started in 1230 and took a century to complete. It is said to have been designed by Nicola Pisano. It has seven cupolas, two of which look like pyramids.
We were in time for Holy Mass and so said our prayers for family and friends. We walked past the Sarcophagus of St Anthony, who incidentally is my favourite Saint. I fight with him and demand things of him and he has never failed me. St Anthony or Tony (as I fondly call him) is the Patron Saint of lost things. So I cleverly place my prayers before him – praying for my lost peace of mind, lost health etc. He has worked magic in my life – I have found a lost diamond ring, a chain, files at work, keys, documents etc. You just have to keep the faith!
Padua is a sleepy little town and everything shuts down relatively early. We wandered around looking for a café but found all had closed by 7 pm. So we eventually ate in a doner restaurant run by a Bangladeshi. Tasty and reasonably priced I have to admit even though I was so looking forward to having some wine and lasagne! The square had a British band playing and there were children all around – skateboarding, juggling, skipping, playing music and dancing etc. Very carnival-like on a lazy Sunday evening.
We left the next afternoon, albeit very reluctantly and made our way to Venice for our next adventure. Read more about it here.