We spent day one in recovery after the not so fun Night Jet ride from Vienna. You won’t be able to get me on another 10+ hour train ride without promises of royalty treatment, including a deluxe king-sized bed.
Mostly to help us skip the queues, we purchased a Firenze Card as soon as we could. It also made sense for us because it lasted for 72 hours – being the time we just happened to be in the city for. It was worth it just for the queue-skipping, even if that was only for a day because not even 24 hours with it, I managed to promptly loose them damn thing out of my little pass. Go me.
Anyway, we went down to the Academia dell’Galleria first to see Michelangelo’s David. The real one. The rest of the Galleria is mostly religious iconography, which has limited appeal to my filthy heathen sensibilities. But the two other very enjoyable areas are the music museum, which contains two Stradivarius violins and the plaster sculptures. Some of these are original, taken from various churches or outdoor settings, some are formed from famous brass counterparts, but all are very freaken old. Some of the sculptures require additional support to stop them crumbling into dust, but despite missing limbs and noses, they are quiet spectacular all gathered together.
After that we wandered the streets a little aimlessly, before picking up tickets to the Duomo’s associated buildings. Unfortunately, the Duomo itself requires booking in advance and it was booked solid for a good week ahead of us. No matter – while we couldn’t climb the Duomo, entrance into the cathedral itself was free. You just don’t to see the ceiling up close.
The tickets to these buildings were valid for 48 hours, giving us some time to visit all 4 major sights. On day one we just went to the Baptistry of Saint John, enjoying the cool temperature inside and staring at the most ridiculously garish ceiling I had ever seen.
Little did I know I had seen nothing yet.
Lunch was one of those great moments when you walk into a restaurant off the street because it looks good, and it turns out IT REALLY IS. It’s really easy to do that in Florence, especially if you pick the really hipster–looking places. Turns out Florence is going through a bit of a hipster food revival at the moment. I’m not complaining.
Anyway, the restaurant was called Simbiosi. Get the chefs special and don’t be a baby about it. Lots of tasty food for a good price. Yes please.
Finally, after grabbing a gelato at some random gelato place (if you throw a cone in the street you’re bound to hit another gelato shop) we walked a few steps further down towards the Piazza Della Signoria where Fake David #1 stands guard outside the Palazzo Vecchio.
But after this, we turned and lost ourselves in the streets of Florence on our way back to the hotel. Florence is a city you can really get lost in, but it’s so fun to do. You never know where the winding streets will take you. We were so shattered that we fell asleep at around 5pm NEVER TO WAKE AGAIN.
Well, at least until the next day. The quaint little hotel, Hotel D’Azeglio, we stayed at served a continental breakfast every morning including Blood Orange juice (so good. I would have like 2 glasses every morning) and fresh baking. It saved us having to work for our meal. We stocked up on pastries and started the day with a climb up the bell tower (or the Campanile). Little did I know that this would be the first of many such climbs in Europe.
The Campanile is part of the Duomo and stands alone as this tall, thin, white building against the bright red dome. It is pretty in its own right, but of course that is not what you see while traipsing up the 412 (apparently) steps. However, the top of the tower does give you a beautiful view across the whole city to the hills beyond, even if the climb did almost kill me.
We had booked tickets to the Uffizi but had that sort of awkward amount of time to kill. Hendy used this as an in to the Galileo Museum. Like every other famous talented person in this city, it was a Medici that patronised Galileo’s work and who’s passion for science saw the collection of thousands of historic scientific artefacts. It was fascinating. As someone with a background in microbiology, I liked looking at the microscopes, while Hendy spent most of his time admiring the physics experiments and telescopes.
Oh, and Galileo’s middle finger is there – stored in a sealed glass vial. You know, just because.
Next was the Uffizi where I think I spent more time marvelling at the ceiling than the exhibits themselves. This started my minor obsession with European ceilings (which you can check out if you follow me on Instagram @theamazingflyingkiwi). The Uffizi. Is. Huge. But there are some easy highlights for me – the Da Vinci exhibit, the Botticellis and Caravaggio’s Medusa.
This took up most of the afternoon, but we did pass by the Church of Santa Croce on our way to dinner.
Dinner itself was a religious experience with a Margherita pizza at Caffe Italiano. We had a nice chat with the chef who informed us that we had to go up to the Michelangelo Plaza before we left for Florence. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have let us left if we hadn’t agreed.
Today was our last full day in Florence, and we had some ‘must dos’ to still tick off. The first was to finally enter the Duomo Cathedral (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and it’s crypt. What can I say, I love a good graveyard me.
So the cathedral opens at 10am and we went down about 15min early to hopefully miss the line. Boy were we mistaken. But the queue to get into the cathedral every time we walked past would snake around half of its length. It’s really, really long. But it’s worth it. Just keep telling vendors and beggars to fuck off and you’ll be fine.
Oh, and don’t have bare shoulders and cover your legs below the knee if you expect to get in to any of the main churches in Europe. Even if it’s hot as hell. Just bring a shall or something to cover you and you should be sweet.
There is no other way to put this. The Catholics know how to make a church. The elaborate alters, the dark paintings, the vaulted ceilings, the acoustics that makes everything echo. Oh, and stained glass windows. I love stained glass windows. This was no exception. But, of course, the icing on this proverbial cake is the the dome. From the inside it is a beautifully painting fresco, including the Last Judgement, by Vasari (I had to double check Wikipedia for that one. I do not recommend coming here for accurate art history information.) which is, I’m told, featured in the Da Vinci Code. Ooh.
The crypt is fascinating if you like ruins. Which I do. Turns out the current cathedral is built on the ruins of an even older 5th century cathedral. In the crypt you can see where they have uncovered parts of this old cathedral, including carved motifs, ancient tombs and beautiful African mosaics which were all the rage back then. It’s also nice and cool down there, which is nice after 30 degree whether.
We then crossed over the Ponte Vecchio (which my father referred to as the Goldsmith bridge and it becomes incredibly obvious when you get there). The bridge was very crowded and in many ways is far more pretty to see from a distance than to be on, but it acts as a neat point to cross into the even older part of Florence on our way up to Michelangelo’s Plaza.
Which is actually a pretty big walk. Especially if you’re taking detours to see the Pitti Palace, this great stone renaissance building which now acts as an art museum. You then have to double back a bit and walk along the river, past the picturesque Gate of Saint Nicholas and up into the Rose Garden (which offers you a nice spot to stop and rest). You can then walk up the steps, past all the art sellers to Michelangelo’s Plaza itself and enjoy the most spectacular view of all of Florence.
Despite the fact that my feet were about to fall off (in my expert opinion) I followed Hendy up to the Romanesque San Miniato al Monte Abbey. Don’t get this confused by the adorable San Salvatore al Monte church just down the hill. You need to keep going to the SECOND oversized building with bells. After soaking in the view, we wandered the graveyard, enjoying the moment of peace and quiet before walking back down the hill again.
Apparently we were just shy the 30,000 step mark. I’m pretty sure that’s a form of illegal torture.
If you wanna see more from our time in Florence check out these posts: