Florence, Italy – A Museum of Museums

City of Florence

 

Florence, one of the Renaissance cities of Italy was always in my bucket list and I’m feeling fortunate to have visited here this month.  When we arrived there, disembarking from a quite modern and highspeed Italo train from Milano Centrale Railway Station,  we were greeted by a very busy  Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station.  The departure and arrival areas  were packed with arriving and leaving tourists from around the world, with their suitcases and travel bags beside them, phones and maps on their hands.  I suddenly felt alive; the sight of the crowd with faces full of enthusiasm and satisfaction was a promise of a good 4-day visit.  All those feedbacks and advertisements about this historic city became evident even before we left the train station to find our accommodation.

 

Our Air BnB was a short walk from the train station.  Dragging our suitcases, we passed by few narrow streets, lined with small grocery stores, souvenir shops and flats that looked as old as the city itself.  Motorbikes were quite popular local transportation, suited to navigate the busy narrow back roads.  We found the address of our BnB but we cannot find the apartment.  We stood there for a few minutes wondering whether we’re in the wrong end of the street.  I started looking up the exact house on my phone when a woman in her 60’s called my name from a small window on the second floor of a three-storey apartment right across the road.  Her apartment window was adorned with red bougainvillea and other colorful flowers on terracotta baskets hanged nicely below the window sills.   The apartment looked very Italian; it has an authentic look and a warm welcoming feel of a ‘home away from home’. ‘Welcome to Florence!’, she blurted out with a smile whilst leading us up to her cozy flat.

 

On our way to our Air BnB apartment

 

After we’ve settled and freshened up, our kind lady host gave us some welcome snacks and drinks.  Whilst we were savoring the local pastries and freshly made espresso, she happily sat with us around her dining table and voluntarily offered a verbal city guide using the map that she’s pulled out from her own collections.  Enthusiastically and proudly she highlighted on the map the important areas that we must see.  That was very nice of her.  Didn’t they say that Italians are nice and friendly people?

Our first afternoon was spent walking around town, brushing elbows with other tourists on the narrow pavements towards the square that our host has highlighted on the map.   We were curious and excited to see what this place has to offer to attract millions of tourists every year.  I remember one of my previous bosses kept coming back here for their holidays and I did not understand the fascination for just one city when the world is so big.

We passed by a Renaissance bridge over the Arno River.  Ponte Santa Trinita was first built as a wooden bridge during 1252, the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world, according to Wikipedia.  Seven years after the bridge was first completed it was destroyed by a flood and the replacement stone bridge was also swept away by another strong flood in 1333.  The current bridge was built under the management of the Medici family; a politically powerful and wealthy family that ruled Florence around 1434 to 1737.  It has a fantastic view of the river and you’ll enjoy watching the golden sunset from here.  If you are into Salvatore Ferragamo, the museum dedicated to the life of the fashion icon is right at the foot of this bridge.  It is housed in Palazzo Spini Feroni, a gothic palace at the heart of Florence.  The building was bought by Salvatore Ferragamo during the 1930s.

The Ponte Santa Trinita

 

 

Palazzo Spini Feroni

 

Most of the important landmarks of Florence are within walking distance to each other.  The more I see what’s around the more I realized that Florence has a distinctive and unique character and atmosphere.  Every corner we turned we saw a display of history.  As we navigated from one street to the next, it felt like putting the pieces of a puzzle together; gradually revealing the rich history of the city.  There’s always something ahead for more to suffice our curiosity, to enjoy, to learn about this place that put Tuscany on the map.   It is like a big museum of museums; full of historic churches, old bridges, and historic buildings in every corner.  Each building has its own character and story.  The history of the whole city is well-preserved.

Heading towards the Ufizzi Gallery Museum we passed by another historical and famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio.  It is known for its quirky and collector shops.  Between late afternoon and early evening crowds gathered here to chill. Tourists from around the world sat on the pavement (I did that too), listening and enjoying the music from the live performers.  Some people, especially women were busy taking selfies with the beautiful sunset in the background.

The Ponte Vecchio (or The Old Bridge)

 

THE DA VINCI EXPERIENCE

On our second day in Florence, we passed by the Santo Stefano Auditorium by chance along Piazza Santo Stefano.  The tribute to the works of Da Vinci was on-going, which ran from May 13 to October 8, 2017.  I thought it was a rare opportunity to see the exhibition and so we bought the ticket and went in.   The organizers have brilliantly presented the work of the famous artist in this cozy theater.  The film soundtrack on Dolby surround plus the lighting matched with world-class narration brought the pictures of Da Vinci’s paintings to life.   It was interesting to watch and listen.  If you are interested in art and history,  it was definitely worth watching.  Inside the same building were the collection of Da Vinci’s machines.  Also, an opportunity of a lifetime to see those in actual.  The tickets were Eur 13.00 for adults and Eur 10.00 for students if you can present your student card.

 

Santo Stefano al Ponte, a Roman Catholic Church

 

Inside the auditorium of Santo Stefano al Ponte during the da Vinci show.

 

PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

This is one of the most popular and very busy squares in the city.  It is enclosed by historical buildings including the Uffizi Gallery Museum,  one of the most important and most visited museums in Florence.  The Palazzo Vecchio with a copy of the sculpture of David by Michelangelo at the main entrance is the city’s town hall.  On the one side is the Loggia dei Lanzi, a small open-air museum with wide arches and large Renaissance sculptures.  Across the Palazzo Vecchio is another historic building with shops, including Chanel.  There are restaurants and cafes at the square too.  We had our lunch here in one of the cafe places next to the Loggia dei Lanzi.  Most diners sat outside to catch some suntan and enjoy the busy surroundings.  It was the best place to have a break, to just sit back and relax, savor the locally made authentic Italian pizza or panini with cold drinks and watch the tourists come and go.  A perfect European holiday moment 🙂

 

The Palazzo Vecchio (City Hall of Florence)

 

My souvenir photo of the square by the Loggia dei Lanzi.  This place gets very crowded from 9am to 4pm.

 

THE UFFIZI MUSEUM 

The Uffizi, according to many websites is one of the most important Italian museums in Florence and the most visited and recommended.  There was a long queue when we arrived there.  A museum staff advised us to buy an advanced ticket so that we don’t have to join the long queue.  We bought our tickets (Euro 17.00 each) for the following day.  You can pay by cash or credit card.  The Eur 4.oo is an additional amount you pay to avoid the queue. Or you can join the long queue of the day ticket for Eur 13.00  and if you want a tour guide the average per person charge is Eur 10.00 on top of the entry fees.

The next day we arrived at its opening time (08:30),  the queue for the advance tickets holders was already building up but it was fast-moving.   The queue of those buying a day-tickets was already long.

Uffizi ticket

 

The museum is one of the legacies of the Medici Family  Their sculptures welcome the visitors on the first-floor landing.  The museum has two longer and quite impressive corridors lined with Renaissance sculptures.   The ceiling panels have grotesque decorations;  an impressive work by a group of artists.  The details of the artworks are beyond excellent.  C’est magnifique!

Large corridor

 

One of the noticeable sculptures in the corridor was the Laocoon and His Sons.  The sculpture is almost lifesize.  Their facial expressions and the way their bodies are twisted and bonded together by a snake is a picture of pain and struggle, a very clear presentation of agony.  The face of Laocoon, a Trojan priest, displays a similar portrayal of the agony of Christ on the cross.  It hit a chord in the emotional part of my being.

Laocoön Group

 

The museum has many rooms and halls that contain many collections of the early Tuscan paintings during the 13th century, Sienese and Florentine paintings of the 14th century, International Gothic, and the Early Renaissance.  The collections include the greatest works of the greatest artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael and Botticelli to name a few.  If you are an art enthusiast you will need more than a day here.  This museum is a must-see.

 

Back on the streets.  You can hire one of these carriages to explore the city.  We enjoyed walking on foot and take our time looking at the surroundings and enjoying the company of many tourists.  Italian leather is well-known and sought-after in the world; it is not surprising to see many leather shops here both in the high street and the back streets.  The long stretch of Via de’ Tornabuoni is lined with luxury shops, starting from the foot of Ponte Santa Trinita.  For some who visits for both luxury shopping and culture trip, it is convenient to find what you want in one place.

In a quieter shopping street

 

PIAZZA SANTA MARIA NOVELLA

The main attraction in this square is the Basilica of Santa Maria, the city’s principal Dominican church.  This is close to the train station so it is easy to find.

Santa Maria Novella

 

BASILICA DE SAN LORENZO

This old building with interesting facade is one of the largest churches in Florence.  It used to be the parish church of the De Medici family and the burial place of the family’s principal members.  The whole building occupies a whole block.  If you wish to see inside, the entrance is at the back of this building at Via del Canto dei Nelli.

Basilica of San Lorenzo

 

PIAZZA DEL DUOMO

When we saw the cathedral for the very first time we were in total awe!   This massive Gothic structure was so captivating I stared at it speechless for at least five minutes.  I was spellbound, overwhelmed and emotional.  It felt like I was right in-front of God’s home.  I was raised catholic that is probably why this made me feel how I felt standing before it.  My son even said that this the highlight of his visit in Florence.

Santa Maria del Fiore 

The cathedral’s entrance is free but if you are wearing a sleeveless top or short-shorts you will not be allowed inside. So bring a scarf or jacket.  We bought a ticket that allows us to visit different areas within this square – the Giotto Bell Tower, the Dome, the Duomo Museum, and the Baptistry.  The tickets for these can be bought inside the Duomo Museum.  It depends what month of the year you are visiting but when we were there we could not go up to the Dome on that day.  It was fully booked.  We had to book a time for the following day.  You can book at the same place where you bought the ticket.  Again you need to book a time depending on how busy it is in Florence. The cost of the ticket on the 5th of July 2017 was Eur 15.00 pp.

 

GIOTTO BELL TOWER

We went up the bell tower on the same day we bought the ticket.  This is 82 meters high and 416 steps to the top.  The narrow and steep staircases and the ventilation is not for everyone.  You only get to rest when you get to each landing where there are big windows in all corners of the building.  You can sit and get plenty of air before you proceed to the next staircase if you want.  It was quite a climb before the first landing!  As you can see in the picture it is quite high before the first level with windows.

 

The third big window is where the big bell is.  I had mixed feelings when I reached this far; a feeling of excitement and exhaustion.  It was all worth it!

The giant bell (one more stairs to the very top).  

 

And this is the view from the top of the Giotto Tower.  You can see the people at the top of the Dome.

The Dome by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the founding fathers of the Renaissance.

 

THE DOME

On the following day, we went up the Dome.  It has 463 steps to the top.   The climb was equally challenging but the staircase is a little bit bigger and less steep than the Giotto Tower.  The 360 view from the top was spectacular.  You can see the whole of Florence.

 

I had to sit when I reached the top.  I  felt a little exhausted but happy, a little overwhelmed with the height, the strong breeze and the beauty around me.   Up there I felt calmness, peacefulness and some kind of freedom, maybe freedom from the chaos downstairs in the busy streets.  We stayed there for at least 45 minutes enjoying the luxury of the 360 degrees view of the beautiful city and the nice cool summer breeze 🙂

Memories at the top of the Dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Firenze  

 

The view of Giotto Tower from the Dome.  We can also see the tourists at the top of the tower.

The Giotto Tower (or Giotto’s Campanile) from the top of the Dome. 

 

When we got down we felt we needed food!  There are many places to eat around Piazza del Duomo but as expected, some can be pricey because of the location.  There is a good place to go if you are in a budget but would love to experience the authentic Italian food.  The  Mercato Centrale is a short walk from the Duomo.  This quirky food arcade is popular to both locals and tourists.  It gets busy here around dinner time.  They have all sorts of Italian dishes including seafood at reasonable prices.  We had our dinner here twice.  The building is by the leather market right at the heart of the city.

 

Well, I always say I don’t go back to the same place twice as the world is big but in the case of Florence, I am happy to go back there one day and visit other places that I’ve missed, like the Accademia Museum, the Pitti Palace and many more.   And like many tourists who have been, I also highly recommend this beautiful Renaissance city!

 

Thanks for dropping by! x

 

 

 

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