Of all the places we are to see on this cruise, Florence was high on my list and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved the vibe in the city and wished we'd had more than five and half hours to spend there. Our ship docked in Livorno -- a 90 minute ride from Florence. Sara and Roisin took a guided tour of the city, but Carolina and I opted to take a bus chartered by the cruise into the city and roam on our own. During the ride, our tour operator educated us on the history of Florence, and the world of olives and olive oil.
We were dropped off in Florence a little later than planned due to morning traffic. I had read that the wine bars in Florence are open early in the morning to help ease commuters frustration. I had assumed it was a joke, but now I believe it!
We started out in Plaza della Signoria, along with a crazy amount of other tourists, where we saw a replica of Michelangelo's David and a host of other statues.
|Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) - rear|
|Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain)|
|Replica of David (left)|
|Carolina & I amidst the crowds in the Piazza|
Then we hurried north a few blocks, through a maze of narrow streets lined with produce shops and cafés, to get to the Duomo, where I planned to climb its 463 steps to the top. The Duomo is the largest masonry dome in the world -- 115m high and 42 m wide -- an architectural wonder that was finished in 1436. The inside is supposed to be beautiful and the view of Florence from the top, incredible. Unfortunately, the hordes of tourists there that morning had the same idea and the line was just too long for me to spend waiting when there was so much to see in only a few hours.
So we spent some time instead marvelling over the exterior of the Duomo and, next door, the cathedral (4th largest in the world) and Giotti’s bell tower (the Campanile). The size and the beauty of these buildings just doesn’t capture on film. It was a wonder to see. But next time I’m in Florence, I’m climbing to the top of the Duomo.
Our next stop was the Galleria dell' Accademia. I had purchased our tickets to see Michelangelo’s David online in August and when we arrived 45 minutes before our scheduled reservation, and I saw the length of the line for those without reservations, I was glad I had. I had left my receipt for the reservation in our cabin on the ship so I decided to check with the reservation desk in advance to see if we needed it. Unfortunately, the surly guy manning the desk insisted that we did and looking it up under my name just wouldn’t do (if we were younger, and in skimpier clothing, I think we might have had better luck). So, we tore through the nearby streets, on a mission to find an Internet café so I could print another copy from my email account. Some helpful directions, in Italian, from a shopkeeper got us close and we stumbled upon one in the nick of time. New copy in hand we sprinted back to the Accademia to meet the real David.
I’m still speechless. I’ve seen countless pictures of the statue, studied it in school, and saw the replica earlier that morning in the plaza, but nothing had prepared me for the real thing. The muscles rippling in his arms and legs, the raised veins in his hands, the expression on his face … the detail on the real statue is unbelievable. And its size is intimidating – over 15 feet of marble. I just circled it over and over, staring in awe. We also looked at other statues in the museum, from other artists, that were amazing in their own right.
Next we headed north, to the neighbourhood of San Marco in search of lunch, and came across Pugi in the Piazza San Marco.
We ordered pizza – mine was artichoke and ham with a white sauce and globs of fresh mozzarella -- and grabbed a seat on a bench in the plaza and enjoyed our lunch amidst the locals on their lunch breaks. They just don’t make pizza like this back home!
With bellies full, we headed south toward the Arno. I really enjoyed this part of our day in Florence, wandering the narrow streets and emerging into squares with fountains or statues or carousels.
When we reached the Arno we crossed the Ponte Santa Trinata, which gave us a view of the famous Ponte Vecchio -- packed with people. Our bridge, on the other hand, was quiet and peaceful.
|Me, on the Ponta Santa Trinata, with the Ponte Vecchio in the background.|
|Carolina crossing the Ponte Santa Trinata.|
On the other side of the bridge was a gelato shop that I'd read had the best gelato in Florence -- Gelateria Santa Trinata. It's definitely the best I’ve had. And, it also sold wine!
|Fantastic gelato just across the bridge.|
I walked out with my bottle of Chianti tucked under my arm, and a heaping bowl of yellow vanilla and café latte gelato, and headed into Oltrano – the artisan district. We wandered past the shops full of leather goods and jewellery and the further we went, the more crowded it became.
|The streets of Oltrano.|
When we came to the Ponte Vecchio, it was packed with window shoppers -- the bridge is lined with jewellery shops, their windows flashing traditional gold and diamond bling -- and people enjoying the view of the Arno.
On the other side, we came across a strange site – a post on the end of the bridge was covered with locks.
Turns out, a book about teenage lovers – very popular in Europe – has them engraving their names on a lock, locking it to a bridge and then throwing the key in the river – symbolizing their eternal love. Now young people are doing the same on the bridges across Europe. Apparently the local authorities cut them all off every few weeks – not sure what that says about eternal love.
After that, we strolled back through streets, alleys and squares to our designated place to catch our bus back to the ship, passing by impressive buildings, artists sketching and painting in the streets, sidewalk vendors and quaint shops.
Tired, hot and happy with my day, I hit the Lido deck to get a drink and a snack, meet up with the others and then to soak in the hot tub and swim in the pool. Not a bad life!
|Carolina & Roisin lounging on the Lido deck.|