europe · italy · Travel

Oh my David, what big…hands you’ve got. Florence 2015

I’ve had a bit of a poor night’s sleep due to the lack of decent pillow coverage (three tissue-thin excuses for a pillow) but Mr Fletche kindly assists by folding lots of towels under my head. (This will give the cleaner something of a surprise in the morning when she discovers all of the bathroom towels have disappeared overnight).  However, the sky is blue, there are little white fluffy clouds and Florence does indeed feel better when the sun shines.  We take our breakfast at the shared table in the lounge; our fellow guests however do not prove to be overly convivial preferring to talk among themselves rather than greet us politely.

Ready to face Florence with a positive mental attitude, we barely even notice the 10 minutes walk to the Duomo.  And this time, we’re prepared for climbing!  We could do:

  1. the 414 steps of St Giotto’s campanile (bell tower)
  2. the 463 Steps of the cupola
  3. Both
  4. Neither and admire Florence from ground level
Campanile di Giotto (bell tower of The Duomo).
We climbed that!

Option 1) wins.  Option 3) gets no votes, although both are indeed included in the 10,00 euro ticket.  Our sensible reasoning is that from the top of the bell tower, you get incredible views of the Duomo and its cupola – views you wouldn’t get from the cupola itself.  (We applied similar logic in New York, opting for Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building).  We begin our ascent.  It’s easy going.  For about the first 20 steps.  And then it gets increasingly steeper, increasingly narrower and increasingly more claustrophobic.  Just when I think my legs can’t take any more, we reach the first level – yay!  We get our breath back, and start over again.  We repeat this sequence another three times…. Climb until our legs tremble, draw breath at the handy rest levels and wait until our hearts stop palpitating, then repeat.  Until finally… we reach the top!  And (once we get our breath back and our eyes begin to focus once more) we are rewarded with the most wonderful views in every direction.  We wave at the people at the top of the cupola; they wave back – and they’ve done 50 steps more than we have!

It’s not an easy climb by any means, and the stairwell is ridiculously narrow in places towards the top, but there were people a lot less fit than us making the climb – and people (women mainly) in much less sensible shoes…  As we prepare for the descent (just as tiring as the ascent and uses a load of different muscles!) we congratulate those huffing and puffing their way up to the peak.  And let them know that it’s totally worth it.  Back on terra firma, we deserve our cappuccini at Caffe Duomo and we sit and watch the world go by.  Or sit and watch those queuing for the Duomo slowly shuffle by.  When we pass by the queue for the campanile a few minutes later, we are relieved we made the decision to do the climb first thing as I can’t imagine climbing up as part of a slow-moving procession is any fun.

Shopping - Florence style
Shopping – Florence style

We spend the morning wandering here and there.  This time we stay on the tourist trail.  It’s still busy, there’s still too much traffic for our liking and we’re still breathing in a much “heavier” air, but we are warming to Florence.  We cross the river at Ponte Santa Trinita, and amble around Oltrarno (quite literally the “other side of the river Arno”) – a more peaceful and authentic side of Florence.  We stop for an Aperol Spritz at Caffe le Torri ­(slight language confusion when we are served two espresso instead of two spritz­) and we decide to order lunch here too.  A shared panino and tuna salad later, and we’re fuelled to continue exploring Florence.  We cross back over the Arno via the famous Ponte Vecchio, but we don’t dawdle to explore any of the jewellery shops residing on the bridge.  The Ponte Vecchio is better viewed from one of its neighbouring bridges, where you’re not jostling for position among the selfie-stick wielding tourists.

Once back on our own side of the river, we decide it’s time to stop for a gelato.  We opt for the tub over il cono – much more practical when we are walking through a city.  We’ve only just stepped away from the counter when my gelato takes a leap from my hand and rolls around on the street.  The tub and ice cream are intact and I’m sure the five-second rule applies in Italy so I brush off the street dust and carry on eating.  A bit of street dust never hurt anyone… Just in case of any ill effects we head back to the hotel for a quick rest before our 4:30 appointment with David.

Unlike yesterday, when we walked straight into the Uffizi without any queues, there is something of a long queue outside the Accademia, even for those of us clutching pre-booked tickets.  The queue for a walk-in slot is even longer.  However, we are just about admitted during our 4:30-4:45 timeslot so I have to admire the efficiency of the Accademia staff.  If we were a little underwhelmed by the Uffizi yesterday, seeing David “in the flesh” (so to speak) today was worth the entrance fee alone.  There’s no teasing or long trawl through the gallery before you reach the piece de resistance – entrance hall, security, first room (housing the also impressive “Rape of the Sabines” by Giambologna) then BAM… there he is, under the spotlight of a circular skylight, unfinished sculptures providing a guard of honour right to the feet of this spectacular sculpture.  There is no doubt that this is a magnificent piece of work – bravo Michelangelo, bravo.  I can’t get over the size of his…. hands.

We spend about an hour in Accademia, and unlike the Uffizi, this is a smallish gallery.  All rooms lead you back to David, so if you somehow miss him the first time, you are always likely to get a repeat viewing.  We wave goodbye, and make our way back to the hotel to change out of our gallery-going gear and into our “evening in Florence” gear.  This is basically the same as our “daytime in Florence” gear, but with different shoes and a change of plasters.  And I’ll need those tonight…

My pre-trip research has suggested that the best place to get those postcard views of Florence in its full majestic beauty is Pizzale Michelangelo.  So that is where we’re headed.  However, there are two things I didn’t factor into the quest for this unrivalled view.  Firstly, the ridiculous humidity, foreshadowing an approaching storm, which means I can’t take two steps without clutching my tightening chest and wheezing in the manner of an elderly person drawing their final breath.  Secondly, the fact that in order to have a majestic view of the city, there’s probably going to be a steep hill or two.  And some steps.  And another hill.  And then some more steps, just for fun.  These two factors combined make for an unpleasant trek.  Climbing the campanile seemed easier.  But eventually we are rewarded.  We – and a couple of hundred other people – gather to watch the softening evening glow across the terracotta rooftops.  Unfortunately, a short rainstorm and gathering clouds mean that tonight’s sunset is not set to be as spectacular as we hoped.  We do get to see a newly-wed couple having their photos taken, with what is quite frankly a stunning backdrop, and the crowds participate in their celebration by whooping and cheering when our handsome groom sweeps his beautiful bride into his arms for a smooch.  There are buskers, a few souvenir stalls – I finally get to purchase that Florence souvenir umbrella for the excellent sum of 5,00 euro – and the ubiquitous selfie-stick sellers.

Views over Florence from Pizzale Michelangelo
Views over Florence from Pizzale Michelangelo
Views over Florence from Pizzale Michelangelo2
Views over Florence from Pizzale Michelangelo
We make our way back down towards the riverside, and the unexpected hike has taken its toll on my poor battered feet.  We cross back over the river at Ponte Vecchio and look for somewhere to eat and take a load off our aching legs.  We eat at a restaurant on Piazza della Signoria, and it’s our most expensive meal yet (unsurprising on such a touristy square), but once again, the food – and the wine – is excellent.  We sit down for so long that it’s an effort standing again.  After a few days of respite, the days of walking have taken its toll on this aging body (Yes, I know I’m not even out of my thirties yet but technically my body is aging every day.  Every minute in fact) and it’s a long, uncomfortable walk / limp back to our room.  A good night’s sleep with no interruption is exactly what I need…
Sunset at the Ponte Vecchio, Florence
Sunset at the Ponte Vecchio
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