Firenze: It's not just tripe.

Monday, October 26, 2009

First of all, apologies for not posting in, oh, a week or so. What can I say? The muse was not with me, and the internet access was inconvenient, and there seemed to be better things to do. Wandering around Siena for instance, or getting to Rome. But let’s take a moment now and look back at Florence.

Florence had a lot to offer – much more than I had the time or inclination to partake in. But I did have a nice three and a half days, and I saw some of the biggies. (Actually, they call it Firenze in Italy, so that’s how I’ve been thinking about it. This helps with things like train schedules; it means you’re not standing around waiting for a train to Florence while six successive trains for Firenze speed off into the distance.)

Firenze, taken from Piazzale Michelangelo

The hostel in Florence, Ostello Archi Rossi, provided stiff competition for the Rossio Hostel in Lisbon. (Apparently any hostel with “Ross” in the name is a good bet.) Archi Rossi had bigger rooms, and more beds per room, but even though I shared with 8 other people the room was big enough that it didn’t feel crowded at all. And there was a free computer in the room and full bathroom as well. The hostel also had all the standard stuff that separates the great from the mediocre – free wifi, laundry machines, 24-hour front desk, helpful staff. And they offer two different free walking tours, and had an extensive collection of cheap beer, wine, and snacks for sale. Like Rossio, they had free hot breakfast with about 8 or 9 choices of what to have. Unlike Rossio, or anywhere else I’ve been, the also had free supper six nights a week. Yup, two free meals a day. And the meals were decent – your choice of about 4 different pastas and about 6 different pizzas and 3 or 4 different salads. And it was prepared on site, by actual people. Brilliant.

Archi Rossi Common area / cafeteria

As for Firenze – it’s positively crammed with galleries and churches and publicly displayed sculptures, largely thanks to the Medici family. The famed Uffizi Gallery, for instance, grew out of the private collection of the Medici family which was “bequeathed to Florence in 1743 by the last of the family, Anna Maria Ludovica, on the condition that it never leave the city.” (LP). Firenze is also home to the Duomo, and, of course, the most famous hunk of white marble ever set to with a hammer and chisel (and I’m using the word “hunk” here very conscious of the double entendre). And here’s something that surprised me about David – did you know he’s about sixteen feet tall? I did not. I really thought he was closer to life size. Nope. He’s a big boy.

David (photo thanks to Google Images, because the Accademia did not allow photos.

Oh, and thank you Michelangelo.)

Firenze also has a history of producing fine leather goods, pens and stationery. There are a lot of high-end shops selling the stuff, and every two-bit kisok in every square seems to sell cheap(ish) leather wallets and books and purses. I found a great little shop on a side street (right across from Dante’s church, if you’re looking). It was exactly as homey and cluttered and personal as I’d hoped it would be. I even did a bit of Christmas shopping.

Cluttered and perfect, with friendly English-speaking saleswoman, who loved my paper wallet (which is still going strong, thank you very much Larry).

My visit to the Uffizi was nice, though the collection only goes up to about the mid-18th century, which isn’t really my bag. I think I can safely say that after this trip is over I will never, in my life, need to see another Annunciation, or Adoration of the Magi/Shepherds, or Lamentation over the Body of Christ or (please, oh please spare me from) another Madonna and Child. The Ufizzi does have a load of nice sculpture though, and I did find “my” painting too. A very small, and probably underappreciated portrait of a monk, painted in the 1500 (!) by Pietro Perugino. It’s called “Portrait of Don Baldassare di Angelo”. (Though part of my affection for this piece may be attributed to the fact that I think it looks a lot like Patrick Stewart, for whom I have a passing fondness.)

No photo because the Uffizi doesn’t allow them, and the nice one I found on Google Images is copyrighted. Go google it yourself if you want a look. Or just imagine Patrick Stewart with a tonsure.

And, despite what the LP says, I found the size of the Uffizi quite manageable. It’s got fifty rooms (and they’re small) which is sort of titchy compared to somewhere like the Louvre or the Hermitage. And the audioguide was decent and had commentary for every room. I didn’t feel like I was racing through it, but I was still through in about two and a half hours.

I also met some good people at the hostel (well, on the free walking tours provided by the hostel). I had lunch on Friday and Saturday with walking tour people, and had an especially nice time with Narelle, who stars in my 3rd “Portrait of new friend at lunch” series. She had pizza, I had papardelle with wild boar sauce. And we shared a half bottle of Chianti.


Of course the Duomo is one of the must-see sights in Firenze and though the church itself did not take my breathe away, the dome is quite fantastic. It was designed by the famous rennaissance architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi, and is famous for being (I think) the first large dome ever built without supporting scaffolding underneath. So, like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, it was art and engineering at the same time, and thus right up my alley. I climbed up with Matthias and Heather, two single-serving friends from the hostel, so I even got a nice pic of me at the top.

Firenze also has a great collection of Tower Houses. These are, as astute GSRED readers may already have guessed, houses that are built as towers. Apparently in the Middle Ages the streets of Firenze were not the festival of high-end designer stores, trattorias, and gelato shops that they are today. In fact, wealthy families used to build their houses like mini castles, and live up above the mayhem that reigned at street level. Eventually they even built bridges linking different towers. Though there used to be hundreds of these buildings, and though only about thirty still survive, that’s enough that you can glance down almost any street in the historic centre of the city. One of my walking tours even visited the inside of one of these tower houses that’s preserved as a (free!) museum. It was fantastic, and had original 14th century frescoes on the walls all over the place, just like wallpaper.

One of many tower houses

And, to top things off, a had a good long run in Firenze – 33.3km, in about 3 hours and 18 minutes. That was my last long run before the Athens marathon, which is looming so close now it seems ridiculous. I will toe the line at 9:00am, on Sunday, November 8th, and though I know I won’t be setting any new personal records at this race, I am pretty confident I’ll finish. I’m also pretty confident it won’t be pretty.

Oh, and I've already mentioned it, but the gelato in Firenze was really top-notch. I've been keeping track of what flavours I've tried since I got to Italy, and have hit upon the brilliant scheme of having half chocolate and half something-else each time I hit a new shop. This means I'm not deprived of my chocolate fix, but I still try new things too. And these are the kind of innovative travel tips that are making things tick along so smoothly here at Go See Run Eat Drink, where we are powered by beer and gelato in approximately equal quantities.


Mitch said...

I was starting to wonder about you! Great to hear from you again! I am going to try to be the first one to post a comment in order to maybe use a little competative nature in people post more on your blog.

Great hearing about Italy, definately one of those places on my "list" that I have to get to. I now want to get there even more now.

I am heading to Vancouver next week, and plan on raising a glass in your honour with Steve G.

Keep having fun, and I now expect to see your paper wallets pop up all over the Italian tourist shops!

Kathryn said...

Glad you are as much of a geek as me - I have a diary of all the gelato flavours we ate in Italy too. With ratings too! My personal favourite is 'pinolata' - or, pine nut! YUM. Paired with any sort of hazelnut/chocolate combo. If you see it - try the pine nut - as it is a flavour I have yet to find outside of Italy.
Looking forward to the Rome chapter!

Unknown said...

Gelato was my saviour on very hot days in Verona and Milan this summer.

Keep on Truckin'


cinc said...

Good luck at the Rome marathon! can't wait to read that race report!

and so glad you're enjoying Italy! If you are heading to Switzerland, I can hook you up with my girlfriend who lives in Zug!


Karen said...

Look at that lovely light orange handbag high up on the shelf almost hidden from view. I would have gone crazy in the littel shop.

Unknown said...

Have a great race in Athens Pam! Still lovin' the blog and living ever so vicariously! Thank you for this!

Lisa said...

I am feeling a little sad because of the thwart-age of my plans to run Athens with you....Still very disappointed that it didn't work out for me...I will think of you that day...

When I was in Europe in 1989 all we could find was the Let's Go Europe book which we carried and relied on religiously...I wish they would have had others like LP...Sounds like you are seeing some cool and off-the-beaten-path kind of things!!

Kim said...

I think you can lift this picture of the painting:

I doubt this is a direct link to it though. You probably have to scroll....

Post a Comment