(Above photo: https://dreamofitaly.com/explore-italy/florence-2/)
My daughter and I traveled to Italy in late April to celebrate her 35th birthday. I recently wrote several posts about Venice, our first stop in Italy and today I’m moving on to Florence, our second stop on our tour.
Florence is not Venice! For me, these two cities couldn’t be more different. As soon as you arrive in the open vista of the Grand Canal of Venice you feel “the sky’s the limit.” It’s such a magical, beautiful and restless place that anything seems possible. Florence is a much more secretive place; its secrets are well kept behind its walls.
I visited Florence nearly 45 years ago; needless to say, much has changed. My memories of Florence are of a small city almost like a village, with a unique dome-shaped cathedral at its center, lots of crazy Italian drivers zooming around the city center in their hot sports cars, and of the Ponte Vecchio where young, attractive hippies displayed their crafts to tourists visiting the bridge. I remembered a much quieter, less crowded city. This time I found the scene on the bridge a little too noisy and much too crowded for my taste. My only other memory of Florence is almost being locked out of my hostel because I returned so late one night. I was given a cot in the hallway to sleep on! Oh, I almost forgot. I also took a bus ride to Fiesole one day, just to have a glimpse of the beautiful Tuscan countryside, where I met two Greek medical students who spoke no English (and I no Greek) and who showed me the local sites.
This time my lodgings were a solidly middle-class hotel, Hotel Adler Cavalieri, a vigorous twenty-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio along the Via della Scala, dotted with hotels. And I went to bed a lot earlier this time around! Upon our arrival at the hotel my daughter and I asked for a recommendation for dinner and were given the name of a small place across from the Pitti Palace.
Our first stop of the day was a tour of the Uffizi Gallery. My son insisted that this be our first stop in Florence as it holds a concentration of some of the most famous Italian artists during the Renaissance such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Filippo Lippi, Giotto, Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci. What is even more amazing is that the building (uffizi means offices in Italian) was constructed for the sole use of the Medici family members who actually spent very short periods of time there.
My daughter has had a copy of Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus hanging over her bed for a decade so she was eager to see the original canvas. But she was even more fascinated by the discovery of another of his paintings, La Primavera, and so was I.
We left the Uffizi amazed at its riches and entered the Boboli gardens that surround it. As we walked in the shade of the cypress trees that overhang a path that is centuries old, I tried to absorb what we had just seen; it was overwhelming.
Our walk to dinner required that we next walk across the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio, so off we went. It was a landmark I recalled with some detail. I had no recollection of the streets that led to the bridge, so nothing seemed familiar. It’s possible I had stayed somewhere much closer 45 years ago. When we finally reached the banks of the Arno, I could see the Ponte Vecchio in the distance. The view included a stretch of a walkway along the Arno and a view of the hills behind the old city which I did not recall seeing on my first visit.
Alas, when we finally reached the Ponte Vecchio, it was swarming with tourists. It was late in the afternoon, so most of the jewelry stalls were already closed.
The Ponte Vecchio is now well known for its gold and jewelry merchants who sell their wares on the bridge in small, quaint stalls. It was hard to believe it was once where the butchers of the town executed (no pun intended) their skills.
“…in 1593 duke Ferdinand I decided to allow only goldsmiths and jewelers to hold shops on Ponte Vecchio because former tenants produced too much garbage and foul smells.” http://www.bridgesdb.com/bridge-list/ponte-vecchio/
With so many tourists crowding the bridge amid a circus-like atmosphere, and in the heat of the day, I did not experience the same charm I had felt on my first visit. A small group of local musicians we stumbled upon further along the bridge helped erase that feeling.
We soon found the restaurant, Olivia, which is one of Europe’s new “green” restaurants with a vegetarian non-GMO menu and farm-to-table produce. The woman who served us turned out to be the proprietor and heiress of an olive oil producer in Tuscany. This was her first venture in the restaurant business and she was absolutely charming and accommodating. I no longer remember what we ate, but I was sure we would probably not have a better meal during our stay.
Just opposite the restaurant across a very narrow street was the Pitti Palace. We found its facade to be rather ugly since what could have been an expansive front lawn was completely paved over making it seem quite uninviting on this very warm day. After seeing the gorgeous waterfront palazzos along the Grand Canal in Venice, this was a disappointment.
After our sumptuous meal, we walked back to our hotel. On the way, to refresh ourselves after a rather warm day, we stopped in a piazza to sample the gelato. We spied a high table with two high, metal bar stools and headed for them.
As I mounted my stool it slid out from under me on the cobblestones and suddenly, there I was, flat on my bum! Other than being humiliated and a bit in shock I was ok (thank goodness). One onlooker said, “il gelato es intacto!” It was true; I had managed to hold on to my gelato and it was, indeed, still intact and delicious!
It was getting late and there was nothing I could do to top my gelato performance, so we wearily headed back to our hotel. The final 10 minutes of our walk were agonizing for me; after so much walking in Venice, my dogs were tired. Fortunately, Hotel Adler Cavalieri was very welcoming and it was time to hit the sack!
Next week: Another day in Florence