Italy was one of the mainstays of The Grand Tour – a traditional trip through Europe for the well to do in the 17th and 18th Centuries. And within that, Florence was considered to be one of the real cultural highlights. It’s not hard to see why.
Just five minutes walk from the main railway station and it hits you. Florence Cathedral – widely known as the Duomo – dominates the senses as it emerges through the narrow side streets. One photo alone doesn’t even begin to describe its size or sheer impact. On a busy Saturday luncthime, there are thousands of tourists milling about. But nobody or anything is louder than the building itself.
There are long queues to get in, so we head a few streets away to the Accademia Gallery to take in another famous site. The gallery’s website strongly recommended booking ahead, but all of today’s slots had been taken. So the 20 minute walk was a gamble – and it paid off. We were swiftly allowed in and – in another advantage of travelling at the moment – the galleries were relatively quiet. During normal time there’s no way you’d be able to get a decent picture of this guy.
It took Michelangelo almost three years to carve out his sculpture of David. Completed in 1504 it stood outdoors for many years before being moved into the Accademia Gallery to protect it. Some of the most respected art experts have surmised cold weather being the reason for you know what. (OK, I made that bit up)
The Cathedral of Santa Maria was actually the second one in Florence, replacing the then crumbling church of San Lorenzo not far away. It’s sizebale street market – mainly selling leather bags and jackets – has a look of shabby chic about it, but it’s clearly done for the visitors. Just behind it is the indoor Central Market.
In other European cities I’ve visited, these covered trading places are often a feast for the eyes and a great place to snap up a cheap lunch. Food stalls hand out free samples, and the combination of tastes and smells draw you in to buy the goods. But today in Florence, it all looks a bit sad. Over half the stalls are closed and whole sections of the building are off limits because of the Pandemic. It maybe we’ve just caught it at the wrong time, but it’s not the kind of atmosphere I’d usually encounter. Still, there is plenty of ham and cheese.
It’s time to head across town for a different form of shopping in perhaps Italy’s most famous retail location. The Ponte Vecchio bridge spans the same River Arno that flows through Pisa, and is lined with around a dozen jewellery shops. In the middle of the afternoon the temperatures are scorching, and while most of the people here are just window shopping, it makes for a frustrating time getting to see the bridge itself.
A better option is to head west to the Ponte Santa Trinita, where NewsMutt gets a clearer view of the main attraction.
He’s always strangely happy sitting in a pile of bird poo.
One thing that’s struck me so far is the apparent lack of use of the waterways here for tourism. The river water itself may not be that clean, but that doesn’t put them off in Venice. The Arno appears to be wide and deep enough to accommodate boats, so it puzzles me as to why there are no river cruises.
Back in Pisa, one enterprising business has made use of a small walkway on the river itself. The Scala Ronciono is an outdoor bar with simple seating along the riverside, while the bar itself floats on a collection of old pallets. The result is more impressive than this photo suggests. And the view’s not bad either.