Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Fabulous Florence, Everyone Should Meet Her At Least Once

Craig Writes
14/08/13. Our  massive train day of train travel was made a little more massive when work on the train line meant we had to catch a bus to our connecting train, which of course we missed, by literally two minutes. There went the rest of the reservations we had made on our other three connecting trains. So it was to the nearest ticket office, hand over some more euros and rebook everything.
End result, we didn't get into Florence until 8pm, three hours behind schedule so we ate late, drank a bottle of local Chianti and slept in late the next morning.
But, this was Florence so when we did get up we got straight into it.  First we took a nice walk down towards the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This magnificent 13th century Cathedral has become the symbol of Florence. The use of so much black, white and green marble on the outside and it's enormous copper Duomo set it apart from so many other of the other magnificent cathedrals that you'll see throughout Europe.  
The colourful marble makes a nice change.
Like all the great Cathedrals, it's the detail that captivates
We decided to skip breakfast, seeing as it was about 12.30pm, and go straight to lunch in a cute little pizzeria/restaurant that we found only a block or two from the Cathedral. The square itself, as you can imagine, was absolutely chockers with bloody tourist. It was a hot and particularly windy day so there was dust and paper and skirts flying everywhere.

Bloody tourists
We were going to have a look inside but the queues suggested we go get some gelato instead. Imagine a small child's head on a choc covered cone and you'd be close to the size of the servings that Callum and Charlie got.
The look on Charlie's face says it all, Callum has already devoured half of his.
Christina and I were still reeling from the massive lunch  and decided to wait a little longer for our treat. After having a lickety split of the boys cones we decided that lunch had sufficiently transmogrified and there was room after all for some tasty gelati. Which, as luck would have it was about 12 steps away from the last Gelati shop.
So, crouched against a 15th century wall in a little cobblestone alley we licked and slurped our way up the creamy sticky pistachio stairway to gelati heaven. After licking ourselves clean like four enormous alley cats in funky hats, we set off for the Piazza della Signoria.
This magnificent square is the home to some of the finest 16th century sculptures in the whole of Europe. If the lines at the Gallery de Accademia are too long you can see a copy of Michelangelo's David, although it is not like seeing the original.  The rest, Hercules and Cacus, the impressive Fountain of Neptune etc, are all the real deal. The Piazza is also home to the world famous Uffizi Gallery and Botticelli's beautiful The Birth Of Venus, and, the massive Romanesque Town Hall- The Palazzo Vecchio. 
David and his neighbour Hercules who's about to go medieval on some poor fella
Neptune flashing his goodies
From there it was a short walk down to the Arno River to look back across at the Ponte Vecchio. It was originally built in 997AD but after being destroyed twice by flood it was finally rebuilt in 1345 and has stood the the of time since. It was that connoisseur of the arts, A. Hitler who made the call to not blow the bridge up when the Germans fled Florence. Gee, what a guy. 
The good old Ponte Vecchio
The view across the river is beautiful but the throng of "ants" crawling all over it is enough to convince us to settle for admiring it from a distance.  Christina and I did manage to cross it when we were here half a lifetime ago but the old shops of the past have been replaced with charmless shops selling cheap souvenirs and over priced jewellery. No need to bother with that again.
It was back to Il Teatro for dinner again to try the 800 gram Florentine Bisteca, which, was a little too on the blue side of medium for me but still not a bad hunk of flesh, particularly after they took it back to the kitchen and applied a little more heat to it. 
800 grams of Florenina Bisteca, it was much better once they stopped it mooing
15/08/13. Holy crap. I've just checked with Christina, it's August.  I was sure it was still July. How the hell did that happen.  It's my birthday in less than a week and I'll be sunny myself on the shores of Lake Como.
Once again I say, how the hell did that happen?

Today we did a trip out to see the leaning Tower of Pisa  It's a pleasant one hour train ride from Florence and once you get there it's a twenty minute stroll through the beautiful little town to the Plaza dei Miracoli.
The oh so charming town of Pisa
The Duomo, the grassy park and the famous bell-tower are beautiful buildings. The unholy mass of tourists who could not read the "DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS" signs and proceeded to do just that were making it very difficult for the literate ones among us to get the famous "holding the tower up with our bare hands" snap that we had all travelled to take.
After much maneuvering we finally managed to get the family snap 
At the end I was so frustrated I found myself yelling at a Japanese fella, "hey, get of the bloody grass" while madly pointing at one of numerous bright red signs.  
It was time for us to leave before it got ugly.
An hour and a bit later we were pulling back into the metro at Florence. That night we locked the kids in with bananas, peaches, Rice Bubbles and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of something or other.  We headed down to the local square that fronted onto the Santa Croce Cathedral for a simple bowl of pasta that turned into a delicious three courses, a great bottle of Chianti and a James Taylor like busker spinning out some tunes under the fading light of a Tuscan sunset. Magnifico.

16/08/13 The Cathedral Santa Croce was literally a five minute stroll from our apartment. And, as we found out, it is the resting place for a number of molto famous Italians. Entombed in a massive marble sarcophagus with three larger than life statues that look like they could have been done by the occupant himself, lay the remains of the great Michelangelo. The statues represented the three disciplines that Michelangelo was the master of, painting, sculpture and architecture. He lies in pretty exalted company with Galileo Galilee just over the corridor, the famous Italian diplomat and author Nicholas Machiavelli, poet and author, Dante, composer Rossini and a host of less well known but none the less exalted Italian noble persons all around him.
Galileo's final resting place
Here lie the dusty bits of the great Michelangelo
I hope he took something descent to read
Surprisingly, the audio commentary that comes with the tour suggests that the Cathedral is only slightly smaller than Saint Peters in Rome. It must be the size or the height of the duomo that is a bit deceiving because we've been there and I remember St Peters being very imposing.  Santa Croce was none the less beautiful and regal. 
The vestibule where the priests would robe up before the services and where stunning 15th Century oak carved cupboards held sacred relics and artifacts of religious significance was a bit of a highlight for me. The standout artifact safely displayed behind thick glass and in a magnificent gold frame was a section of the robe that Saint Francis of Assisi wore and a small piece of the cord that tied it at his waist. I thought that was pretty cool.
The tattered robes of Saint Francis of Assisi
Our third and final visit to our new best restaurant (Charlie says it's his favourite restaurant in the whole world, and he's been to a few)  IL Teatro where we were spoilt by our hosts the irrepressible James Bond and his boss the very lovely Miss MoneyPenny. Sorry, inside joke. They lavished us with attention, magnificent food and some yummy freebies.  Thanks again for that desert plate guys, we're still talking about it. 

 Wrap the fried pasta in the prosciutto, dip it in the soft cheese and use the fork to fight off everyone else
Could a Frankfurter Pizza really be this good?
Unfortunately, thats our last night in Florence and tomorrow we pack to head to Lake Como. 

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