A Room with a View (kind of)
Florence Travel Blog› entry 2 of 2 › view all entries
Before we start, are you a tourist or a traveller? If you are a tourist, then please don't read any more because you might be offended... If you're not sure, then answer these few simple questions. Do you travel around in a large group? Do you speak in a loud voice and ask inane questions like 'Is this really a church? I mean, do they like have services in here?' Do you stand in front of masterpieces in the Uffizi and say 'I could do better'? Do you wear inappropriate clothing and complain loudly that you weren't allowed to go in the church without having to wear a 'truly hideous' overall? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you are definitely a tourist. Travellers move around quietly in groups of no more than two couples.
So this one is for the travellers:
Tuesday: If you're going to stay anywhere, it might as well be in a palace, don't you think? 600 euros got us 4 nights in the Palazzo Galletti on via San Egidio, just a short stroll away from the Duomo. Check out their website to see the pictures of all the rooms... We had the low-key Marte (Mars) room. The breakfast is fantastic; the receptionists are English speaking and extremely helpful. This place has got to be one of Florence's best kept secrets, so don't go telling anyone about it.
Walked to the Duomo, saw the huge queues and headed off in a different direction. Went to the Basilica di San Lorenzo. (The museum of San Lorenzo is separate and requires a different entrance ticket.) The place is full of masterpieces by Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo to name but a few. Then into the Medici Chapel which is undergoing some restoration. There is scaffolding everywhere!
There is a street market outside San Lorenzo selling mainly leather goods, and 'novelty' underwear and aprons displaying bits of David, or rather David's bits, and a full frontal of Venus. Nice... Walked around to get our bearings and ended up at Santa Croce before passing the Synagogue on our way back to our Bed and Breakfast place (B and B!).
Wednesday: Arrived at the Duomo at 9.20 and got in the 'queue'. Actually there were only five people in front of us. Husband decided to climb the 463 steps to the top of the tower. This opens at 8.30 and there was no queue at all. You have to pay 6 euros to go up but you get a much better view of the painted ceiling and the cathedral itself. But you need a head for heights as the gallery is narrow and the balustrade only comes up to the waist. Met two lovely couples from North Carolina and swapped stories.
To be honest, I was rather disappointed. Sure it's impressive and the proportions are majestic, but it's a rather depressing boring brown inside. Compared to the pinks and greens of the exterior, the interior came as a shock. Decided to pay the 3 euros to go in the crypt. This was a good move as this isn't a place tourists go as 'it is not interesting enough'. Actually, it is. It puts the whole site into perspective showing the successive layers of building beneath the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore: the floors from the original church of Santa Reperata and the mosaics from the 'Roman' era. Also there is Brunelleschi's tomb. He is the only person ever to have been buried in the cathedral.
Walked to the Palazzo Vecchio. We didn't pay to go in but went to look at the courtyard with its frescoes of Austrian cities painted to welcome Joanna of Austria, the bride of Cosimo's eldest son, Francesco. Security is tight in the Palazzo Vecchio, as it is in other places, too. Airport security measures are common in Florence. Walked across the Ponte Vecchio, which was crowded beyond belief, and made our way to the Boboli Gardens. Entrance is 9 euros, but this also gets you into 4 other museums, three of which are located in the Pitti Palace and the other one was closed for restoration! Some of the paths in the Boboli Gardens are quite steep but there's a good view of the city from the top. You can even see the scaffolding around the Dome...
Had a lovely lunch at Pitti Gola e Cantina opposite the entrance to the Pitti Palace. The words Wine Bar on the awning attracted us to it. 25 euros bought us a mixed salad, a plate of assorted cold meats, a basket of bread, 2 large glasses of deliciously crisp Orvieto Classico and a bottle of frizzante mineral water. But don't expect coffee. As the owner said to someone who came in for a coffee: 'What do you think this place is... a cafe?'
Duly refreshed we went back to Santa Croce. There's an excellent audio guide for 4 euros; a form of ID has to be left. It's an amazing place. There are tombs and memorials to the great and good: Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini, Marconi, Dante. Even Florence Nightingale gets a plaque in the cloisters. But the Giotto frescoes are what we came to see. They are astonishing. You just have to pay a visit to the Museo dell'Opera which is just by the cloisters. There are some amazing works of art in there.
This evening's wine: Casa Defra Sauvignon 2.95 a bottle. It tasted like supermarket plonk, which it was.
Thursday: Returned to San Lorenzo to go into the museum and the Medici library. There was an exhibition of manuscripts and codices depicting fantastic beasts and mythological animals. Very interesting. A good bookshop, although some of the tomes would be very difficult to carry home.
Went to the Market. The food on sale has to be seen to be believed. Bought things for a picnic which we ate in the Piazza del Independienza, a small garden marred by dust, ravenous pigeons, parked cars and the ubiquitous rubbish skips. Walked to San Marco. This place is totally amazing and utterly brilliant. Unfortunately we didn't have much time as we had misread the opening times. In fact, they were very kind and allowed us to see Savonarola's cell then promptly began to lock the doors behind us as we went from room to room! Fra Angelico frescoes abound in the novices corridor. Wish we had more time, but too late now.
Walked back to the B and B via the Synagogue. Please remember to take a shawl to cover your shoulders and men must wear a hat. Security is very high here. No bags allowed inside. There are regular tours. The streets around the Synagogue have several kosher restaurants and food shops.
An evening stroll to the Piazza della Republica, where there are good restaurants as well as little pizza places. We had 1/2 bottle of wine at Paszkowski.
Friday: Dante's house. This is the only museum we went to that is concerned with history and not art. At 10 am it was already very hot and stuffy inside. On the top floor is a video presentation of The Divine Comedy as well as Botticelli's illustrations of the poem. Because the house is a new build, there is full access for the disabled. Just down from the house is the chiesa de Santa Margherita de'Cerchi.
Lunch in the Piazza della Senoria. A bit of a rip off at 25 euros for a very ordinary salad which looked like it was put together by a Work Experience student, 1/4 litre table wine and two bottles of water. Over lunch, we planned our visit to the Uffizi with military precision.
Luckily, we had pre-booked our tickets on the Internet. What you have to do is present yourself with your email confirmation and ID 15 mins before your time and queue for your ticket on the opposite side of the road. Then you have to cross the road and join the queue there. Once inside, after about 20 mins or so, you queue up to go through security and then queue up to hand in your bags. Without a pre-booked ticket, you can wait outside for three or four hours. Once inside, however, the queues seem to vanish. There is a lift if you need to be taken up to the exhibition floors. Needless to say, it was fantastic to see all these masterpieces. Personal favourite room was the Botticelli room.
Saturday 30th June:
Went to Santa Maria Novella (under wraps...) and the museum. Most places seem to be very much quieter on a Saturday morning and there is obviously a lot less traffic. Walking around was actually pleasant so we decided to stroll through the streets on the opposite side of the Arno. It was even quieter here. Luckily we took a wrong turning and serendipitously happened upon the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. www.cinghialebianco.it Not cheap but worth every cent.
Visited the botanical gardens, which were mainly a collection of plants in pots. Okay, so the plants came from interesting places, but it wasn't brilliant.
Then we had to leave to catch our plane to Cagliari for a week's R and R in Sardinia. (See blog.)