Not really knowing where to start in exploring the city of Florence, we head towards the Ponte Vecchio and start from there. The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) was first mentioned in records dating back to 996 and was designed in part as a defensive structure against attacks from the water. Of course it has been rebuilt many times thanks to flooding of the Arno River which is spans but it has always played host to various shops and artisans.
Now it is lined with jeweller after jeweller, no doubt selling overpriced jewelry to the hoardes of tourists that come to pay homage to the bridge.
Before deciding where to go next, we decide a coffee is in order, so we make a stop across the road from what happens to be the Galileo Museum. Well, no better place to check out next then! I’m not one of those people who gets science, maths or philosophy, so I can’t say that I got the full experience out of this museum, although I could certainly appreciate it. But with all of its mathematical and planetary calculation devices, early forms of machinery for checking the weather and atmospheric conditions and science equipment – I could imagine that someone who was, would get a real kick out of the museum.
The thing that I thought was coolest, was this…
We try to get into the Uffizi, but the lines are incredibly long and we are not in the mood for waiting in queues, so we move on and find ourselves stopping for lunch at a local trattoria, which is a type of eating establishment that is less formal than a restaurant. There are big tables of workers here and the staff flutter around attending to everyone in an efficient but friendly manner. Our meals were delicious (especially the beautifully simple and undressed salad – I always think dressing and oil ruin a salad) and the wine was unbelievable. We loved every bit of it!
Emerging from the alleyways of Florence into Piazza del Duomo, you can’t help but gasp at the sight of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Like a monstrous drawing coming to life before your eyes, this magnificent church stands 90m high and 153m long and takes pride of place within the square. It is the third largest church in the world after St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London.
Inside, a loud speaker echoes ‘shhhhh, shhhhh, be quiet’ reminding the tourists to take note of where they are and pay due reverence. The beauty of the church lays on the outside really, but if there’s no line, it’s of course worth a visit inside.
For something different, we head past the Cathedral to visit the Ospedale Degli Innocenti – hospital of the innocents. Funded by the Silk Guild and taking 26 years to build, it was the answer to Florence’s problem with abandoned babies for over fie and a half centuries (it still cares for children). Babies were usually left with a token of some kind – usually a half of a medallion or something similar – in the hopes that it would make reunion possible in the future.
Today, it is undergoing extensive renovation and as a result, there is only a small room available (for an entry fee of 1) which tells the story of the building from its conception. At the entry to the building you can see the turnstyle door, the unofficial ‘loading point’ where the babies were left. Of course, children are no longer left in this way.
Our last stop for the day was the Gucci Museum, which we just happened upon on our way to our evening tour meeting point. Inside, is the story of Gucci, which began in Florence in 1921, along with displays of some of Guccio Gucci’s most successful products. From scarves to handbags and from luxury travel goods to homewares, this compact museum is a good way to take a break from the normal museum route and it is really interesting to note that a lot of the pieces could easily be relevant in today’s society. Did you know there was even a Gucci car?
We figured we wouldn’t have been in Italy properly if there wasn’t pizza involved and what better way for this to happen, than to learn to make it ourselves. So we booked a tour with Florencetown for a pizza and gelato making class in the Chianti Wine Region. We drove up into the hills with our chef/guide Daniel, along with seven other visitors and before long we were kneading dough like there was no tomorrow. We watched Daniel make the gelato, though he got people involved in the process along the way. Afterwards, we sat together to eat our pizzas with big glasses of beautiful red wine and a variety of local toppings (it is here I discover basil salt for the first time and I’m in love!) with a helping of homemade gelato to top it all off. It was a great night and we even get to take home the recipes!
But perhaps the best part of the night was this…