Monday, October 27, 2008


(pics on my Picasa site:

So, we're back at work … but we really enjoyed Florence this weekend and I finally have something useful to blog about.

Our first TrenItalia experience was quite a pleasant one and we realized that we should have tried it out a lot sooner. There are self service ticket machines at every train station, (with an English option-yay!) so we booked our tickets from Genoa to Firenze on Friday night. Trains arrive and depart from Genoa regularly and everything works so efficiently. The ticket has to be validated before you leave (which is printing the date and time with a machine on or outside the train) and then, once on the train someone comes to check and clip the ticket. (No one checked on Sunday though…I have no idea why). The whole system, like the bus system is based on trust – the traveler has to make sure the ticket is bought and validated. On the buses, which are all operated by one company, I havn't seen anyone check the tickets yet, but I've read somewhere that you can get a 100 euro spot fine if you're found without a validated ticket . The system works really well though and is so efficient. I always wonder if we could ever get something like that going in SA??? Can you imagine – the different bus companies would be complaining about having to add a validating machine to their bus, the passengers would just not buy tickets at all and the cops would be riding the bus all day long trying to bribe the people who didn't validate their tickets!

Anyway, Florence was really beautiful – as always I guess, but I think we really enjoyed it because so many people spoke English!! It's silly, I know, but Florence is just better equipped to handle tourists than Genoa and we really felt like we were on holiday even though it was just one weekend. It was really nice to wander around on our own and not be worried about how much time we have left, which was the case on our last visit to Florence, when we were with the Contiki tour.

We dropped off our back pack at the hotel and headed straight out into the city. Sam, you'll be happy to know that the street markets are exactly the same! Buzzing and crowded and filled with leather goods. I did notice a lot more foreigners this time around though. Like Indian, Asian and African stall owners, who sell the same things, but I think the origins of most of their stuff must be China!

No one can escape (or would want to escape) seeing the Duomo of Florence when visiting Florence. This was our first view for this trip.

The duomo(Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) is made up of the church itself, which has the massive dome at the end (42 m wide, which was a feat in itself when it was built in 1296), the baptistery (children had to be baptized before entering the church, hence the separate baptistery) and the bell tower (the thin tall structure on the right)The Piazza del Duomo was crowded with tour groups huddled around their tour guides, taking pictures from every angle possible – which is probably what we looked like a few years ago… We decided to skip the Duomo this time around, since we had so many other things to see, which we hadn't gotten around to the last time we were in Florence.

The city of Florence is home to the biggest collection of Renaissance art in the world, mainly because a lot of the art was actually done here. The Medici family, who basically governed Florence during that period, commissioned the best artists to create masterpieces for their personal grounds and palaces. When the last Medici duke died without leaving behind an heir, his sister, donated most of the Medici artworks to the city of Florence, so that the city could benefit from the extensive Medici art collection. And this is exactly what happened, since masses of tourists come to Florence every single day so see the magnificent collections and the city thrives off the tourism. Prean and I want to read up on the Medici family when we get a chance, they seem to be a fascinating and powerful family.

The first stop was the Palazzo Vecchio, in the Piazza delle Signora The Piazza is home to quite a few sculptures, one of which is a copy of Michelangelo's David. The actual David is in the Accedemia Museum, which requires booking weeks in advance to view. .

The Palazzo Vecchio was the home and office of the duke of Florence for many generations, i.e. the Medici family. One cannot walk a few meters in Florence without coming across the Medici name a few times – I think everything important building had something to do with the Medici at some point or the other. The whole of the Palazzo Vecchio is decorated elaborately and gives a glimpse of just how lavish the Medici were. Every room has massive frescoes by celebrated artists and even every inch of the ceilings are covered painted and decorated.

Next to the Palazzo Vecchio, is the famous Uffizi Gallery – which had a queue all around the block (also required advance booking) – which leads to the Arno river and the infamous Ponte Vecchio. Apparently, the Medici didn't want to walk to the river with the common folk, so they had secret passages built allthe way from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Ponte Vecchio via the Uffizi.

The Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, is the only bridge to have survived German bombings during the war. It used to be lined with various shops, such as butchers, however, when the Medici bought the Palazzo Pitti for their new home, which is across the river and over the Ponte Vecchio, the so called "common" shops where banished from the bridge, so that the Medici did not have to pass them as they passed. Goldsmiths were moved into the shops instead and today the bridge is still lined with, probably, the most expensive jewelers in Florence.

The Palazzo Pitti was built by Luca Pitti but when he could no longer afford to live in it – guess who took over? Of course, one of the Medici. The Palazzo Pitti gardens are enormous and every little nook and cranny is immaculately maintained. We walked for a very long time looking through everything and at the end we realized that we didn't even cover half of the gardens. By then, we were way too tired to walk anymore.

Many of the rest of the places that we visited did not allow photographs, so there aren't too many more pics but we did see quite a few pieces by Michelangelo, Donatello and a whole exhibition by Vincenzo Danti, who was a disciple of Michelangelo.

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