Check out the Italy homepage
I arrived in Florence by way of hopping a train from Venice. It’s a very long story that requires lots of explaining, but in the end the Italian train company still got their money so there is no harm done. For more information on that whole debacle, look for the “Italian Train Hop” chapter in the Vagabond’s forthcoming first book “No Tourists Allowed, Travelers Welcome”.
Aside from arriving in such dubious fashion, Firenze was a culturally exquisite city that treated me very well. The center of the known Universe for hundreds of years, the end of Europe’s spell in the Dark Ages rose from the Renaissance that gained momentum out of the heart of Tuscany. Fomented by a core group of forward-thinking bankers, revolutionary artisans, and incredibly wily statesmen, the Florentines single-handedly redefined the Europe of the 1500’s, with much of their talented prowess still visible to the casual visitor today.
Though infamous for the rise of it’s politicians–most notably the Medici family-modern day sights in Florence center around the many architectural and artistic achievements of the day. Most famous is the towering Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo. Constructed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the towering dome was considered an engineering marvel of the day, and it is still possible to climb the 464 steps leading to the top of the Duomo for one of the most astounding views in the city. As expected, summer crowds can demand hour-long lines, and I for one was very glad to be visiting in the depths of winter. Though a little brisk, I was able to simply stroll to the top of the Duomo, a feat not many are able to boast. Set just across from the Duomo is the only view in town that can rival that of the Duomo itself, that being the panorama from the top of Giotto’s Tower. Equally taxing with over 400 steps, the vista provided from this perch includes a view of the Duomo set against the famous red-roofs of the Tuscan countryside. The entire complex is understandably exceptionally touristy, but well worth the entrance fee overall.
While Florence is admittedly home to some of the most influential works of art ever commissioned, I will admit that Florence was the site of my apathetic artistic breakdown. Exceptionally low on cash, over-budget, and fried from five months of art-viewing all over Europe, I took one look at the 8 Euro entrance fee to the Uffizi and decided I wasn’t going to go in. That’s right. I went all the way to Florence and didn’t go inside the Uffizi. While we’re at it, I opted to not partake in the Accademia either. Do I regret it now that I have had time to mull it over? Of course I do. But at the time, the prospect of spending that 8 Euro on an exquisitely manicured thin crust pizza and watching the street performers held such greater appeal than staring at a 500 year old work of art from a guarded distance with 75 other onlookers. Jaded by this point? You betcha. That being said, if you ever make a visit to Firenze, don’t do as I did, and pay the little bit of money to go have a look at the Uffizi’s Birth of Venus or Michaelangelo’s David at the Accademia. I mean, he’s only supposed to be the most perfectly sculpted body on the planet, why would anyone want to see that?
Needing to get out of town for just a simple breath of fresh air, I meandered across the Ponte Veccio (“Old Bridge”) that spans the Arno River, passing along the way a multitude of jewelry vendors and artisans that make the bridge their home. The only bridge to survive the Allied assault during World War II, the Ponte Veccio leads from the Old Town to the more residential side of the city, home to your average Florentine and the immaculate Pitti Palace and its surrounding Boboli Gardens. Dating back to the days of the most powerful family on the planet, the Pitti Palace was eventually purchased by the Medici family, allowing them unobstructed access across the Arno enroute to the gargantuan Medici Riccardi Palace. Though no longer a political force and surrounded on all sides by your everday merchants and vendors, the Palace serves as a reminder that at one moment in time, the birth of the modern-world as we know it essentailly sprang forth from inside of theses towering, mildewed walls. Kind of humbling don’t you think?