Welcome back to my series on Places I’ve Been for the 2020 Blogging A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’ll be heading over to the magnificent city Florence – birthplace of the Renaissance.
Writing about any city is intimidating, especially when you’re writing to the scope of this challenge which is all about short snappy posts and moving onto the next one. It’s meant to be more that those flashes of passing scenery you see through the windows of a passing train, than a much more considered absorption of each monumental treasure along with that quixotic sounds and aromas unique to that place.
Of course, when it comes to summing up Florence’s grandeur and inimitable history, it’s an impossible task.
“Stand on a bridge over the Arno river several times in a day and the light, mood and view changes every time. Firenze is magnetic, romantic and busy. Its urban fabric has hardly changed since the Renaissance, its narrow streets evoke a thousand tales, and its food and wine are so wonderful the tag ‘Fiorentina’ has become an international label of quality assurance.”
– Lonely Planet
So, I’m doing what I can. Almost 30 years down the track, I’m trying to remember my Florence. The Florence I experienced in August 1992 as a 22 year old backpacker who was simply visiting for a weekend. It’s not much to go on but armed with a handful of photographs I will press on.
The very first thing I remember about Florence was the heat. I felt like I was inside an oven, when for an Australian quite accustomed to the heat, says a lot. I also remember seeing luscious gelato stores. Gelato in an entirely different league from the pre-packaged stuff you could buy from the local pizza place. The colours were so bright and the gelato so luscious, that even after all this time I’m still salivating and staring through the crowds with puppy dog eyes. Drats! The life of a backpacker living on the smell of an oil rag is pure torture, especially being immersed in such temptation.
My view of Florence is from the street. It’s hot. Crowded. I want gelato, but initially go without (although, of course, you know I later succumbed.) The other thing is that as a young, single woman, I was also an unwitting target for Italian men who clearly saw the pursuit of female tourists as a national sport. However, it made such a difference to have my own personal tour guide. If I can offer one piece of travel advice, it’s “go local”.
My gut feel is that I didn’t rush to the Duomo, even though that’s where my heart flutters whenever I see an aerial perspective of Florence and the Duomo hovers overhead like a proud mama bear. Located in Piazza del Duomo, Florence Cathedral was formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction began in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The magnificent dome, which dominates the exterior, was added in the 15th century on a design of Filippo Brunelleschi. If you’d like to read more about the architectural aspects of the Duomo: Click Here. This is also a good Link.
Michelangelo – The Statue of David
Memory tells me very poignantly, that I also visited Michelangelo’s tomb. Even 30 years later, I still remember standing by his tomb as clear as day and having my photo taken by my local tour guide. That’s monumental. Over the years, I’d forgotten the name of the place or that Michelangelo wasn’t the only incredible mind buried here. Michelangelo is buried in Santa Croce, as are Rossini, Machiavelli, and the Pisan-born Galileo Galilei, who was tried by the Inquisition and was not allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death. There is also a memorial to Dante, but his sarcophagus is empty (he is actually buried in Ravenna as he was exiled from Florence). However, I’ve just scanned in my photos and when you read the inscription, you’ll see it’s actually Dante’s tomb! So, my memory isn’t so good after all.
By the way, if you’ve like to read the gripping story of Michelangelo’s Tomb, click here.
“Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewelers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. The space of one house, in the center, being left open, the view beyond, is shown as in a frame; and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables on the bridge, is exquisite”.
– Charles Dickens
As our tour continues, it’s still stinking hot and full of bodies. I also remember walking across Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It was in these shops and markets that all reservations about spending money blew up in smoke and I blame my maths. Back in 1992, we still had the lire and I’ve forgotten what the formula was but I certainly mucked it up and goodness knows how much the leather wallet purse I bought actually cost. In the long run, it didn’t really matter. It was pickpocketing in Thailand on my way home.
These memories comes in no particular order, or perhaps they do. I’m not sure. I’m just finding my way back along the corridoors of memory the best way I can and perhaps I should Google a map of Florence and put things in their rightful place and in a neat little sequence. However, that isn’t me and doesn’t evoke that same sense of travelling by feel and intuition (along with the assistance of my local guide).
It is my local tour guide who took me out to a local monastery which, much to my amazement, produced Ouzo. I haven’t remembered the name that monastery, even though I sort of remember driving there and more clearly remember having a small glass of clear liquor, which had been made on location by the monks still living in the monastery. It was visiting this monastery which felt incredibly authentic and a window into another world and indeed the reason why we travel…to see and experience something beyond our own backyard and way of life.
However, I was a 23 year old when I visited the monastry and I experienced this incredible place through those eyes and it was here that possibly my favourite photo of myself on my European travels was taken. I’d spotted this sign on the end of a high stone wall and pulled myself along the top to get into position grateful for my many years of climbing trees as a kid preparing me for the job.
This photo shows me for how I saw myself…a traveller. I was an Australian over in Europe exploring Italy and I was miles and miles away from home and living the life of a bird.
Doing a Google search from my lounge room back in Australia in 2020, it looks like this monastry was the Certosa of Galluzzo. It would be wonderful to go back and retrace my steps and experience this incredible historica place through more mature eyes.
Florence in April 2020…
Then, I was brutally brought back to the present where Florence and all of Italy is embroiled in the deepest depths of the coronavirus and Florence is closed.
All the world is thinking of you and praying for release, a flattening of the curve an end to this blight. I send you my love and the outstretched arms of a friend. We hope you’ll be okay and we look forward to catching up in person on the other side.
Have you ever been to Florence? Have some memories or posts to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
This was a great post. I felt like I travelled myself. Hopefully one day when all the virus situation is sorted, I would travel to Florence and experience it in person.
we went there with our then two year old son whose attempts to put chocolate fingerprints on a Titian nearly had us deported. He remembers the gelato though.
You’re got to love parenting, especially in sacred places like art galleries. Your son comes in a long line of children who only just escaped the noose. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles? It cost an absolute bomb in the 1970s and when I saw it I not only tried to touch it but I said: “My Daddy painted that.” It turns out that being an accountant and working towards becoming a millionaire by the time he was 30, thought he might make his own and make a fortune, not that he ever tried to sell it. You might’ve read the post: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/j-jackson-pollock-letters-to-dead-artists-a-z-challenge/
Yes, the gelato was good.
I feel I should be offering you some form of compassionate response to your fearless leader ending up in ICU with the coronavirus. It’s a bit of a shock and I hope he gets better and back on his feet soon. It seems quite surreal that both Prince Charles & Boris got it.
Lock down here looks like it’s going to last forever. Today, I was thinking the government should take some lessons from my past doctors. They tell you, you’ll be back at work in 6 weeks, which becomes 3 months and six months later, you’re having complications and almost 12 months goes by. It’s the same with exercise people. Do ten sit ups. One more and then you’ve done ten more and pain has gained a whole new meaning. This new world is going to take some getting used to.
Hope you’re going well over there and stay well.
I know what you mean. It feels like we’re currently in suspended animation. There are so many places I’ve been longing to go, especially to follow through on my research. I’ve been waiting to go to Islay in Scotland, Ireland and I’d also like to revisit a lot of the places I went to on my one and only Europe trip. I’ll pop round now and check your blog out.
Thank you. I want to visit Rome and see the majestic architecture. I am big fan of historic stories. Rome, Vatican City, Egypt, Vietnam and many more..
Bella Florence! I always feel like people can have the universe if I could only have Italy. Ciao.
Ah, gelato in Italy. Our honeymoon in Venice involved many gelato stops.
we’re all a little dazed after Boris went into intensive care but yes, generally we, and specifically the NHS are coping pretty well. Love to you and yours, Ro
Thank you , Geoff and ditto.
Yes, Florence was glorious and I couldn’t agree more.
Gorgeous photos! Oh to be twenty-three! Florence is still on my bucket list. I know it’s a gift.
I definitely echo you’re dream of being 23 again. Florence is incredibly beautiful and somewhere you could just inhale it all and it stays with you forever.
I’m currently doing a bit of virtual travel thrrough LOnely Planet and reading travel posts. reading through your A-Z posts also feels like I’m travelling as well, experiencing your home. It’s wonderful!!
Thank you, Dear!