this flying trip to florence was a subset of the greater trip to rome and sardinia and was purely a pleasurable detour. albeit a very fast one. we got an express train from rome and travelled through the countryside at superfast speeds. the italian interior is nothing like i imagined, although there were sheep (usually long haired) and olives:

and as we got closer to florence half-industrial, half-medieval towns erupted from hillsides:

the tuscan countryside didnt really look all that distinctive and the train slowed down through semi-industrial areas, finally arriving at firenze with no fuss. i think i thought there would be a fanfare or something. but like most things italian, florence is now just a semi modern lived in town, not a big city really – obviously all about the tourism, and not always in a good way. my first impression was that it was crowded.

the streets have obviously not been widened, so there is barely room for the streams of people let alone the little cars. our hotel was on the main street, via panzani, headed south east from the station towards the duomo, a cute enough little place but certainly no pensione!

i must confess, the whole time i was in florence i was looking for literary landmarks. i wanted to get lost in santa croce without a baedecker, like lucy honeychurch, or run feverishly along the arno like romola while savanarola burned! alas, this historical, literary florence is well hidden under flashing neon, glass fronted shops, and huge guess posters hanging from walls of ancient buildings in the piazza della republica:

ponte vecchio was a mess of tourists and cheap little souvenir stalls (and no view of the arno!)

and the queue to get into the uffizi was 4 hours long

but i managed to find quite a bit to love here. firstly of course, is santa maria del fiore and the stunningly beautiful Duomo.

how is it possible that this whole building is basically a mosaic, a painstakingly constructed design of white, pink, green and black tiles, inlaid with gold? ive never seen anything like it, i stood and stared up at it for the longest time

around the corner is the piazza della signoria, and there is a plaque here to savonarola:

and because we couldnt get into the uffizi i spent a while just looking at the arno from here:

we wandered aimlessly into palazzo vecchio and i was so pleased we did, such an amazing place. originally florence’s impressive town hall, it is now a museum to all things renaissance, and i was completely overcome by the beauty, knowledge and history it contained. the main hall, the salone dei cinquecento, is decorated from floor to ceiling in tapestry and mosaic

all the winding, concrete stairwells are worn and smoothed where thousands of italian politicians, thinkers and statesmen once walked (where the Medici and Machiavelli once walked!), and i fell in love with the sala verde:

can you imagine trying to conduct important civic business with that ceiling for distraction? there was a fantastic library or ‘wardrobe’ as its called (the stanza del guardaroba), with globes, and half drawn maps of places explorers had been, including one of asia with possibly the tip of australia in it. and then there were balconies to walk out on where the whole of florence appeared in terracotta:

it is impossible to miss the centrality of the medici family in florence – while we couldnt get in to the see the David itself, we went to the place where someone whispered that michelangelo is said to have made it (im not entirely sure thats true!), the palazzo de medici riccardi. there was the obligatory beautiful courtyard:

but most spectacular was the Magi Chapel, a tiny little room covered from floor to ceiling in the beautful ‘cavalcata dei magi’ by gazzoli. i couldnt take pictures but you can see some of the detail here. i will never ever forget this place, its unlike anything you will see anywhere else.

then there was the beautiful and understated basilica di san lorenzo, parts of which michelangelo also designed:

and the amazing library behind it, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana,

where you can see the Medici thirst for knowledge so beautifully preserved. i couldnt get good pictures in the dark, but the hand painted reproductions of pliny’s natural history were to die for! but whats this i spy outside san lorenzo? a yarn store? surely not:

it is, and i am already too low on cash to even THINK about it. in retrospect of course, i wish i had. but all this walking and gawping makes one very hungry, and there is nothing more pleasurable about italy than the food. i had already eaten true italian style pizzas in rome, so in florence i had fresh authentic pesto spaghetti (or pasta genovese as it was called), and gelato beyond awesome:

and beautiful fresh bread, provolone and proscuitto from the wonderful florence food market:

i bought a bottle of olive oil here for probably the same amount of euros i could have got a jumpers worth of yarn back at san lorenzo, but hey, while in rome. we checked out of florence full and tired but very pleased, and caught a train across to the coast via pisa, to a port town called livorno, where we would take a ferry across the mediterranean to sardinia.

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