’23 Sep: Florence

We’re In Florence Now

Above is one of the landmarks of Florence, the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

The trip from Venice to Florence went easily.  We packed and left our flat around 10, walked to the vaporetto stop at Piazza San Marco and rode to the train station.

It was a great ride, all the way up the Grand Canal.  We took the ‘local’ instead of the ‘express’ so it would last longer.  The train station was easy to navigate, had tasty snacks, and then we had a comfortable 2+ hour ride to Florence.  Our accommodation is quite close to the train station so we walked on in to town.  Central Florence is pretty small since it seems like everywhere we’ve wanted to go so far is 12 minutes walk away.

Our location is at Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini, and if you ask for Madonna Square you can get here. This is one of the buildings in the square.

And this is the view out my bedroom window, a view to one of the sides of the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

I was a little punk this first day not feeling quite in-the-groove which I hope will improve tomorrow. Oh wait, I know, it came to me while typing this! Our flat has Problems and I was corresponding with the manager off and on all yesterday and today. I have done my best and I’m now going to call upon Stoicism and make the most of what is.


On our first morning we did one of those free walking tours based on giving the guide what you feel is right. The guide was fabulous, the itinerary was tops.

Our Guide.

This is what it feels like when a group pulls off into a square. There are probably three groups in here. Fortunately most of the guides use headsets now as ours did, unfortunately some of them still carry around loudspeakers and blast out to world.

Our guide did his tour focusing on the family Medici. It was really good, totally worth the hassle. I think the story he told as we went from place to place will actually stay with me for a while and that’s saying something.

Below is a google map and a cut ‘n paste from the tour’s website to remind me. You’ll probably want to roll on by!

  • The Basilica di San Lorenzo (Basilica of St Lawrence) is one of the largest churches of Florence, Italy, situated at the centre of the city’s main market district, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III.
  • The Palazzo Medici Riccardi was designed for Cosimo de’ Medici, head of the Medici banking family, and was built between 1444 and 1484.
  • Battistero di San Giovanni The Florence Baptistery, also known as the Baptistery of Saint John stands in both the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza San Giovanni, across from Florence Cathedral and the Campanile di Giotto. The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in the city, constructed between 1059 and 1128 in the Florentine Romanesque style.
  • Duomo Florence Cathedral, formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the cathedral of Florence (Italian: Duomo di Firenze). It was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style to a design of Arnolfo di Cambio. The cathedral complex, in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. These three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence and are a major tourist attraction of Tuscany.
  • Campanile di Giotto Giotto’s Campanile is adjacent to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistry of St. John. This tower is one of the showpieces of Florentine Gothic architecture with its design by Giotto, its rich sculptural decorations and its polychrome marble encrustations.
  • Cupola del Brunelleschi This dome is one of the biggest mystery in art and architecture of every time. It was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.
  • Museo Casa di Dante Dante Alighieri wrote the Divine Comedy. This book is widely considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language.
  • Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists, located near Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo and gateway to Uffizi Gallery.
  • The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) is the town hall of the city. This massive fortress-palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the square with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy, and it hosts cultural points and museums.
  • The Uffizi Gallery is an art museum located adjacent to the Piazza della Signoria and it is one of the most important Italian museums and the most visited, it is also one of the largest and best known in the world and holds a collection of priceless works, particularly from the period of the Italian Renaissance. The building of Uffizi complex was begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici so as to accommodate the offices of the Florentine magistrates, hence the name uffizi, “offices”.


After the tour we went for lunch at a place recommended by one of Windy’s friends as her absolute favorite place in Florence. It was perfect in style, atmosphere, and food. It was so perfect we declared it Windy’s Birthday Lunch!

Shared Menu: fresh linguini and local in season porcini so delicious Windy pronounced it the best thing she had ever put in her mouth, a shrimp curry dish which the waiter told us was the sauce for which they were most famous, and a half-carafe of house red. The shrimp curry was ok but it came with a very large crock of chutney so delicious I ate half of it myself.

Cammillo Trattoria

Here’s one little piece of street art outside the restaurant. I’m hopeful for more!

And here’s the full view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge from up the (crossword puzzle) Arno river.

Sooo Much ART

We spent 5+ hours today looking at some of the most magnificent art of the Italian Renaissance, and More. We toured through the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Firenze and the Gallerie degli Uffizi. It was so much, so very much. Our guide was wonderful, it was a special pleasure to hear her tell of the times, of art history, the whole ball of wax.

I’m going to write very little because if you’re going to come to Florence you’re going to have to look it all up anyway.

So, the Accademia = Michelangelo’s David. There were also rooms of gorgeous golden iconography from the 1200s forward.

The Uffizi is something else again, so huge and so full of pictures you’ve seen all your life. Seeing in person these objects you’ve know for so long, the size, the colors, the intent, it’s a powerful experience. For example our guide led us to the exact spot where you could look straight ahead and see Botticelli’s Spring and turn to the right, BAM, his Birth of Venus. There’s da Vinci, Caravaggio, and more and more.

Here are just a few random pictures.

Our guide talked about all the sculpture here and then led us to the front where we had all the time up-close that anyone wanted.

That’s Ponte Vecchio in the foreground, the covered bridge, from a dirty window at the Uffizi.

The Duomo complex, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. I made this from internet pictures because for me it was impossible to get a sense of scale from the ground.

A street scene.

At the end of this long day of walking, shuffling through the galleries, standing in front of pictures, we hopped a pedicab for the half mile drive home.

Dipping A Toe In Tuscany

We decided ok yes we will do it, we will get on a big blue bus and ride around for 12 or 13 hours, see some countryside and smell a few towns we wouldn’t get to otherwise. The bus was comfortable, the views were good from the top floor, our nearby neighbors were fun, the tour leader was entertaining and informative. We are totally not sorry to have done it and totally are not recommending it for you as there are of course plenty of downsides to traveling around on a BIG Blue Bus.

Our first stop, Siena. We had a local guide who told us the most entertaining stories about the annual horse race that takes place right here, around that plaza above. Six months in the making, the race is over in three laps. It was a total highlight, standing right there in the center of the plaza and hearing this story. You can click on the youtube link below for a nice short documentary on the Palio, a 100s of years old historic tradition.

Copied from britannica.com: “The Palio was first held in 1482 as a civic celebration. The current course was formally established in 1659 and has been held semiannually on July 2 and on August 16 since 1701, except during wartimes. Lasting about a minute, the race consists of three turns around the Piazza del Campo, the main city square.”


Here’s a 9 minute video from the BBC if you’re interested in more of the story of the Palio.

Here are some lingering flags from the last Palio winners still on the main roads.

After the whole horse race experience we went on to the Cathedral. The guide stayed with us for a while and then left us with free time.

The entrance and a close-up of the window that is a big white circle on the left.

I hope I generate the energy to make some pictures from the spectacular floors in that cathedral. Oh my goodness they are most amazing but I was having a problem with the glare.

LUNCH! Surprisingly Fun!!

This was the Ring Master who ran the show like a full on circus. And we all laughed and had an excellent time.

And I do want to mention his catch phrase “more wine for YOU”.

Then on to the hilltop town of San Gimignano.


An internet picture so you can get an overview.

A view from the bottom of the town of San Gimignano before we start the slog up up up.


For our last stop, Pisa, as in The Leaning Tower of… I like the look with other buildings for scale.

There’s a Jewish cemetery here too.

A view from the bus and then home sweet home.

Fra Angelico Has His Own Museum

It’s the Museo del Convento di San Marco and it’s awesome. There are Fra Angelico frescos on every surface including on the walls of the cells of what was once a convent of the Dominican order. Fra Angelico and some assistants made the frescos between 1429-1444. Also there is a chapel on the site where some of the most renowned of Fra Angelico’s paintings are on display. There’s a church in the complex too but you go for the convent and the chapel.

The paintings in the chapel are mighty impressive, including The Last Judgement and a spectacular altar piece.


We took this late afternoon to swing by the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale for some tasty treats. There’s a big food court on the second floor and mostly groceries and and a few prepared food stands on the first floor. It’s one of those ‘everyone goes here’ places. It’s late on the 24th and I don’t remember now what else we did… maybe nothing because of the big day yesterday?

The Other Side

We wanted to have a walk today on the other side of the river where it’s supposed to be more calm, more locally residential, more authentic. That’s what people who favor The Other Side say anyway. The forecast was 90% for thunderstorms in the afternoon so we wanted to get out there and then back by 2, which we did. And did it rain? Not one drop.

On the way, we passed by the Duomo and I couldn’t contain myself. I see the degree of sharpness is wanting but as an excuse, these are all full-on zoom from a block away. I was enamored of all the layers.

Windy, shopping in the plaza of the Basilica di Santo Spirito.

This is the church, pretty modest by Florentine standards.

Not modest!

Representative corners. Is it quieter here? Yes it is, but still not quiet. Since there are fewer people mostly because the huge tour groups don’t find their way over, cars and motorbikes are more present, and they can, and do, zoom-zoooom along these very narrow streets.

BUT for some reason we missed the area of the Pitti Palace and that’s surely another experience altogether.

Look Who’s Here

Bob and Desda are on a 6 week European work/vacation journey and today was our one overlapping opportunity to hang out together and we made the most of it!

We met here, at the plaza of Santa Maria Novella. We arrived a little early giving Windy the chance for some Shopping.

Once together we all decided to visit the church first.

Doesn’t look like it from the outside but following are a few pictures of the inside. Wikipedia has pages of history.

It seems I was stuck on the apse.

Somewhere else in the church.


The church is famous for their Dominican monks and the 800 year history of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. The shoppers among us were anxious to visit this beloved perfumery. It was crowded, not so much though, shoppers could still shop! The inset is from the internet, one of the several spaces in the store. Nice!

Me and Bob not shopping…

Desda shopping, Bob attending, finding HER fragrance, which sadly could not be said for Windy who did not find The One.

I was gifted with some potions rubbed into my face to make me look Young, young enough for our outing to the BAR!


Then we ate a fun and delicious late lunch on the plaza followed by a stroll to the Duomo area, then on to our place, and then we went to the rooftop BAR, like people much younger. Here are a couple of views.

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Palazzo Vecchio

This is Bob pointing out the best tonic water Of All, and Desda showing us pictures and telling us stories of all the head honchos who were at her wonderfully over-the-top successful seminar in France the previous week.

And then it was arrivederci, buon viaggio! We went home to sleep, and the next morning we packed up and were off to the train station for our journey to Naples.

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