There’s a city where I feel like home; its streets, history and art are my dearest friends. Its name is Florence.
Together with Amra, I visited the beautiful city for the third time between December 24 and 27, 2006. First time I was there in 1996 (visiting also Pisa), second time in 1999 (also in Rome), but both times took place in Spring when Florence was full of tourists. This time, it was during Christmas.
A midnight mass
We departed from Billund Airport on Christmas Eve at 17:50. We almost had the whole airport for ourselves; a security officer told us we were no. 8 and 9 passengers that day. We arrived at Pisa Int’l Airport around 19:00. After half an hour we were sitting in a bus, heading towards our final destination. An hour later we were at the rail station Santa Maria Novella in Florence. I suggested to my better half that it would be best if we walked to the hotel (initially she wanted to grab a taxi). The weather was pleasant with no wind. Shortly afterwards, the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria di Fiore), appeared before us. Amra was almost scared when she saw how enormous it was. Actually, she reproached me for not warning her. The streets were almost empty, most people were at home or in churches for the Catholic Midnight Mass. Some 500 metres from the cathedral we found our hotel, Gioia. After we checked in, we went out to attend a Midnight mass in Duomo. By now, you probably know how large the Duomo is. Now, try to imagine how many people can be squeezed in! I assume, many visitors that night were tourists, just as your two crazy Bosnians! After the interesting experience, we went back to the hotel in order to gather some energy for tomorrow’s adventures.
Around Duomo and Ponte Vecchio
In the morning we had a fine breakfast at the hotel. Soon, we were in the street heading for the Duomo to capture its beauty in full daylight. The fifth largest church in the world is even more graceful by day.
After walking around it, we continued to discover narrow streets on the eastern side of the Duomo – Via del Proconsolo, Bargello and others. We came to Piazza Santa Croce with the Basilica di Santa Croce where people like Michelangelo, Galilei and Machiavelli are buried. Shortly afterwards we arrived at Piazza della Signoria and the magnificent Palazzo Vecchio. The town-hall of the city is truly an impressive building which so confidently overlooks the historical part of Florence. I told Amra some stories about the place and where I (possibly) had dined when I visited the city several years ago.
We continued westward through the narrow streets between Piazza della Signoria and the bridge Ponte Santa Trinita. From the latter we took some photos of the most famous bridge in Tuscany – Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge). After walking along the river Arno, we came to the famous bridge. From there you have a wonderful view at the buildings on both sides of the river.
We continued over the bridge to Piazza dei Pitti and Palazzo Pitti and the church of Santo Spirito. Around the Pitti palace Amra and I talked about the Medici family, their power, influence and wealth, but we mentioned them at least once in every part of the city.
That Italians are a joyful and humorous nation was proven by a number of canoers who had Santa Claus outfits on. It certainly put a smile on our faces.
Synagogue and a Moretti
Already somewhat exhausted, we decided to go to the east of the Duomo and find the synagogue. But first we rested at the park of Piazza M. D’Azeglio where we listened to the peaceful environment. There were only a couple of parents playing with their children. The synagogue was just across the park. The architecture is clearly Middle-Eastern and Amra also said that it almost looked like a mosque. Well, since the Florentine Jews were Sephardic, the design of their synagogue recalls the Muslim art of Moorish Spain. It’s really worth visiting it.
But we were exhausted and hungry, so we wanted to find some place to eat. We passed the Piazza SS. Annunziata and finally found a nice restaurant in Via dei Servi, very close to the Duomo. We ordered vegetable soups (minestrone or something like that), a 4 formaggi pizza and pizza with anchovies. Not to forget a pair of the finest Italian beer – Moretti. We were so tired that we went to our hotel room and rested until 6 or 7 o’clock that night when we went out and walked downtown around Via Calzaiuoli and Piazza Repubblica. Streets were full of people, families with children, young people, tourists… It was stark contrast to the previous day when the city was almost completely empty. The atmosphere was great, streets were decorated with lights and Christmas decorations.
Next morning we wanted to visit one of the greatest museums in the world – Uffizi Gallery, but first we stopped by the Marcato Nuovo (well, the market hasn’t been “new” since the 16th century!) to see the fountain of the wild boar. Legend has it that tossing coins in the fountain and rubbing the snout of the boar will bring you back to Florence. After these superstitious games I urged Amra to head straight to the museum in order to avoid eventual queues. We didn’t, but the lines were not as terribly long as I experienced ten years ago, so we managed to get in after one hour of waiting.
Uffizi Gallery is actually the oldest museum in the world and is situated in a palace that was begun by Giorgio Vasari in 1560 for Cosimo I de Medici.
Amra and I started by visiting the special The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and than we continued to the 14th century and on to Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Bellini and Giorgione, Michelangelo, da Vinci etc. We missed Dürer, Holbein, Vasari’s corridor, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt and van Dyck. Some of the rooms were closed, so I was quite disappointed. Nevertheless, the overall experience was very good, I simply adore the history of the Uffizi and the paintings inside. Amra’s favorite was Sandro Botticelli with his Primavera and Birth of Venus. Near the end of our visit we went to the cafe of the museum where we had a coffee and apple pie on the roof of the Uffizi. Palazzo Vecchio was in our background.
Fro Uffizi you have a great view of Ponte Vecchio. I shot it with my photo camera, but I also made a short (illegal) video clip. A security guard told me to stop filming which I did, but I still have that little clip. After the Uffizi, we went to the area around Ponte Vecchio and just walked around. The whole area was full of people and we just enjoyed being a part of it.
Next morning we had our breakfast and then checked out of our hotel. We went to the railway station and bought tickets to Pisa. The trip took one hour which we spent talking about Italian, Bosnian, Florentine and Venetian history. When we arrived, we found a place to store our luggage and went strait towards the Leaning Tower which is situated some 1,5 kilometers away. The tower and the whole Piazza dei Miracoli is truly a Field of Miracles. The center of piazza is Duomo, a medieval cathedral. The baptistery is situated in front of the Duomo, while the impressive tower is placed behind it. We simply admired the whole scenery before we went to the center of the city. The narrow streets are similar to those in Florence, of course, but we noticed that the city is not as diligently maintained as Florence.
We found a little trattoria called Da Michele near the railway station where we had lunch before we took the train to the airport.
Our airplane was late one hour but it was nothing we couldn’t manage. The overall experience was great: we had some really relaxing time in Florence, the city itself was so beautiful and not totally filled with tourist at this time of the year. Amra and I agreed that we never had a such a vacation with so little stress, so much freedom and calm. Florence conquered our hearts (mine again) and I only hope I will have a chance to visit the city at least one more time.