Nancy Barber (nlbarber) wrote,
Nancy Barber

Florence, day 1

Hotel breakfast was adequate, but again a step or two down from previous hotels. No hot items, smaller selection of cold meats, cereals, and pastries, and a self-serve pot of coffee and milk instead of someone to prepare it as you order. 

We had decided to have a half-day tour to get oriented, and our guide Allessandra met us at the hotel. She was very good, giving a lot of Florentine history and art discussions as we walked and doing pretty well at engaging the kids, especially B.  
First stop was the basilica of San Lorenzo, large (large and well decorated were themes, as much of the core of Florence was built in a sort of conspicuous consumption arms race with other Italian cities), but looking rough as it never received the marble skin it was built to have. The market for leather and other goods fills a few streets around the church,  and is a row of tent booths, oftentimes set up in front of the owner's storefront, which they are anxious to get you to enter to view more stock. We weren't shopping at that point. 
Next up was the Duomo, the heart of the city.  Visible from lots of places, so you can't stay lost for long--you can always get back to the Duomo. The dome is a major feature as the English cognate shows, an early success in building a very large and octagonal dome, and it's actually 2 domes with a space in between. Steps in that space let you can climb to the top of the dome. The exterior of the Duomo is clad in a rather dramatic white, green,and pink marble facade, a 19th century addition. We didn't have time to wait in the line to go in, but did admire the Baptistry doors by Ghiberti--copies, with the originals in the Bargello museum since the 1966 flood damaged them. 
We walked on to the Piazza della Repubblica, with a big arch and a very useful 3D map of the core of the old city in bronze that our guide used to talk about the bridges and the river.
From there it was a walkthrough of the Palazzo Strozzi, for a discussion on how the rich lived in the Renaissance. Big palaces, lower floors fortified and with barred windows, used for food storage, stables, and soldiers. Upper floors were for the family, but the fewer stairs needed the more prestigious, so the children and servants got the highest levels. Kitchens were at the top, to keep the smoke and cooking odors away and to minimize damage from fires. 
We walked by the Ferragamo house/offices, a building much in this style, but with a store on the street level. The modern Medicis, says our guide. 
We walked across the Ponte Santa Trinita, looking at the Arno and the part of city destroyed in World War II.  That included the buildings on either side of, but not the shop-lined Ponte Vecchio. It was spared by the Germans not for its history or beauty (sort of), but because the bridge couldn't have been used for tank crossings anyway. All other bridges in Florence were destroyed, but have mostly been rebuilt in their old styles. 
Walked close to the Pitti Palace, later home of the Medicis, but not to it.
Recrossed the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio, historic home of gold and silversmiths and now mostly jewelry shops. The bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the bridge made me think of The Spirit Ring.  An upper walk crosses the bridge and connected the Pitti Palace and the Palazzo Vecchio for the Medici in a private walkway. 
Walked by the Uffizi and were shown where to pick up our tickets the next say, then it was on to the  Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) and the Piazza Della Signoria with a cluster of original and copies of famous statuary, most recognizable being the copy of Michelangelo's David
On to the Galleria dell'Accademia, and the real David, and our guide gave us a nice introduction to it before leaving us there. We had lunch at at Ristorante  nearby--mine was a fairly ordinary pici with ragú, others thought they had their best meal of the trip there. 
Headed for gelato, stopped and went into Duomo as the line had almost evaporated and looked at the interior. The girls wanted to climb the dome via the staircase between the two layers, but the line was too long.  
Next up was gelato. L's gelato-expert friend's  "best in Florence" was closed until New Years, so we went to Grom, part of a chain.  I got chocolate and stratiacella--chain or no, it was good. 
We then split up, and Robbie, Myra, and I wandered through part of San Lorenzo market but made only minor purchases. Back to hotel, and I took a nap. 
At about 6, Robbie and Myra volunteered to do laundry, process that eventually stretched past 9 pm as they waited on machines. They got sandwiches at the bar next to the hotel, later Brian and L. went there and got sandwiches/salad and brought back sandwiches for other kids.  I skipped, as I had nibbled pannetone with tea at hotel's afternoon serve-yourself tea and the cold was depressing my appetite. 
Tags: italy, travel

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