Fantastica Firenze!

Florence is perhaps my favourite Italian city. I love it because it’s easy to navigate as the giant duomo will always orientate you. Also, it is a flat city, so easy on the walking, and, Florence is full of ART!

This trip to Italy is really a replay of the favourites with a few remixes thrown in for good measure. So, we’ve been to Florence before. This time we didn’t have to do as many touristy things. For example, we didn’t climb any structure to get a view of the duomo this time, but it is indeed a must-do for first-timers. We did stand in line to see the cathedral, but we forgot that it’s not actually that impressive on the inside. Thankfully, we only waited for about 30 minutes to get in. It is much prettier and more interesting on the outside, so don’t waste your time. As I recall, climbing the actual dome of the cathedral is very interesting and worth it. We didn’t feel like it this time because of the long lines, the heat, and our limited time in the city.

As with most travelling we do, I got sick. During our final night in Atrani, the power went out. This meant we did not have any air conditioning in our place. Also, for some reason, when the power went out, two of the main lights in the unit were switched on and could not be switched off…sort of like emergency lights, I suppose. This happened three times in the night. Callum can sleep through anything, but I am a light sleeper. This constant disruption and discomfort to my sleep, paired with a reaction to the heat and humidity, as well as an overall travel exhaustion (a real thing!) made me feel ‘rather ordinary’. The travel journey to Florence was difficult for me because all I wanted to do was stay still. There was the hike with our luggage up to the bus stop, the hour-long bus ride, the walk through the heat to the train station, the waiting for the train, and finally, the train journey. Then the walk from the train station to the accommodation. Blessedly brief, that last part. I was grateful that our room was both spacious and comfortable and felt better emotionally. Physically, I was spent. Callum had to go out to the market to collect supplies. Medicine, fruit, ready-to-eat salads, etc. 

By the way, we really loved our accommodation in Florence. It was called Relais Luce Florence and had a very comfy bed and a great view of the San Lorenzo Basilica. The room we had is not shown on their website but we stayed in the San Lorenzo room and loved it because it had a loft area that had a single bed and plenty of room for us to keep our luggage. The breakfast was generous and had a variety of things to eat and drink. We would recommend this place as it is near the train station and really only a 5-10 minute walk to the major sites.

After a good night’s sleep, the next morning I declared I needed ‘oil of oregano’ and some tea. We found an herbalist shop and I purchased these two things. I have no idea why I have stopped my ‘drop of oil of oregano in the back of the throat’ routine, but I have. It sprang into my head randomly that I needed it. 10+ years ago, I used to take this liquid herb whenever I felt a hint of a cold coming on. I avoided a lot of colds that way. The stuff I bought was so potent, my eyes watered, and my throat was on fire. The store attendant thought I was crazy (I did it right after purchase) and I had to gulp down half a bottle of water. I then reeked of oregano. But it did give me some vim and vigour and I was able to enjoy the rest of the day.

We went to see the Basilica di Santa Croce, a very pretty church which we had stayed close to on our first visit but never went in, for some reason. It is pretty on the outside and interesting on the inside as it’s the resting place of many famous Italians, Michelangelo being one of them. Galileo, Rossini, Machiavelli and many others are also there. Memorial plaques are also there, and I found the one for Da Vinci. I had purchased an audio-tour (4 Euros additional to the entry ticket) and though those things are rather long and overly detailed, you can pick and choose what you listen to. I really took my time looking at many things. Callum got bored and decided he wanted oil of oregano too. I hadn’t briefed him on how much to take. I will never forget rounding a corner in the church of Santa Croce, listening to some explanation or other and seeing Callum seated in the pews, head tilted back, mouth hanging open, looking like absolute death. He had put three full drops on his tongue! His tongue! I sat next to him and asked what was wrong with him. I could smell the oregano. He looked at me and asked me most sincerely, “Am I a dragon now?” I tried not to shriek with laughter. We were in a church, after all.

Once Callum had recovered himself and I had wiped away my tears of laughter, we went outside again to find a quick panini before heading to the Galleria dell’Accademia. This is our second visit to see the statue of David by Michelangelo. It was no less impressive upon viewing it this time. The David is so striking, so beautiful, so stunning to behold, that a quick five minutes to look at it is simply insulting. One must view it from each angle possible, sit in the crescent shaped seating area and stare up at it, take 3,000 photos of it, and video, and go away for a bit. Then, return to gaze upon it once more before exiting the museum.

The story goes that Michelangelo was commissioned to carve the David in order for him to be placed along the roofline of the duomo 80 meters (260 feet) up. It took him two years and once it was finished, it was decided that the weight of the marble would be too difficult to hoist up, and, the perfection of the work too great to not be enjoyed closer at hand. The original was placed in the Piazza della Signoria for about 350 years until it started to show wear and tear. A copy was made which stands in its place, while the original artwork was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia where the custom-built atrium it stands in allows it to glow regally and high above us wormy admirers. The full story of how the David came to be is really fascinating. I urge you to look it up. One good little article can be found here.

Another not-to-miss gallery is the Gallerie degli Uffizi. We have been before and decided this was one gallery we could skip. However, any art lovers who are visiting Florence for the first time should NOT skip it. My favourite pieces inside are by Sandro Botticelli: “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera” which are hung in the same room of the gallery. At least three hours are needed to properly see the Uffizi. The Galleria dell’Accademia probably needs just as much time, to be fair. However, we managed to do it in half the time, in order to just see the ground floor.

While in Florence, I decided to sign up for a painting class. I had the idea a year ago and looked up to see if there were any single-day classes available. I came across the Accademia del Giglio. I signed up and paid for a 3.5 hour plein air class. I thought I would meet six or seven other travellers and we would be led to one or two secret locations in Florence in order to paint the scenery we found there. That’s what it said on the website, anyhow. When I arrived, it was clear that I was the only day-visitor. The other artists in the studio had all been attending classes for the week, or more, and I was the strange exception. It also became clear to me quickly that the studio thought I had booked an ‘in-studio’ class. As I looked around and summed up the situation, I decided it was not worth making a fuss about what I had expected, and what was going to happen. If there had been other tourists there like me, maybe I would have brought up my confirmation email to show them that I had indeed booked a ‘plein air’ experience, not an ‘in studio’ experience. Oh, well. I figured it was super hot outside and being in an air-conditioned space was probably better for my cold anyhow.

I also realised that I wasn’t going to be given a subject, but I needed to have an idea of what I wanted to draw or paint, and which materials I wanted to use. I took control quickly and ended up having a great time. Since I am already an artist with plenty of experience, I saw it as an afternoon where I got to rent a space to make art with materials that were provided for me. If I had been a beginner hoping for a quaint little art experience in one of the artsiest cities in Europe, I may have been discouraged and disappointed by the class. I was guided by a tutor who gave me perspectives and suggestions but was otherwise left to my own devices. I got to meet a few other people from around the world and chat with them which I always love to do…I love meeting people! I love talking!

I ended up choosing an image that I took of a head of Michelangelo from the art gallery the previous day. I had a fun time making a mess with mixed media materials and then pulling it together in the last hour. I made a reel of it on my artist Instagram (@rachelsartroom) if you care to watch it. The one below is silent; if you watch it on Instagram, it’s got a little song.

From Florence it is quite easy and possible to take a train or couple of buses to the village of San Gimignano. We had wanted to go there on our first visit to Italy, but never made it. This time we did and it was one of the most charming towns we’ve walked through. It’s on a hillside in Tuscany and has several tall towers and picturesque streets and viewpoints. We had a wander up and down the hilly streets (this up and down thing is truly a theme of this trip) found a delicious lunch (I ate wild boar!) and cooled off with The World’s Best Gelato at Gelateria Dondoli. It is actually quite a famous spot, which I am learning about only now as I write this. I wish I had taken the time to try a few more unusual flavours! I did try one called “Italian Garden” which indeed tasted like a menagerie, with strawberry, basil, tomato and cheese being amongst the ingredients.

The Tuscan region is one we love and hope to return to again. There are many other places to discover there, and it would be wonderful to visit in the autumn, when the fall colours come out and the sun is not so biting. Florence was fantastic and a great place to see some favourite things and some new ones too. Oh, and I bought the COOLEST leather bag there too. I do love a good handbag. Do be prepared for all the leather and fake leather you will come across in Florence. Just a warning. The photo below left is not my own, but is one example of all the stalls full of products to buy in Florence. You will either hate it or be completely overwhelmed by choice, as I was. I did find the cutest one though, so I left Florence happy.

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