The Duomo and its glorious dome — words can't describe
what this looked like up close or in the distance (as seen from the Pitti Palace)
We started our day with showers at our B&B then fresh cappuccino and croissants at Ristorante Rivoire. Mmmm. While it was way too early for sweets, I couldn't help but admire the carefully decorated truffles, cookies and other sweets.
We met up with our Original and Best Tours group (this time, on the right day) near the open market. Our Original Renaissance tour group was larger than the groups we had with Through Eternity — but the guide still managed to corral us through the city. We met at the Palazzo Strozzi was built for the patriarch of the Strozzi family, a rival family to the Medicis. From there we walked to the Palazzo Davanzati, a gorgeous medieval palace. We saw chests, chairs, paintings and frescoes dating back to the 17th century. Our guide pointed out slats through the floor above the lobby that were once used to pour hot oil through (if there happened to be an unwanted guest that made it past security).
I think it was at the castle that our guide first started acting condescending to us. Maybe she dealt with so many ignorant American tourists that she just couldn't keep her attitude inside anymore. Our guide would ask a question, someone would answer (incorrectly) then she would make them feel silly for guessing what they guessed. I will get to an example later.
From there we strolled along the Ponte Vecchio, admiring again the sparkling jewels, handcrafted leather and Italian edibles. Live music filled the streets and the gorgeous weather only played into the beautiful scene. Our walking tour guide then took us through the historic streets of Florence, stopping to tell us about how the city had been reincarnated over the centuries. We admired all kinds of amazing architecture and heard more about the Medicis' rule over the city.
We stopped through the city's political center, which also happened to be there area we were staying in — the Piazza della Signoria. Gorgeous city square. Our walk continued toward the Duomo and the Giotto bell tower. And the nearby Florence Baptistry was amazing, too. Its "Gates of Paradise" (Ghiberti) were beyond words. These were so popular with circulating tourists that it was tough to get a look.
Original & Best then took us to our last stop for the morning leg of the tour — The Academy. We were able to skip the lines and get straight to Michelangelo's David, sculpted in the early 1500's. Michelangelo said he had a gift for releasing the statues from within marble. Seeing this sculpture in person was an incredible — maybe even spiritual — experience. Our guide asked, "So, what makes this David different than other Davids?" One man answered, "because his hands and feet are larger than usual?" She responded, sounding irritated. "Umm, no. Why would that make him unique? The answer is that he's pictured without David, something that is very rare." (Note: I see now that there's another tour company called "Original and Best Walking Tours" so I'm not sure which of the two was written up as a great company by Fodor's and Trip advisor...)
We also saw several unfinished Pietas, some of which he worked on as an elderly man. It's beyond me that a crazy man broke through crowds at the museum in 1991 and shattered his toes with a hammer. Who would want to do that to a masterpiece? Our tour concluded inside the Academy. We spent a little more time there (the David is really the highlight) then decided to hunt out some food.
Before lunch, we went ahead and took advantage of touring the and its campanile (bell tower). Wow is it breathtaking! The Duomo is most famous for its 42-meter-wide dome. Much of the structure was finished in the late 1300's though the dome wasn't completed until 1436. Both the facade and the interior of the Duomo were sites to behold. We paid the two euros a person to climb the bell tower after we self-toured the inside of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore (another name for the Duomo). The more than 400-step climb was worth the view of the city. Again, wow. Dan was like a kid in a candy store admiring the views of the city.
Now we were really hungry. We had 45 minutes before meeting a guide for the second half of our tour (at the Uffizi). On a side street near our hotel, we stumbled upon La Buona Condotta. We waited in line among lunching businessmen and few tourists. The non-English speaking staff was accommodating and friendly. We had flatbread sandwiches (ham, artichoke, mozzarella, tomatoes), tortellini, a beer and sodas for 22 euros.
Over at the Uffizi, we met a different guide for the second part of our small group tour. Only three others from our tour earlier in the day opted to do this leg. Our guide was a soft spoken art student. I enjoyed seeing the Renassiance art — especially Botticelli's Birth of Venus — but our guide seemed like she couldn't get out of there fast enough. Regardless, I'm glad we did both portions of the tour.
The combined tours were 88 euro/person. I enjoyed what we saw, and of course the company of my new husband among amazing sites, but I wouldn't recommend this tour group if you can research other/better options. Maybe the other "Original and Best" provided a better experience. They did fulfill all their obligations (and we skipped the lines) but this group was not as enthusiastic and full service as our experience in Rome with Through Eternity.
We chose kind of a random dinner location, but Dan and I both thought it was an interesting and relaxing change of pace. In jeans and t-shirts, we watched soccer and dined on lasagna, greek salad, Magherita pizza, grappa (yikes!) and cold beers. Yes, I realize an Irish pub in Florence seems like a sin — but Old Stone Irish Pub was fun for the night.
Reflecting on our time in Italy, I realized how clean, approachable and romantic the city was. I'd heard that Florence was dirty, but such was not our experience at all. We saw trucks sweep and wash the streets at least twice a day while we were there. The area felt more walkable than Rome — but somehow the streets seemed more confusing. If I had to single three things out, seeing the David, riding on bikes through gorgeous Tuscany and seeing the Duomo were the highlights of Florence. Oh, I take that back. Everything was so wonderful. The culture, the food, the wine, the historic sites, the architecture and art, spending that first vacation and husband and wife, the whole experience... I breathe out a sigh and smile as I think about how amazing the trip was. I'm ready to go back, as I write this.
(All photos from Wikipedia Commons)