Saturday, 4 July 2009

Fabulous Florence

Florence must be one of the great cities of the world! Much like Rome, it has managed to strike a happy balance between heritage, culture and modernity. By maintaining many of its original buildings, it has managed to hold onto its history and distinct Italian character, factors that continue to attract visitors from throughout the world to enjoy both its atmosphere and its art. With that in mind, Jules and I arrived into Florence by squeezing on to a crowded bus from Siena and by the time fell out of the doorway, we are well and truly ready to stretch our legs and begin to explore all that this historical city had to offer. We begin by wandering around the Piazza San Larenzo with its endless rows of market stalls and magnificent produce market. With so much to buy and sample, I had no doubt that this would be a spot that we would return to often. We then moved on to view our first ‘great’ building, the ‘Duomo’, which has dominated the skyline since the 1400’s with it’s distinctive oversized dome and equally impressive tower. Having just undergone extensive restoration, the white, green and pick marble exterior looked quite magnificent in the sun and provided us with an insight into the glory days of a city that justifiably brought about the Italian renaissance. A short walk away is another of Florence’s iconic structures that continues to span the River Arno as it has done since Roman times. Ponte Vecchio is an ancient stone and wooden bridge that has traditionally housed all manner of traders under its porticos and these days jewelers and goldsmiths seem to have a monopoly on the site. It’s possibly a little too rich for these two Aussie globetrotters so we move further a field. A large gelato is probably more to our budget, so we wander past the Uffizi (Florence’s most famous art museum) and through the Piazza Vecchio (with it’s numerous classical statues) to find a sunny spot in Piazza Della Republica. This is the site of the ancient Roman forum and is recognizable by its classic architectural style dominated by the use of classic archways. Today it’s a haven for tourists who enjoy the numerous restaurants and caf├ęs that surround the square. In fact the area lured us back later to further enjoy the atmosphere and a nice meal in the cool of the evening. Similarly the Piazza Della Signoria would become regular place to eat, drink and bask in the culture of Florence. We simply loved the various piazzas and wandering around the many narrow laneways. However, we were keen to gain a wider appreciation of the city, so one day we joined a cycling tour that would take us twenty five kilometers to the outskirts of the city and back through it’s suburbs. Beginning early in the morning and starting high in the hills at an ancient monastery, we were able to admire the city from afar before tackling the treacherous winding roads that would lead us back toward the city. As we dodge cars and pass the numerous fields of grapes and olives, we could occasionally catch quick glimpses of Florence through the trees. The scene was like something from a postcard and very picturesque indeed. However, photos were few and far between as we were just concentrating on surviving the steep downhill run. Back in the city we were happy to hand back our bikes, grateful for the experience, but quite happy to continue to explore the city in a slow and relaxed manner. There is still so much to see and admire in this great city and a slow walking pace will suit us both from now on.

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