The Retirees return to Florence – a Segway tour

. The next morning, we were both anxious to get to our Segway tour. Ever since Prague we have been smitten with the Segway. Arriving early, we found the Gucci Museum in Piazza Signoria and it was closed. We had to walk past it to get to the Segway tour office. Three floors of Gucci was too much for me. So, we moved onto the office and we were redirected to a coffee shop as we were far too early. We went around to Piazza san Martino and the coffee shop there and found the Dante Museum, an old tower house (this is the style of the middle ages) and an interesting old church San Martino del Vescovo.

Back in the Renaissance, the poor could rely on the services of a lay charitable institution to help them with the essentials of life and death – being clothed, helped when sick, and buried when dead. This institution, was called the Confraternity of the Buonomini di San Martino; Buonomini literally translates as “good men”. In 1442, Fra Antonino Pierozzi (who later became Archbishop of Florence and a saint) recognized the need for a dignified way to help these people, who tried to “keep up appearances”. He chose 12 reliable men of the higher social classes who would identify those in need of help and discreetly offer assistance in whatever way was required. The group initially met at one of their houses, but eventually was given a room off the side of the church, which was decorated as their “oratory”. This confraternity is one of the very few remaining visible examples in Florence (another is the Misericordia, still today the city’s ambulance service). The painting in the niche shows San Martino (the patron Saint, Saint Martino of Tours) handing out alms to the poor and when the Buonomini found themselves in need of money, they light a candle above the door. The Italian expression “essere ridotti al lumicino” (literally to be reduced to the candle or stony broke) derived from this practice. In the same breath, we encountered this bicycle that had been badly parked and suffered the consequences.

The time had arrived and so had our guide Valentina and three English girls, novices at the Segway. After a few practice runs, we head off toward Republica and our guide starts explaining the different styles of architecture in the various churches and she selects a very ostentatious baroque style to start with. We weave in and out of the back streets listening to her stories over the radio each one of carried and always hearing the constant ringing of her bell telling cloth eared tourists to get out of the way. We come upon a brass boar a symbol of the city and she tells us to rub the snout for luck. Its lucky if you can get near it.

Next is Duomo, Bell Tower and Baptistry followed by two statues of architects and builder of the dome. On to Santa Croce and the statue of Dante, past the first Medici Palazzo onto the Basilica San Lorenzo, one of the largest churches of Florence, situated at the centre of the city’s main market district, and the burial place of all the principal members of the Medici family from Cosimo il Vecchio to Cosimo III. It was consecrated in 393AD and it stood outside the city walls. San Lorenzo was also the parish church of the Medici family. Our guide told us that the façade of the church was never finished as Michelangelo took 3 months selecting the marble and in that time the Medicis changed their mind.

We toured around for 3 hours stopping for a gelato and thoroughly enjoying the freedom of the Segway. Then we returned to the apartment put our feet up and rested until it was time for the Uffizi tour.

The Retirees return to Italy – Florence and Tuscany

We flew out of Gatwick South but I don’t recall much of the flight as I slept most of the way. Our landing was smooth but I was surprised about the Florence International airport. It is small and appears nothing more than a domestic airport for a small town. We disembarked onto the tarmac and entered the immigration area with a queue out the door because there was insufficient space. Clearing the terminal, we went looking for a taxi as it was after 8.00 pm by the time we got our luggage and got out. Very few taxis and a queue a mile long so the shuttle bus to the railway terminal was the next best thing but everyone was thinking the same so a jammed packed bus took us to the terminal where we caught a taxi through a maze of streets to the hotel which was closed. Our phone had proven to be out of date and useless so we had no means to contact the hotel to let us in. Kerry went to an adjoining hotel and after some begging contacted the hotel and gained the various codes to the “front” door in the lane behind the hotel, the elevator and the front door to the rooms on the 4th floor.

Suffice it to say we made it and settled in for the night to start our Florentine adventure the next day. The apartment was reasonably spacious with a kitchen dining room bedroom and bath/ensuite. Our only window gave a view over the Arno river to Porta San Nicolo, a part of a city wall of the past and Piazzale Michelangelo (a copy of the statue of David stands in the Piazzale). Below on the sand bar of the Arno, Florentines lay sunbaking (too damn chilly for us).

We needed to get orientated so we headed off for the old city on foot passing the central library and taking our lives in our hands as cars scooters bikes and trucks battled with pedestrians for use of the road/footpath. We were looking for the Segway tours office and the tourist information office to make our plans of where to go and what to see. We had a brochure for the Segway tour office and a map provided by someone pointed out an information office and we set sail to negotiate the streets and book a tour on a Segway.

We found the Segway tour office in the lanes behind Piazza Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio and booked our 3hour tour for the following Saturday morning and turned our attention to finding the Tourist Information Centre. After a short walk we arrive at a gate (a Roman looking gate) which we later learnt was part of Piazza Republica, created for the period that Italy did not include Rome and Florence was capital.

The buildings of the old town of Florence have a charm and design that is Florence and many carry the crests of the important merchant families of the city. Where there is a footpath some of the streets are decorated in flowers. A particular variety of small azalea was often the preferred choice. Our walk took us down many an alley until we arrived at the Piazza Santa Maria Novella with its two obelisks and named after the church of the same name and convent run by the Dominican order until disbanded in the 19th century.

According to our map the information office was here, but all we could see was the Basilica and a tourist pavilion selling tours and trinkets. Unable to find any tourist information centre, we went to the tourist pavilion and found the staff to be very helpful and booking a walking tour that evening at half price and a visit to the Uffizi. Without knowing it we had walked almost back to the train station and exploring around Santa Maria Novella we found the station hidden by the church and hidden within the walls of the church the Tourist Information Centre. We decided to return to the apartment to rest for our evening tour so we walked back to the river and found we were four bridges away from our apartment. We had literally weaved diagonally across the city from our apartment. First, we came upon Ponte alla Carraia, then further along Ponte San Trinita then Ponte Vecchio and finally Ponte alle Grazie and then “home”.