The Retirees return to Florence – a Walking tour

We had a disappointing lunch (some Italian bread is made stale) a short rest and then back on the road again walking back to Piazza Santa Maria Novella arriving far too early for our tour – a miscalculation of the time needed to walk and our new knowledge on traversing Florence. What to do? A sign caught my eye. At one end of the Piazza was an old building we were to learn was originally a hospital and now an art gallery. It had a display on northern art – Estonia and the collection of Enn Kunila’s Collection including early 20th century Estonian artists (Ants Laikmaa, Elmar Kits, Villem Ormisson, Endel Koks, Nikolai Triik, and Herber Lukk) progressing to impressionism. The collection included a special section on Konrad Magi. I have included some photos of some of the pieces of Konrad Magi and in particular showing an image of the previous occupants of the building.

From here we walked across to the pavilion and met our guide. Our tour started at San Maria Novella and the Piazza. This church was called Novella (New) because it was built on the site of the 9th-century oratory of Santa Maria delle Vigne. When the site was assigned to Dominican Order in 1221, they decided to build a new church and adjoining cloister. Hence the name. The exterior of the church had a curious sundial on the front of the church. The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapter house contain a multiplicity of art treasures and funerary monuments. This had been home to a Dominican order of priests and friars which the guide described as the knights of San Maria who fought heretics for control of Florence. The Piazza which was the scene of many orations by the Dominicans over the centuries but know it is an open piazza with two obelisks supported by the Medici turtles.

We moved on to Via delle Belle Donne, the street of prostitutes where the heretics and Dominicans fought their battle and the column remembering their victory. We then walked to the Palsso belonging to one of Florence’s richest families the Strozzi. The construction of the palace was begun in 1489 by Benedetto da Maiano, for Filippo Strozzi the Elder, a rival of the Medici who had returned to the city in November 1466 and desired the most magnificent palace to assert his family’s continued prominence and, perhaps more important, a political statement of his own status. A great number of other buildings were acquired during the 1470s and demolished to provide enough space for the new construction. Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction’s completion in 1538. Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated it in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until thirty years later. The palace faces the historical Via de’ Tornabuoni the street with all the expensive brands in Florence. My photos include the sculpture by Henry Moore “Warrior with Shield” which had been intend for the Terrace of Saturn in Palazzo Vecchio moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce until 2015 when the Strozzi Foundation obtained it for Palazzo Strozzi

Our tour continued along to Piazza di Santa Trinita (one block away from Ponte Santa Trinita) where there is a church of the same name and a street ensemble entertaining us with rag time music. Our guide stated this was the only church in town that did not charge tourists an entrance fee. Beyond the piazza, we passed this extraordinary shop – the original supermarket. Unfortunately, my photo also captures one of our fellow tourists scratching her arse. Nearby is a church in a small piazza which claims to hold a relic – a piece of the cross. It was closed but I took the photo. Every tour has to include the Ponte Vecchio which is the oldest bridge standing in Florence (even the invading German Army did not damage the bridge). Formerly the home of butchers and bakers (who discarded their waste into the river), one of the Medicis (Cosimo Ist, I believe) drove them off the bridge and replaced them with the goldsmiths we see today. The Duke built a passage from Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of government) over the bridge to avoid assignation and did not like the smell. Thank you, Cosimo. My photos shows, the oldest building on the bridge and the sundial on top, the bank below with the rowing club entrance and the Duke’s passage running into Ufizzi.

We then ventured into Uffizi with Palazzo Vecchio in the background and onto the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell Tower and Baptistry. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore; in English “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower”, is the main church of Florence. Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style and completed structurally in 1436 with the dome. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade.

The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile. The basilica is one of Italy’s largest churches, and until development of new structural materials in the modern era, the dome was the largest in the world. It remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The day finished in Piazza Republica where we had aperitifs and a chance to chat with our fellow travellers; two from UAE from the tour industry, a couple from Barcelona (Catalan separatists), and a young woman from Bristol. It turned out the Catalans and the UK girl had both been at a conference of illustrators in Bolonga and we encouraged some drawings from each.


That was enough walking for the day so we went to our chosen bar the Beer Hall club for dinner and made it into bed around 10.00 pm.

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”.

The Retirees go Abroad – Florence

The hot weather has continued. Even as we awake we can tell it will be another stinking hot day, but we have booked our tickets and we are going to Florence – home of David. Not David Colch; the real statue of  David by Michelangelo. We arrive at the station and the train turns up if not on time a little ahead of time. So un-Italian!

Arriving in Florence our plan of action was to catch the hop on hop off bus and determine what sights we wanted to see. We knew that the bus station was “just outside” the railway station but the railway station was large and very busy. In addition there were a number of entrances. We made our way to the front and watched as one of the Hop on buses sailed passed the station. Kerry skilfully tracked it down and we managed to catch a Blue Line bus – you have a choice of blue, red or yellow each with a different route.

Our tour took us past the river and up onto a hill overlooking the city where we got fabulous views of the Duomo, the Palace and a look alike statue of David above the Acadamie where the original stands (and you can view for a small fee around €30). We thought we would see what else was on offer.

The next point of interest was the Ponte Vecchio – a bridge similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice – covered with shops. However this one had an additional feature. It provided a secret path between the Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio for the lords to pass without the commoners knowing. The bridge is covered with jewellery shops and tourists. We walked across rather quickly trying to keep to the shade and on to Palazzo Pitti. I found this to be a large colourless building and as it was too hot lunch beckoned.

So we found a restaurant. Walking back to the Ponte we encountered Hotel Scarletta. They offered a two course plate for 15€ and we decided to splurge. The sign directed us into a passage and then into a chamber where the sign told us the restaurant and reception were on the third floor. A decrepit old elevator edged its way down and on opening the following notice appeared – “two people only and no unaccompanied baggage”. The girls got in and Veronica was concerned that she would lose her breasts as the cabin was so small. David and I walked the 96 steps to the reception.

The restaurant was located on an “altana” above reception and had fabulous views including the Observatory where Galileo’s astronomical instruments are kept, Palazzio Pitti and the houses that surround it. But most impressive were the fans with the misters. This cooled the atmosphere noticeably and the waitress who had been rather terse. After lunch, which was very tasty and a lot more expensive than the 15 euros we had planned to spend, we ventured to the “altana above the restaurant and got a view of the whole city – Palazzo Vecchio and the dome of Duomo.

Finished with lunch we visited Palazzo Vecchio and the statutes that adorn the Palazzo.

Next was the Duomo.

We made our way back to the Hop on bus stop outside the station and caught a yellow line bus just as a large storm hit the city. The yellow line includes all of the blue line stops but then it goes off into the mountains to Fiesole, a small village often the summer home to Florentines over the centuries. It was then that my battery died so there is only the one photo from the hills.