Viva Italia - Part Tre (Three)
Woke up at 6am on August 23rd since I could hear the rain pounding against my cabin window at Camping Roma. Luckily I made it down to the reception area without getting completely soaked. Grabbed a taxi and made my way to the Roma Termini station, where I purchased my first class Eurostar ticket to Firenze. The first class ticket price was slightly higher (47 Euros vs. 33 Euros), but I was forewarned about the limited baggage storage/seats on most trains so I gladly paid the extra money to avoid the hassle. I don’t know how I managed to lift my extremely heavy backpack (30 lbs.) above my head and into the storage compartment. It’s been tough getting that monstrosity strapped to my back lately. I guess using my forehead as leverage made it possible.
Since I took the direct line, I made it to Florence in only 1 ½ hours. Once I settled into my hotel, Viva Hotel Capitol, I ventured out in the pouring rain towards the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi Gallery is arguably the most well known Florentine gallery in Italy. This museum features well-respected artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Giotto, Leonardo, and others. Many tourists flock to Florence to admire the incredible sculptures, frescoes, and various masterpieces, which is why museum wait times can be absolute torture. I finally made it inside after 3 hours with only 1 ½ hours left before closing time. It was 5pm at that point and I empathized with the hundreds of people still in line behind me. The Uffizi is definitely worth the wait. Highly recommend purchasing the guided museum tour instead in order to bypass those incredibly long lines.
Florence is the quintessential mecca for art lovers around the world. I spent 4 days fully appreciating the aesthetically rich Renaissance town – former home to the Medici family, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Dante (author of the Divine Comedy). I visited many spectacular structures and museums while I was there, so it was somewhat unfortunate when I couldn’t take my camera inside most museums to capture those incredible images.
My favorite WOW moment was inside the Galleria dell’ Academia when I saw Michelangelo’s famous David. There were many visitors standing in front of the statue gawking at this extraordinary marble masterpiece. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from this sculpture for over 30 minutes. This museum was my favorite. I almost walked right past it since the façade is non-descript. The interior, however, housed an incredible collection of marble sculptures (the David being the primary focal point), paintings, and musical instruments. The latter was part of a special musical showcase entitled, “Meraviglie Sonora” featuring lutes, pianos, mandolins, oboes, and flutes made of atypical materials such as ivory and alabaster. Since I have a musical background, I was quite taken by the collection.
Before visiting the Academia, I also spent several hours at the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Fiore – most commonly referred to as the Duomo. While most people simply walk into the church to admire its intrinsic beauty, I decided to walk the 463 steps to the top for only 6 Euros. To the left of the ticket booth, there’s a sign that warns people with cardiac issues to avoid the climb altogether. There should be another caveat warning people not to consume alcoholic beverages right before this herculean feat. I shouldn’t have ordered that vino bianco with lunch just 30 minutes prior. I don’t recommend climbing these steps unless you are in great shape. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of practice trekking up hillsides and walking for miles over the past couple of months. I wasn’t nearly as winded as some of the other tourists. Once I was finally at the top, I had a panoramic view of Florence. This was the perfect reward for the grueling climb. I don’t recommend visiting the adjacent Campinille right after the cathedral since it’s a similar climb with the exact same view.
After the Duomo, I rested in front of the Baptistry, which has the most intricate bronze double doors. Gorgeous! I spent the rest of the day navigating the streets and stumbling across many Florentine piazzas including Piazza della Repubblica (original site of the Roman Forum) and the Piazza della Signori, which has the David replica flanked by other statues. I was excited to take a photo of this David since I couldn’t take a photo of the real one at the main gallery. This area was bustling with activity – plenty of outdoor cafes and people watching opportunities.
On Saturday, August 25th, I went on a half day Chianti region CAF tour with 2 busloads of Tuscany bound tourists. The tour guide was brilliant. She talked so much; I don’t recall her ever taking a break between sentences. She told us about Florence’s history – regaling us with stories about the Pazzi Family conspiracy and the botched plan to kill both Medici brothers. Quite fascinating. We visited the Castello del Trebbio, former home of the Pazzi family, where the infamous Medici assassination plot took place. This castle now functions as a private residence and winery. During our guided tour, I learned about Chianti wine production – winemakers must use the local Sangiovese grape in at least 80% of the mixture. I also learned how extra virgin olive oil is made. New business venture, perhaps? Nah! During the wine tasting portion of the tour, I met 3 women from the UK – Usha, Rocky, and Prisha. I am so blessed to meet so many people from various parts of the world on this trip.
Overall, I had an enriching time in Florence. There is a LOT to do there and my four days were well spent visiting the following places (in addition to the ones I previously mentioned):
Palazzo Pitti – once the former home of the ruling Medici family, but now features several galleries within the structure. The 11.5 Euro ticket also grants access to the modern art/costume gallery, which I enjoyed as well. My favorite room was the Sala Bianca (white living room) since it had understated elegance.
Boboli Gardens – Situated behind the Palazzo Pitto, these gardens can take an entire afternoon to traverse for 9.5 Euros. I particularly loved the modern sculptures that lined various paths. While there were many museums on the premises, I only visited one, the Porcelain gallery, featuring china and other priceless pieces.
Opera per Santa Maria Novella – This gorgeous cathedral is right next to the train station (aptly named Santa Maria Novella as well). This church has stunning stained glass windows and marble mosaics lining the façade. Luckily, I had a blazer in my backpack to cover my bare shoulders (not allowed).
I didn’t list all the things I did, but noted only the highlights of this trip. There were many! My next destination is Cinque Terre, Italy where I will spend the next three days hiking up steep hillsides within the 5 fishing villages. I definitely had enough carbs to prepare me for this leg of my journey.