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  • Day285

    Camping Firenze, Florence

    April 7, 2017 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Last night's stopover was only a short distance from Florence so we arrived at Camping Firenze in the morning. We baulked at the €28 a night price, but the site was very easy to find and very close to an excellent cycle track along the River Arno all the way to the city centre. It felt a little like we were back in Germany with this provision for bikes and before we knew it we were hopping off the tandem in the centre of the famous city of art.

    We definitely felt we'd arrived 'up north' as we were struck by the 'sophistication'. People here devoted a lot more time to their appearance and facilities were provided for them to take part in leisure activities like running and cycling to unwind from the daily grind- things we'd rarely seen to this level in regions like Puglia, Calabria and Sicily where many of the jobs were manual and locals had so little to spend on leisure.

    We passed by people painting canvasses, paper and glass on the street. Many pieces were laid out on the cobbles for tourists to buy and take away with them as the artists produced more at their easels. Making our way to the Cathedral we picked up a medium slice of pizza. At €5 a slice we chose to share it. We'd been used to paying €4 for a whole pizza in the small village pizzarias!

    The Cathedral appeared quite suddenly as we turned a corner. We had differing opinions on its white, pink and green marble striped facade but whether you warmed to it or not, it was incredibly striking. The queue for it was long and slow moving but we persevered, politely declining the sellers that approached us as we waited. 20 minutes later we paid €15 for entry into all the cathedral buildings (the only option was to get this combined ticket). Disappointingly the climb to the dome roof was booked up for the day and while we'd been waiting it became booked up for the next day also. There was no reduction. We climbed the bell tower and were rewarded with sneak previews out the windows on the way up before a brilliant panorama around the central structure at the top. From here we could see the terracotta roof tiles of the dome, shops and houses capping the white or yellow ochre walls. In the piazza below people were milling around, some heading into the octagonal baptistry, standing out from the surrounding structures with its smooth white roof.

    Regaining terra firma we entered the cathedral, much of which was similar to others we'd seen. What did stand out was the beautifully painted ceiling of the dome, depicting concentric rings of people and angels amongst the clouds. Underneath the cathedral floor were relics of a previous building, although we didn't find them that engaging. The real treat was the baptistry that we'd looked down on from the bell tower. Its interior was enchanting. We spent a long time sitting inside the refreshing cool of this white marble building, taking in the golden mosaics on the walls and ceiling and the multicoloured marble mural designs.

    Afterwards we sat in the square listening to live violin and clarinet and eating delicious organic ice cream with the beautiful cathedral towering above us. Will was particularly partial to the Chianti sorbet!

    Wandering around the streets and piazzas, the main thoroughfares were packed but you could turn and be the only people in one of the many small cobbled side streets, overhung with clothes drying on washing lines.
    We found our way to the famous Ponte Vecchio, a bridge supporting small shops whose floors reached out over the river. They sold mainly jewellery and high end fashion, not really our scene but interesting to see.

    We'd booked tickets for the Ufizzi. While we both appreciate art, we wouldn't describe ourselves as art lovers, so rarely go to galleries. However, we couldn't leave Italy without having been to a single one and the Ufizzi was the gallery of galleries. There was a mixture of classic paintings, sculptures and embroidery as well as a modern art exhibition that included video art.
    We saw works by Leonardo DaVinci and other greats but Boticelli's paintings were a highlight for us. His 'Primavera' (Spring) and The Birth of Venus were the most memorable. There was, as you might expect, a huge focus on Christian art which, for us atheists, didn't hold as much interest as it might for those of that religion.

    Vicky, if not Will, found the city incredibly beautiful. However we both had numerous encounters with people who detracted from our experience. In the art gallery we were both physically pushed more than once, people seemed very self centred and would stand blocking the way, or even step in front of us when we were trying to read a display at close quarters. We are glad to have seen the sights and experienced the vibe, but were also glad to be able to cycle back to our comfort zone and settle down for an evening meal at our picnic table with Poppy laid on her rug beside us.
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