Fun in Florence
Still feeling inspired by the sun rise over Angkor Wat and enthralled by yesterday’s roof top views, I decided to set my alarm and get up early to watch the sun rise over Florence… unfortunately, like yesterday’s sunset, it was a washout. We climbed back into our lovely, luxurious beds for a little more shut eye before heading back up to the terrace for a most decadent and sumptuous breakfast accompanied by a much needed coffee expertly made by our host, Latifa.
It has to be said that the staff at Antica Torre take the art of hospitality to a whole new level. During our little tour yesterday, we were introduced to every staff member we passed – cleaners, bar staff, reception – everyone and we were greeted in return with a genuine warmth that spoke of a happy and harmonious work environment. There seems to be none of the usual front-of-house and behind-the-scenes divide. In fact, there hardly seems to be a divide between staff and guests – we don’t feel pandered to but genuinely welcome and amongst friends.
None the less, after yesterday’s wet weather lock in, it was time to go out and see Florence. We started with a stroll along the Arno passed the Ponte Vecchio, passed the Uffizi Gallery and into Piazza della Signoria with it’s profusion of violent and imposing statues (including a replica of Michelangelo’s David). Obviously this main square holds a lot of history and I have to confess that this is the second time I’ve been to Florence in as many years without having researched it. Luckily Mum didn’t seem too bothered – if she had been, I would have gladly have imagined a history for her.
From there, it was just a quick stroll passed the shops (stopping in a few to pick up souvenirs along the way) to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka The Duomo – the final of Italy’s ‘Big 3’ on this whirlwind tour (the others being the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Colosseum in Rome). Big is of course an understatement for this impossibly intricate gothic cathedral that dominates the Piazza del Duomo so much so that it’s virtually impossible to take a photo of the entire structure from anywhere in the square. Construction of the Cathedral took 140 years (1296-1436) and it still boasts the largest brick dome in the world (The Pantheon’s is concrete). As Mum and I entered the church, I realised that I hadn’t even gone inside last time, I don’t know why. I had however, climbed the 463 steps to the very top of it and as Mum and I stood marvelling up, up and up and the vast and ornate fresco lining the interior of the dome, I was relieved that I didn’t have to do it again. Mum was even more relieved. Make no mistake, the views from up there are breathtaking but with the rooftop terrace at Antica Torre, we have lift access to just as spectacular view which includes the Duomo!
We next meandered through the back streets where we came across an old Black and White Photo Booth. Of course we jumped straight in after agreeing on the sequence of silly faces to be pulled after each of the four flashes. As we waited for our photos to be processed, I set about doing a post-modern photo essay on the booth itself and ironically, captured one of the most beautiful photos of my Mum. I’m not being self-congratulatory here, all due credit goes to my subject!
In the time it took for the photo strip to dry, we had made our way to Piazza Santa Croce and the Basilica of the same name where the mortal remains of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini are laid to rest. What fascinates me most about that is the reminder that these gargantuan historical figures which we attribute almost mythological status to were actually mere mortals. Their profound achievements and contributions to the human story were made in a single lifetime and in most cases, a considerably shorter one than those we are lucky enough to live nowadays. It’s a thought which I find intimidating and inspiring in equal measure.
Memories came flooding back of my last trip when I stayed in an apartment just off the square. It was summer then and I was struck by how different the scene was today in the cold – there were very few people around and most of the shops were closed up. The alleyways leading off the square weren’t lined with hawkers and al fresco diners but rather mini construction sites no doubt preparing for the next summer.
We found an open restaurant and ordered lunch with a carafe of wine decanted from a large barrel. We finished our wine but our neighbours didn’t. Once they left, the waiter simply picked up what remained and tipped it back into the barrel. That soured the experience a little, so we needed to counteract it with something sweet. Luckily my second favourite gelateria* in the world was just around the corner – Gelateria dei Neri. Last time I was in town I had Ricotta & Fig, Cioccolato e Peperoncino (chilli chocolate) and Gorgonzola. They didn’t have Gorgonzola this time so I instead opted for another chocolate flavour that I liked the look of. My well honed gelato instincts were in good working order – it was just Nutella! I don’t mean Nutella flavoured gelato, I mean just plain Nutella! A whole scoop of Nutella!! I don’t care who says what – it was amazing!!!
Having made pigs of ourselves, it was only appropriate that our next stop was the Il Porcellino fountain statue. Legend has it that if you rub the brass boars snout, you will return to Florence. It seems to work so we gave it rub. What I want to know is what this means for the replica pig that sits dribbling out the front of Sydney Hospital and why does the Sydney one also have a shiny penis?
We went back to Antica Torre to relax a while before heading out on our evening adventure. This time we turned the other way out the front door passing fancy designer stores that lined the route to the very grand Piazza della Repubblica. Our attention was immediately caught by the antique Merry-go-Round lighting up the square. While Mum was starry eyed, reliving childhood memories, I noticed that the box office showed a price for adults so I sneakily bought two tickets and told her to hop on! Mum sat in a princess carriage and I took up the reigns of a majestic steed – true to its name, we were indeed very merry as it went round, squealing like school children from the fun of it all.
We wandered on to find a place I knew for dinner but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember how to find it. We instead settled for a restaurant that we liked the look of with the added assurance of a 4.5 rating on the Trip Advisor certificate proudly displayed in its window (these certificates seem to be in every window this trip – I haven’t noticed them before). At first the service seemed a little cold but it soon thawed as the 70th birthday celebrations on a nearby table erupted into song and encompassed the entire restaurant. The guest of honour gave orders for his cake to be shared with all of us and then did the rounds having his photo taken with each of our five tables. Although we didn’t understand a word that was being said, there was enough in the universality of birthday celebrations for us to join in the fun. I don’t know if it was the wine, the limocello or the Merry-go-Round ride but Mum insisted we sing happy birthday to him in English before we left! The birthday boy seemed delighted despite our singing voices.
Just when we thought the day could not be any more enchanting, we looked up and saw a spectacular full moon that lit the roof tops of Florence and our way back home – that was the icing on the cake!
*Gelato Messina in Sydney (Surry Hills branch more specifically) is still #1
Patches McMum: We got up early to take photos of sunrise over Florences rooftops – overcast, raining, no sol/sun. We had breakfast later in the morning at our hotel/castle. The food was really great and consisted of bacon, eggs, pastries, yoghurts, fruit, cheese, meats and anything else you can think of. We had a go at the lot. They made yummy coffee too. We then strolled to the main square – Piazza de
lla Signoria – beautiful marble statues but very violent depicting rape and murder. We next strolled to the Santa Maria del Flore more commonly known as the Duomo where we saw lovely votive candle trees instead of the usual troughs. Now I’ve seen the three big wonders of Italy – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Colosseum of Rome and the Duomo of Florence.
We wondered around looking for souvenirs for loved ones and found them – just wait til you see them! We turned a corner and fell into a cute Italian restaurant where we had pasta and house wine straight from a barrel – we finished ours but our neighbours didn’t. Their remaining wine was tipped from the carafe straight back into the barrel. Then we found Naomi’s favourite gelato place! We had pepper chocolate, fig & ricotta and pure nutella ice cream. We also found an old fashioned photo booth and had our photo taken with much fun and hilarity.
Then we found the twin pig statue to the one in front of Sydney Hospital on the road to the markets to – we rubbed its nose which means we’ll be back in Florence. We didn’t touch any further anatomy. We went home before starting our evening adventure which consisted of a walk to Piazza della Repubblica, passed all the fancy Italian fashion houses and there before our eyes was a beaut merry go round. We had a ride which took me back to childhood. We had dinner at a restaurant and one of the patrons was having a birthday party. He generously shared his birthday cake with all the patrons. When we left, we sang happy birthday in English to him. We went home via the Ponte Vecchio for more photo opportunities. A great day again.