A Lot of Art in Picture Perfect Florence

Trip Start Apr 14, 2011
Trip End Nov 16, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A short trip from Siena had us arriving at our camp site by one of Europe's most beautiful cities – Florence. As ever in this crazy country there are hills every where and the pitch we found ourselves in was very sloped in one direction. We did try and level the caravan with a block but it was not quite enough so we had to get used to a very strange angle!   
After our wonky set up we left camp to head for the city. On route we stopped at a car park that had some amazing views over Florence. Itseemed very popular as there were no car parking spaces so we had to individually enjoy the views while darting back to the car in case someone needed us to move it! We continued into the city in search of a car park on the south bank of the River Arno so that we could just pop over to one of the many bridges into the city. Our first try was clearly an exclusive parking zone as they wanted 17 Euros for 2 hours to park up Skody (almost as much as he is worth!!!). We did manage to find somewhere but needed to use about a kilo of coins to get enough time to explore the sights for the afternoon (top tip – take the bus into Florence!).
 As we gypsies are a cultured and educated race of people, our first stop had to be the famous Uffizi gallery. We had heard from our guide book that the queues to get a ticket can be as much as 4 hours so were very happy to hear that we were only going to have to wait about 40 mins, happy to be queuing yup still definitely British! The Uffizi, which means offices, was actually a Palace before it was used as a gallery back when it was built in the second half of the 16th century. The vast majority of the paintings held there now are from the Medici family's private collection. It was bequeathed to the city of Florence in 1743 by the last member of the family on the condition it never leave the city. The collection has since grown and contains works from Ancient Greek sculptures to 18th century Venetian paintings, and the whole gallery is arranged in chronological order (a very good method as you can see the specific changes in styles that the artists used). The building itself is set out in a giant 'U' shape which means the majority of the 50 odd rooms (containing approx 1555 masterpieces) are accessed off the 3 main corridors. We saw works by a great number of amazing artists including Michelangelo (Tondo Doni) , Rapheal (Madonna of the Goldfinch) and Leonardo Da Vinchi (incomplete Adoration of the Magi), and some none turtle based individuals like Bottticelli (Birth of Venus and Primavera) and Rembrandt (Potrait of Old Man). We would have been snapping away but you are not allowed to take pictures there, but as ever sneaky Lisa was able to get a couple! 
After we had finished our tour of the gallery we wandered around the cafe-lined Piazza della Signoria to see some amazing statues. The area here is steeped in history as it was in this very square that the preacher-leader burnt a large amount of the city's art, literature, musical etc in the infamous bonfire of the vanities in 1497. He got his comeuppance as he was burnt the following year as a heretic in front of the Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune fountain)! It is here you can also see the much photographed copy of Michelangelo's David – the original was moved in 1873 to the Galleria dell' Accademia. We did also finally get to see copies of work by our final turtle artist – Donatello, the Marzoco (heraldic lion) and the Giuditta e Olofene (Judith and Holofernes). We also managed to pop into the Palazzo Vecchio as you could get into the courtyard for free, yet still see some impressive architecture.
The last of the main sights we saw before heading off was the Ponte Vecchio. This famous bridge has had jewellery shops on it since the 16th century, when Ferdinando I de' Medici ordered them to replace the town butchers that had a habit of chucking their unwanted leftovers into the river! It was built in 1345 and was the only bridge that was not destroyed by the Germans when they were retreating in 1944. Above the shops is the Corridoio Vasariano, a covered passageway that was built in 1565 by Vasari, its purpose was to allow the Medici family to have private access to the Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti.
Day two in Florence we hopped on the bus into the city centre and embarked on a self guided walking tour. We began at the station and headed for the Basilica di San Lorenzo and browsed the busy San Lorenzo market. From here we walked passed the Baptistery to the Piazza del Duomo and admired the spectacular Duomo (one of Italy's big three- the others being The Tower of Pisa and Colosseum). Having fully recovered from the nightmare Siena cycle I was feeling the need for some more exercise so suggested we climb the tower to the dome. This involved multiple tiny winding staircases of 463 steep stone steps that felt never- ending. However all this was forgotten when we emerged at the top to an unforgettable 360 degree panorama of an absolutely beautiful city. We walked around the circumference of the dome and took in to the wonderful views, before slowly making our way back down. The staircases are so small you can only fit people one way, so on route back down you walk around the interior of the dome to another equally steep and winding staircase, in order to make your descent. For some reason they have decided to not worry with hand rails so it was a very slow and careful climb down!
From here we 
continued our tour to the Piazza della Repubblica, originally the site of a Roman Forum, and the medieval heart of the city. Next we passed the Gothic style 14th century Chiesa di Santa Trinita and had a great view of the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge from the Ponte Santa Trinita.
Starting to feel our 
earlier dome climb taking it's toll, we headed back through some more little Piazza's to the Piazza Santa Maria Novella to catch our bus back to camp, and have some amazing and well deserved pork chops!
On route to our next 
stop we stayed in Ferrara for the night. After a spot of lunch we hopped on the bikes and cycled though one of the gates of the ancient city walls to explore. Our first stop was the 15th century Palazzo dei Diamanti, as the camp site lady had told us about an exhibition they currently had. The exhibition was called The Paris of Modigliani, Picasso and Dali. We saw paintings by Monet, Renoir, Dali, Modigliani and Picasso, it was fantastic! Definitely more my kind of art... not that I don't enjoy looking at hundreds of pictures of the Virgin Mary, I mean who doesn't, but I loved this!
From the palace we 
continued our cycle to the towering Castello Estense, complete with moat and drawbridge, it's a pretty impressive sight. Just along from the castle is the pink and white 12th century Duomo, which is also quite striking. Much of the upper level of the combined Gothic and Romanesque fašade is a graphic representation of the final judgement and heaven and hell. 
We continued through 
the narrow lanes of the city, past the oldest street and exited out of another of the city wall's gates. This was so we could take the picturesque cycle route next to the city wall back to camp.

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Mum (Jean) on

What a beautiful place, photos are great, the Duomo looks amazing, the climb to the dome certainly sounds like a challenge but the view from the top sounds well worth that extra effort! xxx

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