Sunday, July 19, 2009

Italy - Florence

A couple random notes on Italy: 1.) Despite my fears and the many horror stories I'd heard, every train we took was more or less on time. 2.) Italy is pretty cool and now I kind of get why it's such a ridiculously popular tourist attraction (kind of). It's too bad that my itinerary wasn't particularly me-friendly since the mountains were full of flowers (and I have allergies), there's tons of cheese (and I'm lactose-intolerant), and I had to ride around in buses through mountainous regions (and I get carsick).

Anyway, on to Florence.
This is the Duomo in Florence. What you're looking at is the Baptistry in the foreground, with the church behind, and Campanile (bell tower) jutting up behind the Baptistry. The giant red dome you see in the back is the largest brick dome ever -- created by Brunelleschi, completed in 1436 -- and the thing to do is to climb the stairs between the inside dome and the outside dome all the way to the top (not a great picture).
It costs 8 euros and there are some 460 steps. That's only 80 more than in Corniglia, so we scoffed at the signs warning that there is no lift. We were right to scoff; it was pretty easy.

Here's the fresco on the inside of the dome.
On the way up, you stop at the lower balcony, below the stained glass windows, while on the way down, you stop at the upper balcony.

Here's one of the balconies:
Looking down from one of the balconies:
From the top balcony, looking across
and looking up.

A little aside: inside the cathedral (and every cathedral), bare shoulders are a no-no. At the Milano Duomo, women sold cheap shawls right outside. Here, they gave out hospital gown-stype paper ponchos:

The top of the dome had some pretty good views. To the front of the cathedral and now you can see actually see the bell tower.
The big church in the middle is Santa Croce, which we visited the next day.
The large tower to the right is Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. To the right of it (the three arches) is the Uffizi. The Uffizi is right next to the Arno River, so the green hills you see in the background are across it.

After climbing the dome, I was pretty hot and thirsty, so I got a granita from an ice cream place across the street. As we were standing and eating/drinking, a gypsy woman came up to us to beg. I guess she didn't like my response because she ripped the cup out of my hands (and I had a firm grip on it!) and walked away. We just stared in shock. I was basically done with it, though, and already thinking of where to dispose of it, so thanks random gypsy woman, I guess.

On the way back to the hotel that evening we saw these sidewalk chalk artists working.

The next day, we got up early to go to the Uffizi. Since we hadn't reserved tickets weeks in advance (as every guide book will suggest), we were somewhat nervous about waiting in line for hours for nothing. The museum is supposed to open at 9AM. We got there at 8:45AM to find signs saying that due to a staff meeting, the museum would open at 10:30AM. The without-reservations line was probably about 100 at that time. If the museum had opened at the usual time, we probably could have been inside within an hour. We could have left and come back, of course, but the line would have continued to grow while we were gone (and I'd guess that maybe only 20% of the people in line realized that the museum would not open on time). So, in the end, we waited. And by the time, we made it into the museum, we had waited for 3 hours (yikes!).
The most famous pieces are probably Botticelli's The Primavera and The Birth of Venus. This work is also in the collection, although in a room so dim it was nearly impossible to see. We got the audio guides but found them rather disappointingly unenlightening.

The Uffizi is near Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval bridge crossing the Arno with shops built onto it. All the shops are jewelry stores. I took this picture from inside the museum, I think.
For tiny streets, there's a tiny public bus:

Afterwards, we went to the Basilica of Santa Croce.
They had a really cool audio guide (totally worth it), although we got there kind of late and had only time to hear the highlights. They were restoring parts of the church and here you can see them working on it as tourists wander past.
Santa Croce holds the tombs of many famous Italians, such as Rossini,
and Dante.
Afterwards, we crossed the river and went up Piazzale Michelangelo. Even though it's basically a parking lot with some benches and a railing, I guess it's known as the place to be because it was full of tourists and people hawking knock-off handbags. (We heard about it from another tourist in the line at the Uffizi. He warned us about the 'many, many steps' to get up there. Pshaw.) The views were excellent. In this one, you see the old city wall to the left, the Boboli Gardens behind that, then down the river to the west, with the Ponte Vecchio the first bridge you see.
And here's the view in another direction, lookin across the river, where the Ponte Vecchio is out of the frame to the left of the photo. Coming down from the hilltop, I took this photo crossing the river at sunset.

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