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As the Wind Blows

Week 16: Tales from Tuscany – Florence/Firenze and Fiesole

ITALY | Wednesday, 6 July 2011 | Views [772]

I took lots of pictures of the sunset, but I won't bore you with all of them

I took lots of pictures of the sunset, but I won't bore you with all of them

Watching the sunset over the River Arno is Florence is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s lit up the river so it was as if this ancient city was on fire. And with over 30 degrees Celsius almost every day it may as well have been because I baked until I was at least five shades darker. At least I had delicious gelato every day to compensate for the disgustingly hot weather.

Before my visit to the Tuscan capital I thought I had an excellent sense of direction. Now even with a map I get lost and it frustrates me to no end. At least Florence has plenty of piazzas at the end of the very narrow streets of the city. And there are the occasional street signs to let you know where you are - even if it’s 20 minutes in the opposite direction that you needed to be going in. I did a bike tour of Florence and experienced firsthand what it was like to ride in those narrow streets along with cars, buses, pedestrians and other cyclists, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Everyone’s extra vigilant and don’t drive fast so I felt perfectly safe.

Florence is the home of Michelangelo’s David and he is absolutely magnificent in the flesh, well stone in this case. There were a couple of fake Davids around town which are just meh, and nothing compared to the actual one at the Accademia. It’s either the lighting or just the incredible detail that makes it look like he could come to life any second - I can't figure out which, but it’s definitely worth a visit.  I wasn’t all that intrigued with the most famous art gallery in Florence, the Uffizi. The paintings were all just repetitive.

Whilst flicking through my friend’s guide book on Tuscany and Florence I came across guided walks detailed in the book which I was inclined to follow. The problem with maps in a book, unlike guided tours on the internet, is that there’s no-one to give feedback on how steep the walk actually is. Steep hills plus cobblestones thrown in with extremely hot weather equals exercise and not a relaxing holiday. Of course climbing steep mountains usually mean great views and that’s one thing that is definitely worth all that exercise. Instead of climbing the Duomo/Dome in Santa Maria del Fiore, I recommend climbing to the top of the Piazza Michelangelo (with one of two fake Davids) to get an absolutely stunning view of the Florence, on a good day. And you can have plenty of breaks along the way at cafes and restaurants.

I should also mention that I took a bus out to Fiesole (which is again up on extremely large mountains). It’s a very small town and the main attraction must be the Roman Theatre – which being at least in the same country as Rome means that the ruins are more intact than Roman ruins in the UK). It is very peaceful being up there and I wish I’d been able to catch a concert. The other main attraction to this town is the view of Florence. After climbing a very steep hill to the monastery, you can get amazing views of Florence and come across a frustrating drinking fountain that does not pump water. Argh! The free water fountains around the place is one of the great things about this region in Italy. And for all those cotton ball people out there worried about hygiene, well once you’ve climbed several steep hills in 36+ temperatures, you would find it very difficult to refuse water fountains! 

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