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Florence (Tuscany)

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      04.11.2009 11:55
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      Just go now!!

      I have just returned from florence and cant recommend it highly enough.

      This is a city full of life and culture. The architecture is amazing, the galleries full of history and the food out of this world. I stayed at a B&B called Relais Modern about 5 min walk from the Duomo. It was comfotable, modern and very welcoming.

      All the main sights are in walkable distance and my favriote places were the views from both the Piazza Michelangelo and the tower adjoining the Duomo ... its worth the 414 steps to the top.

      The Gallery Academia is worth a visit with David being the centre piece but he is also surrouned by a new york artists 1980 collection of human art which complements the historic pieces quite well.

      Food wise there are so many places to eat but eating in the main Piazzas can be quite expensive. I recomment going down the small streets and eating in the tiny restaurants that are family run .. better food at great prices.

      A day trip to Pisa is also a must to see the leaning tower of Pisa. The train leaves on the hour from Santa Maria Novella and takes about an hour and cost 5 euro each .. a must do!!

      Amazing area of Italy .. you must go!!

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        14.10.2009 17:31
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        One of the more over-rated cities of Europe.

        It was our preparation for our short break to Florence that brought home to me with a bang the sad and sorry state of The Pound Sterling! It's worth sweet FA these days. On the news it's all about how the Euro is very nearly worth more than the Pound and how good this is for the British Economy! Well, I've got news for you, Buster, it IS worth more than the Pound, and some if you are a tourist, and the "cheap" Pound is doing b****r all for MY economy! And don't even think about changing money in Italy. It's Rip-off Central as far as exchange rates are concerned.

        Sadly, I hadn't realised just how much cash I would need and was forced to change some Sterling in Florence, just in order to survive until our return. 40 Euros cost me £50! The reason I needed more Euros was that I hadn't realised that to get entry tickets to most of the attractions in Florence I would not be able to use a credit card. Most of these State-run "attractions" demand cash only, thus proving what we always knew: the Italian Bureaucracy hasn't even entered the 20th century, let alone the 21st!

        If you're thinking of going then my advice to you is to ensure that you get enough Euros for the trip before you go. I recommend not less than 25 Euros per person, per day. If you plan to do any serious shopping in the street markets than double it: they only take cash as well. This should cover you for entry to all those places that are the reason for going to Florence at all; the rest you can pay for with credit cards.

        Be aware that Florence is ferociously expensive. Think London prices plus 50%. It used to be said that Italy was cheap. Italy: maybe; Florence: no way. It's clear that they just think tourists are money mines; they just don't need to be so brazen about it.

        So, we were off to Florence for a few days, another city of world-renown to tick off in our book of "1000 places to see before you die". We were really looking forward to it and so preparations were made in the form of flights and a hotel. The flights were care of EasyJet and the hotel was one recommended in TripAdvisor. Sadly, Dooyoo wasn't much help here, a matter I intended to address in so far as concerns the hotel, in due course.

        Travel
        ~~~~~
        Flights were really cheap. I paid a total of £128 return for the two of us from London Gatwick to Pisa. Why Pisa? Well, despite the fact that Florence does have it's own airport it isn't best served by international flights. Most usage is Italian internal, which would require a connecting flight from the UK and loadsa dosh. Flying to Pisa we could catch a connecting train to take us the last leg of the journey.

        The flight to Pisa took just under two hours and was relatively pain-free. Pisa airport is quite small but well-run. Our bag was there on the luggage belt already after passport control. The checkin on our return confused us a little as there are two checkin areas, A and B. Checkin B is in a separate building at the end of the airport train station. This happens to be the one EasyJet uses. Whilst waiting for your flight you may decide to take in a snack. Be aware that, once again, the snack bar at the restaurant only takes cash! It is also yet another of these places where you pay in advance at one place then go and collect your food at another.

        You can get to Florence directly from the airport by train or by coach. However, most trains from the airport only take you the very short journey to Pisa Central station, where you need to change for one to Florence. We decided not to wait for this shuttle but to get a taxi into the city instead.

        This turned out to be not quite such a good idea. I don't know why but Pisa's taxi drivers seem to have some sort of aversion to the airport. The taxi rank was empty when we arrived, with about five groups before us already, waiting. It eventually took around 20 minutes for a taxi to take us to the main station, at a cost of 7 Euros. We probably should have taken the train after all!

        Tickets to Florence from Pisa Central for the two of us cost just over 11 Euros, single. It isn't worth buying returns as there is no discount. There are around three trains an hour to Florence but two of those stop at more stations and take about an hour and a half, half an hour longer than the more direct service. It appears that the "all stopper" departs from platform 2 West whilst the direct train goes from platform 5.

        As it happened, our return journey took us directly to Pisa Airport, for more or less the same fare. These services are not as frequent but in our case it just so happened that the one we wanted was conveniently timed.

        If you think British trains are in poor condition then I can't imagine what you would think of Italian trains! Still, at least it wasn't packed so we got a seat for the entire journey up the Arno River valley to our destination. Not a particularly attractive journey; the Italian scenery here leaves something to be desired. Don't get out at the first Florence station (Firenze Rifredi): you still have another couple of miles to go yet until you reach Firenze S M N, the end of the line.

        Standing on the Florence station concourse, with your back to the trains, ahead of you is the ticket office, which you will need to remember for your return journey. There is also a McDonalds (Doesn't serve hot tea!) and an alternative bar and shop, which does serve hot tea and takes credit cards. I recommend you turn left out of the station, where you will find the taxis and local buses and also the local Tourist Information office, where you can get a city street map. We walked the 10 minutes to our hotel from here. Florence is not a big city.

        Hotel
        ~~~~
        We were staying at the Hotel Bellettini, right in the heart of the city. Getting to it was not difficult. I won't say any more about the accommodation here as I am writing a separate review of the hotel.

        Il Duomo
        ~~~~~~~
        First and foremost was a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Marie del Fiore ("Il Duomo") and it's architecturally history-making Dome. When we arrived on Saturday morning there was a queue a couple of hundred metres long, waiting to get in. We decided to come back the following day and instead visited the interior.

        The inside of the cathedral is hugely impressive and the inside of the dome, with its fantastic painted biblical scenes, is wonder to behold. There are some alarming cracks, held together with iron "staples" but I suppose if it's stood up this long it will do so for a bit longer! The only thing as impressive that I've seen is St Pauls in London.

        The outside of the cathedral is all decorative marble and, sadly, in considerable need to cleaning. Some work to renovate was going on, as evidenced by the scaffolding. This general dirtiness is something I noted throughout Florence. For a place that is positioned as one of the premier tourist traps of the World, you'd think they would spend more of the considerable income we must bring in on keeping the city looking a bit more presentable!

        We went a bit earlier the following day and were pleased to find no queues at all. We walked in, (the entrance for the access to the Dome is on the left side as you look at the front) paid our 8 Euros each (cash) entry fee and set about tackling the 463 steps up to the cupola atop the Dome. Kevin McCloud has been doing his "Grand Tour" on ITV recently and just before our visit, he too visited Florence. He also climbed the Dome, despite his fear of heights. I was glad we had watched it as we looked out for all of the features he noted.

        The final climb takes you between the inner and outer skins of the Dome, a strange experience as the angle of the steps changes with every step. Finally you climb out onto the cupola and before you is a panorama of Florence that will take your breath away. The weather was good and the view magnificent. I took loads of photos and video panorama sweeps, which I will post on Facebook in due course.

        The Uffizi
        ~~~~~~~~
        Now, I have to say that art museums and, indeed, museums in general are not really my thing, especially if their primary claim to fame is the quantity of their religious art. Once you've seen one "Adoration of the Magi", "Madonna and Child" or "Crucifixion", you've seen them all. The Uffizi has these in super-abundance.

        But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself; first we have to get in! The Uffizi is like many places in Italy: where you pay for your tickets is not where you go in. Italians love their bureaucracy and seek never-ending opportunities to make jobs where they really don't need to exist.

        So, first you have to visit Door 3 to buy your tickets. You can either queue up for Door 1 and for 10 Euros take pot-luck on when you are allowed in or else you can pay an extra 4 Euros to book a reserved entry time at Door 2. As the queue for Door 1 stretched as long as the covered arcade, around 100 metres, we decided on the more expensive option and went off for some lunch until our time arrived.

        However, if you're not hungry then you could spend the time being entertained by a number of "living statues", that were amusing the crowed and taking the unwary by surprise. On the day we were there there was a Galileo, a Da Vinci and a mischievous Cupid. They are obviously hoping you will drop a few coins in their pot to reward them for their efforts.

        The actual main gallery is on the top floor of The Uffizi and forms a U shape that continues over the arches at ground level, which lead to the river. All along the main gallery are rooms off that cover various art styles and painters. However, what I found fascinating was the rows of portraits high up at ceiling level in the main corridor, of historical celebrities. Many are of the various Popes but also there are portraits of the Crowned heads of Europe, including such British notables as Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Henry VIII and other significant nobilities such as the Earl of Norwich.

        I have to say that for the main exhibits there were really none I would give house-room! The five paintings that I really appreciated was Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", a Rembrandt self-portrait, an incomplete Da Vinci "Adoration..." and two Cannaletto Venice scenes.

        Ponte Vecchio
        ~~~~~~~~~~
        One of many famous bridges with buildings on them, of which the most famous is probably the Rialto Bridge in Venice. The Ponte Vecchio, however, is probably more "authentic" as its buildings hang precariously over the Arno on both sides, their projections propped up with diagonal braces between the edge of the buildings and the bridge beneath, so extending their floor-area out "into space".

        The shops are mainly jewellery stores, a requirement demanded by Ferdinand of the Medici clan, to replace the butchers and other such stores that caused such a stink and a fire hazard. It probably also had something to do with the Medici's own private corridor, which runs from The Uffizi and which you can see running across the bridge, above the shops, which enabled them safe passage between their various properties throughout the city.

        Prices for everything around this area are inevitably elevated, despite the competition. Nice to browse but not to buy.

        Santa Croce
        ~~~~~~~~~
        This church is currently undergoing extensive renovation. The view of the marble covered frontage from the large square in front of it is impressive. Around the square there are also buildings with ornately decorated fronts, something your will also find elsewhere throughout the city, so long as you keep remembering to look up.

        My reason for wanting to visit here was to see the final resting place of one of my historical heroes, Galileo Galilei. This scientific giant was cruelly abused by an ignorant and loathsome religious Mafia, whose only interest was in maintaining for themselves a life of power and privilege. Truth and enlightenment were seen as a threat to the established order and were not to be tolerated under any circumstances. I'm sure Galileo went to his grave knowing he was right and, of course, he was. I salute you!

        Behind the church, hidden away, is the School of Leather. Leather is a big, big thing in Italy and in Florence in particular. Here, during normal weekdays, you can watch the craftsmen at work creating their leather masterpieces. For a not inconsiderable price you can avail yourself of these. I suggest you will find better value though probably not as good workmanship, on the stalls of the street markets.

        Michaelangelo Square
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Across on the other side of the river and up a substantial number of steps, you arrive at the huge square that overlooks the city, from a height that pretty well matches that of Il Duomo. Most of the famous panoramic pictures of Florence are taken from here and it's not hard to see why. The views are simply astounding.

        Other than that though, there isn't much to do up here other than buy ice cream! However, it is still definitely a "Must Visit".

        Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        Also on this side of the river and visible from the city as another hill alongside the square. We got caught out here as, as it appears is the case throughout Florence, many attractions are either closed on Mondays or have restricted availability. Consequently we only got to see a small part of the museum, mainly a costumes through the ages exhibition and the "Silver Museum".

        The most interesting thing I saw here was an indoors sun calendar! Supposed to be illuminated by a sunbeam shining through a hole in the roof, onto a scale set into the floor and wall corner, the whole effect is now defunct due to an extension to the building that blocks the sun! It would be funny if it wasn't so sad, and so Italian!

        The gardens are a haven of solitude and peace and a wonderful place to spend some time on a good day, out of the heat of the city. The main feature is a large, deep lake, in the centre of which are hundreds of large pots in which are growing various citrus bushes. You can't reach them so I suppose the oranges and lemons are safe from pilfering by tourists.

        Shopping
        ~~~~~~~
        Of course, you will find all of the sorts of global brand outlets throughout Florence, as you would expect of any major city, but the real attractions are the daily street market stalls found throughout the city, where you can find and and haggle for bargains of all sorts. Mainly, though, the stalls sell all manner of leather goods.

        It is almost impossible to pass by without browsing, even for me. There are a lot of really good quality items on sale and prices can be negotiated within reason. Don't expect the stallholders to offer a discount, even if you walk away. You have to take the initiative. The biggest market area is around the covered food market, which is also well worth a visit.

        Eating out
        ~~~~~~~
        Florence has an abundance of eateries though mostly of the pizza and pasta variety. A few stood out from the crowed and one, "Il Latini", in particular may well deserve the title of best restaurant on the Planet. I am writing a separate review of this Temple to Food and will post it soon.

        The other restaurant that took our fancy was one that was very near to our hotel - CipollaRossa. Very pleasant atmosphere and decent food, well prepared. Once again, will review separately.

        One other where we had a decent meal was Canto de' Nelli, in the district where the street market was centred. 47 Euros for the two of us.

        Lastly, Ristorante Castelvecchi in Piazza della Signoria did an excellent lunch for 20 Euros whilst we waited to visit the Uffizi, when the Irish bar next door could only offer burger and chips for the same price!

        There was one just around the corner from the hotel - Ciro and Sons (yes, in English!) where we ate the first night. The food was reasonable though not exceptional. When in Italy I often have Carapaccio of Beef. It's my test of how good the food is in any particular restaurant where it isn't obvious. I do the same sort of test with Sweet and Sour Pork in Chinese restaurants. There is a restaurant in Paris where they serve a carapaccio "to die for". Here, it was good but nowhere near that good. The bill for our three courses, including wine, came to a gob-smacking £120 for the two of us. We didn't go back. It most certainly wasn't that good.

        Conclusions
        ~~~~~~~~~
        Although we did enjoy our short stay, overall I found the experience of Florence disappointing. For such an obvious tourist trap, no effort seemed to have been spent on trying to make the place look at least a little bit cleaner and less dilapidated. They money that must be coming into the place you would have thought they could have managed that. Clearly that money is not going into the right pockets, but then, this is Italy so, no surprises there.

        Even in a historic city like Florence the combustion engine rules supreme. Districts which could have been significantly improved by being pedestrianised still left pedestrians to do battle with lorries, cars and scooters. The atmosphere was understandably "thick". Such a shame. Too many vested interests undoubtedly.

        We were amused by the street hawkers, selling pictures, clearly without a licence to trade, as they inevitably grabbed their stock and legged it whenever the police came into sight, which was often. They all seemed to be selling exactly the same pictures so I have no idea how any of them made a living at it!

        Another pest that is endemic in Florence is the mosquito, fortunately not the malarial type (yet!), a consequence of its location in a river valley. We hadn't realised this and hadn't come prepared. We were bitten something rotten at night and still have the lumps to prove it. Remember to pack the Jungle Formula if you are going.

        There was a lot we didn't get around to seeing. We would have liked to have seen some of the Medici chapels. There was even one close to the hotel, but there just wasn't time. Will we go back again? I doubt it. There really isn't enough of a draw to encourage us to make the effort and there are still so many places we haven't yet seen.

        Well, maybe for Il Latini... but not for lunch, on a Monday. They're closed!!!!!

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          25.02.2009 17:54
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          Perfect for a couple of days exploring, fly ryanair to cut the costs.

          I recently visited Florence and was overjoyed to find that it lived up to my high expectations. I have wanted to visit for years and because I loved Rome so much when we visited there a couple of years ago I have been even more eager to see Florence. I read The Medici Secret last year (set in the city) and it gave me a thirst to explore this aspect of the city too - I was not disappointed.

          We flew to Florence with Ryanair who actually fly into Pisa airport not Florence itself, this was no hardship though and meant that we got to have a look at the famous leaning tower before getting the train over to Florence which takes about an hour.

          Firstly I will say that in my opinion Florence is the perfect size to explore in a couple of days on a city break - it is quite small for a city which once was the capital of Italy (only for 5 years between 1865-1870), you can walk it easily in an hour or two, but I think it is best enjoyed at a comfortable stroll with plenty of pauses to people watch and enjoy the ambience whilst sampling the coffee and chianti.

          The Duomo square really does dominate the centre of town, it is beautiful, imposing and incredibly impressive aesthetically. The strange thing is how the different colours of marble reflect the light at different times of day, in bright sunshine the green parts stand out the most but at dusk it glows almost pink, at night when its lit up it is a stunning pale behemoth of a building, I dont think you can ever get bored of seeing it and its worth taking pictures at different times of day to capture the way it changes.

          Directly opposite the Duomo and bell tower is the baptistery which can boast of Dante as one of the many famous artists and poets to be baptised here. The front doors, panelled in gold are worth checking out and they reflect the light beautifully.

          Also worth visiting in Florence are the outstanding art galleries and museums, top of the list has to be the Uffizi which was originally built to house the Medici families private collection but which is now open to the public. It is one of the most impressive galleries I have ever been to, definitely on a par with the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris. The giant U shaped building on 2 levels is absolutely rammed full of classics by some of Florence (and the world's) most celebrated artists, including Raphael, Michaelangelo, Titian, Rembrandt and da Vinci. The views over the Ponte Vechhio from the corner of the upper level are also worth checking out. You can buy tickets before you even get to Florence through their official website, this is especially advised during summer when the queues can be horrendous:

          http://www.b-ticket.com/b%2Dticket/uffizi/default.aspx

          The Galleria Academia is the other big draw in terms of art in Florence and it is here you will find probably the most famous sculpture in history, Michaelangelo's David. Standing majectically on his plinth at the far end of a corridor he is one of the first things you will see on entering the gallery. Be warned because there are a number of stewards around the statue whose sole responsibility is stopping anybody from taking photos of David. They are quite forceful about this - we guessed because they would much rather you bought a postcard from the shop instead. It is well worth a visit though, very impressive when you see it in real life, so to speak, after seeing it so many times in the media. The rest of the gallery also hosts classics and sculptures by famous names but is not as extensive as the Uffizi.

          The Ponte Vechhio is worth checking out, especially when it is all lit up at night, it is worth crossing the bridge to the other side as there are a number of less touristy piazzas and winding, pretty streets which are quieter, we got a fantastic lunch on this side of the Arno for around Euro8 which included 2 fresh paninis with our choice of fillings and a 3/4 bottle of chianti, you wont find this kind of bargain around Duomo square where a beer on its own will be about Euro5.

          In terms of costs - if you are prepared to stray off the beaten track then you can eat/drink much more cheaply than if you stick to the touristy bits but then the same can be said in every city. We sampled both - sometimes you want to be in the centre of everything and are prepared to pay the price.

          The Medici history is everywhere around you and this family's crest is emblazoned on walls all over the city, the power that they once had is overwhelming as for a long time they controlled the city politically as well as financially (some of the biggest banking houses of the middle ages in Florence were owned and run by the Medicis). The line has since died out but their legacy has not, the Medici Chapel is their own family mausoleum but also an impressive place of worship, visit if you get the chance.

          If you only do 5 things in Florence, these would be my top tips:

          1) Climb the Duomo - 463 steps and knackering but totally worth it for the view.
          2) Visit the Medici Chapel, doesnt look much from the outside but is absolutely amazing on the inside.
          3) Stroll across the Ponte Vechhio with a gelato at early evening and enjoy the laid back, Italian ambience
          4) Go to the Uffizi and spend a few hours immersed in culture
          5) Cross the Ponte Vechhio for lunch or dinner on the other side of the river, there are some great places which are better value for money.

          Its worth getting a hotel as central as possible for the convenience of everything being on your doorstep, the train station is only a 10 minute walk from Duomo square so dont be put off using the train from Pisa or visiting from other areas of Italy.

          I loved this city, its fascinating, absolutely dripping with culture and history and beautiful to look at, add to this an overwhelmingly Italian, laid back atmosphere and to my mind it is the perfect place for a city break.

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            03.02.2009 20:15
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            To see Italy see Rome, Venice and Florence. All stunningly beautiful

            I visited Florence January 2009 and had a fantastic time. Everything I knew and wanted to see I saw:- the Duomo, the Ponto Vecchio, the Uffizi and Michelangelo's great sculpture David. All these things I knew about from a young age and was desperate to see but Florence is much more than a few show stopping sites.

            I flew to Pisa, Galileo Galilei airport, and spent the first morning of my trip in Pisa. Please read my Pisa review if you are interested in Pisa or if you are planning your own trip. Pisa and Florence are easy to combine in one trip especially if like me you flew Ryan air into Pisa. I arrived in Florence on the train getting off at the central station, Stazione di Santa Maria Novella and after a short five minute walk was at my hotel, the hotel Romangna.

            Being January the weather was when planning my trip going to be a lottery but on landing in Pisa right though to leaving on the Sunday I had nothing but bright blue skies. Whilst the temperature dropped at night it was beautiful weather to explore the city. In addition being January the feared queues at the main attractions simply never happened and the main squares whilst busy were not crushed. Again I was lucky with the weather but would certainly suggest that Florence can be a winter break destination.

            After getting out of the railway station complex, which has it's normal buzz and exoticism of any European station (as well as the drunks) the first thing you see is the massive Basilica di Santa Maria one of the biggest churches in Florence. The church which dates back to the 13th century often houses the Pope on his visits to Florence and the sheer size of the Basilica is amazing.

            My hotel was on Via de Panzani just which was only another 80 metres from Santa Maria. Another 50 meters down the Via di Panzari comes possibly the most amazing sight in Florence, the Duomo. As in Pisa the Duomo is only part of the square, also contained is the Baptistery and the Campanile.

            The Duomo itself is immense. No picture you will see on any book with give you any frame of reference to the detail and quality of carvings on the Duomo Western entrance. The building itself, the 4th biggest Cathedral in the world is stunning and seems to change as the light of the day changes. If you are there in the morning try to come back in the late afternoon as the red of the falling sun transforms the Duomo and the square again. It is stunning.

            To get a view of Florence you have two options. You can either climb the Duomo tower or the Campanile, both for six Euros. I elected to climb the 463 steps of the Duomo with the last 50 or so being fairly steep. The view though in the winter blue sky was awesome. Up close the colours and detailing on the Campanile are simply stunning. The views right across all of Florence are a must and on the day is climbed the Duomo the view stretched right out to the hills of the Chianti region.

            Back on terra firma the Duomo inside is another shock. With the outside being so stunning beautiful you would expect the same in the interior. Not so. The inside is very plain and empty with very little to hold you other than heading for the steps of the Duomo.

            Opposite the Duomo is the Baptistery, the very same the Danti wet his head at. The Baptistery has stood since the 5th century and un-surprisingly is one of the oldest in Italy. From the outside having seen the Baptistery in Pisa the building looks untidy however the detail and artwork on the three huge doors is well worth a look.

            We spent a lot of time in and around the Duomo and found the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. JJ Cathedral to the south of the Baptistery is one paper one of the last places I would want to end up on my travels. An Irish rockers pub!!! However the balcony seats give possibly the most exclusive view of the Duomo square. One small table juts out and across the square giving a perfect spot to people watch. The beer at £5 is good and the service friendly.

            The people watching from this vantage was brilliant and with a cold beer perfect. Watching the Tuscans un-worried by the beauty of the square just getting on with their business. Watching tour groups of Japanese hunt in tight shoals hunting for that perfect 100 photos of the most inane objects. Watching the street hawkers and hobo's doing their 9-5s.

            Heading south from the Duomo square you will pass the Piazza dellla Republica ad vast square by Florentine standards dominated by a huge arch. The only other thing of note about this square is the service and prices you will receive in this square in the cafes is the worst you will receive in Florence. You have been warned.

            Continuing South towards the Arno you next come across the Piazza Della Signoria. This square is an outdoor museum for sculpture. This square leads you through to the Uffizi. We visited as I said in January and on the day of our planned visit to the Uffizi (Saturday) we arrived at around 10ish and walked straight in with no queues or scrums.

            Now I am not a massive art lover. I like good art and an appreciate art but get quickly tired of galleries. The Uffizi is one of the most important galleries in the world basically displaying the private art collection of the Medici family, the former Royal family esq. elite of Florence. So here you go....strap yourself in...I found the Uffizi a let down. I have been to the Prado in Madrid, the Lourve in Paris, the National in London to name drop some of the worlds greatest galleries and what these galleries have, which for me not being an art lover is important, is the painters than everyone knows. The Mona Lisa, the Sunflowers, Guernica. The only painting I recognised in the Uffizi was the Birth of Venus. The big names are all there thought.

            The best part of the Uffizi for me is the southern end which gives brilliant views over the Arno and to the Ponto Vechhio. The South West corner gives one of the best spots to photograph the Ponto. At the end of the Uffizi 2nd floor is a bar area too which has an outdoor area which looking north gives great views back over the Duomo. So for me who loves photography and is take it or leave it about art I would recommend the Uffizi if only for the photography opportunities.

            Having seen the Ponto Vecchio and the Arno the next obvious step is to head that way. Unlike the Duomo which to me pictures don't do it justice with the Ponto Vecchio I think I was expecting more. It was with the blue sky beautiful and aesthetically beautiful but some how I wanted more. Crossing the bridge you find the bridge is completely given over to gold jewellery shops.

            On the south side of the Arno, the Oltarno you should spend some time just to wander the tight lanes and get lost in the real lived in part of Florence. Better food options are this side of the Ponto Vecchio too. We have for a light snack 2 foot longs and a bottle of wine to share for 8 euros in a café on Santa Spirito. This might have been only a sandwich but Italian cheese and bread (I'm veggie) so my partner vouches for the meat tastes so so much better than anything Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Waitrose can muster. What on earth do we do to food in this country.

            Blimey just re-read my read so far and is becoming a thesis so will hurry this up. The final place I will talk about is the last of the big sites. The Galleria Dell A'ccademia is home to one of arts most prized assets, Michelangelo's David. The Galleria is about 100 metres north from Duomo. Having bee through the Uffizi I had to be honest had my fill or religious arts so headed straight for the big one, or tiny one!!! The statue itself is as one of those things you have to see, like the leaning tower or the Ponto Vecchio you simply cannot go to Tuscany with seeing it.

            There is no doubting the scale and quality of the work carved out of one slab of marble. However as someone who loves photography the Galleria has one major downfall. The insane policy of no photographing David. As you approach the statue you are being watched by a team of around 12 jobs worth cretins who at the slightest movement towards you pocket take great pleasure in shouting "no photo no photo". All day this is all they do. Talking a seat for 5 minutes and watching these people in action makes me feel better about my job and the relative good I offer society!!! However if like me you came not just to see the statue but also to photograph it I managed to get my shot from around 50 meters away with a zoom on. The shot was through a gap in the doors at the end of the gallery aisle and is perfect. I really hope that my photo not using a flash from that distance hasn't caused any damage to the lump of igneous marble. Oh and as a result I didn't feel the need to pay two euros for a postcard. Sorry....

            Blimey read that back I think I might have deep routed issues. Bashing on and wrapping up Florence to me before I went was in my mind a place of beauty, romance and the dolce vita. Having spent a long weekend there I can confirm that it is all of these things and so much more.

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              15.08.2008 13:07
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              Take time for the small things.

              Florence, the Flower of the Tuscan region.

              I am not going to write about all the main tourist attractions, other people can and will do that better than I can. I will write about the other bits I did when I was there.

              Plan A...
              Obviously you should visit the Uffizi, but if you don't want to queue in heat that will melt your sunhat you can see a perfect replica of David in one of the town's lovely squares. If you go and look at the queues outside the Uffizi you will see some very impressive Tshirts on sale. They are emblazoned with the works of art you would see if you ever got inside the Gallery. Just buy your favourite picture, pull it on, then all you have to do is look down and marvel at the fact that you have been turned into a mobile artwork.

              Plan B...
              When you have had your breakfast, look around the tables for any uneaten bread. Saunter over and stuff it in your pocket. (It's best to do this whilst no-one is looking) Don't forget to check that it isn't full of jam or you will mess your pockets up and get stung by the million local wasps. Have you filled your pockets yet? Good, now saunter up to the Ponte Vechio. Possibly one of the most beautiful honey coloured bridges in the world.
              Now, admire the view. When you have stopped feeling dizzy with the sheer profligate beauty of the landscape, (and it takes a while!) Then you put the second part of plan B into action. Look down into the very clear river Arno and spend a leisurely twenty minutes relaxing and feeding the fish with the bread you nicked. They are enormous and very happy to be fed.
              Besides looking at the views this is one of the only things that the venal Firenzians don't manage to charge you money for. I am sure they will manage to one day though.

              Plan C.
              Wander down to the Duomo. Absolutely fabulous!!! Don't trip over the rough paving outside the main door or you will be charged for being picked up or, failing that, for causing an obstruction.
              You could goggle all day in this fabulous late mediaevil (sp?) church and still not take it all in. Don't forget to take time to look a the baptistry doors. They are so big that I imagined they must have been baptising elephants regularly. The decorative work on the doors is stunning. Pictures beaten in brass and gilded. When you remember that when these doors were made there was no TV or cinema, it makes you realise that they must have been the Biblical Jackanory of the Tuscan world.
              Plan D. Go to the market to escape the heat (but not, alas! the wasps) and just smell the local produce. Hover by the fresh olive stalls, be blinded by the colours of the flowers, be amused by the local old girls haranguing the vendors. When you have had enough of that you can go and take out a loan and sit down somewhere for a coffee and a pastry. Delicious but ridiculously expensive as most of Florence is. Now....

              Plan D.
              Go round the side of the market and look for the bronze boar (No! not one of the local war veterans) fountain. He has a very shiny nose. This bit of porcine shininess is caused by gullible tourists like me, balancing a coin on the Boar's nose and trying to get it to fall without bouncing off the grating, into the grid below.
              You can just imagine the locals getting together over a few bottles of Vino Falldowno, and inventing the daftest superstition they could get away with to seperate the tourist from his pennies. Still it was fun and the sculpture is very impressive!

              Plan E.
              Just sit as the sun goes down and drink in the atmosphere in this eternally beautiful city and promise yourself you will queue for the Uffizi tomorrow.

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                31.07.2008 22:51
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                A must-visit city

                I visited Florence in June of this year as part of a three-centre trip to Italy. I found it very different to Rome in so much that there seemed to be a much more relaxed feel to the city, and absolutely loved the few days we spent there.

                If your interests include art & sculpture then you are in the right place! I would recommend booking in advance if you are planning to visit the Uffizi or the Accademia museums, as even having booked our time slots, there was still around a 30 minute wait at the front of the queue. The Accademia is worth a visit just to see Michelangelo's David - it is amazing.

                If you don't have a very good head for heights then I would warn you to consider climbing to the top of the Duomo very carefully before you start! There are many hundreds of steps to the top, and once you get near to the top you are all of a sudden confronted with looking down in to the cathedral area below & it is quite a shock! I had to make a swift exit back down the stairs but I have been reliably informed that if you do make your way to the very top, the views are amazing!

                Shopping-wise, Florence is famous for its quality of leather, but aside from that there is an amazing indoor food market in the north of the city near the train station.

                I would also highly recommend getting out of the city for the evening & making your way to a restaurant in the Tuscan Hills - it's absolutely beautiful & is a night I will remember for many years to come. The nightlife back in the city is also well worth checking out - if you are up for a night of cocktail jugs & karaoke & a younger crowd, then head for the Red Garter - it's full of tours of young people so if that's your thing you will be in heaven. If not, it may be somewhere to avoid.

                All in all Florence is a truly beautiful city with a wealth of history & the most amazing collection of priceless works of art, I hope to return before long to explore all over again!

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                17.07.2008 23:51
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                Truly a destination to visit at least once in your lifetime

                Florence the glorious, beautiful historical heart of Tuscany. If you only visit Italy once before you die then make sure you visit Florence!

                This was the destination for our tenth wedding anniversary, it was a city I had always wanted to visit, but one my wife had visited once before on a tour of Italy with her parents

                We flew via Ryanair to Pisa and then took the train from Pisa to Florence for a reasonable 10 euros each. I rmember thinking at the time if we had travelled an equivalent distance by train in the UK (It takes just over an hour) it would have cost us about £50 each.

                We stayed in the centre of florence after booking on lastminute.com and choosing a mystery hotel. We were lucky we ended up in an hotel whose name escapes me but charged 330 Euros per night for B+B but cost us just £230 for 3 nights.

                Florence itself is simply stunning, absolutely steeped in history. The heart of the city is undoubtedly the Duomo and you must climb to the top and take in the magnificent views afforded from this magnificent vantage point.

                If culture is your thing then you will not be disappointed by a trip to the Uffizi museum. I cannot really describe the pleasure to be had walking round the place and just soaking it all in.

                The Ponte Vechio (incorrect spelling sorry) is a magnificent bridge but unfortunately all the old Butchers shops that used to be here (blood and offal was simply dropped into the river) have been replaced by Jewellers.

                All i can really tell you is visit this city, you will not be disappointed.

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                  29.05.2008 03:51
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                  !

                  If ever you are asked what are the best things to do in Florence you will inevitably have to ask, How long have you got? Florence in a day is a possibility but you will find it exhausting. You will also literally have had just enough time to stand in front of a 15th Century statue or church painting and not nearly enough time to look properly at it and appreciate it.

                  However for many visitors to Italy this is probably as much as you can spare. If your touring itinerary has included Rome, Venice, Siena, San Gimignano, Assisi , Pisa etc in a holiday of a week or so then OK Florence in a day if infinitely better than no Florence at all.
                  One first tip is how to get to Florence. Touring Italy in a hire car is easy, best book as part of your holiday as costs of car hire in Italy are amongst the highest in Europe. However parking in or more accurately on the perimeter of the major cities is plentiful and inexpensive and fuel costs especially diesel are lower than the UK. Florence's main railway station - the Santa Maria Novella - is not well situated in Florence. It is not that it is a long walk into the City but is in a poor part of Florence and you may not relish the walk back in the dark.

                  The first thing which you need to know for when you are in Florence is that if you want to visit the Uffizi Gallery to see Michaelangelo's David then there is often a queue which can take 2 hours plus to get in. However if you can ring a few days in advance you can book your tour and just walk to the door. Frustrating for those in the queue but great for you - it doesn't even add to the entrance cost. I am sure many visitors to Florence either waste hours of valuable culture time or miss the Uffizi because of the daunting queues.
                  From the gallery it is only a short walk along the Arno River to the Ponte Vecchio. I was a little disappointed here. True it is a marvellous site from the banks of the river but once on the bridge apart from occasional glimpses of the Arno it feels like many other shopping areas. It didn't move me.

                  Truly if you do want to be moved then you must include the Duomo (Cathedral) in your list of 'must do' sites. Again a bit of a queue here but no getting round this one. It is well worth it though. There are two choices at the Duomo for getting higher and view Florence's majestic panorama. You can use either the Cupola of the Duomo itself or the adjacent tower which has a separate entrance. We chose the tower and were rewarded with great views of the Florentine roof-tops. It's a hike to the top but there are floors where you can rest. Always make sure you carry a handy bottle of the Aqua Minerale particularly on hot days.

                  As you walk round try the local food shops. There are many offering everything from a slice of pizza to roast Tuscan boar . Whatever your budget and whether you want to eat a silver service meal or sit on the pavement (weather permitting) Florence has everything. 500ml bottles of water or carbonated drinks are sold ice cold for 5000lire (£1.50) all over the city.

                  There are many exclusive shops to visit if you wish to buy overpriced designer goods. I'm not one for shopping in Versace or Gucci myself but it is always comforting to know they are there for those who find them indispensable.

                  Better to spend your time in one of the many spectacular churches. There are probably as many art treasures in a Florence church than in all the entire religious buildings in an average English county. You may have your own views on wealth and religion but you have to say they are impressive.

                  One final tip before leaving is that Tuscany is renowned for the wonderful colours as dusk descends. Florence is no exception so time your departure in the early or later evening so that you can enjoy these colours. The ideal way would be to have you dinner al fresco in the warm evening air.

                  Don't have too much to drink and then have a leisurely drive back to your accommodation for a good night's sleep.

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                    15.02.2008 10:58
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                    A lovely city

                    I cannot think of any city in Europe which is so beautiful as Florence. I have been there few times, because I used to live and work in Italy. If you are based in UK, the best way to get there is to fly with Ryanair to Pisa. Check for offers, because there are many cheap flights during the year.

                    Once you arrive at Pisa, 10 Euros and 80 minutes will see you at the Railway Station in Florence.

                    I always stayed with a friend who lives in the outskirts of Florence, so unfortunately I cannot comment on hotels.

                    For food, I can recommend La Giostra, AT 12/3 Borgo Pinti, tel 0039 055 241341. The best dish there is probably the Beef fillet marinated in balsamic sauce. The chef goes around the room to make sure everything is as you like it, and they are very cozy in their décor.

                    Surely the centre of town is the square of Duomo. Try and visit the museum of Uffizi, although the sheer amount of tourists and the queue, may put you off. For a romantic stroll, I suggest Ponte Vecchio.

                    Florence can be very hot in summer, try to go in spring. Florence also has a great culture of wine, you must try some of the local Chianti.

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                      08.08.2005 21:35
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                      THE place for art lovers

                      I had read so many guidebooks, online guides and reviews about Florence, that I wasn't sure I actually needed to visit in person. However, since we were in Tuscany anyway, and the hotel we were staying in was a mere 40km distant, I though it would be somewhat amiss not to see the city and all its glories.

                      Florence is a dream destination for art-lovers - some of the planet's most famous works of art jostle for position in some of the greatest galleries of the world. I'd like to tell you a bit about some of these treasures, but I'm not going to.
                      Not because I don't want to, but because I can't. I didn't see any!

                      I'm afraid I wasn't willing to queue in blazing sunshine and temperatures in the mid-30's just to see some old paintings. Call me uncouth and uncultured if you will, just don't call me at 3am!

                      So, if you're looking for a guide to the museums and art galleries of Flo, then you're out of luck. This is a barbarian's guide to Florence.


                      Ignoring all the advice I had gleaned regarding the driving conditions in Florence, rather than take a train into the city, we jumped in the car and hoped for the best. As it turns out, driving into town couldn't have been simpler and soon after turning off the motorway, we arrived at a car park near the bus station where we were promptly fleeced (actually, we paid around 15 euros for most of the day, so it wasn't that bad).


                      Our first destination was the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city and one that's worth writing about in more detail (I already did). These days, in fact for around the past 400 years, the bridge has been home to a collection of goldsmiths and jewellers - and very sparkly it is too. It's a picture-postcard attraction and surprisingly entertaining for a 'river crossing'.

                      After eventually crossing the bridge, we found ourselves immersed in a crush of seething humanity...or in other words, the queue for the Uffizi. It wasn't moving much either. Added to this, the area around the building is semi-enclosed and airless which only emphasises the city's dire drainage problems. Still, the poor bedraggled souls in the queue provided a captive audience for the ubiquitous mime artists (hasn't anyone ever told these guys that mime is deadly dull?). We were starting to appreciate our lack of refinement about this point.

                      From there we side-stepped our way past the crowds and the pavement artists towards the Piazza della Signoria where, by standing on tiptoes, it was just about possible to see the magnificent renaissance facade of the Palazzo Vecchio - home to the city council. There's a copy of Michaelangelo's David outside this building (the real one was displayed on this spot in 1504 and remained, open to the elements (especially the cold weather apparently!) until 1873 when it was moved to its present home at the Galleria dell'Accademia.
                      I don't know how good a copy it is, but a quick inspection of that, and a souvenir pair of 'David' boxer shorts (use your imagination) from a nearby stall sated my sculptural appetite adequately...and no queue.

                      Next port of call was most definitely the Duomo - Florence's gem of a Cathedral.

                      Florence is an old city. A very old city. And unusually for such an ancient place, the old town is relatively flat and the streets relatively straight. It was still a bit of a maze to navigate though, which was proved beyond doubt when we arrived at the Piazza and gazed towards the marbled wonder.
                      Neither of us was mightily impressed with this monument - we couldn't see what all the fuss was about. It was also suspiciously quiet all around. No wonder, we had walked in the opposite direction and ended up at Piazza Santa Croce. To be fair, a pleasant enough building, but not the Duomo. It was only later that we found out that Santa Croce is the final resting place of, among others, Michaelangelo and Gallileo.
                      I then had the brilliant idea of looking at the map and we were soon on our way...the right way.

                      Window-shopping our way along, we soon arrived at the real Duomo and...wow! Any picture I've seen of it just does not do it justice. I had the impression that the different colours of contrasting marble used in its construction tended to look random and somehow unsightly. Not a bit of it. It's only close up that you can appreciate the true beauty of the masonry. And to think it was completed way back in 1327. Just for a change, the queue for tickets stretched around the Cathedral and half-way up the stairway to heaven. Actually, it wasn't nearly as bad as the Uffizi's queue and it was a lot more fluid.
                      The Cathedral deserves a review of its own, but suffice to say, it was breathtaking.

                      Sadly, we didn't have a lot more time to spend in Florence. It's not really an easy place to move around in due to the massive numbers of tourists. In fact, it seemed as though tourists outnumbered locals (anyone who's been in Edinburgh during the festival will know what I mean).

                      We bought a few trinkets and souvenirs, but we weren't really there for serious shopping, which was just as well because we didn't bring serious money with us (you'd need it)!

                      As for eating and drinking, we found that having a coffee or a soft drink at a pavement cafe was fairly expensive, as were many of the restaurants, but there were lots of cheaper options. Self-service restaurants were particularly abundant and offered good value for money.

                      In conclusion, I can't say visiting Florence was the most enjoyable experience I've had. It was far too crowded for a shy and retiring type such as I. I'm thankful that ticking off the masterpieces of the art world was not high on my agenda, as I think most of our time there would've been spent in horrendous queues and would have spoiled the experience somewhat.
                      It was also quite difficult just trying to walk around the city as tour groups seemed to take over whole streets and trying to make your way through them was nigh impossible...without a cutlass anyway.

                      That said, it's a pretty amazing city. You don't necessarily have to visit the Uffizi to see works of art, sculptures and frescoes await round almost every corner. I soaked up the architecture and for that alone, the visit was worthwhile (for me at least), and the Duomo is something special. But all the while, I couldn't help thinking that for a city that's home to some amazing feats of engineering, perhaps some effort should've been devoted to improving the sewage system. It was positively ripe! It all adds to the atmosphere I suppose.




                      ©proxam2005

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                        18.11.2002 14:09
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                        I first went to Italy the summer of my A Levels, but since I spent my stay working and not holidaying, I didn’t get much chance to see the country. Ever since, I’ve vowed to go back, and since Ryanair were offering free flights from Frankfurt Hahn to Pisa, now seemed the perfect opportunity. I only had 3 days there, but I managed to see a lot, including parts, although not all, of Pisa, Florence and Lucca. I’m not going to tell you absolutely everything about everything in Florence with this op for a number of reasons. Firstly if you wanted that you can read a guide book, and secondly, I didn’t do or see absolutely everything. What I will do though, is take you on a walk through the city. It’s the route I took, and it takes you past a lot of important sites and monuments. The details in brackets after the names of places and buildings include their opening times and entrance fees for adults and concessions. In lots of places children under 16 are free when accompanied by adults. Prices are in Euros and cents – I work on 1 Euro being 60p, but it varies daily. The times are right for weekdays, but may change at weekends and out of season. Let’s start at the main railway station. It’s one of the most common ways of arriving in Florence. The city does have an airport, but it’s very small and not all that used. If flying, most people arrive in Pisa and then take a train to the city – it takes around 1hr 30 mins, and costs around 10 Euros. Florence doesn’t have a bus station as such, so if arriving by bus or coach you’re also likely to be dropped off at the train station. At the station, pop into the Tourist Info office. They’re not that wonderfully helpful, but they sell decent maps of the city for 50 c, and they can book accommodation for you if you want to stay in the city and haven’t made plans in advance. Leave the station and walk along Via San Antonio (just acros
                        s the road, leading off the main square). Take a right onto Via Farenza which leads to San Lorenzo, one of the many famous churches in the city, designed by Brunelleschi and finished off by Michelangelo (the artist, not the teenage mutant hero turtle :p ) From here take Via de Martelli to the Duomo. It’s one of many streets that leads there, but it’s a good one to walk along because there’s a fantastic little shop at the end selling post cards for 10 cents – significantly less than the 50 cents you’ll get charged around the corner. The DUOMO (10am-5pm, free entrance, www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/buq.htm) was again built by Brunelleschi and was the largest dome of its time to be built without scaffolding. It has an amazing neo-gothic facade that was added about 5 centuries after the rest of the cathedral was completed. It’s pink, gold and green, which may sound a bit of an odd combo, but it works. It also reminds me of the last tutu I had before I gave up ballet which had the same colour scheme..... You can climb to the top (463 steep steps, 6 Euros) but if you’re going to do this, enter through the door round to the right hand side as you stand facing it. You can’t get to the climbing-up entrance from within the cathedral, and when you come down you end up inside anyway, so can have a look around then. As with many „things to climb“ in Italy, the steps are very narrow and with very low ceilings, so if you’re tall or, ahem, wide, you might well have trouble. I did at times, and I’m a 5,2 size 10er. From the Duomo, take the path to the left which leads behind the structure to the BARGELLO (9am-2pm, 4 Euro / 2 Euro, www.arca.net/db/musei/bargello.htm). One of Italy’s first national museums, this is spread out over 3 floors, with the pieces well presented. A nice museum, with staff present in most areas, but not in your face. Some famous pieces too, including David by Donatello,
                        the 1st nude structure carved since classical times. One of my favourite pieces was „Lady with a posy“ – much more radiant that the Mona Lisa, although this could have something to do with the fact it’s not protected by thick bullet proof glass. The work is attributed to Andrea Verrocchio although some believe it to be the work of one old his more famous pupils – Leonardo da Vinci. Walk to the back of the Bargello and take Via Ghibellina. A right at the end of this leads to BAR VIVOLI GELATERIA (8.30am – 1am). Gelato is believed to have originated in Florence, and this little Gelateria tucked into a back street produces what it claims to be the best in Florence. It’s certainly good, but equally expensive. You have to go though, just be prepared to queue, even on a weekday morning in November. They have some interesting flavours on offer, including Rice flavour which is surprisingly delicious. Head back to the Bargello and follow Via del Proconsolo (or the signs) to PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA and the Uffizi. The Piazza is one of Florence’s best attractions, and not just because it’s completely free. It’s the place to see Ammannati’s Neptune Fountain, Michelangelo’s David, Cellini’s Perseus and many more works also dating from the 16th century. There are (expensive) cafes if you fancy a drink and a snack, but a better option if you just want a sit down is the steps around the edge – just look out of the pigeon poo. The UFFIZI (9am-7pm, 8.50 Euros / 4.25 Euros, www.uffizi.firenze.it) is a truly magnificent art gallery, and the oldest in the world. Understandably it’s usually packed, but when I went, although it was busy, it wasn’t unpleasant. Its works are on display mainly on one floor, spread out in length rather than depth through 45 rooms. Famous pieces include Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s The Holy Family. Both are go
                        od but they made me wonder why it is that some pieces become „must sees“ on every tourist’s list, while other equally awe inspiring ones go unnoticed. My personal favourites were Bronzino’s Bia and Madonna with the Long Neck by Parmigianino, both from the 1540s. As well as art, the museum offers a bar, a restaurant and lots of toilets. There’re a couple of decent shops – one at the entrance and one at the exit – both offering the usual arty souvenirs and post cards at reasonable prices. The end of the Uffizi overlooks the river, and if you head this way as you leave, within a couple of minutes you’ll hit PONTE VECCHIO(www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/ponvec.htm). Built in 1345, this is Florence’s oldest bridge, hence the name. It used to house all sorts of tradesmen, from butchers to blacksmiths, but they were evicted in the late 1500s by Duke Ferdinando I because, in his opinion, they were too smelly and noisy.... Now you’re more likely to find very posh and expensive jewelers on the bridge. There’s also a bust of Cellini – the most famous of Florence’s goldsmiths – on display. Above street level there’s also Vasari’s corridor. This in an enclosed, elevated walkway that links the Uffizi with Palazzo Pritti, built so the nice comfortable royals wouldn’t have to mix with the common folk on the ground. This is closed at the moment, but should be open again by next year. Via Guicciardini leading off the bridge takes you to Via Mazetta. Follow this as it turns into Via Sant Agostino and Via Santa Monica at which point you’ll find the BRANCACCI CHAPEL(10am-4pm, 3.50 Euros / 2.30 Euros, www.kfki.hu/~arthp/tours/brancacc/). Housed in the Santa Maria del Carmine church, this chapel boasts some amazing Frescoes portraying the life of St Peter. As in lots of places, they’re the work of a few artists – Masolino and his pupil Masaccio started them,
                        but after their deaths Lippi was brought in to finish them off. Look out for the Woman in a Turban, almost completely hidden away behind the alter. My favourite? The one with Jesus doing a headstand (aka being crucified upside down – I’m an atheist, hence no remorse at the blasphemousness of the statement....) From here jump on almost any bus to take you back to the station, your day in the city complete. You’ll be tired and your feet will be aching, but you’ll be happy. It’s been a fantastic day. *-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-* Extra Points: There are NO student discounts in any museum in the city. Instead, they offer reduced prices for EU citizens under the age of 26 with a passport. I didn’t have mine with me, but was only refused an admission once, the rest of the time my student ID and rail card (with d.o.b. on) getting me in. Busses serve most of the main sites in the city, but a lot of areas are also pedestrianised. Buy a bus ticket at a tabacci – they cost 1 Euro for up to an hour’s travel. Don’t forget to validate it in the yellow machine when you get on board. The main tourist sites are surrounded by shops and stalls selling the usual tacky souvenirs. The back streets are the places to go for lower prices and better selections though. Good things to buy are Olive Oil (in dark bottle or tins – anything else means the vitamin E levels diminish rapidly) and wine. For eating, Florence offers everything from all you can eat Chinese buffets to typical Tuscan fare. The tourist-menus in lots of places offer incredible value – usually a 2 course meal and a drink for about 10 Euros. When should you go? Florence is never quiet. In summer I imagine it’s hell, but it was busy enough when I was there last week. The weather in autumn and spring is probably the most pleasant for trekking around the city, but if you <
                        br>can only get away in summer, don’t let that put you off. I only had a day there but it’s already become one of my favourite cities. I had a couple of guide books with me, my favourite of which is the DK Eyewitness Guide to Florence and Tuscany. ISBN is 0 7513 00 357 and the rrp is 12.99 I stayed in Pisa, but for hotels in Florence look at www.web-florence-hotels.com/ or www.florence.4u-hotels.com. For general info on Florence in general, some good sites are: http://www.florence.ala.it/ http://english.firenze.net/ http://www.mega.it/eng/egui/hogui.htm

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                          16.07.2002 21:45
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                          Having just returned from a wonderful holiday in Tuscany in Italy there was one place I knew I had to write about when I got home, that place is called Firenze (Florence). For me, Firenze is the greatest city on earth. That is quite a claim but I hope I can persuade you to agree with me, once you have read my review. Firenze made a lasting impression on me and I am now planning to go back for a full week next year. My holiday began in a small village called Ronta, and is situated in the Mugello Valley in the Province of Firenze in Toscana (Tuscany). The Tuscan countryside is simply beautiful and baking hot in July. The heat can become a little oppressive at times (especially at noon) but I like warm weather. The train station in Ronta is situated at the top of a hill and I had to climb up there at 5:30 am in the morning. I will explain the insanely early departure time later. In Italy the trains are always on time and the trains are announced by a ringing bell (which sounds like an intro to a Radiohead song) and an Italian voice announcing that a train is approaching. Next minute a regional train comes from out of nowhere and I am sat on a train with my sister heading for Santa Maria Novella station in Firenze. The price is about 3:20 euro's for one way. Very cheap indeed and you don't have to say anything to the ticket officer because it's very obvious that we were heading to Florence. He looked at us and before we could say "Due Biglietti per Firenze pervore", he just said "Firenze" and we nodded. The train journey to Firenze from Ronta takes about forty-five minutes with stops at Borgo San Lorenzo, Vaglia and several other small villages. Borgo San Lorenzo is the line that links regional trains to Firenze. Santa Maria Novella station is a large station but nowhere near as confusing as the Roma Termini. The station was reasonably quiet and my sister and I headed for the t
                          icket booth and purchased our tickets home. We had 12 hours in Firenze and we saw a hell of a lot. From the station the first thing I noticed was the Duomo looming over some buildings in the distance. The Piazza Santa Maria Novella was quiet. It was 6:45 am and we headed down a street called Via Panzani. This leads directly to the Duomo and Giotto's Tower and the Baptistry. The white and green marble colour scheme is obviously Firenze's favourite because it can be found on a lot of the churches around the city. I took several photographs and stood and admired the beautiful architecture and statues. My personal favourite is Giotto's Tower. It is so striking and prominent. Henry James once said that he was incapable of describing how great Firenze is and I feel the same way. From the Duomo we headed right and down a little street that lead to the Bagello museum (more on this later) and we took another right which leads onto the world famous Piazza Della Signora. Remember when I said early that we arrived in Firenze at 7:00 am. This was the reason why. Firenze at around noon is absolutely swarming with tourists. At 8:00 am in the morning it is a peaceful and nobody is around. Apart from people going to work and café owners opening up, the Piazza was dead. I took some photographs of the Palazzo Vecchio and several statues and the copy of Michelangelo's David. Then my sister and I had breakfast in the world famous Ravoire café. We sat at a table and watched the city come alive (this was an absolutely priceless moment). After breakfast and several more photograph stops, we headed down the Via Uffizi (the Via Uffizi is my favourite street in the whole wide world). The Uffizi gallery is horseshoe shaped and the street below is full of statues of Firenze's most famous sons, here you will find statues of Giotto, Da Vinci, Machiavelli, Dante Aligheiri, Donatello and several others. Via Uffizi is also full of street a
                          rtists and musicians later in the day. If you take a right from the Uffizi gallery you will find yourself staring at the world famous Ponte Vecchio. It is a lovely bridge and full of jeweller shops. On the other side of the Arno, are the less explored parts of the city. Here you will find the Palazzo Pitti and the oldest church in Firenze, the St. Felicita which is not too hard to find, outside the piazza where the church is situated you will find a roman column. We arrived at the Santa Felcita and it did not open until 9:00 am. We headed further up the Via Pitti and found ourselves in the Piazza Pitti, which is a huge sloping Piazza and the Palazzo Pitti sits on a hill looking big and threatening. We entered the building and found some people constructing a stage for an orchestra. We paid two euros to go into the Boboli gardens and I am glad we did. From the Boboli gardens the view of Firenze was magnificent. From here you can see the Duomo, Campanile, Bagello and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. Also the Boboli gardens is full of cats and some lovely statues. It was an unexpected surprise that I highly recommend. It was now nine o' clock and we headed to the St Felcita. This was a quiet and beautiful little church with a chapel designed by Brunelleschi. It also featured some amazing paintings, my favourite being "The Martyrdom of Santa Felcita" by Antonio Ciseri. Florence is an amazing place and it was only half past nine in the morning. Firenze is very compact and you can see a lot in a day. Unfortunately this was all the time we had but I am going back for a week next year. We headed back over the Arno and back through the Piazza Della Signora which was swarming with tourists and up the Via Santa Margherita to Casa di Dante. The museum for Dante is a bit misleading. The museum is situated in the area of where he lived, it is not the actual house. Inside we mooched around and saw some very
                          interesting items like Dante's name on a 13th century doctor's patient list and a 14th century copy of "The Divine Comedy". It is an interesting place to spend forty-five minutes. There I bought a poster of the entire three parts "Inferno", "Purgatory" and "Paradise" in tiny print with illustrations. I like it. From the Casa di Dante we headed back to Santa Maria Duomo and to a little museum called Santa Maria Del Opera. In here you will find some truly amazing sculptures and bronze works, including Lorenzo Ghiberti's original bronze doors, which were taken from the Baptistry. Inside I saw Michelangelo's "Pieta" (which he made when he was eighty years old) and some cool Donatello sculptures including the hideous "Magadelena", which carved from wood and is truly grotesque. The museums in Florence are truly amazing. This museum is hidden at the back of the Duomo, so if you are ever in Firenze check it out. It was now 11:30 am and we headed to the Bagello museum. The Bagello used to be a police station and now houses priceless works of art by Giambologna, Michelangelo and Donatello. It also as an Islamic art room which was cool. The main reason that we wanted to come here was for Donatello's "David" which my sister dubbed "The Cheeky David". It is a bronze sculpture and it's very feminine. David stands victorious on Goliath's hat and doesn't look like the classical masculine hero depicted by Michelangelo or the earlier version Donatello did too. The earlier David by Donatello is also housed in the Donatello room and the differences are striking. We could have spent all day in the Bagello, the courtyard is itself is beautiful. The place is just out of this world and I highly, highly recommend it. In fact you should be dragged kicking and screaming to the Bagello and be thankful. Having taken fellow Do
                          oyoo member's Malu's advice, my sister booked reservations for the Uffizi and we had time to kill before we went there. I was hungry and wanted to see the Santa Croce church. If you head into the Piazza Della Signora from the Bagello, which is just down a little street from the right. Head down across the Piazza della Signora and down the Via Uffizi. Turn left and head down the bank of the Arno. Past the Café Mingo (such a wonderful name) and the Santa Croce is heavily sign-posted. I am sorry if my directions are disorientating but if you manage to get lost in a tiny city like Florence then you are a buffoon. The Piazza Santa Croce is huge and the church is very striking but the façade of the church is done like a cheap version of the Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo). I didn't like it but inside is the city's resting places of Michelangelo, Machiavellli, Gheberti, Leonardo da Vinci and the Medici clan. The tomb of Dante is just a memorial because he is buried in Ravenna. A word of warning in Florence, pickpockets and gypsies are the least of your worries, beware of loud and stupid Americans. This may sound incredibly harsh but they really got on my nerves. I would be sat there admiring Dante's statue that sits outside the Santa Croce and I would hear a million American voices yelling "Hey Bruce would ya look that that, oh my god that is so cool, dude". American's should be banned from Europe. Quiet Americans will be permitted but not the loud and fat ones. My sister and I were sat in a restaurant on the Piazza Santa Croce and a group of Americans were yelling and taking pictures of the waiters. There was a German couple sat next to us that gave me a look of "Get them out of here", when the loud North Americans left the Italian waiters were shaking their heads and laughing at them. I don't mean to be rude or mean it's just that they kind of ruin the moment. I would be lost in painti
                          ng or sculpture and would hear in the background "Would you look that that, oh my god". They are just so over-enthusiastic. They are also very ignorant and lazy in their use of Italian. They don't even attempt to speak it. English people are guilty of this too. My sister made me on several occasions ask for things, places and tickets. It is like been thrown in at the deep end but you learn quickly. In Florence I was speaking Italian without hesitation. But I never got to say "Ciao" until I was in Pisa. After our lunch we headed into the Santa Croce church and the place is one big indoor graveyard. There was some truly magnificent tombs and frescoes by Giotto. I loved this church and when I go back next year I will return here and spend a bit more time here. Firenze was packed full of tourists by now. It was also very, very warm. We had an hour before we had to be at the Uffizi and so we bought some presents and stuff. Via Uffizi was brimming with people queuing up to get into the Uffizi. My sister and I simply walked over to the door that said reservations, showed the guard our reservation number, he checked his list and we entered. Inside I got a discount on the entry fee because I am under 26 and European. I also got a discount at the Bagello. You need to take your passport with you for the discount. After walking up three flights of odd sloping stairs the guards rip your ticket and permit you to enter. Prepare for an art overdose. The annoying thing about the Uffizi gallery is that some rooms are closed. I wanted to see the Rembrandt room and it was closed. It appears that they close them at random. We sat down and decided where we wanted to go. I wanted to see the Botticelli room, Michelangelo, Raphael and Rembrandt room (which was closed on this day to my horror). The Botticelli room is beyond anything I have ever seen before. The "Primavera" and "B
                          irth of Venus" are my favourite paintings of all time. I was simply stunned. Walking along the east and west corridors of the Uffizi, everything is so amazing. The frescoes, statues and endless portraits of various de Medici are just too much. The surprise highlight for me at the Uffizi was the dark paintings of Raphael. Raphael uses deep reds and black a lot and the best painting is of the two cardinals and the pope. The eyes are just so shifty looking. I also saw the sculpture of the wild boar which was super and can be found near the Uffizi café. After this my sister and I headed back to the Santa Maria Novella station, we were exhausted and had just overdosed on 600 years worth of art. Firenze is an opulent and magnificent city and I will be returning again next year. The place as to be seen to be believed. **Some Advice** If you are under 26 and European take your passport to the Museums (not church museums) and you will get a cool discount. Phone the Uffizi to make reservations, don't queue up because you could die of sun-stroke (though the Via Uffizi is well shaded). The number is 0039/055294883 Beware, beware of pickpockets (especially on the Ponte Vechhio and in the crowded Piazza's). Learn some basic Italian, it's fun to talk in another language and also it shows that you are not an ignorant buffoon. If travelling by train, don't forget to validate your ticket in the machines at the station, if you don't you will be in deep poo. Hope you enjoyed my opinion. Now go to Florence.

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                            11.06.2002 22:40
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                            Are you really crazy about the art from the 13th to the 17th century? Must you see Gothic altar pieces, world famous Renaissance pictures, Flemish, French and German masters of the Baroque? If so, you *must* go to the Uffizi, of course. But certainly you don’t want to wait half a day to get in, you’ve got better things to do! Call the following number (from abroad): 0039/055294883, every day except Monday (on Mondays ALL museums are closed!) from 8.30 am to 9 pm, you’ll get the Florence museum service and can order a ticket in advance. When you’re there you can go to a special entrance for pre-booked tickets. If you haven’t been to Florence yet, you don’t know how valuable that advice is! The last time I was there, I was at the entrance at 9 am expecting a handful of tourists. Who wants to get up early when on hols? The expected handful turned out to be approximately one thousand, when I had reached the end of the queue, I was already in a different quarter of the city! Who were these early birds? At a guess about 80% were Japanese, maybe they hadn’t overcome their jet lag yet and didn’t find it early at all. As I had already been to the Uffizi twice before, I didn’t wait, but followed my alternative programme. If you decide not to go in you can come with me, I’ll show you which other sights you can see and how to get a feeling for the city and the people. I don't want to give you history lessons or feed you with dates, that's what guide books are for. We’ll start on the Piazzale Michelangelo, the so-called balcony of Florence. When you come by car from Siena you pass it; if you arrive by train, take Bus 12 or 13 (it takes about 10 to 15 minutes). There’s a booth for bus tickets outside the station, a rare exception in Italy. Normally you buy your tickets in bars which have the white letter ‘T’ on black ground outside (you also buy cigaret
                            tes and stamps there), you can’t buy tickets on the bus. There’s one of the two copies of Michelangelo’s David on the Piazza, look at it so you don’t have to queue in front of the museum Galleria dell’Academia to see the original statue (which you can do, of course, if you like, it’s only a suggestion). You have the whole city in front of you, here you can get a feeling for its structure and for the enormous size of the Duomo (Cathedral). Before we get down, let’s walk up the street for about 300 metres and visit the small church San Miniato al Monte, my favourite one! It was begun in 1018 and finished in 1207, has a wonderful green and white facade, the white stones are marble from Carrara where Michelangelo got his material from, too. (Btw, it’s not ‘Maykelangelo’ in Italian, it’s ‘Meekelangelo’). Inside you can admire the mosaics in the apse from the 13th century. Put a coin into a little slot machine so that the mosaics are illuminated! And have a look at the cemetery behind the church, you’ve never seen anything like it. Standing in front of the church you also have a wonderful view of the city which costs nothing and is certainly more impressive than the view from the dome of the cathedral for which you have to pay and to queue! Now down we go, along the bank of the river Arno, especially in summer a poor sight indeed. It’s hard to imagine this rivulet swollen into a torrent flooding the city up to three metres and destroying thousands of artefacts in the churches and museums as happened in the year 1966. When we’ve arrived at the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), we can turn left and go to the Palazzo Pitti which also houses a fine museum of old and modern art including the furniture and knick-knack of the Pitti family, usually there are no queues waiting to get in. Stand in front of the Palazzo for a while and take in its si
                            ze, here you can get a feeling for the wealth and power of a Renaissance family. It is the biggest Palazzo in Florence, but not the only one, there are many more in the city centre. Behind the Palazzo Pitti are the Giardini (gardens) Boboli, you have to pay to get in, but they’re certainly worth a visit if you’re tired and have to rest. There are no other parks in the city where you could sit and rest, you can’t get down to the river and sit on the banks, either. Florence means stone, massive stone. We’re in the quarter which is called ‘Oltrearno’ (the other side of the river Arno), the most famous attraction here is the church Santa Maria del Carmine where the painter Masaccio painted the walls of the Brancacci Chapel. When you walk through the streets nearby, you can see many open workshops of carpenters, smiths, bookbinders and people who put gold leaf on wooden picture frames. Look friendly, say ‘Buon Giorno’ (literally ‘Good Day’) and you can watch them for a while. Maybe you already know the thrillers by the English woman Magdalen Nabb set in Florence? Her protagonist works in the police station near the Palazzo Pitto, this is his quarter. If you don’t know them yet, read them, they help you get a feeling for the city, Nabb is very good at that. When we go back to the Ponte Vecchio along the Via de’ Guiccardini we peep into the shops on the left side where stone mosaics are made. The Ponte Vecchio is a bridge with shops on both sides, mostly selling expensive jewellery. When the Arno flooded those shops thousands of rings, chains, bracelets, earrings fell into the water, there was a lot of diving done afterwards! Now we enter the city proper. To the right is the Piazza della Signoria with the Palazzo della Signoria, the former town hall (the Uffizi are to the right of same). In front of the Palazzo della Signoria is the second copy of Michelang
                            elo’s David. If you like you can visit the Palazzo della Signoria (entrance fee), you’ll see enormous halls with enormous paintings on the walls. There are some fine restaurants and coffee bars on the Piazza. Be informed before, so that you don’t have reason to grumble afterwards: when you sit down at a table on the pavement, you pay more than when you drink your cappuccino standing at the counter. The reason is that the proprietors have to pay tax to the city council for the space they occupy outside. It’s clear that the space in the heart of a city is more expensive than in the suburbs, so expect a high price or drink somewhere else. Let’s go back to the street coming from Ponte Vecchio. On the left side is a small street market under a roof on high pillars, it’s the Straw Market. Don’t lose too much time there, I’ll lead you to a better street market later on. Just touch the nose of the life-size wild boar made of bronze, it will bring you good luck. When we keep walking in the same direction, we come to the Piazza Duomo. The Cathedral, the bell tower and the baptistry are separate buildings. You’ll need some time just looking at the outside of these buildings, they’re all clad in green and white, the facade of the Duomo is heavily ornamented. The sheer size of the Duomo is overwhelming, go in and look around and then tell me if you agree. For me the most beautiful building is the ‘modest’ baptistry, look at the bronze doors, look at the mosaics on the ceiling inside showing scenes from Heaven and Hell. Those were the comics of the Middle Ages! How boring Heaven looks, how thrilling Hell! The steps in front of the Duomo are the meeting point for the youth of the world. You can come back later and spend the evening here. From here it’s not far to Via Cavour 1, the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Not many tourists know what that buildin
                            g, now used by the city council, has to offer. There’s a chapel inside with wonderful frescoes, go and have a look. You have to pay again, but then you knew before you came that you’d spend a lot of money, didn’t you? Don’t be tight-fisted when it comes to entrance fees, you can’t do anything against them, you can complain, but that won’t change anything. Coming out of the building we just turn round the corner and come to the street market San Lorenzo, famous for leather handbags, gloves, shoes, belts and jackets. All stalls display the sign ‘Fixed Prices’, haggling is looked down upon, this is not the south of Italy. Nearly all salespeople know English and they love addressing tourists who, in their eyes, look English or American. Although I speak English much better than Italian I always pretend not to understand a word and start a conversation in Italian. This puzzles them and they take me for a Swiss woman. Although I’d rather be dead than Swiss, I play along, because I’ve found out that in the end I get 10% off for my efforts! At the end of the street market is a big market hall, the central food and vegetable market of Florence. This is another place to watch the indigenous population and also to find some typical souvenirs, for example dried tomatoes, dried mushroom etc. Behind the market hall there are some good restaurants with reasonable prices, ‘Tourist Menus’ are advisable, because there’s always a good choice and you know the prices beforehand, if you eat ‘à la carte’, you might be shocked afterwards. Btw, pizza was born in Naples, don’t complain if it isn’t too good in the North. If you want to eat pizza nevertheless, you might like to know that Italians never drink wine with pizza, always and only beer. We’re near the station which is called ‘Santa Maria Novella’ after the church nearby, wonderful frescoe
                            s inside! If you ask me where else there’s something to see for which you don’t have to queue all day long, I’d say: the cloister of San Marco which you reach walking farther down Via Cavour, Fra Angelico painted frescoes on the walls of the cells. On the piazza opposite San Marco there’s the bar with the best cappuccino of the whole city, believe me! They also offer a wide range of delicious pastries. Another small, but worthwhile museum is the ‘Museo Nazionale o di Bargello’ in the Via del Proconsulo 4 which has mostly statues, porcelain, weapons and medals. But you might be fed up with art by now, so it’s people watching on the steps of the Duomo or relaxing on the lawns of the Giardini Boboli. When you do the latter you’re near the Piazzale Michelangelo again where we started our tour. You might like to end the day leaning on the railings of the ‘balcony’ of Florence watching the lights of the city go on.

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                              28.05.2002 19:29
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                              The introduction of the cheap flights to Pisa syndrome has made Florence an unbearable destination. I have been there three times over the past 12 years, and my last trip in early May was a distressing experience. Even at this relatively off-peak period, the town was heaving with the very worst of tourism. Queues were horrendous, and the attitude of the locals indifferent. 1. Visit the Uffizi This monothematic indifferently lit gallery is outshone by many. Midweek involved either a four hour queue, or a one hour queue to buy a ticket for two days later for a fixed time of admission (Italian time that is). OK, it is full of famous bits and pieces, but there is little variety, and quite frankly the Prado or Tate knocks it into touch. 2.Don't hire a car Nowhere to park, and the locals really do drive like lunatics 3. Climb up to the top of the Duomo Queue for ages, pay a lot, and if you are over 40, drop exhausted. It's a hard climb, and then you discover you have to join a separate queue if you want to look inside. 4. Drink coffee with the locals But expect it to be luke warm, and you have to pay extra if you want to sit down. Costs about £2 a cup if you sit down 5. Get your pocket picked on the Ponte Vecchio. I did not, but it is so heaving, that it would not be difficult. 5. Eat Pizza This is good, and fairly good value. Infact, eating out was probably the best experience of Italy. Prices were fair, and meals were excellent, and served with flair. 6. Use the trains Dirt cheap, but not always on time or going where they say they go.

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                                23.10.2001 01:56
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                                1) How to get to Florence Either stay there, or go by train. For some of my stay in Tuscany, I was a 20-minute drive from Pisa, and having scouted a place to dump my car near the train station (in a church car park as it happens), we had a pleasant one-hour train journey to Florence. The station is ten minutes walk from the Duomo, and there are lots of places to grab a bite to eat. Better yet is to be staying in Florence (of which more later). Whatever you do, don’t drive. If you attempt to park on the city centre side of the Arno, you will suffer - park on the other side, and you face a long, long walk. I heard possibly apocryphal but plausible stories about car crime and parking scams - don’t tempt fate, leave your car somewhere else. 2) When to go to Florence Out of season, or early in the morning. I can scarcely remember being anywhere so loaded, so claustrophically bloated with tourist bodies. Around the Duomo, even when it started to piss it down with rain, it’s like the population of a small American city has invaded. Bashed by backpacks, ears assailed by nasal accents, and your view obscured by baseball caps, it’s not quite like steeping yourself in the Renaissance. A friend said he toured the sights just after sunrise, and hid during the day in museums and art galleries. 3) What to do Don’t go for a day out in Florence like I did. You will be put off by the crowds and the dirt and the clutter and you won’t get chance to savour a quiet moment or go for a wander along quieter streets like my friend did on a long weekend. The Duomo, while clearly a staggering feat of architectural beauty, is bloody hard to see, enclosed on all sides. Unlike St Peter's in Rome (the only building I can think of which is on anything like the same scale), there is no obvious vantage point at close range. You actually have to be outside Florence to see the building properly. It is also astonishingly dirty - up c
                                lose, it has a thick film of grime discolouring the whole thing. The interior is glorious, and the 400+ step journey to the top of the Dome (about 3 Euros) is definitely worth it for the astonishing views of the city and the gilded roof interior. However, ensure you are ready for it. Leaving behind the vertigo-cursed Mrs Lazenby, I hurried to the top and ended up dizzy and disorientated. It was drizzling, and as I emerged, staggered forward, and slid across the wet marble floor. Grabbing something, I found that I was gripping the flimsy external handrail - had I tripped properly, I would have gone straight over the side. Imagine that. No more sarcastic comments after your ops, no more aren't-I-clever film reviews. Doesn't bear thinking about, does it? Does it? Two recent(ish) films have given Florence a sheen of amazing atmosphere - ‘A Room With A View’ and ‘Hannibal’. To be honest, caught in a tsunami of tourists, I tended towards the latter’s vision of cruelty and violence (a man is flung from a tall building in the film as well, which I can relate to now). The streets are enclosed and rather oppressive, and everywhere you think of going, two thousand others are already there - obviously, we’re all tourists the moment we leave the country no matter how high an opinion we have of ourselves, but it’s nice when visitors are in the minority. Some things can’t be dented - the Uffizi is a staggering collection of art, worth a visit solely because of the collection of Botticellis, two of which (‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’) are among my very favourite paintings. The square, the Piazza Pubblici, where the entrance to the Uffizi is to be found, also packs a huge impact. Buildings are predominantly renaissance, and the town hall (from which Hannibal dispatches the disembowelled Inspector Pazzi) is a unique and brutal looking building, Throughout the square are
                                some wonderful sculptures (mainly copies), including some hilarious nudes, like one of Perseus holding the Gorgon’s severed head, and Michaelangelo’s ‘David’, who featured in a very funny Terry Gilliam cartoon in ‘Monty Python’ and whose penis is featured on postcards, posters and comedy aprons on sale across Italy. Walk down from the Piazza to the Arno, and you find another undentable attraction - the Ponte Vecchio. Even given the crowds having their picture taken in front of it, the covered bridge is still one of those sights which take you by delighted surprise when you come to the end of a colonnaded section of street between two sections of the Uffizi. I understand that there are a lot of good restaurants in Florence - I didn’t have my posh suit or the internal fortitude to brave what I have been told is one of the most formal and most stunning restaurants in the world (Pinchiorri) and in the end I settled for a perfectly nice pizza on the basis that the restaurant looked warm and the rain had started to piss it down again. But what I can recommend is Bar Vivoli Gelateria on Via Isola delle Stinche, a gelateria which served quite possibly the most delicious ice-cream I have ever had. Go in, be knocked out by the selection, but you cannot, cannot go wrong.

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                                Florence (Italian: Firenze) is the capital city of the region of Tuscany, Italy. From 1865 to 1870 the city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. Florence lies on the Arno River and has a population of around 400,000 people, plus a suburban population in excess of 200,000 persons. The greater area has some 956,000 people. A center of medieval European trade and finance, the city is often considered the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and was long ruled by the Medici family. Florence is also famous for its magnificent art and architecture. It is said that, of the 1,000 most important European artists of the second millennium, 350 lived or worked in Florence. The city has also been called the Athens of the Middle Ages. The historic Centre of Florence was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1982.