Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sleepless in Firenze (aka Florence)

A copy of Michelangelo's David, outside the Uffizi, Florence

Readers of this blog can easily tell I've procrastinated a loooong time before getting back to my Europe posts. Yeah, I know it's time I get back to Europe, before my memories fade.

Where was I? We've left the ancient-modern city that was Rome and went on to Florence. Florence is especially known for its art and architecture, and is the home of David. For the benefit of those who don't know who or what David is, David is the biblical Israelite king, the guy who slayed Goliath. Michelangelo, of Sistine Chapel fame (see previous Rome post), sculpted David in the nude, portraying him in the moment just prior to the battle. The David sculpture was a symbol of strength, youth and beauty. Sure, his head may be a little larger than is proportional, but hey, he is good looking by Renaissance standards. Lol. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see the real McCoy. Instead, we saw a copy of David outside the Uffizi, one of Florence's most prominent museums. More of the Uffizi in a later post.

Our hostel in Florence, was more of a walk-up apartment rented out to budget travelers like us. The room rate was reasonable, but sleeping was less than a breezy affair (and I mean this literally). In fact, ventilation is practically non-existent in the room we shared. There were no electric fans and of course no AC, and to top it off, the apartment is right on top of a noisy road and happening pub with enough noise pollution to last up to the wee hours of the night - screeching tyres and rowdy brawls. To cap it off, I'm surrounded by "surround sounds" to ensure my "Sleepless in Firenze" experience. Needless, it was a hugely unpleasant first night in Florence for me.

Entrance to the little apartment that is our hostel

After Mr Irish came to know of my plight the next morning (I have panda eyes to prove), he made the best suggestion ever - ear plugs. OMG!!! Why didn't I think of this sooner! Anyway, it was my life saver for the rest of the trip. You have my gratitude, Mr Irish (even though you are one of the contributors to my sleepless experience :-P).

Florence is a very walkable city - we made our way round the city on foot throughout. Not that we have much of a choice. There's no metro system, only buses. We weren't too sure about the buses. Since Florence isn't that large, walking wasn't a big deal. Unless, of course, if you have blisters and abrasion from your new sandals, like me. I have extremely unruly feet. I'd get blisters from wearing new footwear, even when they're supposed to be very comfortable (think birkenstocks). Anyway, I managed to hobble my way through the entire day.

Our first attraction in Florence was Florence's "religious squares", the Piazza San Giovanni and the Piazza del Duomo. Within the large area, a cluster of architectures were contained, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo, Giotto's Bell Tower, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, amongst others.

We reached the square very early. Thinking that we're going up the tallest tower in the cluster of architectures in the square, we ascended the 414 steps (no elevator) of Giotto's bell tower (Campanile). Thankfully there were rest stops in between, maybe a rest stop after every 100 steps or so. Otherwise, the unfit and unhealthy can forget about the ascent. The narrowly lit steps are small, steep and difficult to climb. Here, see for yourself.

The little stairway up the Campanile

Mr Irish abusing the bell at one of the rest stops

The view atop 414 steps was amazing.

A peep through the petal shape "windows"

Ms Rehau taking shots of the paranomic view

A structure that looks like a lookout tower of a castle - Ms Rehau was very enamored by it

A kind, elderly Japanese tourist offered to take this for us (without us asking). He's a wonderful photographer.

Notice the low rise buildings spread out in an orderly manner throughout the city

The dome, just opposite of the bell tower we were on

We were quite astonished to find people there, as we did not know the dome was ascent-able. To add salt to our wounds, the viewing gallery on the dome is higher than that of the bell tower we were on. Rats.

Descended the bell tower and headed to the cathedral.

Familiar looking dome ceiling, right?

There's a fascinating story about the painted ceiling, by Giorgio Vasari and Rederico Zuccari, as elaborated by the audio guides we bought. Of course I can't remember the story now. Something about the Last Judgment, if I'm not wrong.

Next destination was the Baptistery, the oldest building in the square. The Roman columns flanked by sculpted sarcaphagi (stone coffins) were a contrast against the rather unRoman looking mosaics on the dome of the Baptistery, with the giant figure of Christ in the centre.

The Baptistery's mosaic ceiling

A sculpted sarcophagus

The exterior of the cluster of architectures were very pretty. In fact they look very unlike their straight-laced, medieval interiors. In pink, white and green marble. Reminds me of a fairy tale house (hmmm.... Hansel & Gretel's candy house maybe?).

The cotton wool clouds complement the vividly striking marble architecture

The Baptistry and the Bell Tower

When we were lingering at the square, one of the street peddlers noted Ms Rehau's interest in his wares (a print of one of Florence's sights) and started to hound her. From his initial quoted price of Euro 20, became 15, then 10, then 5, then 2!!! We were quite horrified. Not just by his persistence, but by his high initial quote. I guess us tourists are there to be conned.

A stone's throw away from the square was the Capelle Medicee, the burial temple of the powerful and influential Florentine Medici rulers. Michelangelo's sculptures for the Medici family were housed within.

The sculpture of Dusk and Dawn, above Lorenzo's (a member of the Medici family) tomb

Sculptures of Day and Night and Madonna and child respectively

I hope I haven't gotten the names of the sculptures wrong.

The Cappella dei Principi (Chapel of the Princes) located within the Medici Chapel, is a huge expanse of space, with elaborately painted ceiling fresco (not done by Michelangelo). Once again, the biblical themes of the Temptation of Eden, Passion of Christ, etc, are told. There is a tempting urge to lie flat on the floor to gain better view of the ceiling, but a minder was there, and cameras were forbidden. I didn't think it was particularly beautiful, especially after having seen the Sistine Chapel.

This is where church fatigue sets in. We saw enough of biblical themes at the Vatican Museum to last a lifetime. No, scratch that. It was at the Uffizi that we saw enough of Madonna and Child themes to last a lifetime.

Anyway it was a good lesson learnt - in future, we can plan our attractions better.

Firenze is more compact, compared to Rome.

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