11th August 2016
My second morning in Florence began a little slower. Instead of splitting up first thing, the five of us were all going to head to the Duomo – Florence’s elaborate cathedral. You had to get tickets to go up to the top (which I would have done if I hadn’t already found excellent views from the Palazzo Vecchio) or into the museum or the Baptistery of St John but we just wanted to head into the church itself, which was free. We aimed to get there when it opened at 10am but we arrived after a lovely breakfast on our hotel’s roof terrace (smokey bacon and scrambled eggs, pastries and fruit – yum) to find queues upon queues stretched out before us. A nearby tour guide told us it would be hours before we got in. Admittedly, he probably just wanted us to sign up for his tour but having seen the amount of people waiting, he can’t have been far off.
Instead of spending the morning waiting around, we decided to walk the relatively short distance to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. My parents and I joined the shorter, quicker queue as we had our Firenze Cards, while my brothers queued in the line of people winging it on the day. My parents and I were in the gallery for about an hour and fifteen and my brothers were only just going in when we stepped out.
As we stepped in, we were met by yet more images of religious scenes. These were undeniably beautiful but after the Uffizi yesterday I had already had my fill of such paintings, so I’ll admit I didn’t read much about many of them – even though the details on offer were more comprehensive than the ones the day before. Instead, what did grab my attention was the sculptures. When we first went in, we were met by a huge statue depicting the Rape of the Sabines. Round the corner, the next room was lined with unfinished marble works by Michelangelo – which were all the more interesting for their lack of completeness – and, at the end, was David. He was huge and certainly lived up to expectations. I can never quite get over how sculptors can create such fine detail in such a hard material. I think my brothers thought the time spent queuing was worth it just for him.
Once we were done, my parents looked to me to find our next activity so I took us on a short walk over to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, built in the 1400s. It was a very imposing building with several painted rooms for us to explore. The courtyards were also quite pretty so we had a wander around there before sitting ourselves at Bar Ginori – a cafe by one of the exits – for a drink as by this point we were definitely in need of refreshments.
We weren’t there for very long before my brothers showed up and we decided to look for a place to grab some lunch. After a little bit of exploring, we ended up sitting outside at Trattoria Lo Stracotto. I poured over the menu and settled on a traditional Florentine beef stew. I do love a beef stew – and wherever you go there always seems to be a traditional stew. This one was nice but in all honesty it wasn’t one of my favourites. The meat was lovely and tender but it was only served with peppercorns (which I am not a massive fan of) and the sauce wasn’t as rich as I usually like it. Still, my Dad and brother both ordered and were much more satisfied so I am willing to say it was just me!
Once we’d eaten, we decided to head over to the Ponte Vecchio – a famous bridge my Mum had loved on a previous trip to Florence and had been telling us a lot about. However, en route we passed the Duomo and noticed that the queue was considerably shorter than it had been that morning so we figured it would be silly not take the opportunity now.
As we reached the front of the queue for the church (I didn’t time it but it moved quickly so can’t have been more than 20 minutes) I noticed a sign saying that knees and shoulders needed to be covered if you wanted to go inside. I was wearing a maxi dress, which may have covered my knees but not my shoulders and I hadn’t brought anything to throw on over them. Thankfully, the guy on the door still let me in so I actually got to go inside. I think the fact my dress also had a high neckline helped but I wouldn’t recommend risking it! I’d take a light jumper or a shawl next time.
Given the elaborately decorated outside of the cathedral, I found the Gothic interior surprisingly sparse. Nonetheless, the arched ceiling, the painted inside of the dome and the clock at one end were still impressive and I was very glad we actually made it inside.
We didn’t spend too long in the Duomo before we continued our journey onto the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is quite close to the Uffizi Gallery and runs over the Arno River. It is lined with stone buildings, housing mainly jewellery shops, making it unlike any bridge I’ve seen elsewhere. Once we’d fought our way through the crowds, I found a spot to sit on the wall and gaze out over the river. It was pretty nice but my highlight was probably the gelato we found nearby at Caffe delle Carrozze (or at least, I think that was the place based on my subsequent Google searches). We each ordered three scoops (chocolate fondant, stracciatella and hazelnut in my case – what a combo) and sat licking them, overlooking the river.
My Mum and I then headed off on our own to check out a couple of churches. The first was Orsanmichele Church, dating back to the 1300s. The inside was filled with sculptures and Gothic architecture. There was an adjoining museum, which our Firenze Cards would have got us into if it hadn’t been closed (apparently it is only open on Mondays – I did not realise that) so we headed over to the San Lorenzo Church and Medici Chapel – close to where we’d had lunch earlier (passing some Florentine street art on the way courtesy of Lartesanuotare). The rough stone exterior of the building stands in contrast to the grand interior, which is home to a bronze pulpit by Donatello and is the resting place of many members of the Medici family.
Once we were all church-ed out, my Mum and I left San Lorenzo Church for San Lorenzo Market. This hadn’t been on my to-do list until I walked passed it en route to lunch earlier and I spotted the many stands with leather bags on sale. There were so many leather bags. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford any of the real stuff but, helpfully, many of the stands seemed to have the same token faux leather bag for those tourists on more of a budget. Sadly this was €35 and beyond the €20 note I had in my bag but this proved to be one of the very few times I was actually able to haggle – which I can only ever do when I legitimately do not have enough money to pay the asking price. In fact, I’m not sure I can even call it haggling. The guy told me the price, I told him I only had a €20, he didn’t believe me at first but then told me I could have it for that. I think he thought I was just trying to drive a hard bargain but I was actually just apologising and trying to leave. Still, I know how the perfect bag for all my uni books. My Mum was able to do the exact same thing with a scarf so we both left feeling pretty pleased with our bargains and headed back to our hotel.
We met up with the boys and after a little rest headed out for dinner. We’d spotted a few other restaurants around the square we’d eaten in the night before – in front of the Santa Maria Novella – and so decided just to wander the short distance to one of them. We ended up getting pizza from Il Grillo, which turned out to be probably the best meal we’d had in Florence. The waiter was friendly, the prices were reasonable and the food was tasty. It was the ideal place for our last night in Florence.