This is the diary of a 5-day trip to Florence which lasted from 25 February 2013 and ended on 1 March 2013. In the party were Graham and Jane, Garry and Amanda. It was organised by Amanda and Jane.
Click here for the itinerary and interactive maps. If you just want to see all the photos as a slide show click here .
|Monday, 25 February - Journey to Florence
Tuesday, 26 February - The Cathedral and Santa Croce
Wednesday, 27 February - David and the Piazzale Michaelangelo
|Thursday, 28 February - Uffizi and Palazzi Pitti
Friday, 1 March - Fiesole and Home
We pick up Garry and Amanda about 10am and drive up the A3, along the M25 and down the M23 to Gatwick. We nearly get lost looking for Airparks as we seemed to have to go North before going South. We find it, leave the keys in the car and clamber aboard a coach to the airport. We alight at the South terminal, stop 7 where we will pick up the coach on our return. We have lunch, as we have plenty of time, at Café Rouge. Graham has now given up Lent for the duration of the trip and enjoys his pint of Guinness. The flight takes off on time and we land 100 minutes later in Pisa. We easily find the Terravision coach to Firenze and board it. The Anderlecht football team walk by us carry the huge cup they have just won by beating Milan 3-0 at Viareggio. The coach leaves on time for the hour long journey to Firenze. After about 30 minutes we come to a grinding halt. After many more minutes we are diverted off the dual carriageway. Meanwhile the driver has been in touch with base on his mobile whilst driving and gets permission to take us on the autostrada to Firenze. Back to Pisa we go, past the airport and onto the autostrada. We arrive at the central station at about 9pm. We take a five minute walk to get to our hotel - the Astoria on via del Giglio. Our rooms (502 and 503, the latter the bigger of the two) are on the fifth floor as requested by Amanda and we have sublime views of the Cathedral and its magnificent dome. We go out on to the street and stroll to the restaurant recommended by the ageing male receptionist but it is shut. We decide to try our luck at the Trattoria Padellaccia, 19/3-21/3 Via San Antonino, where we are greeted by a lovely jovial lady who is pleased to serve us. We eat and drink well and return to our rooms.
The early morning views of the Cathedral and surroundings are stunning. Amanda announces that she has taken many photos of the dome. This she does at breakfast. It took us some time to find the breakfast room on the first floor but it was worth the wait. It is a huge room with a huge painting by Gaddi taking up most of one wall and a wonderfully painted ceiling. The hotel was created by knocking two palaces together. It is Garry's birthday. Happy Birthday, Garry. We have continental breakfast and then take a stroll to the Cathedral. The cathedral is a large building clad in white, green and red marble sitting behind the octagonal Baptistry clad in matching green and white marble. The central part of Florence is a pedestrian area though taxis, bicycles horses with carriages and noisy ambulances use it. We have seen the best part of the cathedral as inside is very austere. Only one person is buried in the cathedral and he lies behind a grill in the basement. We circumnavigate the outside of the cathedral leave Garry and Amanda to climb the 463 steps to the top of the dome. Graham and Jane find a cafeteria in which to drink and while away the time. Jane has the best hot chocolate she has ever had in her life. Once we are all together again we walk to the Piazza Signoria and admire the many statues. We amble past the Ufizzi Gallery to the banks of the Arno River. It's a fast flowing muddy river with a couple of weirs preventing visits from cruise liners. It is also too narrow for them. We cross the Ponte Vecchio and don't buy any jewellery. We turn East along the bank and cross over on the next bridge upstream. We make our way to the piazza in front of the Santa Croce basilica via the national library. We take lunch at a restaurant in the piazza and discover how expensive beer is at €6 for 400ml. After lunch we pay to enter the Santa Croce basilica and wander around all the burial sites of well-known people - well they are to Italians. We see a plaque to Marconi and large memorials to Galileo and Michaelangelo. We see frescos by Giotto and Gaddi. We stumble across a leather school where students from all over the world come to learn the art of turning a hide into a handbag. Amanda takes a liking to a small stubby handbag in ostrich leather but when she discovers it would costs €550 her liking diminishes. We wander around the opera of the basilica and through the cloisters. It is a much more interesting place than the cathedral. We meander back to the hotel to rest. At 7pm we meet in reception where there is Wi-Fi so emails can be dealt with. We stroll down to the river and across it to find the Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco where Amanda has booked us a table for a birthday meal for Garry. We are shown to our table in a brick lined alcove facing the bar. We are very snug. We are entertained by a Russian waitress who speaks very good English and has a GSOH. She is a mother married to an Italian. Graham learns that not all Russian females are called Svetlana. Our waitress is called Oksana and comes from a village near Minsk in White Russia. The meal and wine are good. We leave and stop at a galeteria recommended by Amanda (supposed to be one of the best in Florence) called Santa Trinita, at the end of the Santa Trinita bridge. We purchase ice creams and eat them as we walk back to our hotel.
We breakfast at 9am in the opulent breakfast room and leave at 9:30 to find the Galleria dell Academia. We are too early so we find a café for hot chocolate. It is thick and seems like it is a molten chocolate bar but it comes from powder. It is much better than cocoa. We retrace our steps to the academy to find our tour guide awaits our arrival. We are to share our guide with a family group from Ecuador. The guide is called Lucia and she hands us out devices with ear-pieces which we dangle around our necks and through which we can hear her. We enter the gallery and pass through the security gates. Lucia explains the first painting we view which is of a wedding taking place at the cathedral. We wander around the room whilst Lucia repeats her explanation in Spanish for the South Americans. We then enter the room where David stands in the centre of a tribune. On the approach to statue are various unfinished statues by Michaelangelo and his students. Michaelangelo started on David when he was 26 years old and finished it two years later in 1503. He then moved to Rome to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Occasionally it was difficult to hear Lucia as there was a lot of crackling on our hearing aids so we gave them up. After we had said goodbye to Lucia we looked over the collections of plaster of Paris statues and busts used in art classes. We then visited the musical instrument section of the museum and oggled at the world's first upright piano. We left the museum and found a small pizza restaurant full of students where we have lunch. After that we stroll to the railway station to search for a number 12 bus. We find it and pay €2 for each of our tickets which would last 90 minutes on any of the buses. The bus takes us south across the river and wends its way up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo where we have a magnificent view over the city. We wander up behind the large car park to visit the Church of San Miniato al Monte for more magnificent views. We descend and catch the number 12 bus again which takes us on a long excursion back to the station. We return to our rooms for a short rest and meet up at about 7:30pm. Amanda has found a fish restaurant for us called Lobs at 75/77 Via Faenza (Tripadvisor 4.5 star rating!) just along from the Trattoria Padellaccia. The food is good.
We breakfast at 9:30am. We have an appointment with a guide at the Uffizi at 11:15am. We wander down to the Piazza Signoria and on the way we do not buy ice creams at Grom in Via delle Oche just off the Piazza del Duomo (we would like to but it is too soon after breakfast according to the ladies) - supposed to be the best gelateria in Florence. We visit the downstairs of the Vecchio Palace where the Italian parliament met from 1875 to 1880 when Florence was the capital of Italy. Outside the palace is a replica of David which we had not paid attention to when we first came to this square. We have expensive refreshments at a restaurant in the square. We walk to the Uffizi Museum where we are met by Andrea. He is the guide for just the four of us. Andrea used to be an archaeologist but now he's a tour guide. We go through the security gates and take the lift to the top floor. The Uffizi was built to house the Medici family art collection. It is formed by two parallel buildings joined by bridges at the river end. The corridor around the outside on the top floor is lined by the busts of all the Roman caesars facing the busts of their wives. The ceiling is decorated in a grotesque fashion (like caves). Portraits of members of the Medici family hang from the ceilings. We enter the first room and Andrea explains the two-dimensional picture painted on wood and painted by the father of Giotto - see wikipedia for the pictures we saw. Andrea is extremely good at pointing out the features of each picture. Many of the commissioned pictures have portraits of their sponsors and sometimes include the family of the sponsors. After about nearly two hours we have walked around the top floor and Andrea leaves us at the cafeteria which overlooks the Senoria Piazza. The prices are too steep so we find a pizzeria in a quiet street. After lunch we walk over the Ponte Vecchio and still avoid buying any jewellery. We make our way to the Pitti Palace where the Medicis lived. The gardens are shut but the royal apartments are open. Entry is free for the over-65's as it was for the Uffizi. Once more Amanda has to pay. We climb up several flights of stairs and wander through all the Royal Apartments. On the way back to the hotel we have an ice cream. After a short rest in the hotel we decide to have our last night's meal in the Trattoria Padellaccia where we ate on the first night. Our jovial waitress greets us. We eat in a back room which quickly gets filled up. A party of forty students eats in the upstairs room. We opt to drink the house red at €9 a litre but after a few glasses change to bottled Chianti which is much better. At the end of the meal we are given a free limoncello.
We have breakfast at about 9am. It is overcast. Jane is not feeling too well so opts to stay at the hotel. The rest of us want to go to the village of Fiesole perched on one of the hills to the North of Florence. We go to the station and look for the stop for the number 7 bus but cannot find it. We have already purchased our bus tickets at a tabac saving about 60 cents per ticket. We discover that we should get a number 1 bus to the San Marco's Piazza and then get the number 7 bus to Fiesole where it terminates. We walk up the steep and narrow Via Giuseppe Verdi to see a panoramic view Florence marred slightly by low lying clouds. We wander around the hillside streets and decline to view the Roman amphitheatre as there are no concessions for oldies. The cathedral is closed but we walk up the hill to a small chapel which sits atop the hill - more good views of Florence. We phone Jane to see if she wants to have lunch with us. She does. We take the number 7 bus to San Marco Piazza and get on a very crowded bus to the station. We suspect pick pockets at work on the bus but nothing is missing. We pick up Jane and go to the restaurant Il Porcospino (Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini 11/12) where we are greeted by Franco who supports Southampton football club and hums God Save Our Queen to us. The ceiling and walls are covered with a classic painting. Franco introduces Cecilia to us. Cecilia is a part time secretary to the restaurant and wants to practice her English. She enjoys doing so and so do we. We return to the hotel and pick up our cases and walk to the station using the underpass. We find our coach waiting for us and manage to get the from seats. The coach leaves on time and arrives at Pisa ahead of time. We have three minutes to wait for the check in to open. We wait for about an hour before the flight boards. It is pretty full. We arrive at Gatwick twenty minutes early and at the North terminal. We make our way to the number 6 bus stop to wait for the Airparks coach. Jane sends text messages to the children. Stephen is in a taxi on his way from Gatwick to Winchester. He'd spent the last couple of days in Barcelona. We drive home dropping off Garry and Amanda on the way. It's 10:45pm when we arrive home a little peckish. We've had a most enjoyable time in Florence. It wasn't very crowded and the Florentines were all very helpful, pleasant and amusing.
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