I had travelled to Siena with a group of friends. The group was planning two trips to Florence six days apart; I decided to take my bags on the first trip and return with the group to Siena on their second visit. I felt that Florence probably deserved more than two days. When we arrived at the railway station in Siena we were running late (the group I was with was always frustratingly late) so I caught the train by myself and arranged to meet everyone after I had checked into the hotel. My little adventure began on a train by myself travelling through the Tuscan countryside. Not being used to group travel I was very happy. The outer suburbs of Florence looked very dowdy, industrial and depressed.

The Grand Hotel Baglioni was very close to the station so lugging the luggage was very easy. My room had a view but was incredibly small: I complained and was shifted to a larger room. The hotel had a fabulous roof top restaurant and garden that overlooked Florence 360 degrees. At four-stories it was one of the tallest buildings in Florence so the views were great. Even if you are not staying here I would recommend having dinner on the roof.



I met up with the group and we walked down to the main square with the Cathedral, Bell-tower and Baptistery. There were queues to get into every building. Tourist central.


I had thought Siena was fabulous but Florence was spectacular.


The use of multi-coloured marble made the square look like a giant ice-cream cake. The detailing of the facades would take months to document.





One pair of doors to the Baptistery was by Ghiberti, “The Gates Of Paradise”. I’d studied these in Art History at High School. The fineness of the detail is exquisite. History coming alive.



The richness of the exteriors was matched by the ornateness of the interior decorations. I was fascinated by the ornamentation and illustrative qualities of the ceilings and walls of the major buildings. The craftsmanship is exquisite. I found these more interesting than the ‘must see’ pieces of art.



Florence is a walker friendly city and is laid out so that it is very easy to see the major attractions, although just meandering had its own rewards.







The Ponte Vecchio was full of small jewellery shops selling very gaudy items and I resisted temptation to add to my collection. Although I was to later find some really interesting earring shops and succumbed to the lure of pearls, rubies and emeralds. A lot of the pieces are replicas of the Medici collection.



The legacy of the Medici Dynasty has made Florence a monument to art and culture. The Medici Chapel is a superb example of the art of lapidary; the walls and altars glowed with lapis lazuli, carnelians and other semi-precious stones and marble. But along with all the history Florence has a needy underclass.




On my days alone I wandered around spending a lot longer at the major attractions. The most important one being the Uffizi Gallery. I was a little disappointed with it as I feel it needed a better curator. Not all old art is good art but this gallery seemed to display everything with pride and without prejudice. It needed a good culling so that the gems could really sparkle.



It was great to be able to get up close and personal with the religious art. The books that I have at home don’t show the finer techniques and different materials that were used to build up the density of the gilding. You couldn’t take shots so I busily took notes on everything. No-one commented on me waving a pencil inches from the paintings. The gallery has a wonderful collection of Botticellis and it was interesting to see the originals that I have been using for inspiration for years. The hotel was directly opposite Santa Maria Novella with all its stunning murals by Andrea Buonaiuto



Like all other Italian towns that I had seen there were Madonnas on nearly all street corners. Lots of Kodak moments. I decided to get my film developed and found a local chemist who quickly decided that I was mad with the amount of film that I was getting processed.





The major public gardens in Florence are the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. The gardens were wonderfully laid out with various outdoor “rooms”. It was obviously a place for the locals to chill-out on a hot weekend with families having picnics and couples wandering around.





On my last day in Florence I went to see David. A giant, impressive piece of marble. I prefer the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo as they have more energy and humanity. No photography was allowed so I went and photographed a lot of false Davids. Florence is well populated with them.




I found a lot of attractive restaurants and had a grand time pretending that I was Italian. The general shopping in Florence was very stylish but I was bemused to see that people take their dogs into department stores. I also visited the Palazzo Vecchio built between the 13th and 14th century. Parts of it had been modified by Michaelangelo. The interiors are magnificent.





I loved Florence and want to return sometime with Omar.


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