The approach to Florence was very rather drab and a bit run-down but it became obvious when we were on our way to the beautiful city as the houses on each side of the road became more opulent and the surroundings greener.
Our road in to Florence was lined with faux gas lamps, mature trees and very large and grand houses which only the richest Italians could afford to live in by fair means or foul mwahahaha. Rather than go straight to the centre of Florence we decided to visit one of the forts on the south of the river and although rather disappointed that there was little left of the original building we found a great place to take pictures of the city on the side of the hill which leads down to the river. The climb down was easier and more enjoyable than the climb up and at the bottom found a pleasant roadside bistro. Literally, as we were actually eating on a wooden deck built out into the road!
It wasn’t exactly a roadside café that you would see selling greasy bacon sandwiches in a lay-by in the UK. Very Italian and very nice. It was the perfect place to watch how Italians navigate the narrow streets on scooters and in cars, and how they interpret the rather flexible and apparently arbitrary rules of the Italian roads. Alex panicked a little as our parking ticket was running over, especially as a female carabiniere sauntered past his beloved Fiat 500. She took no notice and wandered off, he’s paranoid about getting parking tickets.
We drove north into the city centre (most of Florence is north of the river) and by chance happened upon an underground car park beneath the central market which is a good place to stop if you want to visit the basilica. Despite this good luck Alex accidentally drove up a street which he thinks was restricted to authorised vehicles only and fully expects a fine from the Florentine authorities to be waiting for him when he gets home. He worries too much!
Another good thing about parking in the central market was that I was able to pick up a pair of comfortable walking sandals half way between the strappy ones I’d been wearing and walking shoes. Although I’d taken care to break the strappy ones in at home they were in no way up to the job of trekking across Italy’s cobble streets, up and down hills and stairways, leaving my feet sore. The new ones were not so sexy but very practical. Especially for what came next.
First we looked at one church, built from marble and full of the usual catholic iconography and hushed reverence. And this is where I wish I’d kept my throw-away cape from Sienna. The female guard at the entrance gave me a look that Medusa would have been proud of and curtly informed me that I would have to wear a long, disposable cape because of my exposed shoulders. If you are going to visit Italian churches shoulders must be covered and skirts below the knee.
After looking around the basilica, which is externally splendid but a little underwhelming inside, Alex persuaded me to climb the campanella (the bell tower to the basilica). 414 winding steps later we breathlessly reached the top. Alex got out his camera and I reached for the oxygen.
It was then up to Alex to chauffer me home through the chaotic Florentine traffic system.