Italy · Photography · Travel

The Ultimate Guide To Florence.

Ignore everything- Pinterest photos, the articles, the books.

Florence or Firenze as I learnt to call will always remain a whopping surprise.

For starters, this small city comes with a tall reputation. It is perfect to explore on foot and you never quite know what wondrous things you might encounter. 


Golden devil door knocker in Florence
‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’.

 
“Whoa!”
 
This beauty was on a random door.
 
That was my cue to keep my eyes open for, ‘doors’.  Later, I came across its bronzed twin, the disdainful expression was intact.
 
 
 
Lion door knocker in Florence
Tyger Tyger, burning bright.


Simba, the lion knocker was a common sight. I saw many versions of him in many places.

Here he looks a bit worn but fierce. It’s the eyes.

Pretty cool, right ?

Crowd on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence
Bridge of sighs, of love and life.

The Ponte Vecchio was the star attraction of Florence.
 
Walking on the bridge into the crowd  was like walking through an Indian bazaar on Diwali eve. It was unbelievable. A summer swell of travellers from around the world.
 
The view of River Arno from the center of the bridge had to be the draw. It was a pretty sight.
 
The bridge was also chockablock with gold jewellery shops. That was another India connect, our fascination with the yellow metal is boundless. 
 


Gold shops of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence
All that glitters, is gold!


If the gold souk was at the ground level, it was an arty affair on the top.
 
The Vasari Corridor, a magnificent art gallery ran over those shops, crossing Arno via this bridge. The Medici family used it then to walk from their residential palace to their work palace, unhindered. 
Ah! The joys of being the royalty in those times, to be a cut above others. I guess the view must be fantastic from the top. It was closed last summer for renovations.
 
 Now for some cuts of the edible kinds.


Meat cuts on display in Mercato Centrale in Florence
Hunger Games!

Mercato Centrale was the famous food court of Florence. It reminded me of the kinds we have in our malls. You even had to climb the stairs of a nondescript building to reach it. 
 
There were tables with seats, display counters, cooking stations and people of course. My eyes danced from the signboards to food to people to some more unfamiliar food. The floor buzzed with action.
 
So I did what I usually do, walk around to check the buffet of sensory delights.
 
I may not have eaten everything Florence had on its menu but shopping for it was a heady experience.
 
Dante's statue outside Sante Croce in Florence
“My course is set for an uncharted sea.” – Dante Alighieri
 
Another must visit is Basilica Di Santa Croce, a favourite spot of mine.
 
It was lovely on the outside; a massive statue of Dante at the entrance looked magnificent. I had heard that it housed his tomb and that of Michelangelo.
 
There was a leather school and its shopping outlet within the grounds. It was a good place to buy authentic Florentine leather products that came embossed with their tag. Also there was something to suit all pockets.
 
A fantastic souvenir, right?
 
The altar and the crucifix in Santa Croce in Florence
“Love, that moves the sun and the other stars.”- Dante 

The interiors of the Basilica left me stunned!
 
I wished my photos had done justice to its beauty and size. There were sweeping arches that made crisscrossed patterns on the roof and ornate walls.  It had many chapels and I saw the Donatello’s crucifix too. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introduced me to the renaissance masters so I knew my Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello.
 
Its floor was no less fascinating. Some sections were roped off and I guess someone lay buried there as well.
 
 
 
Floor tombs in Santa Croce in Florence
If you fall, I’ll be there. – Floor

This is an experience I will always treasure. Walking into a place of worship, be awed by so much beauty and grandeur.
 
I hear the term for this is Stendhal or the Florence Syndrome; Google says it’s a real thing. Exposure to beautiful work of art, all housed together triggering an emotional response.
 
The Basilica was a trigger. It had so many tombs and memorial plaques devoted to the Italian Who’s who that it was mindboggling.

Machiavelli, Marconi, Enrico Fermi , DaVinci, Florence Nightingale were some of the familiar ones.
 
Michelangelo's tomb in Santa Croce in Florence
“The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.”

I was ecstatic to come across Michelangelo’s tomb inside the Basilica. His tomb stood out among others as one of the more colourful ones.

He was my sole reason to put Florence on my bucket list since school.
It was a pinch worthy moment, the closest I could be to the man himself.
 

Galileo's tomb in Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
“And we came forth to contemplate the stars.”

Galileo’s tomb was another wonderful surprise.

 
An incredible feeling arose when I saw his name inscribed there. Again, I had read of him in school and relegated him to the dark recesses of my mind. He was simply a name whose contributions I had to learn as a part of my syllabus.
 
Seeing his tomb made him real.
 
Dante's tomb in Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
“Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.” -Dante Alighieri

Dante’s tomb was a cenotaph, an empty tomb since he was buried elsewhere . Yet one couldn’t deny his stature as one of the greatest son’s of Florence.
 
For me, he will always be the writer of the more famous Dante’s Inferno, the author of catchy quotes on posters in my room. Actually his character became more fleshed after I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. That’s the book to read if you want a crash course on him and his connection to the city.
 
 
Hare Rama , Hare Krishna walking in Florence
Super Trouper !

I heard ‘Hare Rama, Hare Krishna‘ before I saw them; saree clad ladies and men in dhotis.
 
Was I hallucinating?
There they were, singing, waving, swaying to the Indian beat of dholak,  harmonium and cymbals right in the middle of Florence.
 
India found me in Italy! 
 
Medici lion on Plazzo Pitti's wall in Florence.
Roar!

Aslan from Narnia showed up on the wall of the sprawling Palazzo Pitti, the grand abode of the Medici family. As befitting a king, he looked regal and glared fiercely.

Palazzo Pitti as I mentioned was humongous. It had galleries, museums, jewel exhibits and a garden.
 
Since I was running low on time, I picked Boboli Gardens to wander about. I blame Dan Brown’s Inferno for it. I wanted to trace Robert Langdon’s chase through the garden described in the book.
 
Another thing that egged me on was an excellent garden walk post by Jo from restlessjo .
 
 
View of the Florence Cathedral's red dome from Boboli Gardens.
Boboli Gardens, where the past and the present meet.

It was no less of an inferno in Boboli Gardens and walking in the blazing sun sapped all joy from the walk that day. Everything looked dusty brown and green. The only moment of bliss was the stroll on the shady avenue between the rows of very thick and tall trees. It was a heavenly escape and it lead to the Medici’s Grotto.
 
The Grotto was again high on my list thanks to Dan Brown. This was the place where Robert found shelter and then escaped the baddies.
 
Now that I was standing in front of it, I wondered, “How?”
 
A stout rope sealed off its cavernous entrance. I squinted and saw shapeless melted blobs of dripping wax on the walls, roof and further inside a shallow cave. I thought it was a total bust till I saw the melted blobs take on familiar shapes.
 
Shepherd and his sheep on the Medici Gotto's walls in Boboli Gardens in Florence.
Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep!

A pastoral scene complete with trees, sheep and people were on one side and there were more all over. Sure they were dull, almost camouflaged but there was no denying the creativity.
 
Unusual definitely!
 
Ceramic art inside a store in Florence.
Mellow Yellow and Cornflower Blues!
 
  I knew blue pottery, bone china, porcelain, our very own Khurja pottery but Florence famous for ceramics?
I was surprised. I hadn’t heard of that.
 
Then I saw patterns of rolling Tuscan countryside and tangy citrus fruits on tiles, salad spoons , plates etc. There were even cute cork stoppers .
That reminds me, wine rules too! Also when in Florence, you have to try the orangy Aperol Spritz. 

As Jason Silva said, “Pick up the fragrance, the smiles, the sounds and sights, they are absorbed by you and they become wallpaper of your mind.”
 
 
Devil shaped door stop in Florence
“The devil is not as black as he is painted”. – Dante 
So what do you say to the devil on his knees at your door?
 
You do a fine yoga asana“, I say.
 
This goes to show that you never quite know what you may find, looking down.
 
 
Crowded piazza with local artists, tourists and the Florence Cathedral
Art Attack!

Then again there are things that force you to look up. Florence Cathedral or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore certainly does.
 
I am convinced, all roads in Florence lead to it. Its distinctive brick red dome is visible from anywhere in the city. I even saw it from the kitchen terrace of my Airbnb.
 
I remember standing awestruck the first time I saw it; a gigantic confectionery of pink, green and white marble, topped by the brick red Brunelleschi’s Dome. It was so wide in girth that it took me forever to circle it . I had to pause every now and then to take it all in, such was its beauty and the details were extraordinary.
 
Entry was free but the queue went all the way around. There was no time to brood for Nida, an Iraqi living in London, befriended us while we waited in line for our turn. Her outrageous comments and a life out of a Bridget Jones Diary had us in splits.
 
Everything dialed down once we were inside – the heat, the noise, the colours. It was quiet, brown and gloomy. “How disappointing” , Nida whispered.
 
Well, the floor mosaic was good.
 
The Gates of Paradise in gold with 3 D panels in Florence.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.
 
 
The Gates of Paradise at the Florence Baptistery were a sight to behold.
 
The attention to details were staggering. Wikipedia says they actually tell stories from the Old Testament. Regardless, I was mesmerized by this 3D art in metal.
 
 
 
The city is an enchantress. When it kisses you, you are lost, whether you be commoner or king.” ― Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence

Lens Artist Photo Challenge : Surprise,
Summer


©2020sheetalbravon

38 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Florence.

  1. Bella Italua 🥳 haven’t been there since 2004 (Lago d’Iseo) 👍 but seen many, many Italians in Eastern Tyrole, Austria, August 2018 💢 quite a surprise like the Indians here in Florence. Ciao 🙂 Ulli

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Ulli. Loved your warm comments, I am still smiling. It’s a small world and felt smaller in Florence with India never out of my mind, be it the humongous crowd, the blazing heat or the ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ chanting folks on the street. Yet inspite of the Indian hangover , there were some wonderful things that were quintessential Florence. Bella Italia, I agree wholeheartedly. As for Austria, someday hope to visit that. Till then, travelling virtually. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for bringing Florence back to life for me, Sheetal. I don’t think I could brave it in the heat of Summer, but the galleries and churches would be cool. It is the most fantastical experience to stand there surrounded by the work of these legends and to know that they were real people, with a talent and skills that are simply mindblowing. 🙂 🙂
    Many thanks for the link. I’m off chasing a breeze on the west coast later today with no time for a Monday walk, but I hope to have a round up of walks the following Monday. Have a great week!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know that feeling Jo , to stand in the presence of works of legends one has only read of. This trip was all that and more regardless of the heat and the crowd, but you know that already. I devoured your posts on Florence for my research. They were fantastic!
      Have a wonderful trip, Jo .

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    1. Manjari, Florence rounds up the last chapter in my Bella Italia Trails. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey. It wouldn’t have been the same without your unique perspective. I still remember your comments on the legends buried in Santa Croce.
      “Even in their deaths, they are glorified”, you said. “Did History intensify their gifts or where they really born with those special abilities?”
      Your words struck a chord.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciate your comments, Sue. Ponte Vecchio is really the place to go to, right? I remember the first time I read of it and the Vasari Corridor on top, my imagination was set aflame . Even the pattern of how the gold shops were laid with enough space in the middle to gaze at River Arno surprised me. This was a dream come true !

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly Patti, I think I started falling in love with Florence after reading your posts on it. I remember seeing the Devil door knocker for the first time on your blog and Blub’s Girl with a pearl earring and goggles. I was blown away. So you can imagine my delight when I saw the door knockers in person. I also owe Blub’s discovery to you for I ended chasing his artwork all over Tuscany. I wrote a post on it too. So I cannot thank you enough.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! Now that you’ve said John, I wonder with Social Distancing , would the Italian holiday be different ? 😊
      Perhaps but I am thankful, I made it to this beautiful country last year. It was an experience to cherish! I’m happy this post brought back memories for you. Thank you for your warm words.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aah Florence!! I’m glad to have enjoyed it the second time around with you and happy you loved it as much as I did. What wonderful memories you’ve brought back with your writing and photos! I hope we can have more adventures together once life gets back to a semblance of normalcy. Oh just one correction… Nida was from Iraq not Iran 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My partner in travels and crimes, this trip of a lifetime was awesome. We were there to have an adventure and we sure did. So many tales on this trail and I’m glad I have your memories too to backup my foggy ones. Will make corrections pronto. Nida will be pleased if she comes across this post.

      Like

    1. Thank you Husna for your warm words. Ticking Florence off my bucket list was super and to see more than I bargained for was the icing on the cake. Selecting a few photos from the billions I took on the trip was tough so I’m happy you liked them. Since you’ve already been to the city, I wonder how much of it has remained the same or changed for better or worse?
      Anyway, here’s hoping you get an opportunity to revisit it soon.

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  4. As usual, very beautifully written and of course the pictures are fabulous. I must mention that you have all the traits of a travel journalist, certainly made it a must visit destination for all those who haven’t had a chance to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Travel journalist, now that’s a fantasy I’m living through this blog. Thank you for boosting my spirits Rajeev . I hope I have convinced you to look west for your vacation when travel times improve.😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michael! These memories were just a drop in the ocean of what I saw and felt there. Florence was incredible, writing of it is my way of remembering it like I saw it . Happy you liked it too.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I knew I’d missed somebody out of the round up, but couldn’t think who! I usually work from the comments in my last walking post or the Jo’s Monday walk page. I didn’t have a pingback either, so I’ve missed you 😦 Not much point adding the link now as most visitors will have been, and it looks like a good few people found you anyway. I will try to remember for when I post a walk again, but things are difficult here, both technically and emotionally. I still love your work! 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jo ! You are an absolute dear . No one can lift spirits like you do. I am happy that you remembered me anyhow and the last bit was the cherry on the cake. Your words of appreciation mean the world!

      Like

  6. Thank you, grazie mille for the wonderful trip back to Firenze…
    That was in the year 1BC, right? (Before Covid?)
    It must have felt very weird to stumble on the “Krishnas”. There were a lot of them on France in the early 70’s. Disappeared gradually, then “came back” a few years ago… Are, are… 😉
    🙏🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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