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.
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.
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 ?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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