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02 December 2010 @ 10:46 pm
2010 Travel Advent-ures of Brammers, part 5  
I love Firenze. It will always be one of the handful of cities I could live in (aside from in the very hot months), and no matter how many times I visit it, I always find new things and new ways of looking at the old things. My train (cf yesterday's post) arrived at 11, and I dragged my case down to my hotel on Porto Rosso, expecting to have to leave my bags for a few hours and come back to check in. The excellent folk of Hotel Davanzati had my room ready, though, so I was able to dump everything and then head out for a good walk.

Walking is always the best way to take in a city. You can experience it with all your senses, smelling where you might like to eat, seeing places you hadn't known about, and hearing snatches of music and conversation. I headed off towards the main library, because I wanted to take some photographs of the architecture, which is a bit bonkers in a cool way.

The weather had dramatically improved:



which made the day good for walking. The Biblioteca is down by the Arno, and once I had finished taking photos I went down to look across the river. One of the many umbrella salesmen littering the city asked if I wanted to buy one -- I pointed to the blue sky. 'It will not last!' he assured me.

I realised that I was not far from the Porte San Niccolo, one of the old gates into the city back when the wall was a major protection. Now all that remains is the gate, standing like a tower at the edge of the city. I decided to go back up to Ponte alle Grazie and then walk down towards it. This is and is not the bridge that E.M. Forster wrote of, the one he saw having been destroyed during the war. But it is a good walking bridge -- cross it in any direction and turn off it any way for something that you will enjoy. I crossed south and turned left, and soon found myself at the tower. 




Steps run up the outside and lantern brackets are still in place within. Under the arches are the remnants of frescoes, and there are echoes of what it must have once been like here, busy and impressive, something designed to awe the simple country folk as they came into the great city, or to remind the city dwellers of the power of God and of their wealthy state -- and its rulers.




Looking back across the river, I could see the library -- here are some of the kooky decorative structures at the top, there are sculptures in each alcovey bit. From here you can see how open the structures actually are.



I was going to walk up the hill to San Miniato al Monte, which is a wonderfully beautiful basilica, but I was a lazy slug and decided to go glove shopping for pingrid  instead. She had lost one of her Madova gloves in an Oslo taxi and so I was on a mission to replace it and buy a black set as well. I started back up the Lungarno Benvenuto Cellini -- named after the Renaissance goldsmith -- amusing myself thinking about his autobiography. For those of you who have not read it, it goes something along the lines of: 'I am THE GREATEST GENIUS  EVER TO HAVE LIVED!!! Also, I am immensely hot and practically irresistible to everyone, and I do mean everyone. Not to mention an astonishingly good fencer and fighter -- let me tell you the immensely manly ways in which I have physically vanquished my foul enemies. Everyone is constantly amazed at my genius and believes I cannot possibly do the great things I set out to do, but I surprise them every time with my overwhelming brilliance, to the extent that the common people are in awe and I have found myself with enormously powerful and unscrupulous enemies hell-bent on thwarting me for their own evil purposes. Naturally, I vanquish them, too. And then have sex. Not with the corpses. Though quite possibly through the back door, if you know what I mean.'

Thus employed, I nearly missed this fantastic grey heron down on the banks of the Arno. It was having a good old groom and was sadly a little too far away for me to get a really good photo, but I was able to tell the other people who stopped to look at it what it was, which made me give silent thanks to all those teachers who used to drum natural history through my thick skull. We all agreed it was the largest bird we had ever seen in Florence, until someone more local or more observant came along and assured us there were regularly pelicans there.



The rest of the walk passed without excitement until I was nearly at the Ponte Vecchio, where I had to stop and have an enormous laugh at the idea of Tandoori being typical Mediterranean cuisine ...



I had only just finished laughing at that when I noticed the sign warning about men carrying giant planks in the vicinity, and had to laugh some more.

Madova was its usual den of leather temptation, but I managed to slip in and out buying only pingrid 's gloves and a seriously warm pair for myself for the next time I was caught in a blizzard. I foolishly stuck my head into a nearby handbag shop and ended up having to flee a man who was determined to sell me something.

'I don't need a new handbag,' I said.

'Fifty per cent off,' he said. 'Sixty! Seventy! Eighty-five!'

'No, seriously, I only have room for books in my suitcase!'

'But, but ... you're a woman.' Bibliophiles are apparently baffling to salesmen.

The night was drawing in now, so I wandered back to the hotel with a quick diversion past Palazzo Vecchio. This is one of my very favourite buildings in Firenze, and should you find yourself there I strongly recommend the Hidden Passages tour, which takes you through most of the back routes within the palace and the studiolos of Ferdinando and Cosimo. The courtyard outside the palace is a popular place for people to gather of an evening and I met some lovely dogs as I wandered through. I will never understand English people who feel distanced from the Italians, our shared passion for dogs is clearly enough to bring us together across any other barriers. Dachshunds are quite in at the moment, and I stopped to pat one and found myself giving tummy rubs to three at once, to the laughter of the owners. One man asked if I had steak in my handbag, I had to confess that it was only sugar-coated almonds from Pegna (the packet told me they were Confetti Gay Bride, which makes them the Best Sweet Ever) and that clearly his dog had sophisticated tastes.



Back at the hotel it was Happy Hour, with free chianti and prosecco, plus snacks and juices. I met Babs and Philip, a lovely couple from New Orleans who had always wanted to come to Europe and had finally managed it. They were my favourite type of Americans, warm, funny, clever and open to the world, and it was exciting hearing about the city through their eyes and adventures. I passed on some details of places they might like to visit, especially Giardino Bardini, as Philip was a keen horticulturalist, and took their advice to visit the food markets the following day.

The next morning I started off at Palazzo Davanzati, conveniently located next door to the hotel. This is a beautiful 14th century house that has been lovingly restored over many years and is now filled with period artefacts and excellently renovated frescoes, plus a little textiles museum with particularly good lace. All this and only two euro entry! After a few hours there, I remembered my plan and headed off to the food markets.

Alas, on my way I found a poster for an exhibition that was in its last days, so rushed off to see Virtu d'Amore at the Accademia instead. This is not my favourite gallery as people mostly go there to see the David and there is not a lot else to see while you are there. But I trundled down to look at the antique musical instruments, which were very impressive, and then ducked into the temporary gallery for the exhibition. It was AMAZING! Full of marriage cassoni -- chests with elaborate scenes painted on them -- and decorated trays that were given for the birth of children, laden with gifts. I had never seen the vast majority of artefacts in the exhibition, and it was a wonderful step back into the private lives of people who had been dead for centuries. (The links to some images from the exhibition are here.) While I was there I had to see David and pass on auntpurl 's best regards. He snubbed me, as usual. The fame has made him hard.

Having set foot inside two museums, I knew that I was lost and spent the rest of the day being appallingly cultural (sadly, no photos, as Fiorentine museums are CRAP about allowing you to take shots, even with no flash) before heading back to Pegna to stock up on smoked trout (it is an overpriced deli, but they have all my favourite things and the friendly woman at the counter remembered me from two years ago -- at least, she remembered my pink rabbit shopping bag.) Then I ran over to Forno Top on via della Strada, next to the fabulous art book shop, to buy The Best Tomato Bread In The World (also known as the reason I could walk 10-15km a day and still gain weight). Thus supplied with dinner, I headed back to the staggeringly good for the price hotel, chatted with the lovely Babs and Philip and their friends, and went to bed early, as my own friends were due in Firenze the next day and I would need to be at the apartment by 10.

After a week of being a free spirit, I was about to enter conference mode and would need to sound like an intelligent, literate and educated human being for the next five days. Obviously I needed all the sleep I could get ...
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
Adventures are fun! And you do meet lovely people out in the world ;-)
Welcome to Ant Countryant_queen on December 2nd, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
I live vicariously through your travels. Your postcard arrived today :) Ta, I love postcards :)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
YAY! I think I grabbed an extra of another one for you, but had run out of stamps, so I will send it down when I have a chance to go to the post office here. I have several more days of posts before I get to the end of the trip. I can't believe I've been home a week already!
Bubba: Gondoabsynthedrinker on December 2nd, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
Florence is one of those cities that is very difficult not to love. Its manageable size and friendly natives always make for a lovely visit. The Renaissance art and architecture don't hurt either. I hope you have a lovely time.

Peace,
Bubba
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
I don't understand people who tell me they hate Florence. It always turns out they were there in August or September, and surrounded by holidaying schoolchildren in the heat and queues. SUCH a great walking city. I had a blast, and wish I was back already.
This Girlthisgirl_is on December 2nd, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
All these things I have not seen. Clearly I have to go back. Again.

Last time I went to the Accademia the temporary exhibit was Robert Mapplethorpe, which was fascinating - I'd always thought of him as the Phallic Flowers guy, but it was really interesting, especially in combination with the Michelangelo works as they both worked with very muscular body types.

You defintely should go to the food markets, though! Mmmmm.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Ooh yes, Mapplethorpe's bodies would be fabulous in that context. And yes, I know, but given that Forno Top alone accounted for ten pounds (with a little help from the dark choc and confetti Gay Bride at Pegna, plus cream teas abungo in Bath), it's probably for the best that I spent more time in foodless galleries!
shu_shu_sleepsshu_shu_sleeps on December 2nd, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
Reading this reminded me of how much I loved Florence. My favourite little gelateria, the braid/trim shop of awesome, buildings so beautiful I could cry, the Arno, the little bridges all lit up at night, summer in Italy..... we had been told when we got to Florence we would just want to 'lick the walls' in an attempt to absorb the essence that is Florence - it was so true. And the Bargello is still my favourite museum there, though the Stibbert came a close second.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
YAY! THE STIBBERT! And yeah, the Bargello is a bit better, but the Stibbert is so crazy I adore it. I was so sad I ran out of time to visit it this time. This braid shop: Passmenterie Toscana? I did some terrible damage to my funds there ...
shu_shu_sleepsshu_shu_sleeps on December 2nd, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
It was 1996 so not sure, it was a tiny little shop in a street off the main mall/walkway where I found some truly gorgeous trims and spent a small fortune..... I might still have the paper bag somewhere. And the Stibbert - yeah we walked from the centre of Florence out to find it, and were so glad we did. It is a crazy collection but totally wonderful at the same time.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
If it was up near San Lorenzo, then yes, that would be the one ;-) I have a passion for the Stibbert. Must go back next visit, went twice in 2008 ;-)
Hueyphoenixacid on December 2nd, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
*packs self into your suitcase*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on December 2nd, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
I feel certain I could lift you, but we may find it cheaper to buy you a ticket than pay the excess baggage rates ;-)
Hueyphoenixacid on December 2nd, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Lmao! Yeah, I probably weigh a little more than your books. *giggles*
being_herebeing_here on December 2nd, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
I love Firenze. I am madly jealous! It's years since I have been there.
auntpurl: holy shit I love youauntpurl on December 2nd, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
This entry made me PHYSICALLY ACHE for Florence. God, how I love that city. Keep writing, I'm soaking it all up vicariously! Xoxo
Jaeenchanted_jae on December 2nd, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
You have such wonderful fun!
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on December 2nd, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
Ooo, how fun! And that poor baffled bag salesman sounds like he did need his world adjusted.
Meredythmeredyth_13 on December 2nd, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
I swear, next year I'ma goin' there. *steals your hotel information*

Sounds like a wonderful, wonderful time. I think you're going to need to come back next year and show me around. *pokes you*
ecosopherecosopher on December 2nd, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful place.

That 'no entry' sign cracked me up :)

pingridpingrid on December 2nd, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
I LOVE MY GLOVES! And you for getting them for me! They've been really great now the weather has gone bonkers and was pretending to be January already from November. :/

Ah, Firenze. The Stibbert! Palazzo Vecchio! The mythical Bargello, which I'm not sure isn't just a tale to torture the sleepy with. :D
creme_bun on December 3rd, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
Loved the tower (gate). :)

It's true what you say about walking a city to learn it, even in the states. Boston is a very 'walkable' city. San Diego, not so much (unless you're a hearty soul), but I still think you'd enjoy it.
prone to mischieftreacle_tartlet on December 3rd, 2010 08:20 am (UTC)
I have been trying to read this all bloody day! DAMN MY ACTUAL LIFE! *shakes fist*

I adore reading about your adventures, dear one! So exciting! I have had no postcard (but also no laptop - I am beginning to think that Aus Post has it in for me), so back to the PO I shall trek on Monday!
Nennenenne on December 3rd, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
It really looks like you had a fantastic trip.