Thursday, August 19, 2010

Florence

Yi and I had the impression that Firenze (Florence) is the most beautiful city in Europe, based on the feedback from friends who've been there before. High expectations can set you up for a disappointment because Florence isn't the prettiest city I've seen. Like most Italian cities, the buildings are old and there's hardly any trees or landscape but the city is charming and just very likeable. Maybe that's why Florence's image is so positive. There's nothing bad or ugly about the city. To be fair, we didn't take in the night scenes and I've seen  stunning photos of the city at night.

The most famous building in Florence is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (also called Duomo), a church built in the 13th century. The church consists of the baptistry, bell tower and the  cathedral.  The buildings sit on the Piazza Del Duomo, surrounded by shops and restaurants. The dome of this church is one of the top- featured structure in Italy. Florence's main places of interest are concentrated in a small area and are easily acessible so that you can walk from one spot to the next, not requiring any public transport.

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At the front of the Duomo.

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The doors of the Duomo have great significance but we had enough of churches and left this church for another trip.

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The Piazza della Repubblica was where the govenment forum used to meet when Florence was the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1870.

Florence was once a big gun among cities, especially when it was owned by the Medici family (if you are from my era, you'll remember the Medicis of Florence but if you are my daughter's age, you'll only remember long names of Malaysian sultans). But unlike Rome, which has all the grandest and most important buildings and structures, Florence only has a handful of buildings which aren't comparable to Rome's. Tourist information maps and info will tell you not to miss the Uffizi, Florence's version of The Lourve. Very frankly and in my opinion (and that of three Aussie girls, 1 Thai and 1 Korean who came and went in our hostel room), Uffizi is a waste of time and money. It's small, there's nothing much of importance there and certain sections like the room that held Rubens' paintings were closed. And it's not true that you have to buy or book your tickets to the Uffizi one month ahead. This is the only inaccurate information that Rick Steves gave and I ended up paying more than the regular entrance fee because I pre-booked my tickets through the hostel. Unless you haven't seen enough of renaissance paintings, save your money and have a good meal instead. And the Accademia, the other must-go in Florence? I was smart. I read that the only important piece there was Michelangelo's best work, the original statue of David (the shepherd boy who slained Goliath) and since they had a replica in front of Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria (the story of the Savonarola inspired the story and movie Bonfire Of The Vanities), that was good enough for me. I would't be able to tell the difference between the real statue and the replica anyway. However, do go to Accademia if staring at a naked David gives you a thrill. Interestingly, I think because Michelangelo was Italian, he sculpted an uncircumcised David. Sadly, we seem to have lost half the photos we took in Florence and that include David and many other famous statues that stand on high pedestals on the piazza. These are famous works by famous artists/sculptors such as Cellini, Donatello and many others. That Florence is the city where such artists like Donatello and Michelangelo had a hand in designing and planning really makes the city extra special to visit.

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This street leads to the Ponte Vecchio, Old Bridge. Over the bridge is the gold market of Florence and here you can get all the 18K gold jewellery you want and all kinds of precious stones. Very tempting.

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Ponte Vecchio, where the gold market is.  The water was so calm  that it was like a mirror. This photo was taken from a window of the Uffizi.

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I love coral because they are so organic and uncommon.

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The street that leads to Ponte Vecchio.

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What a pretty sight. The Italians are really classy-chic. I love how Italian men appreciate women, and openly too. The Spaniards are quite hot-blooded too but the northen European men are too proper.

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This board shows all the top Florentine dishes.

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San Lorenzo market near Santa Croce (you can see the Duomo at the back) is where you can buy real leather goods at low prices.

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Leather belts for 10 euros, jackets for 300 euros, bags that start from 30 euros. A sign that warned tourists not to buy imitation goods.  Ironically, a group of African men were selling fake designer bags just next to it but I didn't want to risk a punch to my face so I left them out of the photo.

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A bag like this is about 60 euros at tne covered leather market, Mercato Nuovo. Isn't Florence a wonderful city?

We had 4 full days in Florence because that's our last stop and we had been restraining ourselves from shopping until Florence. That was our plan but the saldi (sales) started on 7 July and our flight out was 9th July so we didn't have much time to poke around the little shops which I prefer to the large chain stores like H & M (cheap looking).  There were lots of little shops but not all sold goods made in Italy. The cheaper shoes were made in China.

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Montervachi, the town where the Prada outlet is, is out in the Tuscan countryside.

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Somehow it's perfectly ok to dress like this in Europe. (Hey, give me back my flower necklace!)

I enjoyed the designer outlets outside Florence. The Mall is an hour by train (fare's cheap) away for labels like Ferragamo, Gucci etc and Space Outlet for all things Prada and Miu Miu is only 1/2 hour by train. Space Outlet is really worth a visit because the selection is more than regular Prada stores and prices are about 60% off. In Montervarchi, where you get off the train and take a 5-minute bus ride to Space Outlet, I was able to pick up a couple of half-priced tops and a beautiful sundress from Stephanel.

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The thing I love about Italian cities is that despite modernisation, they remain Italian, unlike modern, characterless cities like Singapore. There are hardly any skyscrapers in Italy. Grocers and little Italian restaurants are around every corner. People call out to each other ("GiioVANni!" "AnTONio!",) a scooter races by, the waft of newly-baked bread fills your lungs and stomach and the church bell rings.

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In the middle of San Lorenzo market is a covered groceries market where you can get dried porcini, olive oil, salami, cheese, good coffee and restaurants and the lot. I'd like to post photos of the market but you have seen enough of markets haven't you.

Writing this post makes me wish I'm back in Italy and it's only been a month since I came home. I had post-Europe blues three weeks ago, I really felt bored and unhappy. That's what Europe does to you, especially the Mediterranean. Makes you wish for more.

10 comments:

Chocolate, Cookies & Candies said...

Yi is so chic! Stunning.

Love your post. I was at the Gucci and Prada malls end of last year but walked away empty handed.

Anonymous said...

Yi looks very european and pretty. I enjoyed this post and all the photos.

I read your blog everyday and your travel posts makes me feel like I'm there too. Thank you for the posts which will be useful when I go to Europe.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Keep them coming, Terri!

Gracie

Plain Jane said...

I am so in love with Italy now, thanks to your stories and photographs. My ex-colleague is Italian and she tells me that Italians (some) can be darn-out rude! Infact my ex-boss, who visited Italy (don't remember which town/city) said the same thing. Did you find this is so?

Johnathan Oh said...

Wow Terri, beautiful photos! in fact, the photo of Ponte Vecchio looked so Nikonians! I guess its true that any camera in a good photographers hand makes stunning photos, kudos! Ah yes, the leather goods in Italy are darned cheap and beautiful compared to those sold here in Singapore. So envious of you and your trip makes me so going to Italy again~sigh!

ck said...

"Interestingly, I think because Michelangelo was Italian, he sculpted an uncircumcised David."

Whoa Terri! That is a 'shocking' observation since I never thought of that in my entire life??? I always admire and appreciate you for your honest view of life.

Love your traveling post and I love Europe!

Anonymous said...

The Duomo was not built in the 5th century - construction on the present building began at the end of the 13th century. Christian worship on the site has a much longer history though, quite possibly even as far back as the 5th century.

The dome is NOT the cathedral - I think you might have got mixed up between the words 'dome' and 'duomo'. 'Duomo' is Italian for 'cathedral' while 'dome' refers to the architectural feature. The dome is the semi-spherical structure on top of the duomo (church).

It was probably sensible of you not to go in as many Italian churches have a dress code. Spaghetti straps and bare shoulders are not allowed.

The reason why Florence is so special is that it is one of the main centres, if not _the_ epicentre of the Renaissance. This historical context is what gives it its special charm - it is not just your standard semi-picturesque Italian small town with cheap leather goods. From this small place came a change in human history, culture and civilization whose effects were universal and can still be seen today. Much of the physical legacy of this period can still be seen in Florence, in its architecture, its monuments (real or replica) and of course, in the Renaissance art collection at the Uffizi.

terri@adailyobsession said...

ccc: i'll thank u on her behalf:) i too walked away frm the prada store empty-handed tho i wish i bought the miumiu wallet. i was annoyed tt the prada salesgirl openly looked at my handbag (as i passed by) to see if i was shoplifting bc my tod's loked just like a prada, except my tod's much prettier!

qnon: thnks, she''l be blushing. am glad if my posts can be of help.

gracie: :))

plainjane: oh no, i didn't find italians rude at all (or even the french, except for one girl at the train station). i think italians are very unpretentious ppl, full of life n fun n they talk loudly so ppl think they are rude? they talk the same to amyone so maybe ppl frm other culture find them rude bc north europeans are more recerved so it's really a cultural thing i guess

johnathan: wah, thnks n u r right, tt was a photo taken with a nikon D(). i noticed tt europeans tend to use nikons while asians use canon. i think it's bc canon is more affordable n trendier.

ck: but tt's one of the things u'll notice about nude statues?! all the nudes whtehr greek, french or italian r uncircumcised. at least tt's what they look like to me! n women those days, like the men, were also modestly built, size b at the most. no silicon breasts.

anon: thnks for the correction. hooray, ppl r reading my posts, not just looking at the photos! i'll amend the mistake about the year the church was built. but isn't the dome part of the cathedral? i'll amend tt to make it more accurate. as for florence being the birthplace of rennaisance, tt's in my next post!

terri@adailyobsession said...

anon: i've mixed up the tow churches! thnks, will amend my post.

Johnathan Oh said...

Ahhh... no wonder it looked so familiar. YEah, I noticed that not many use Nikon in Asia. I'm a die hard Nikon after using it once and comparing the photos w one taken w Nikon... But seriously, its got to b the photographer. :)

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