I took out my notepad, a pen, and some sheets that I had used to roughly jot down my adventures. Remembering every bit that had happened earlier that day, I started filling in the gaps to complete my log. The journey was, for the most part, peaceful after a long day’s march. The train was cruising at almost 300 km/h through the countryside and the carriage was almost empty except for a group of youngsters who were continually making noise. I was surprised at how well they maintain time. The trains arrive and depart with little to no delay in their schedule.
After some 60 minutes of travel, the cluttered outskirts of the metropolis started slowly taking shape. The last 20-30 minutes were quick as a wink and I was at Firenze Santa Maria Novella station (or Firenze S.M.N) right on time. It was, more or less, a 10 minutes’ walk to my hotel from the station and my luggage had reduced in weight considerably. So, walking that stretch was not a problem at all. Moreover, I was running out of my ready-to-eat food packets sooner than I had expected which drastically reduced the weight. I had only about 2 days’ worth of rations and I had to look elsewhere for a decent Indian or more generally, a vegetarian cuisine to last me for the next few days. Excluding meat or dairy as a lifestyle choice is, literally, foreign to Italians. And that means not just that you might get a funny look if you try to explain you’re a vegetarian — but that they won’t quite understand, and you’ll wind up with, say, guanciale in your pasta anyway (Italy has got some 6 million Vegetarian restaurants and the highest rate of vegetarianism in the EU Courtesy: Wikipedia). So, finding food is relatively easy, even for the most choosy lot.
I had travelled a good 300 kilometres on a single day. The time was just past 9:30pm and the food stalls were flocked with people. I finally reached the hotel on della Pergola street at around 10:00pm.
‘I have a reservation. My name’s Badri,’ I said to the man at the desk.
‘Prego. Inglese?‘ said the man. ‘sì. Let me check.‘
After all the rudimentary checks, I submitted my printed vouchers in exchange for a keycard. The man took me to my room on the first floor. ‘Room 209. I expected you to arrive sooner,’ he said handing over the card.
‘Sorry, I failed to inform you that I’ll be late’ I said.
‘No problem’ he said with a gentle smile. ‘Your…hmm’
‘I see that you require a map of the city,’ he said turning the sheets that I had handed over to him at the counter. ‘I think I’ve run out of maps…. Right, I shall see to it.’
‘Alright, sir, I’ll see you in the morning then. Good night!’ he said and left me.
Day 1 in the city of art: It was the twelfth day of September, Wednesday morning to be precise and the early hours of the morning were still at hand. Nothing could be more appealing than waking up to the sound of bells; the sound of the bell tower or Giotto’s bell tower. this quintessential 14th-century Gothic-style building standing freely next to Florence’s iconic Cathedral, one of Florence’s oldest relics. Through the windows of the small room, I could see spires of all kinds, old and new. Amongst them was a remarkably opulent beige coloured structure with an orange coloured dome which stood out from the rest. It was the heart of the city. Yes, that was the Florence Cathedral (I’ll come to that part soon enough).
At about the same time, someone knocked at the door. ‘It’s me, Massimo,’ said a voice. ‘Massimo, the hotel’s caretaker. I have with me some maps and a basic tour guide that was promised to you at the time of booking. Also, your breakfast.’ he said.
A beautiful start to a long day ahead. I had a frugal breakfast before setting out to explore the city; an apple and a few slices of bread. Now that my morning chores were over, I was resolved to visit a minimum of 4 attractions spread over 5 kilometres by the end of the first day. Unlike in Rome, the attractions in Florence are closely spaced. They are separated by a few hundred metres at the most. So, you won’t be needing a transport, your legs will do just fine.
The journey began at the Basilica of Santa Croce. But first, I had to exchange my printed voucher for a Firenze card. This card is a common gate pass to most of the attractions in Florence. Once purchased, it is valid for 3 days and can be used to enter 70 odd attractions across the city. It cost me some €75 online. I must say that though it wasn’t a very profitable investment, I could at least visit attractions worth €80 and that’s good enough considering the time that I spent in each of them. One of these exchange counters was located close to my hotel. 500 metres west of Soggiorno la pergola, said Google’s GPS navigation system, is Info Point Turistico Cavour.
The Basilica was now more than a kilometre away to the south-east of my current location. This iconic monument is a burial place of many honourable Florentines including Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei among others. What’s more interesting is that Galileo wasn’t allowed a Christian burial until some 90 years after his death.
One simply cannot miss the memorial to Giovanni Battista Niccolini (A 19th-century poet Courtesy: Wiki) to the left of the entrance (basically, this is the statue of Athena, in Greek, or Minerva, in Latin – a Pagan goddess of war) which is said to have inspired Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty.
Some half a kilometre from the basilica to the west stands the Uffizi Gallery – one of the world’s finest and oldest art galleries and Italy’s most prominent art museum. With a collection of over one thousand artworks spread over 60 halls, it takes an entire day to tour this wonderful museum if one spends a mere 3 seconds per painting. This is a collection of some of the most highly acclaimed artworks from all over Europe, ranging from the earliest pagan depictions to the most recent Christian murals, it is a pleasurable experience for sure.
The Birth of Venus is Uffizi’s or perhaps the world’s most famous painting. The alluring Venus standing on her shell is the most remembered aspect, but in person the work delights in its little details– in folds of fabric and floating flowers. Its sheer size and beauty also impresses.
The fact is, Florence is so overflowing with art that it is believed that some people get dizzy just by looking at them. It is known by the name Florence syndrome or Stendhal syndrome (Courtesy: Wiki). I felt the true meaning of relativity within these walls when time seemed to pass really quickly, just as Einstein had once quoted.
I completed my tour of the museum at about lunchtime, some 2:30pm I suppose. A good time for a nice Italian meal. As I’ve already mentioned, finding vegan food is relatively easy. Moreover, Tuscany is famed for its quality meat so finding a good vegetarian in the capital is a joy. Brac, an Italian restaurant that also serves vegan/vegetarian foods is some 700 metres from the gallery, a typical modern Italian restaurant. But the cherry on the cake is the soothing Italian music. Dining with rows of bookshelves filled with tomes dedicated to art, architecture, photography, design, film and theatre was ecstatic. The cafe is usually crammed because of the delicious food they serve. A plate of eggless pasta and salad was especially fantastic.
Going north along the river Arno, I reached the Piazza Vecchio, Florence’s town hall. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, this building contains a copy of Michelangelo’s David and basically hosts cultural gatherings (a meeting place for the florentines).
The Fountain of Neptune (Not to be confused with the fountain of the same name in Piazza Navona, Rome) within this plaza represents the dominion of the florentines over the sea. These are just a few of the many sculptures within the complex.
Anyroad, having gained a little knowledge of this place, I moved on to my next attraction due to time constraints. Crossing the river Arno is one of Florence’s many historical stone bridges. The Ponte Vecchio (a.k.a. Old Bridge) – a medieval arch bridge – crosses the river close to Piazza Vecchio. And the view from the bank is spectacular; even better when it gets dark. However, the chaotic viaduct looked very ordinary under the bright sunlight.
It was a stroll through history, through time that transcends everyone’s expectations and a proper end to the first day in the city of art!
– Immortal Chiron