A Greek-Aussie: love writing, love the outdoors, love my 2 kids, love heavy metal and love life (usually!).
Published March 13th 2019
I've never been to Bali or Prague. I avoided them due to being 'touristy'. So in terms of European destinations, Florence was another of these 'must see' places that I decided I mustn't see. Alas, the opportunity surfaced. Florence I did see, but more importantly, feel.
In a still, semi-jetlagged state, my first impressions of Florence were that it looked like a museum - and I meant it's outdoors. It's major square, the Piazza della signoria, contains a plethora of ancient statue copies amidst crowds, cafes and grandiose building facades. A short walk on, I encountered Florence's main touted highlight - the Duomo cathedral. Upon seeing it, I thought 'hmm, kind of like the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne'. Of course, the Duomo though is large and imposing and fascinating with its geometrical type facade (romanesque), but to me, it all seemed too much, with the hordes of mainly tourists queued up to see it's interiors.
I headed for my room over the Arno River in a quieter part of town, Oltrarno only 10 minutes walk away, crossing the Ponto Vecchio bridge - a beautiful sight with old shops (now jewellers, then butchers!). Above the shops is another covered corridor, inaccessible to the public today as it was back then. This was the aristocratic Medicci family of Florence's private walkway to avoid the public. (And I felt guilty about avoiding tourists as perhaps being a sign of snobbery!). My accommodation in Oltrarno (just over the bridge or over the 'snob's walkway) was quiet, traditional (in a renaissance sort of way I guess) and very pleasing.
Here I observed students, and small craft shops and workshops handling ceramics, leatherwork, painting and tapestries, people on cycles coming to and from work and generally obtained an idea of how the locals live. (Though the true flavour of how the locals live seems to begin a few km's out of Florence's historical centre, where the high-rise flats are).
Apart from visiting the 'must-sees' apparent in all guide books on Florence, I spoke to people. I found a secondhand shop, 'Celeste', run by the same named girl in her 20's who in broken English with my fractured Italian-esque communicated where she and her friends go to eat out cheaply, locally and 'good mangare' - Santo Spirito square, and to Dalla Lolla. Great stuff, with Florentines at their purest and finest; warm, sometimes loud and know-how friendly when it comes to treating tourists like me.
On another day, I was waiting at the bus stop to go to the much guide book proclaimed 'Michelangelo square' (better views and environment though at the Giardini Gardens), alongside an old man with his old dog. He was shabbily dressed and carried an old shopping bag and may have been homeless. The bus finally arrived and we boarded together and got lost in the crowd. I was lucky to have found a seat and bounced along merrily. Then I noticed the old man was standing and motioned to him to have my seat. He shook his head as he gestured that he was getting off at the next stop, smiled and placed something into my hand, thanking me 'Gratzie', before disembarking. His gift seemed like a lolly or chocolate as it was small and wrapped in a bright red foil package. It felt oddly shaped and I smiled sympathetically to myself thinking he had perhaps tasted a bit. Lo and behold, upon opening it - I found a ring! A gold coloured, handmade ring! Needless to say, I was moved and continue to wear it to this day which serves to remind me of kindness and feeling Florence.
Another example is an employee of the busy Pitti Palace. She left her ticket-box post, to enthusiastically point out the gelato shop that serves almond gelati that I asked her about. She led me to the Gelateria della Passera where I also discovered lavender gelati -or gelato). Bellisimo!
And once I did actually enter the Duomo, it was then that I began to truly understand and appreciate Florence as a truly masterful city of art. Quiet inside, the Duomo is relatively bare compared to it's exterior, notwithstanding its beautiful seemingly discreet art (sculptures, painted ceiling and marble floor) - it is perfectly proportioned and balanced: inside and out. I felt it. I finally felt Florence( as I hope to perhaps one day feel Bali and Prague after all).