For the love of God:
The dome of the Cathedral is the symbol of Florence featuring on postcards, calendars and the front of guidebooks. It’s hard to appreciate just how huge the building is until you are standing in the Piazza San Giovani gazing up at the sparkling-white, marble façade. Entrance is free and the beauty continues on the inside with marble statues, bold frescos and, within the dome itself, splendid scenes of the Universal Judgement by Vasari. A combined ticket (€10) gives access to the dome, for a better view of the frescos (463 steps), to Giotto’s campanile (414 Steps), the crypt (housing the remains of a 4th century church) and the Baptistery (currently shrouded in scaffolding). But my budget is tight and my knees are weak.
A short distance away is the smaller Orsanmichele with its statues of the patron saints of the guilds and religious tabernacles. It was originally a grain market but was converted into a church in 1380.
For the love of Art:
I had read that it is next to impossible to get into the Uffizi Gallery unless you have advanced reservations but on a Friday in February it couldn’t have been simpler. No queues, no additional reservation charges and very few people. In fact, I was so surprised at being able to walk straight in that it took a while to realise that I wasn’t day dreaming. But as I climbed the wide marble staircase to the top floor the dream became a reality. I also realised that not only does the Uffizi house some of the most famous works of art in the world, it is also a work of art itself. Long, bright corridors with delicately painted ceilings form a long U shape with views of the river Arno from the far end. Smaller rooms lead off from the corridors, their walls draped with stunning paintings of mainly Italian artists or they are filled with Roman statues of gods and busts of statesmen.
Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is well known, but personally I prefer his earlier “Primavera” which hangs on the adjacent wall. “The Annunciation”, an early work by Leonardo Di Vinci, shows an unusual appreciation for perspective and Michelangelo’s “The Holy Family” is a feast of colours. Unfortunately, as part of the lengthy expansion and reorganisation of the gallery, several of the rooms are closed and I fail to find any paintings by my favourite Italian artist, Canaletto.
Exiting the Uffizi proves much harder than entering and I have to wind my way through a seemingly endless line of gift shops and a post office before being unceremoniously ejected through the back door and into a grubby side street.
But you don’t have to pay through the nose to see fine art in the Uffizi. Just a few metres from the gallery entrance is the Piazza della Signoria, where some incredible sculptures are displayed. Some, like Michelangelo’s “David”, are copies, while others in the Loggia are originals. But don’t get too close or try to climb on the lions as the security guards will blow their whistle and glare at you.
For the love of Gucci:
Most people think of Milan as the fashion capital of Italy but Florence has also been making its mark in the fashion world. It has actually been a key supplier of luxury textiles, leather and jewellery since the 15th century and continues to supply the fashion houses of today. Close to the Piazza del Duomo I come upon elegant shops for Gucci and Prada. All around me the locals are dressed in tall, black, leather boots and fur coats, carrying oversized D&G handbags and wearing dark glasses (it is actually sunny!). Posh Spice would be very much at home here but I am definitely not.
For the love of food:
Pasta, pizza and pastries can be found on every street corner but when you cannot eat wheat this often proves to be problematic. Grabbing a quick, cheap snack on the street is not always possible. At least it excuses me from trying the local delicacy of a tripe sandwich, served at stalls in some of Florence’s squares. Luckily, there is always the delicious cheese and cold meats to tuck into and for dessert, a gelato in one of the ice cream parlours. Though I’m wary of the prices since a family was charged €50 for four ice creams in Rome last year!
In front of the Santa Maria Novella Basilica I find a large white marquee dedicated to chocolate. Dozens of stalls are displaying artisanal, hand-made chocolates, waffles with chocolate, dried fruit with chocolate and even chocolate liqueurs. They are doing good business as today it is Valentine’s Day so all the romantic men are taking the opportunity to grab a last minute offering of love.
For the love of love:
I can see why so many people fall in love with Italy. It is a very romantic county and the people are very passionate. They are not shy about demonstrating their affections and so it is quite common to see couples kissing at the bus stop, cuddling on the church steps or embracing in the middle of the street. Today, many people are selling red roses for it is the feast day of St Valentine and a time to make declarations of love. However, I suspect that love and lust are also apt to creep up on them unawares as it is quite common to find durex vending machines outside the pharmacies.