We decided last night to do something today, which is just another way of saying we didn’t really make any decisions last night, save for hitting up the hotels breakfast service as soon as it starts at 07:30. I’m not one to start my days so late, especially considering we’ve delayed our start for a bowl of cereal, some cookies and a cup of machine coffee. Steph, however, assures me that I’m the weird one for considering 07:30 “late,” and that normal people on holiday are still in their beds. I mumble something about how I can’t help being exceptional (as opposed to normal), but I’m pretty sure she’s tuned me out.
It is pleasantly cool when we hit the streets and again there isn’t a cloud to be found in the sky. Most shops and attractions are still in set-up mode, preparing for the hoards of tourists that will soon enough descend upon them. For the moment though it is still relatively quiet.
One of the quirks of Florence we’ve already noticed is how determining the actual opening times of businesses and attractions is a bit, well, quirky. Take for example this mornings first destination, the mighty Duomo. According to our guide-book and the properties official website it ain’t open now, and yet here we are at a ticket counter sorting out a pass for the Duomo and several other attractions at the cathedral. The door was open, we went in and just like that we’re on our way up.
And by on our way up I do mean up; 90 meters and 463 steps later we emerge atop Filippo Brunelleschi’s architectural masterpiece to breath-taking views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside beyond. Leaning a bit forward over the chest high safety railing and peering through the distorted perspective of a wide anglelens is quite the head trip, to say the least. Of course we both blast away with the cameras, but in all honesty our photos from here are sure to disappoint. This is something that has to be experienced in person, and we both know how lucky we are to be doing just that.
Watching my lovely wife casually stroll around where others cower in fear – or simply wait on the ground – I feel as though I must mention a bit of personal information about Steph. You see, Steph is afraid of heights. Or rather, she claims to be afraid of heights. Together we have taken in views from atop the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Rockefeller Center (twice), William Wallace Monument, Scott Monument, Hunting Island Lighthouse and a few Class 4 rock formations in the mountains. Steph, my dear, you are afraid of heights to the same degree that Rush Limbaugh is afraid of pills, doughnuts and blatant, unrepentant lying.
After about 30 minutes at the top we make our way back down the graffiti covered stairways (not the good, creative kind of graffiti by the way) and exit the cathedral, still with no real plan to speak of. We decide to wander south towards the river and explore a bit. The climb up the adjacent Giotto’s Campanile can wait til the afternoon, and will give us another “must do” experience to look forward to.
By this time the crowds have really started to grow in numbers, and we’ve begun seeing yet another variable thrown into the already chaotic mixture of cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, cyclists and pedestrians: Segways. To be more specific, we are seeing large groups of Americans on Segways. That last sentence could also read groups of large Americans on Segways. Apparently Florence is where all stereotypes come to be confirmed.
Wandering the most obscure and least congested side streets we can find along the way, we eventually make our way across the aforementioned Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is packed with people window shopping the jewelry merchants which line both sides. Very few people actually seem to be in the shops however, and in almost every doorway stands a chain-smoking shopkeeper eying up potential suckers for the fleecing. Wait, I mean to say customers for the pleasing, as I am not being a cynical dick any more.
In the interest of travel research we grab a gelato at a café on the far side of the bridge while basking in the ever warming sunshine. Given that this is our second dose of Florence’s famous cold treat, I feel as though I have sufficient expertise to authoritatively state what I have suspected all along: it’s just ice cream people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice enough (and yes, there is such a creature as bad ice cream and I encountered it once in Costa Rica), just nothing to write home about. Or to write a blog post about. I should probably move on now.
And so we’ve moved on, now back across the Ponte Vecchio and wandering east along the Arno toward the Basilica di Santa Croce. It’s hardly far to walk and the weather is perfect, yet we find the crowds significantly thinned. The basilica is a lovely building, fronted by a lovely square with lovely street musicians adding to the ambiance of it all. It’s all very lovely. Once again Stephtakes the lions share of the photos here as I seem to have become unmotivated by dehydration and hunger, silly tourist that I am.
Yet more wandering ensues – with a much-needed break for overpriced food and drink along the way – and eventually we meander our way back to the Piazza del Duomo. We make a brief walk through of the sparsely beautiful Battistero di San Giovanni before again chillaxing in the sun for a while, a rare pleasure for those of who reside in the northeast of Scotland. On a completely irrelevant side note, I am both mildly relieved (because of my non-existent ability to spell on my own) and yet strangely dismayed that Word has recognized “chillaxing” as a valid, um, word.
Finally, after more than an hour of lazing in the sun like two albino elephant seals, motivation has taken hold and we make the climb up Giotto’s Campanile. This time we have a mere 85 meters and 414 steps to climb before being rewarded with more incredible views of Florence. Unlike the Duomo, which you will recall has only a chest high railing along its edge, the top of the Campanile walkway is surrounded by a righteously hideous steel cage. I spend the next several minutes imagining the multitudes of Darwin Awards scenarios which would necessitate the installation of such a ruinously ugly structure atop such a magnificent building, much to my childish amusement I must confess.
With the Campanile ticked off our list we once again walk south – or rather southwest in this instance – towards the Arno. Southwest this time because we want to catch the warm glow of the late day sun as it shines on the western facing side of the Ponte Vecchio. Our view this evening is from the Ponte a Santa Trinitá, the next bridge to the west of the Ponte Vecchio and a great place to make out with your significant other. Not that I would know from personal experience or anything, but a fair few couples in our vicinity seem to be feeling the love – or lust perhaps.
On our way back to the room now, we again stop at the Piazza della Republica and sit on a bench right next to the merry-go-round. I make a few experimental photos (nothing kinky you pervs, although if you’re keen on modeling for some drop me an email) before being drawn towards the familiar sweet smell of waffles and ice cream. This, it turns out, is a mistake on so many levels.
26 Euros out of pocket later and we’re both holding giant waffle ice cream sandwiches on tiny pieces of wax paper. Mine begins to drip almost immediately and I’m struggling to even fit the damn thing in my mouth for a bite, much less keep up with the melting. Only through relentless noshing do I manage to keep from being covered in melting ice cream, aside from my hands of course which have become a sticky mess. Somehow Steph’s waffle sandwich is producing nary a drip, and the sick pleasure she is taking at my expense is causing me to seriously reevaluate the future – or lack thereof – of our relationship.
I finish the damn waffle thingy (as it shall henceforth be known) on the street outside our hotel. Steph has gone into the room, leaving me alone out here to die a sticky handed death. Okay, she actually went in to put her still not melting damn waffle thingy in a bowl and to bring me out some toilet paper for my hands.
“You know mine melted because I’m so hot, right?” “You know you’re delusional, right?” And thus ends our second day in Florence, Italy.