Wednesday, March 25, 2009
After Rome, our next stop (and our final stop in Italy) was the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence. Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy and is known as being the birthplace of the Renaissance. Florence is also famous for several other things including certain goods most notably leather and gold. It is also the home to one of the most infamous royal families in all of European history, the Medici Family and several well known pieces of art.
There is a much different feel in Florence than the other Italian cities that we visited. Whereas Florence does have some absolutely spectacular sites and many old palaces and churches, a lot of Florence seems new and walking around it feels more like a massive marketplace and shopping center than a city full of ancient treasures. When we first arrived in Florence we went to a beautiful church, Santa Maria. Just looking at the intricate designs on this church begins to give you a glimpse into what the rest of the city will be like. After visiting Santa Maria, we were taken a leather demonstration to see the process of making leather and also to receive tips on how to know if what we are buying genuine leather or not. This was a neat demonstration, but I would have rather spend more time in the city than listening to how leather is made and then of course being cattle horsed into the shop to be convinced to purchase leather goods.
After the demonstration we had a little bit of free time before meeting up for our included guided tour of the city. Several of us decided to take advantage of the great shopping in the city and headed on a hunt for leather boots . After quite a search, we luckily managed to find some. We also had even more gelato that was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend trying the gelato in Florence if you can. Following out free time, we met back up with the group to take our group photo and also to meet our tour guide who was going to take us around the city explaining the major sites and the history of the city.
The included tour was very worthwhile. Our tour guide did a great job of explaining the different sites we were seeing and really unfolding the story of Florence to us. It was a nice and relaxing way to see the city in a short period of time. Our tour ended at one of the iconic areas of Florence, Santa Croce which is the largest Franciscan church in Italy and is the resting place for several notable Italians. The church is created with intricate designs and beautiful colors and the fresco paintings on the Basilica ceiling are breathtaking. On a good weather day, you also have the option of climbing to the top of the Dome of Santa Croce to get stunning views of the city itself. Unfortunately when the weather i bad or wind is strong, the Dome will be closed. There is not cost to enter Santa Croce, but there is a small fee to climb the Dome and like most churches in Europe, you can feel free to leave a donation after visiting.
Right next to Santa Croce are two other great sites that if you have the time you should visit when in Florence. The first site is the Baptistry which was built in the 11th century and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Inside you will find mosaic artwork and a marble pavement of the zodiac. Again, this is another great example of the type of architecture and art that Florence is famous for. The other site right by Santa Croce is the Campinile bell tower. If you are up to it, you can purchase a ticket and climb the 414 stairs to the top to see an incredible view of the city. It is quite a workout but definently worth it when you get to the top.
Other famous sites in Florence that you should be sure to visit when you are there include the Galleria delgi Uffizi which holds the largest collection of Renaissance art, tapestries, and sculputers by many of the art masters. Another site to visit is the Galleria dell'Academia which holds art and sculptures from the 13th-16th centuries. Most famously in this museum, is Michelangelo's David. If you do not have time or cannot get in to see David at the Academia, then you can head over to the Piazza della Signoria where you can catch a glimpse of a reproduction of David as well as see magnificant statues that are located throughout the Piazza.
One last area to visit during your time in Florence is the Ponte Vecchio which is a bridge built in 1345 that is the only remaining medival bridge in the city as the rest were destroyed during World War II. Today, the Ponte Vecchio is the home to many of the fine jewelers selling one of Florences pirzed goods through gold and silver, so if you are looking to pick something nice up for yourself or for a loved one, this is the place to visit.
After spending the day in the city, we headed back to our hotel to get ready for a fun evening out. Our evening started with a tradition Tuscan meal that included another buffet style meal with several courses, unlimited wine, and famous Italian entertainment with a piano player and an Opera singer. Again, there was amazing food, drinks, and dancing/singing. By this point in the tour, I had completely lost my voice, so it was a rather interesting evening for me. This is an optional excursion with the Contiki trip, that I highly recommend. After dinner we headed our for more dancing at the Space Electric Disco where we had more drinks, sang karoke, everyone got rather friendly, and of course we danced. For the most part, we had taken over the club, but it was a Sunday night. Several locals did show up so if you wanted to, you had the opportunity to mix with some of the locals. Again, this was just a great overall night where we got to let loose, have fun, and experience the nightlife of the city.