First Walk Through Florence

Despite it still raining, we decided to go out and explore the city anyway. It wasn’t pouring any longer, just a light rain. We dodged puddles and umbrellas on the crowded Ponte Vecchio Bridge trying to keep our eyes on the ever wandering Dennie with his camera. You don’t even realize you are on a bridge because of  all of the shops lining the bridge. I made the comment, ‘Shouldn’t we be at the bridge by now?’ and then we were in the middle at the opening and it was like, ‘Oh, I guess we already are.’  Richard had packed an old poncho and put that on making him look like a Smurf and we teased him about his fashionable look.  He did look cute and was staying dry unlike Dennie and myself. I bartered with a street vendor and bought a 5 € bright yellow umbrella to match my bright yellow jacket.

Built very close to the Roman crossing, the Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, was until 1218 the only bridge across the Arno in Florence. The current bridge was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. During World War II it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. Instead they blocked access by demolishing the medieval buildings on each side. On November 4, 1966, the bridge miraculously withstood the tremendous weight of water and silt when the Arno once again burst its banks.  There have been shops on Ponte Vecchio since the 13th century. Initially, there were all types of shops, including butchers and fishmongers and, later, tanners, whose “industrial waste” caused a pretty rank stench in the area. In 1593, Ferdinand I decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers be allowed to have their shops on the bridge in order to improve the well-being of all, including their own as they walked over the bridge.

From the bridge we walked over to the Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio.  It really does surprise me that these works of art are so available to the public. By that I mean they are under roof, but they are not protected in any other way.  I am so glad that they are not covered in graffiti or damaged.  I visited this area twice and never saw anyone draping themselves on any of these beautiful sculptures. Definitely, a breath of fresh air that tourists were respecting these works of art as this is not always the case unfortunately.

Piazza della Signoria, The Loggia dei Lanzi, Palazzo Vecchio – 

To the left of the door of the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of Michelangelo’s David, marking the location where the original stood from 1504 until it was removed to the Accademia in 1873.  To the right of the door is Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus from 1534, whose base is ringed by wonderfully expressive animals’ heads.

The Loggia dei Lanzi – In addition to some heavily restored Roman statues, the loggia is home to Benvenuto Cellini’s 1545 bronze Perseus, a tour de force of bronze casting, and Giambologna’s spiraling Mannerist Rape of a Sabine of 1583. The Rape of Polyxena by Pio Fedi and Giambologna’s Hercules and the Centaur can also be found in the loggia.

Our first up close encounter with the Florence Cathedral (Duomo). I remember thinking that when I had seen photos of the Duomo, it always looked like it was made out of cardboard. It just didn’t look real. It did not look that way in person, it also, was not nearly as white as it is in photos. The first image isn’t particularly interesting except that every time I look at it on my computer in full screen mode, it makes me gasp a little and sit back at the sheer enormity of it. The photo gives a glimpse as to the scale and massiveness. Click on the photo and see if it doesn’t have the same effect on you. You won’t get the same effect on a phone or tablet, so try it on a computer screen.

Florence Cathedral aka The Duomo

I was being very careful walking around Italy so far, unfortunately, I stepped on a wet metal grate in the street, my heel slipped out from under me causing me to fall backward. I hit the side of my head on a parked car on my way down, then slammed the back of my head on the street. I heard Richard call for Dennie to come back because I had fallen. Richard and several passing Italians quickly came to my aide with an older woman trying to help me up. I thanked her but refused her helping hand fearing I would take her down with me.  Rather I crawled closer the car to get myself up.  Richard and the kind people insisted I sit inside what I think was the entrance to a church.  They waited, asking me if I was OK while they kept checking the back of my head for blood and or a lump, thankfully there was neither. I didn’t seem to be any worse for wear other than my pants being filthy and wet, but nothing hurt thankfully. We continued walking around for a bit and I decided that it might be best to return to the apartment since I didn’t know if I would suddenly get a very painful headache from hitting my head so hard. Richard walked back with me while Dennie continued on his way around the city. Once Richard was sure that I was OK, he went to meet Dennie and said that they would call me later. No headache happened and I unpacked my suitcase while watching the activity below my bedroom window.

There was a Ristorante setting up for the dinner hour, a barking dog, moms with their strollers and people gathering (since the rain had stopped). What a peaceful slice of Italian Life it was that played out below our windows.  I was hoping to hear from the guys so we could get some dinner together. Yes! I was actually hungry, but then, I had not eaten anything yet today.

Although one of Florence’s smallest squares, Piazza della Passera is, without a doubt, one of the most characteristic in the Oltrarno neighborhood and a hidden gem, filled with artisan shops, food delights and a rich history.

During the thirteenth century, Florentine law divided up the city into various named quarters, which were each assigned a heraldic flag. The area, which now hosts Piazza della Passera, came under the zone Quattro Leoni (four lions), boasting a yellow flag with four red lions. One of the piazza’s renowned trattorias, 4Leoni, has retained this historical name from the time of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de’ Medici.

There are two versions—one perhaps more widespread and convincing than the other—as to how the square got its name. The first version is somewhat tragic: the direct translation of passera, meaning sparrow, may stem from the year 1348, when Florence was ravaged by the plague, as told by Messer Giovanni Boccaccio in the Decameron.  Legend tells the story of children finding a dying sparrow in the piazza. Unable to save the bird, it died, bringing with it the Black Death, which subsequently spread throughout the city, killing over half of Florence’s population. The more generally accepted origin of the name emanates from the slang meaning of passera and has its roots in prostitution. It is widely believed that a brothel used to occupy the space, also explaining the square’s curious shape. 

Piazza della Passera

Piazza della Passera

Eventually I called Richard since I didn’t hear from them and asked if we were going to meet for dinner. They were at a restaurant eating much to my dismay so I was on my own. I went out and walked around the immediate area looking for a place to eat or get something for ‘Take Away’. I really didn’t want to eat a big meal at this point. I walked past a tiny, tiny place with a tiny window that had 3 Florentine T Bones sitting there – the Bistecca size T Bones that is. I have no idea why I didn’t take a photo! This is something that I just have to eat and I am hoping that I can convince The Boys to dine on this local treasure. Florentine Bistecca is a dish that has to be shared since the cuts of meat are huge and intended for more than one person to dine on. I found a little Trattoria nearby that had refrigerator cases in the front. I purchased some Ravioli to take back to the apartment with Ricotta and spinach and was very good. At least that is what it tasted like seeing as how the little signs in the cases were in Italian. For 3 €, I got 11 huge ravioli, I ate 5 of them and put the rest in the fridge. While I was eating, Richard called and asked if I wanted them to bring me back a Gelato, I said no because for one I was full, and I had no idea what flavor I would want.

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That night in the Piazza people gathered at the Gelateria and the small cafe as a man strolled around playing an accordion of all things. I went to bed with tantalizing smells of T-Bones grilling wafting up to my room and the sounds of Italian music from the man below and his accordion.  It was a wonderful end to the day.  I am loving Florence so far and cannot wait to get out an explore it some more in the next 2 days.

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Florence Day 2

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