Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, Florence, the symbol of the Renaissance, rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the Medici in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity can be seen above all in the 13th-century cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the work of great masters such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michelangelo - http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/174
If you're in Florence, you would be remiss not to climb one of the two viewpoints the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore has to offer. As I'd gone up the famous dome before, we decided to head to Giotto's Campanile instead (perhaps better known as The Tower Thing Next To The Big Dome). It was a tiring climb and a scarily-long way up:
But the view was more than worth it!
If you have the funds, time and energy, it's almost worth doing both, as going through the dome gives you a close-up look at the incredible fresco on the interior.
We also ventured to Piazzale Michelangelo across the river, for yet more beautiful views of the city. Just as well, because it was the only place we actually found a UNESCO sign! (Pictured at the end of this post)
As with Rome, the best way to take in the sights is to walk - but if you can get hold of bicycles, even better. Luckily, the Airbnb place we were staying in had some free bikes we could use to get around.
Unluckily however, I was going down a slight hill when I found out that the brakes on my bike didn't really work. Fortunately I managed to crash into the back of James instead of a moving vehicle, so avoided any major injury.

If you can manage it, it could be even more fun to procure one of these cute mini cars - essential for navigating the city's cobbled, narrow lanes.
Of course we made the rounds to all the major tourist attractions, including the Uffizi Gallery, and the famous Ponte Vecchio, which as you may know from either reading a Dan Brown novel or watching Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour, has a 'secret' walkway spanning its length.
Looking super atmospheric at night
We were lucky enough to catch some amazing sunsets in Florence - this was one of them
One of the amusing thing we photographed in Florence were the ubiquitous splatty pig vendors, this one on Ponte Vecchio.
Basically, it's a squishy ball, usually with porcine features, which splatters when it lands on a hard surface, but quickly reforms into a jellyish sphere after a few seconds. For some reason, there were guys at pretty much every single tourist attraction in Italy selling these cheap Chinese-made toys. Demonstrations were carefully timed for when a potential buyer was walking past. We would often approach a gauntlet of pig vendors and hear the SMACK, SMACK, SMACK of several pigs being hurled onto the ground as we passed. I almost wish we'd bought one back as a souvenir. Every time I see a splatty pig now, I'll think of Italy.

Even in the birthplace of pizza and pasta, it seems there's one foodstuff people the world over can't get enough of - fried chicken. Here's the menu of an ingenious fried chicken vendor near Via Dante Alighieri.
Bonus points for violating two copyrights simultaneously!
Like many foodies, I had fairly high expectations of the food in Italy. I'm exactly the sort of person who would (and did) research where to go in each locale and possibly even queue to get in. Despite this sort of excessive preparation, we still had plenty of disappointing meals. In Florence, I made the mistake of ordering the local specialty - Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. This presented a major problem as it was a massive, Fred Flintstone-sized t-bone meant to be shared, and James is the sort of guy who prefers his steak medium to well-done (a crime against steak, I know). To be honest, the steak was a bit rarer than even I would normally order it. However, like any good Chinese person who abhors food waste, I managed to choke down the entire lot and still drunkenly cycle home afterward.
In Italy you can only get steak rare, raw or possibly still living - they don't know the meaning of 'medium'
I'm not sure what's with the eyes...
[Flickr set here]

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