Italy – Day Nine


Day Nine – 11 April 2016

Weather: Sunny, 20

Steps: 13,326

We were out and ready by nine for our bus to the train station. As we navigate the crazy Rome traffic, Rennada calls someone on the phone and says they have employed someone at the train station to save them a spot for the bus. He’s paid to lay down and sprawl out on the spot if necessary. LOL

It’s only an hour and a half to Florence and much of it is through tunnels and strangely enough, that really plays havoc with our ears as they keep popping.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlorence was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC and called it Florentia which means flourishing. The city followed the pattern of a military camp and then it was built up for retired military veterans. Its central location helped the city grow into a successful commercial location. In the 3rd century CE, it became the capital of Tuscia (Tuscany) but it soon gained the attention of more than commercial traders as it was also on the crossroads of other empires attempting to take over Italy. With the fall of Rome, its original structures were destroyed or recycled and it lost its organized grid pattern of streets.

However, it soon began to grow and prosper again, becoming a city that rivaled Paris and London in population, size and wealth. By the 14th century it was a powerful banking hub as well as fabric exporter and was controlled by the Medici family who were also great patrons for the arts. This helped set the stage for the Renaissance as immigrants and artists moved into the city including Michelangelo, Botticelli and da Vinci.

The Medici were not politicians, but controlled the government and the elections with their wealth.

Not unlike what goes on in far too many countries today.

The Medici were able to assert this control after the Florence bankers helped finance a war between France and England, and when the debt wasn’t repaid, many of the bankers folded. The Medici presence waned when the last of the family failed to produce children in the 18th century. However, she willed the works of art they possessed to the City of Florence.

Tuscany became part of Austria in 1737, then part of France and finally part of the Sardinia-Piedmont. In 1861, it was folded into the Kingdom of Italy. It replaced Turin as the capital of Italy but this was taken by Rome in 1871.

Today, Florence has a population of just under four hundred thousand and remains a centre of banking and the arts with one the world’s finest collections of Renaissance art.

We pull into the Florence train station and walk the length of the track and see the Monograms sign.

Our local host is Sara. She sends off the people who are staying at the other hotel with another host while we wait a few minutes for the group coming in from Venice. Four couples show up and we all drop our luggage with a porter who loads it into a truck. Then we walk across the street to our hotel. The train station is to the right in the photo and the hotel is to the left of it (with all the windows).

P4110275I love hotels near the train station, not only because there’s always so much there from restaurants to ATMs, but if one gets lost, all you have to ask for is the train station. The Ambasciatori is a pretty nice hotel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike the other hotels, the room is generally the size of the bed and this one is cute in how the bed is in an alcove which means the rising sun won’t wake me.

Sara holds a briefing to tell us what is going on with the included tour and other things and she sets us free on the city.

I get sorted out and then head out for a walk. I go down the street and see a big dome in the distance.

P4110253When I finally turn the corner, my jaw drops.

P4110255The Duomo or Florence Cathedral.

And then I see the bell tower.

Oh yeah!

There wasn’t much of a line-up so I decided to go on up.

P4110261All four hundred and fourteen steps.

It’s a narrow passage pretty well all the way up and at times you are doing a tight spiral which can be tricky if other people are coming down. I took those opportunities to rest. There are also different levels on the way up so that you can stop, rest and take in the view.

P4110264The view from the top is awesome.

P4110291One can also climb the dome which is slightly higher with four hundred and sixty-three steps, but the line was considerably longer. I passed the bell tower a number of times and only saw a line once.

P4120443The line for the dome climb was usually wrapped a quarter of the way around the church. The other alternative is the town hall tower which was a bit easier to climb and while the bell tower gives you a view of the town hall, the town hall gives you the view of the Duomo. I climb the town hall tower tomorrow.

P4110279From here, I wandered down to the river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio.

P4110331The bridge spans the narrowest point on the Arno and goes back to Roman times but the first documentation of such a bridge didn’t appear until 996. It was destroyed in floods in 1117 and 1333 and rebuilt in 1345. The bridge had three arches and has always been a place of commerce with shops being built on the bridge itself. At first, it was mostly butchers as the water was an easy dumping ground but the smell eventually got them evicted.

Some believe the term bankruptcy originated here as a vendor who could not pay his debt would have his table (banco) broken (rotto) by soldiers. The “bancorotto” means broken bank as once the vendor’s table was broken, he could no longer sell.

P4110338The bridge was not bombed during the Second World War and some alleged that Hitler himself ordered that the bridge be left intact but the locals here say the German in charge ensured it wouldn’t be destroyed as they withdrew. Instead, he had the buildings at either end of the bridge destroyed to impede movement and they were reconstructed after the war. Today, it’s primarily full of shops selling gold jewelry.

I took my time heading back to the hotel and got back before six. This gave me time to get my luggage sorted after the busy days in Rome and I got a laundry done.

All set for another busy couple of days. We’re going back to school!

Only this time the class is art history.



Go to Day Ten

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