Our morning starts are getting later and later, from 5am on Wednesday we are now rising at a more sensible time of 7.30 but it's still not early enough to beat the crowds that flood in to Florence. Florence in the most fabulous city and Rob and I have had a perfect day.
Starting with a brisk 20 minute walk via Santa Croce, one of many stunning Cathedrals (we didn't go in as there was queuing by half 9) we headed towards a market in Piazza Ghiberti. This market captured the essence of fresh Italien food brilliantly with cheeses, cured meats, crusty breads,pastas, oils and vegetables as well as weird stuffed chicken necks, tripe by the bucket load and even brain. It was only a shame that Rob and I had just had breaky or we'd have bought some food for a picnic. We meandered through the narrow maze of cobbled streets with the iconic dome in our sight, passing a few more cathedrals and piazzas (squares) on our way. One particular piazza had artisans working and selling at stalls. It was great to see jewellery making, metal sculpture, painting etc going on so fruitfully.
At last with reached the Duomo Cathedral! Wow, what a building! Every inch has been decorated or sculpted to create an overwhelming sense of beauty and magnificence. We queued to go in, but were disappointed with the rather plain interior in comparison to the outside. The dome itself does have a beautiful painting inside the roof however. Next door is the Giotto Bell tower, which we were assured was well worth the climb of 400 steps! Rob braved his fear of heights and claustrophobia and we climbed up these steps in a narrow stairway where tourists have to squeeze past each other to pass and gasp for breath (the marathon training had some positive effect) until we reached the top ledge. The whole of Florence could be seen and the reward was worth the effort.
By now it was getting towards lunch time and I had started to think about my gelati ice cream, promised to me the previous day. We hunted down some ice cream and like kids in a gelati shop, we ordered medium cones with 2 flavours each. Small heart attack when the bill was 16 euros but got over it quickly when we sat in the gorgeous sunshine soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the most delicious ice cream ever.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the streets discovering another market, this time with leather goods and jewellery and of course lots more piazzas and churches. In the heart of Florence, every building surrounding you has beautiful architecture, colour and design and so even without visiting the main tourist traps you can have a wonderful time.
Hiring bikes from the hotel this evening was a great idea for getting us to the church where we had booked to watch the opera, La Boheme. Whizzing along the cycle paths with the wind in our hair and dinging our bells was good fun and it saved our weary feet from a further half hour walk each way. The opera was set in a very ornate little church, mothered with gold, little alcoves and romantic lighting and with fewer than 100 people, it was a very intimate concert. Puccini the composer had actually been brought up in Lucca, not far from Florence, which we drove through yesterday. The opera was good but a little pricey and the pillars of the church got in the way a bit but overall we really enjoyed the cultured evening.
It's our last day in Florence tomorrow and we plan to go the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens before heading to our helpx stay in Cortona. Let's hope they have the internet or the blogs may stop for a while.