We visited Florence on a Sunday in April. We drove from our agriturismo in the countryside. Thankfully, traffic was rather scarce and we were able to navigate our way to a private parking garage. Our car, a vintage 1965 Alvis, attracted a lot of attention even from the parking attendant.
Our first stop was Santa Maria Novella church. It is a beautiful building, with its typically Tuscan façade clad in white and deep green marble. Unfortunately, the church opened to visitors at 1 pm and it was after 11 am. Mass was in progress and we weren’t allowed in. We strolled around the food market in the piazza.
Florence tip: Check and double check opening times of churches. They may not make sense to anyone except the Italians.
For something different to do, we visited the nearby Santa Maria pharmacy and perfumery (officina profumo-farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella) founded in 1612. The inside is very pretty and elegant. Although the place is about four centuries old, the beautiful display cabinets date from the 19th century. We were able to wander around, take photos and sample perfumes and eau de cologne. These are very fresh and light. However, inexpensive they are not.
Since I insisted on visiting a church, any church, I went into San Marco while my husband waited in the piazza book in hand. San Marco is not a remarkable church, except it has a dead body on display in a glass coffin. Actually, it is the mummified body of a saint dressed in robes and with a silver mask covering his face. I cannot, for the life of me, understand this obsession with displaying relics, especially full bodies. The museum next door has Fra Angelico’s famous The Annunciation. The museum closes every first, third and fifth Sunday on the month and this was on the third Sunday of April. Oh well.
Florence tip: Check and double check opening times of museums. They may not make sense to anyone except the Italians.
The quintessentially Florentine Pontevecchio turned out to be a disappointment for me, in a way. They view of the bridge from afar evokes the hustle and bustle of Renaissance traders. However, the bridge is narrow and lined with jewellery shops. Fair enough, that’s traditional. But the constant stream of tourists trying to get across, take photos, and browse the shop windows makes for an uncomfortable experience. I’m not criticizing visitors, I did all that after all but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it very much.
Florence tip: just go with it.
The cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori is awe-inspiring. The inlaid green and white and pink marble creates a beautiful effect, as well as the sculptures and sundry architectural features. However, I found it less exciting inside.
Florence tip: Don’t miss Lorenzo Ghiberti’s intricately sculpted Baptistery doors. These are reproductions, the originals are carefully stored in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
I must admit we skipped the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Academia. The thought of fighting the crowds did not appeal to us at all. Call me a philistine if you will. But we did not leave Florence without seeing Michelangelo’s David. There is a reproduction in the Piazza della Signoria, its original location a few centuries ago. There are other original Renaissance sculptures in the Piazza. The bars and cafes around the piazza are a perfect place to sit down and people watch and chat over an espresso.
Florence tip: Una tazza of strong Italian caffè is a great restorative any time of day.