Italy: Florence and Me ~ Day 6 (Part 1)

Un buon 24 ore di Firenze… – The first 3 hrs.

Thursday, April 28th 2011: Florence

BTW, the B&B Hotel Firenze Centro – definitely a great little budget hotel that I would stay at again.

We had done quite a bit of walking over the last couple days so far, but we were still ambitious enough to be up early to go to the Duomo di Firenze (Santa Maria del Fiore). Lizzie, Laura, Josh and I decided to skip the leather demo, and were among the first in line to climb the 464 stairs to the top of the cathedral for the best view of Florence.

As we walked through the narrow streets we could see the red dome of the church building from afar and then, almost suddenly, we rounded a corner and there it was. It was massive, and seemed even more so because it was surrounded by crowded buildings, and tight roads and alleyways. While we waited to be let in, we did the math and worked out that at a pace of one stair per second it should take about 7 mins total to reach the top. But a stair a second was being optimistic. The climb felt long, my quads started to hurt and I had a flashback of climbing the pyramid in Egypt, only this time it wasn’t musty and warm. The staircase, made of stone, was cool and dry with small windows so you could take a deep breath of the light breeze and see your progress as you got higher up. But sometimes the spaces were small (like the pyramid), and it was particularly tiring to go up the tight winding sections that literally went in small circles around tall columns. About halfway up, the path led into the cathedral to a narrow wraparound balcony. From here, we could look down into the church, and then look up at the beautifully painted dome ceiling with a centre skylight. The last couple of steps up to the platform outside were steep, and a long dress was not a good idea for stair climbing, but there is no doubt every last step was worth it.

The 360-degree view of Florence was amazing. You could see everything: every building in the entire town, clustered close together and then scattering on the outskirts and stretching into the green hills we’d seen the day before. Beyond that were the silhouettes of mountains that lined the horizon, meeting the blue sky.

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We stayed up there for a bit, and of course, it was much quicker getting back down than it was going up. But the entire trip took us under an hour, so we made good enough time to make it back to the Piazza Della Signoria to meet the group and the guide for the walking tour. This is the only hour that I would have probably skipped were I to do this again. The tour was slow and was too much information for the time frame we were working with. All I really remember is the wedding party we saw coming out of the Palazzo Vecchio with lots of rice and confetti, and walking through the town with the guide and getting a better feel for where things were. I snapped a couple pics, but once I realized we were back at the Duomo, where the walking tour finally ended, I pulled a u-turn and went off the explore Florence properly on my own.

Looking around as I walked, it was hard to ignore how absolutely gorgeous everything is – the churches, the buildings, the houses, the statues. There wasn’t a plain wall to be seen anywhere. The architecture, the paintings, the décor, the ceilings, the stained glass windows… it’s mind blowing how every single detail has meaning and a reason attached to it. The history in this country actually feels alive because it’s everywhere and is tied into everything around you.

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