I've arrived in the most inhabited city of Tuscany - Florence (or Firenze in Italian). That's actually useful to know as you'll be waiting for a long time in the train station if you're looking for 'Florence'.
Here is the adjoining building attached to the rear of my hostel:
Your eyes are not deceiving you - that really is a large and significant church here in Florence and I'm staying in the old convent that remains connected to it.
Can translate the name of the hostel?
It is named the hostel of seven Saints.
Any guesses as to which was my bed? Mother taught me well you know.
With this recent change to my intended travel route destination (Cinque Terra), I had no expectations of Florence having not been able to put in any research into the city - though that would soon come around to haunt me. You see after I began wandering, I experienced a feeling I haven't had in a long time - the curse of wanting to see everything a city has to offer.
Despite that being an outrageously impossible target anyway, that didn't prevent the overpowering feeling from taking over and it's something I haven't been able to get rid of permanently. This unachievable and unrealistic concept I appear to unintentionally have put upon myself comes with it a ton of pressure and consequently that gets the better of me from time to time. This pressure generates profound frustration which can get me quite down - like it did for some of today. (On the contrary, it's pretty much the only single thing that does get me down which still says a lot about my solo travelling experience to-date).
The reason this doesn't happen more often is twofold; typically I will have good reasoning behind why I'm visiting a particular city and also because I'll have bookmarked some previously researched attractions so I at least have an idea of what to look for and roughly how to get there. These two things alone mitigate my chances of wasting time, energy and help prevent aimless wandering.
Alas, these were the two things I didn't do in preparation for this city excursion and I suffered for it. I wandered the streets for hours consciously aware that I'm in a city steeped in so much culture, history and just about everything else and yet I hadn't a clue what any of it was including the very monuments I was taking photos of. As such, it would be fair to say I had been dwarfed and consumed by the awe and grandeur of Florence - and I was just a few hours into exploring it. Naturally then it wasn't long before the the dreaded 'what am I doing and where am I going' feelings surfaced. Was I subconsciously applying that thought to my life in general?
In saying that thankfully this feeling didn't prevent me from taking some photos of what some of Florence had to offer including the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella - down the road from the main train station of the same name.
Notice below the incredibly clear reflections in the serene river. BTW, that's the same river Argo I last showed in Pisa.
In the distance is the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge. Disappointingly not much to look at I have to say but then again, it's considerably old! I also understand this to be the only bridge crossing the Arno that the Germans failed to destroy in WW2.
Any guesses as to how the space on the bridge is occupied and utilised? Clearly there is a pedestrian path for people to cross but anything else?
What about mini shops/outlets? On something so old and precious, surely not....
Oh yes and not just any form of retail, super high-end watches and jewellery shops from one end to the other!?!? How random I can admit thinking. In fact this surprised me. Has it you?
Time now to visit one of the city's main attractions which was centrally based too - The Santa Maria del Fiore di Firenze.
Actually the cathedral is part of close-by complex located in Piazza del Duomo including the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile (the tall tower I'll shortly show you). The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site
You can climb both of these structures with the taller of the two directly above having considerably less queue time and less expense. This would have therefore been the one I opted for but for a couple of insignificant reasons, I didn't mange to. I know my Mother climbed the main church when she was younger and hoped I would do the same but don't fret Mother as later you'll see I managed to get an equally impressive vantage point which came with more surrounding beauty than I would have got from having been just another tourist up high on these buildings.
Prior to these images I battled with my mind for a couple more hours by blocking out the thoughts with some music before finally accepting that after 4 hours of solid wandering, even with a map I'd recently acquired, this was plenty for day one. I needed to get back to base and restrategize for the next day and so that's what I did.
By the end of the evening, and after a couple of beers with a nice young English couple from Devon also staying at the hostel, I was back to my positive self for two reasons and surprisingly the beers weren't one of them. Firstly, I had put in some research followed by bookmarking these potential 'spots of interest' so at least now I had a plan and mapping system of sorts ready for tomorrow. Secondly, I did what I'd done once before when I felt like this, I sought guidance from my peers - professional travel bloggers that are paid by advertisers and travel agencies! Oh, and I can seek this guidance without actually speaking with them.
The outcome was immensely gratifying.
Although two of them hadn't been to Florence, the other two had and by chance, it was these 'other two' that I was particularly interested in hearing from because the first chap, an American, his writing and photography is second-to-none. The second chap, an Irish lad, is probably the most financially successful of all of them with a specific target - to travel every country in the World! Beyond normal comprehension but also something you need deep pockets to be able to pull off.
The American turned his three weeks in Italy into an itinerary for people to use. Spend X days here, visit this, then go here type thing. Pretty easy but still wholly useful to a lot of people over the years I'm sure. Regarding his Florence posts, there was surprisingly little content and he basically focused on the 'best places to stay' in Florence. Could I interpret this in that he too struggled (or took the easy way out) in conveying the architectural and cultural wonder of Florence?
As for the unstoppable, successful Irishman, I want to show you his blog format and content consistent throughout his blog so not a one off. Feel free to lightly skim or intently read.
That's honestly it. A white background with a few paragraphs of basic background information (no life stories, profound emotions or experiences) and as for the pictures, well, they speak for themselves. And yet this appears to keep his viewing public satisfied with something like 70 comments attributed to this article!
Can you see and understand why I felt a whole lot less disappointed in myself?
I'd like to think that my regular readers can immediately notice a comparable difference in both effort and quality!? Then consider I'm not even making a penny from this site and nor do I have an extensive audience. Think how unbelievably depressing that is for me to accept. Darn it, just as I was beginning to feel better!
I haven't even got to my favourite bit yet. The image of the first attraction, the Piazza del duomo and more specifically the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, well it isn't even of the correct cathedral. He's displayed the colossus from Milan!
Moving on to my big and better-prepared second day...............................
Well, it didn't happen!!! (But don't feel to sorry for me just yet...)
Those images poorly reflect the amount of rain that was falling at this point. It was bucketing down and did for a little while longer. In a way though I'm glad it happened as it made me think I'd made the right decision in deviating from my Cinque Terra plan.
I managed to alter my mindset from being sad to not be able to explore more of Florence into using this time wisely catching up with many things on the computer. In fact, it was good to just chill at base as that's not something I do too often. It later adorned on me that as I had no time sensitive plans on for tomorrow (other than eventually needing to head back to Pisa to stay the night to catch a flight stupidly early (again) the next morning), I could use tomorrow's 'checking out' day to recover the time I lost on 'rain day'. I just needed better weather and low and behold, I got it!
Below is the area of the Piazza della Signoria/Palazzo Vecchio which amongst other big buildings, resides the Accademia Gallery (The Uffizi Gallery) holding the original version of Michelangelo's 'David' and other sculptures and Renaissance paintings.
I was close to paying to go into see the original 'David' statue but in the end I was happy to see the replica nearby. I like to think he was created so skint backpackers could also marvel at such impressive work - just without the price tag to see an original.
No you philistines, this isn't him.
But this is:
Having finished up down here it was time to seek an aerial view - especially as I didn't get to climb the 400 stairs of one of the churches earlier. And what's this first thing I see having reached the top of Piazzale Michelangelo? Another blooming 'David'.
Having seen the first replica only hours ago, this time is was actually the abundance of beauty behind and surrounding him that caught me attention.
I was able to take this last batch of images from this one location high above the Florence metropolis. The images are diverse but all share common beauty conceived from a variety of sources, including: Mother Nature, man's own hand and the good Lord.
Anyone spot these last two images were not the same Ferrari?
And finally I observed 'after-wedding' scenes of a couple having earlier tied the knot. I'm not surprised they chose to come up here to add some beautiful scenery to the portfolio. Was chuffed my few images came out as well as they did.
I think the words you were looking for there were: 'The lad's done well'.
So now that I can differentiate between a Michelangelo's 'David' and a Sandro Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' does that mean I'm an educated man? :-)
You know they say travel is the best form of education and I'm inclined to agree.