Piazza and Basilica of Santa Croce
We have just returned from 8 days in Tuscany. It was a really good break and we stayed for the week in Montecatini, a spa town central to Florence, Pisa and Siena. It was a group tour, which means that not only were hotel and air travel arranged but also a series of day trips with professional guides in the Tuscany region. The hotel provided breakfast and evening meals every day and on this occasion we were lucky enough to have a dining room separate from other hotel guests so it meant that we got to know a good number of the 38 people on the trip. We will say more about this in subsequent blog entries on the Tuscany trip.
Our first full day was spent in Florence and although it is early in the season, it was still quite crowded, with queues for many of the galleries.
We were warned about pickpockets so kept our valuables close at all times. It was comforting to see pairs of Carabinieri out patrolling the main squares although I did snap this picture of a woman attempting to distract them while her accomplices stole leather belts from a stall right behind them.
We also, believe it or not, came within inches of riot police who were controlling a protest march. There was a lot of shouting and waving of hands (well, it is Italy) but it didn’t look particularly violent to us. It was right outside the Prada shop so maybe they were just customers angry at how much they had been fleeced.
This city is living history. We had a guide who was able to give us some good information about the buildings, the statues, the people, over the past centuries of its existence. We have in fact visited Florence once before, having driven here on our original OE in 1974. Yes, 41 years ago! Surely we cannot be that old? Our memories had dimmed somewhat (yes, all right, we are that old) but we did remember the magnificent Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio. The Duomo, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (St Mary of the Flowers) as it is properly known, was begun in 1296 and finished in 1436. The exterior is all mosaic marble and the colours remain strong. The Ponte Vecchio is also medieval, built in 1345, and is a covered bridge for shops selling mainly expensive jewellery.