Three Swiss in Florence – overwhelmed by so much culture and history

My old dream – Florence – a mysterious town full of culture and history

Florence has always made me dream, in particular the Uffizi – one of the greatest museums in Europe. Then the Ponte Vecchio has always impressed me – topped with houses and crossing the Arno.

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I knew about three Renaissance artists that worked in Florence – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffael. I knew that Catharina de Medici had married the French king Henry II and later, Maria married Henry IV – they became the grand-parents of Louis XIV. Here is a painting showing Maria (Uffizi).

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Obviously, Florence played an important role in European history. Yes, it was an old dream of mine to visit Florence. But I have never made it there so far.

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Ursula organizes a trip to Florence for us three Swiss ladies

Ursula has spent many weeks in Florence before. I had told her about my dream. Now she makes it come true: For December 2014 she organizes a trip to Florence for her, for me and for her mum. Zurich – Milano using the Swiss Railway SBB and Milano – Florence in the high speed train Frecciarossa. She reserves rooms in the hotel Minerva at Piazza Santa Maria Novella, close to the main railway station.

When we are about to leave for Florence, I hear news about “scioperi”. The Italian railways on strike? No problem for us. SBB takes us to Milano without hesitating. And Frecciarossa is a private railway organization that does not participate in the strikes. We arrive in Florence on time, more precisely than on “normal” days, when our trains would have competed for track capacity with the public trains. After having arrived in Florence, we reach our hotel within five minutes.

Here is the view from the roof of our hotel to the Dome with the Campanile and Palazzo Vecchio.

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And this is view of the tower of Santa Maria Novella taken from one of the balconies – we are close.

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When we leave the front door of the hotel we stand in front of the renaissance facade of Santa Maria Novella.

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Trying to get an overview of all this culture – my simplified map of Florence

Ursula enthusiastically tells me about San Lorenzo, the Baptisterium, the Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, San Miniate al Monte, the Palazzo Pitti and… and… I feel overwhelmed. There is much, much more to be seen than just the Uffizi and the Ponte Vecchio. I hear that sometimes tourists end up in the emergency department of the local hospital, and the diagnosis is “overload with culture” – it is said to be a well-known phenomenon. I believe, if it is not true, it is well invented (or in Italian: si non è vero, è ben trovato).

I try to get some order into my head and draw a simplified map of the town with their places of interest. Except Fiesole, they are all within walking distance.

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The center of medieval Florence is the area around the Dome square (with the Dome, the Baptisterium and the Campanile). The Roman Decumanus and the Cardo  can still be noticed in the rectangular street pattern (they cross at today’s Piazza della Repubblica). Grouped in the center are the Palazzo Vecchio (the old townhall in Piazza della Signoria), the Bargello Palace (formerly the residence of the “Bargello”, the head of the police), Badia (a monastery, Brothers of Jerusalem), Orsanmichele (the center and curch of the trade- and craft guilds) and the Uffizi (the administrative center of the dukes of Medici, now THE museum). The center ends with Ponte Vecchio that connects to “Oltrarno” (the area “beyond” the Arno).

To the west/north west are Santa Maria Novella (belonging to the Dominicans), San Lorenzo (where the Medici dukes are buried), the nearby Mercato Centrale and the Palace of Medici-Ricasoli (with the chapel hosting gorgeous frescos of the kings traveling to adore Jesus).

To the north there are the monastery of San Marco (each cell decorated with a fresco), the Accademia (highlight: David by Michelangelo) and the Ospedale degli Innocenti (forming the harmony of Piazza SS Annunziata with the namesake church).

On a hill farther away to the north, the town of Fiesole can be reached using bus number 7 (archaeological center with Roman ruins).

To the east we find the beautiful church Santa Croce and – still farther more to the east – Sant’Ambrogio with its markets.

Beyond (or south of) the Arno (Oltrarno) is Santo Spirito (the small streets are the scene of Magdalen Nabb’s detective stories). Nearby is Santa Maria del Carmine with the Branccacci chapel (highlight: the fresco “expulsion from the paradise”). The Palazzo Pitti was home of the dukes of Medici (“hidden” in the Gallery they walked to the Uffizi, sometimes stopping by behind Santa Felicitá to attend the service; today the Palazzo is another art museum). Behind the Palazzo Pitti are the Boboli gardens (climbing uphill) and the Bardini gardens (with a wonderful view of the city). San Miniato al Monte on top of another hill is the oldest church in Florence  (church and monastery belong to the Benedictines).

These are the cultural highlights that we visited. We also spent wonderful hours eating in exellent and friendly restaurants, shopping in the markets or leather -, dress -, gem – and book stores (Florence is famous for its design culture) or just enjoying the atmosphere in the small streets where each individual house/palace has a story to tell (such as Palazzo Strozzi, Davanzati or Antinori). It is good to be in Florence in December: There are less tourists now and the temperatures seem moderate to us (15 degrees during the day) – even if some dog owners would not agree, as this snapshot taken hastily illustrates.

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The shining nose of the Porcellino indicates that most tourists want to come back to Florence.

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I feel the same – After having spent a week here, I would like to come back. However, I do not touch this nose that so many people have touched before.

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This is the literature that I used to understand more of Florence

  • Loney Planet: “Pocket Florence & Tuscany”, Feb 2014
  • ADAC Reiseführer: “Florenz” (extremely practical guide with a pull out map that my eyes could read – each place of interest has a number that allows to find the related explanations quickly and the depth of the explanations is exactly right, when walking around)
  • DuMont Kunstreiseführer: “Florenz”, 1988 and 2012 (in depth information to  dig deeper)
  • DuMont Reisetaschenbücher: “Florenz”, 1996
  • Merian Porträts: “Florenz, eine Stadt in Biographien”, 2014 (Franz Kotteder explores the biographies of 20 celebrities, including Dante, Giotto, Brunelleschi, Guccio Gucci or Magdalen Nabb)
  • Magdalen Nabb: “Death of an Englishman” and “Death of a Dutchman”, A Marshal Guarnaccia Investigation, Diogenes, 1992 and 1999 and Soho 2007 and 2001
  • Various information sources on the Internet, in particular the useful official website of the museums in Florence.

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Let me pick out some memories of this rich and enticing trip to Florence

Thank you, Ursula, for organizing and guiding us and thank you, Leni, for the great company.  It was good to travel with you, as all three of us loved to stop, watch and take our time to think and digest, when visiting the churches and museums of Florence. And we all enjoyed to do shopping and recover in comfy coffee houses or restaurants.

I want to pick out some memories and think about the history of Florence that played an important part in the European history.

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