Dante's City

Trip Start May 17, 2006
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Flag of Italy  ,
Thursday, May 25, 2006

The most impressive sight in Florence is that moment when you walk around the battistero (baptistery) and see the immense facade of the Duomo towering above you, majestically dwarfing everything else, practically blocking out the sky. It stands out in my memory as one of the most massive buildings I have ever seen. Obviously, there are bigger buildings and even bigger churches (St. Peter's) than the Duomo, but there is something special about this one. The crowds of people swarming like ants on candy covered the piazza, but they were barely visible as my eyes were drawn only toward that vast wall of white and green and red marble climbing up and up to meet the blue sky. Finally, I turned around and examined the battistero, where Dante Alighieri (poet/author of the famed "Inferno") was christened over 700 years ago. The bronze doors of the baptistery were skilfully crafted by Ghiberti in three dimensional relief, displaying scenes from the old testament. The doors blaze with golden light when the sun is right. Michelangelo evidently liked them so much that he dubbed them the "Gates of Paradise". But the dome was calling to us, and so we trudged up the 400 steps to the very top of the Duomo. Before reaching the lantern at the very top, the stairs led to a balcony that circled the inside of the dome, far above the floor of the church below. From this vantage point, we were well positioned to observe the grotesque Last Judgment , the painting which entirely covers the interior of the massive dome. Satan, the demons and the lost souls are in hell in the lower areas of the painting, and it is more graphic than the artwork of most other churches I have seen. But most impressive are the images of the apostles and elders within the very top of the dome. The illusion that they are sitting on a ledge, their legs hanging out of the painting and into the air beneath them, is strikingly realistic. But on up the stairs we went, until we passed into the very walls of the dome (the dome is constructed of a double layer of brick massive enough to allow us to walk between both layers within the wall), climbing until we reached at last the small ladder through a trap door that brought us out onto the lantern, the small balcony at the highest point of the dome. The cool breeze blew over our faces as we looked out across the vast sea of red tile roofs that away from us toward the distant hills. The view and the experience was well worth the climb.
Back down on the ground, we explored Florence by wandering the streets and loitering in the many piazzas, examining sculptures and fountains and architecture steeped in rich Italian history. We found a respite from the noisy streets in the Badia, a cool and quiet monastery tucked away from the crowds and tourists. A monk was teaching his pupils in Italian, and I was surprised to see his gentle face smile from time to time as he imparted his wisdom to the students. This was a joyful man with a heart of laughter, not the stern ascetic that I had expected. After visiting the monks, we felt the need for indulgence; so we treated ourselves to bruschetta, roasted chicken, and the most delicious ravioli's we have EVER tasted! Seriously, the 'ravioli rose' (ravioli with just the right amount of filling in a sauce of tomatoes and cream) was one of the highlights of our entire time in Europe...we still talk about them with longing (If you want to experience this magical dish, see "Tourist Info" at the end of this entry). Also, the dinner was not expensive at all! But alas, one cannot eat ravioli forever, so we spent the remaining daylight winding our way through the city streets. We walked on the Ponte Vecchio, one of the oldest bridges in Europe. At the ripe old age of nearly 700, it has seen some things. Small shops are built on the bridge, giving it a very unique appearance.
Our train to Rome was reserved for 1 PM the next day. So we packed our bags the next morning, checked out of our hotel, and headed off for our final Florentine destination: The David. Yes, the tall white naked guy that we all know and love. We had heard that the average wait was 2 hours to get into L'Accademia where David resides, but we hopped into the line that already ran down the street and around the corner. As noon came and went, we were approaching the front doors of the museum, but I was anxious about missing our train. I knew we could make it to the station in 20 minutes easily, and that it would only take 10 minutes to see the nude statue. Finally, we were at the very front of the line. The only problem was that other tourists who had made reservations took precedence over us (reservation cost extra). So we stood at the very front of the line for at least 15 minutes. I kept shaving down in my mind how long it would take for us to sprint to the train station, but finally I had to make a call: see David or catch the train. So, with heavy heart (more because I had wasted time standing in line than because I really cared so much about seeing Michaelangelo's masterpiece) we stepped out of line and headed back down the street to the station. As the crowd collectively realized what we had done, an audible sympathetic "Awwww" was made in our honor. At least it was nice to know that they cared. But we did make our train!

Travel Info:

Sights: Climb the Duomo. See above.


Hotel: This hotel had a common living room and bathroom with private bedrooms. It was okay but nothing spectacular. Florence tends to book fast; lots of hotels were full when I checked 3 weeks in advance.

Via del Moro 22
50123 Firenze
Tel +39 055 210090
+39 340 5921543
Fax +39 055 292877
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