16.03.2013 - 16.03.2013
Firenze! We all took an early morning train from Rome to Florence, about 1.5 hours, and walked through this smaller town to Leonardo's Leather Workshop for a demonstration on how their leather products are made and how to tell the real from the fake stuff in the markets and shops. It can take months to make an item because it takes a week at a time for each layer of leather to dry after it is molded onto the object in the shape you want it to take. There is no stitching or hinges or even the original mold necessary for the finished product of the infamous Florence Box, which is quite impressive.
Florence is known for its leather and gold (up to 18K only). After the leather demonstration, we went on a guided walking tour of the city, passing statues of local celebrities such as Michelangelo, Donatello, and Galileo. In one of the larger squares, there was an incredibly large and colorfully decorated church called the Cathedral at Piazza del Duomo. The inside of this church was grand and beautiful just like the many other churches we've seen. At the alter, there was a huge dome painted with The Last Judgment, and 2 layers of balconies from which we could see people standing up there which was curious. Then we learned you can pay 8 euros to climb to the top of the Dome to get beautiful views of all of Florence. Anyways, from there we walked to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which was beautiful, crossing the Arno river. The bridge itself was filled with lots of expensive jewelry shops.
Ponte Vecchio looking at the back of the shops
On the bridge, looking down the river
After the tour, we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. A group of us older people went to the markets at San Lorenzo, which are all outdoor markets selling lots of leather products and other souvenirs of the city. Instead we went to the indoor market which was basically a huge food market selling lots of local produce, meats and cheeses, as well as having little places to eat which is where we got lunch. This was necessary before climbing 400+ stairs to the top of the Duomo! 4 of us decided to climb these dungeonous, clostrophobic, spiral stairs together. Sounds scary, but it gets better. At one point we exited the dungeon part and had to walk into one of those balconies inside the church! I felt great about this climb until I got to this balcony, only wide enough to fit one person but wrapped around the entire dome, and I looked down at the alter which made me extremely nervous all of a sudden. If you are feint of heart, or scared of heights I wouldn't recommend this because walking across the balcony was necessary to make it to the next set of stairs within the 2 layers of the dome. The next set of stairs was even more narrow and harder to maneuver because it had to be shared with the people coming down from the top. There was lots of waiting and even the group of Asians in front of us were panting so hard, that the 50-year-old in our group wanted to pass them! After we finally made it to the top, it was well worth the hassle of the stairs in the creepy dungeon feel. The view of all of Florence was incredible, because I believe the top of the Duomo is the tallest in the city. We could even see the mountains with snow on the top in the distance. Because we were much closer to the sky and in open air (not covered by buildings down below) it actually felt warmer at the top, I could've hung out there all day...sadly it was closing in the next 45 minutes. The climb down would have been to descend on the opposite side of the building, but because it was closing soon they closed that side off and had us go down the same stairs we went up. One point- coming down in the dome part only, we were able to touch both layers of the dome which was about the length of my arm span. This dome was built by Michelangelo, and in two layers because the first would have been too weak and could collapse, so the outer layer was built over it to protect it and keep it durable which is still has after many centuries.
The Cathedral, bell tower to the right, and the Duomo (dome) in the back in red/orange
View from the top!
The climb was refreshing from walking on cobblestones the past few days, and getting a view from a higher elevation. But I was ready to shop for some leather! I ended up buying a pair of leather gloves, but was on a mission for a jacket. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time and the shops I went to were too expensive even though real Italian leather isn't going to come cheap.
During the walk around town, there was a parade and drum line marching through. It was followed by many students holding up brightly colored flags. A local had explained to us that the students march together once a year in memory of those who were murdered by the mafia. The city changes each year, but we were happy to catch this moment.
We finally took the train back to Rome where we were staying for one last night. Us group of older people went to a restaurant around the corner from the hotel, and highly recommended. It was a large place but very homey with arch ways dividing the rooms, stone fireplaces, and your grandfather taking care of you kind of hospitality. I must say, aside from the pizza dinner the first night this was probably the best, most authentic dinner I've had in Italy. I ordered spaghetti tossed in olive oil and crush red peppers with clams. Delicioso!