Monday, May 2, 2016

Spring in Florence, Part 1

Let me begin by explaining that I will endeavor to make my posts a little shorter. I realize they run a bit long, and honestly I usually have even more material than I can squeeze into 4000 words and 35 or more photos. So, I think I am going to start splitting my posts up into two or three parts. Now, on to Spring in Florence, Part 1.

This year was the first year that Easter weekend was a four-day weekend in the Czech Republic. Good Friday and Easter Monday are now both holidays and there will always be a four-day weekend for Easter, which is great. So, what is there to do on a four-day weekend? Go to Italy of course.

The original idea was to travel to the Vatican for Easter Mass with the Pope. Things just kind of kept growing from there and I ended up with a 12-day holiday for the price of only 6 vacation days. A bargain to be sure. 

I tried to do it as cheaply as possible, which will explain some of my movements.
There are a number of low-cost airline carriers flying to Milan. Why? I have no idea. The thing is, you can fly to Milan for about 550czk ($23) sometimes. Your suitcase however, can not fly so cheaply. It is an odd state of affairs when a lighter-than-a-human bag in a cargo hold garners a higher price than a person, but whatever. That's the way it is.
A quick Google search of "top ten things to do in Milan" will yield something along the lines of "See the Duomo" in the number-one spot and "go someplace else" at a firm seating in the number two spot. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

There is no doubt, the Duomo di Milano, or Cathedral of Milan, is an impressive structure. It is very beautiful. Even Samuel Clemens thought so. Clemens visited the cathedral during one of his trips to Europe and wrote about it in The Innocents Abroad. The thing that stuck him the most about it was the number of statues all over it. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

Every single statue is different. The amount of work that went into this is staggering to imagine. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

Here is a little bit better look. Some of the statues are even upside down. I'm sure they are all saints and scholars and other notable religious figures. Maybe somewhere there is a guide describing each statue, but I didn't put any effort in to searching for such a thing. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

While the back of the catherdaral was a little less exciting, there was this beautiful tree blooming. I say it was a little less exciting, but it is a beautiful structure all the way around. 

Duomo di Milano Cathedral of Milan

The other thing you can do in Milan is shop. I'm not rich enough to do that, so I just wandered around for a little while looking for a restaurant a friend of mine told me about. It doesn't hurt that there is a huge shopping center right next to the cathedral. It's the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The glass roof is a nice touch and it is a beautiful building. Of course I didn't go into  the Prada or Versace store. There were a few other high-end stores in the same area. If you want to buy a $10,000 watch you can do it in Milan. 

I had stashed my suitcase in a locker at the train station and after looking at the cathedral, grabbing a bite at the recommended restaurant and wandering around a little I made my way back there so I could get to Florence. 

A street in Milan, Italy

There were, of course, some of the expected narrow streets around Milan, but nothing like Florence. Milan seems to be a bit more of a modern city. Maybe I had already formulated my decision about it, but it wasn't my favorite place. I didn't even go in the cathedral, mainly because the line was too long and I would have probably missed my train if I had. It's cheap to get there so maybe I'll go back. 

Say what you will about Italian trains. I personally have a limited experience with trains in Italy. Here is what I do know: the fast trains are remarkable, efficient and run on time. These things scream across the country at around 150 mph and thanks to that I was able to get to Florence in a descent amount of time. 

If the main train station in Florence is your first impression of the place you may not like it so much, but give it a little time. On the whole, from what I saw, Florence was a bit dirtier than Milan but that was alright with me. It was also more interesting. 

If you like churches Italy is the place for you. More specifically, if you like Catholic churches. For my money, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. I'm leaving St. Peter's Basilica out of the equation here because that is on an entirely different level.  

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

It is really difficult to capture just how amazing this place is in photos. The outside is inspiring to say the least. So much so that I had to photograph it from multiple angles. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

And this is just the front of the cathedral. The back is equally inspiring. The tower over there on the right is the Campanile di Giotto. It's a bell tower and only physically connected to the cathedral by some stabilizing iron rods which I'm sure were added a long time after construction was completed. More on the Campanile in a second. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

This is the back of the cathedral. As you can see it's still beautiful. The inside, which I didn't photograph was actually fairly spartan. The day I visited the cathedral was holy Thursday and the church was closed in the morning. Inside they were distributing holy oils for Easter. The tower was still open and as I've said many times before, I love to climb to the top of a tower. 

 Campanile di Giotto

Of course there as a line to get into the tower. I waited for maybe 30 minutes. There is a line to see almost everything of worth in Italy. The secret is to get to places early. From what I could gather 1 o'clock p.m. is when things get REALLY busy. Everyone has goofed off all morning, then had lunch and is now ready to tourist it up. 

So I hiked the 275 ish feet to the top and had a look around. The view of Florence is amazing. 

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The photo above in your standard view. Below we have the "more creative" tilted horizon view. You can really see the cathedral dome in both photos. In the tilted on you can also see the line for entry to the tower.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Why I didn't take a panoramic photo when I was atop the tower is a good question. I don't know. Maybe it is because it was pretty crowded up there. I was really enjoying taking in the view too so, that might be why. 

Florence Italy Skyline

Another shot of Florence. The surrounding hills and all the buildings crammed in together really give Florence a unique skyline, if you can call it that. I suppose it is. It for sure is not like a city in the U.S. such as New York or San Francisco.  

 Campanile di Giotto

The light as I was descending the tower was simply beautiful. It shot into parts of the central chamber where the ropes to pull the bells once were. I assume the iron device in the photo above was something to keep the ropes in line. At least that is what I think it is.

If you're hesitant about ascending the Campanile di Giotto, I can tell you it's not so bad. Use your own discretion of course, but there are several levels where you can rest for a while. You can see them in the photos, it's where the windows are. If you are claustrophobic though the narrow stairs might bother you. 

I'll stop it here and pick things up in two weeks with the second installment. 

Wow, you've made it all the way to the bottom and for that I thank you. If you're so inclined you can consider supporting me here Feel free to share that link with your friends too. 

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