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Florence March 2008

Day Zero:
Meridiana “Simply Fly”

9:30pm: Florence Airport
This is probably one of the smaller airports in Europe. In fact, I think all departures and arrivals are done in shuttle buses, but at least everything ran smoothly. I had some concerns with the airline I was flying with, the Meridiana, simply because I have never heard of it. I did feel a lot better once I found out my flight is code shared with KLM (not that they will do anything for me if something went wrong with the flight) My flight ended up arriving Florence on time, so my experience with Meridiana was quite pleasant.

10:30pm: Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli
Hilton Garden Inn Florence Novoli
The hotel is actually not too far from the airport, also in the outskirt of Florence. I considered taking local bus to the hotel, but there is a bit of distance between the bus stop and the airport, and I got a little lost with all roads and ramps to the highway in the area. I could take Airport Express that will take me the main bus station in city center, and then taking local bus going back out to the outskirt. I ended up taking taxi instead. All that great planning took me an hour to get to the hotel, maybe I could have walked there (if I don’t get lost)

I read some good reviews about the hotel, expect it is not that convenient, not exactly in city center. And all around the hotel is construction site, as their Palace of Justice is being built. There is a bus stop nearby, so getting to city center is not a big problem, I just needed to do some research.

Day One:
Bargello, San Marco, Santa Maria Novella, Duomo area, Uffizi Gallery area, and Oltrarno (Way too efficient in sightseeing most of Florence)
9:00am: Bargello
Bargello (Sculpture Museum)
Waking up bright and early, getting on the exact scheduled bus I planned, I just had a little trouble finding the place after getting off the bus (so many small streets in European cities). Bargello is the place to see sculptures in Florence (well, except for that certain famous piece) With the help of a guidebook, I saw all the noteworthy sculptures in one hour, just as the book estimates for the length of the tour. And I wasn’t even rushing it, I guess the place is not that big. There are a lot of other things I did not see, but without any commentary (as the book provides for the noteworthy ones), not many of them seem that interesting. Besides, I am here for two days only.

10:30am: Museum of San Marco
Museum of San Marco - Fra Angelico - Crucifixion with Saints
A bit of planning mistake here; Bargello and Museum of San Marco are not that close, but since the guidebook have these tours one after the other, I just assumed they are close by. So it took me 20 minutes to walk to this Museum of San Marco. The thing to see here is the early Renaissance paintings, and the monk’s living quarters with paintings on the wall. There is also the living quarters of a priest named Savonarola, a important historical figure in Florence. The guidebook provides some interesting background and story about him.

12:20pm: Trattoria Mario
Trattoria Mario (mentioned in all guidebooks)
When I did my research, this eatery came up in three different sources. Once I got there, looking at the stickers on the door and window, then I realized this place is recommended by all guidebooks in different languages. The place was packed already, even though it was still kinda early. They make people sharing tables (just like local eateries in Hong Kong), so it was pretty easy for them to seat this one person of me. I should’ve read the menu at the door, because they didn’t give me a menu. The waitress had to tell me what they have. I ended up getting vegetable soup and chicken. The soup was alright, if you can call it soup. It has quite a bit of bread and eggplant, soaking up all the soup. So it was more like a stew. I like the chicken a lot; it has some light seasoning on the skin that is slightly crispy, with none of the fatty stuff, and yet not too dry. (This has to be the most detailed description I ever have for a dish of chicken) I was there for less than an hour, and when I got out, there was a even bigger crowd outside of the restaurant. Everyone knows this place is good and inexpensive.

1:00pm: Santa Maria Novella
Church of Santa Maria Novella
I don’t know what I was thinking, but I planned more than 2 hours for lunch and some wandering around before visiting the next attraction. Lunch took me less than an hour, and it was hard for me to wander around when I knew there were ONLY one and a half day to see the rest of Florence. I did walk through some market center and street market, in all of 15 minutes. (It’s just not that interesting to me) So I walked straight to my next destination, the Church of Santa Maria Novella.

The paintings in this church are the first ones to portray things/people in three-dimensional space (correctly, as in proper size and perspective). My guidebook tries its best to point out interesting things here and there, but I don’t remember seeing much of it. Part of the problem is that there were a lot of restoration work going on. I remember I like the facade of the building, but even the square in front of the facade was under construction. I guess that’s one problem of travelling in low season.

2:30pm: Baptistery, Giotto’s Tower, Duomo
Baptistery and Giotto's Tower
My original plan is to leave Santa Maria Novella just in time for my reserved time slot at Uffizi Gallery. But by the time I finished my visit, I still had two hours to spend. So I went to places originally planned for next day, the Duomo area: there is the Duomo itself (the Gothic cathedral), the Giotto’s Tower next to the Duomo, and the Baptistery in front. There was a long line up for climbing the dome of the Duomo, so I climbed the Giotto’s Tower instead (view of Florence just as great.) The Duomo looks great from the outside, but not as much inside. The Baptistery looks great both inside (with the medieval mosaic ceiling) and out (with the bronze doors).

4:00pm: Uffizi Gallery area
Piazza della Signoria, with Palazzo Vecchio and Loggia
After visiting the Duomo area, after having a Gelato and an espresso, I got to Uffizi Gallery more than half hour early. So I really had to wander around. There is the square Piazza della Signoria just north of the gallery, the Santa Croce Church in the east, and the Arno River in the south.

4:30pm: Uffizi Gallery
My reservation was for 4:45pm, and I just needed to be there 15 minutes earlier. I paid almost double of the original admission fare for the reservation (mainly because I did it only days before) There was a long line of people waiting for limited space for entrance (not sure how many or how often). Uffizi Gallery has the best collection of Italian painting, from medieval time, to the Renaissance, and to some from the Baroque period. Although it was a little crowded, it was kind of exciting, with buzz going on. So was it worth the admission and reservation fee? I think so.

6:30pm: Oltrarno
Porta San Frediano, Florence's Medieval Wall
Oltrarno (as in Oltr-Arno, outside of Arno river) is the non-touristy neighborhood in Florence. Maybe it was getting late, I didn’t see much from it, not much of Old Florence feel to it. I went to a restaurant recommended by the book, and I fell for the vegetable soup thing again. It was the similar stew thing that I got earlier in the day.

Day Two:
Duomo, Accademia, Duomo Museum, Medici Chapels, Piazza della Signoria, Santa Croce Church, Piazzale Michelangelo, San Miniato Church

8:00am: Duomo Area (again)
Baptistery, Duomo, and Giotto's Tower
Second day in Florence, I got up even earlier than the day before; I just needed to be at Accademia before 8:30am. So when I got to city center before 8am, I figured I can take some more pictures in Duomo area. It was practically empty that early in the morning, so that was quite nice.

8:30am: Accademia
Accademia is the other place that I made reservation for. It wasn’t really necessary because there weren’t many people that early (but I really couldn’t take the chances) The place is surprisingly small, and there weren’t that much to see, but there is one huge and famous sculpture to see, Michelangelo’s David. It was definitely impressive, and certainly worth the admission price (and the reservation fee). It’s too bad that no photo is allowed. (I did take a picture of the replica, standing in another place in Florence)

10:00am: Duomo Museum
This recently-refurbished museum across from Duomo does not seem to be too popular with tourists (granted I was there pretty early that day.) A lot of the sculptures displayed in Duomo, Giotto’s Tower, and Baptistery were actually replica; the originals are all displayed in this museum. Maybe it’s just not that interesting when the artworks are taken out of context. One memorable piece is Michelangelo’s (Florentine) Pietà (not the one in St. Peter’s of Vatican.) It was meant for part of Michelangelo’s own tomb; I find it hard to imagine preparing your own tomb.

11:00am: Medici Chapels
Medici Chapels - Michelangelo's New Sacristy
The Medici (being called the Godfathers of the Renaissance by a TV program) was the ruling family of Florence. The Medici Chapels contain tombs of the great rulers from the family. There are basically two “rooms” to see; the Chapel of Princes, and Michelangelo’s New Sacristy. When I was there, the whole Chapel of Princes was pretty much under restoration, so there weren’t much to see. Good thing that the New Sacristy was very much available for visit. This whole room, the tombs, the statues, all were designed by Michelangelo. This room houses four members of the Medici family, and Michelangelo actually knew three of them personally.

12:00pm: Walking to Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria - Ammanati - Neptune Fountain
Leaving Medici Chapels, I walked toward Piazza della Signoria (just north of Uffizi Gallery) There are plenty to see on the way and in the square itself. I have actually been through the whole way the day before, as I was walking from Duomo to Uffizi Gallery; I just didn’t have a chance to stop and look at each sculpture on the way. In fact, Piazza della Signoria is where you can find the replica of Michelangelo’s David. It made me wonder if it was really necessary to see the real thing in Accademia (Of course it was necessary, this replica is noticeably newer and whiter)

2:00pm: Santa Croce Church
Piazza Santa Croce and the Church
By early afternoon, I have actually visited all the places that I planned ahead of time. Of course there are still plenty to see in Florence, so I decided to visit a few more places for the afternoon. First is the Santa Croce Church, one of Florence’s biggest and oldest churches. I was on the outside of the church the day before, when I was wandering around before my Uffizi Gallery visit. The facade of this church looks just as nice as the one for Santa Maria Novella. There was not construction work going on in front of it, but there was a cricket game going on (they have community events going on; they had outdoor ping-pong the next week.) Inside, the church has a couple tombs of important historical figures (Galileo and Michelangelo), and there are some interesting artworks from medieval period.

3:30pm: Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato Church
San Miniato Church
When I was planning for this trip, I didn’t think I would be going to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I thought it was too far from the city center, and I didn’t think I have much energy left after all that walking. Well, it was still relatively early in the afternoon, so I could take my time and wander around toward that square. The square Piazzale Michelangelo is known for the view of the city because it is situated on a hill. Going further up-hill a little bit is the San Miniato Church. I enjoyed this church more than the other ones, even though it does not have as much artwork to see. It just feels a little more intimate and calm feeling, mainly because it is not in the city center.

6:00pm: Trattoria Zaza
Trattoria Zaza
Before going back to the hotel, I walked back to city center from Piazzale Michelangelo (a good 30 min walk) for dinner. The restaurant is called Trattoria Zaza, right next to the Trattoria Mario that I visited for lunch before. The best thing about this restaurant is that it serves food the whole day, as most restaurants don’t open between lunch time and dinner time (and dinner time is usually pretty late) I ordered Ravioli with mushroom as my first course, and beef tripe as my second course. I actually overlooked the word tripe, so it caught me by surprise not to see a dish of normal beef. I actually have seen some street vendors selling beef tripe sandwiches (even in Chinese signs) so I guess it is a local favorite. It was quite delicious, but the dish was huge, and I can barely finish it.

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