After a good night’s sleep we took the lift downstairs to discover what a post COVID-19 breakfast would be like. At check-in we’d been informed that breakfast would take place in the restaurant as usual so we headed in there to find out what was on offer.
To our relief, the buffet breakfast that we all adore was still alive and well albeit with a few additional precautions in place. Serving staff were positioned in front of the buffet with guests stood behind a table. We could have anything we wanted, the only difference being that the server put it on plates for us.
Around the back of the fresh food counter freshly cut bread had been sliced and placed in bags for guests to collect themselves along with preserves, tea and coffee. We returned for more as and when we wished and the arrangement seemed to work very well, keeping everyone happy and safe.
It was about 9.30 a.m. by the time we were ready to set off for a day’s sightseeing in Florence and as the railway station was just across the road, we didn’t have far to go. There was just a short queue at the ticket office from where we bought returns between Pisa and Florence at a cost of €8.70 per person each way. Please remember that when using trains in Italy that it’s necessary to validate tickets in the machines positioned on the platforms prior to boarding to avoid paying a fine. Our train was already in the station and we easily found seats on the upper deck and with social distancing measures in place, benefited from a table for four just for the two of us.
The train made several stops but still only took 70 minutes to reach Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station in the city centre. Florence is one of the most cultural and historic cities in the world and is the capital of the Tuscan region of Italy so we were looking forward to enjoying a long walk, taking in the major sights. After leaving the station we sat on some stone steps in the shade to apply sunscreen as the hot sun was already beating down on us. A few minutes later we were on our way to the Piazza del Duomo as we thought that would be the perfect place to start out tour of the city.
Dominating the square is Florence Cathedral, known simply as the Duomo. It was originally constructed in 1436 but took until the 19th century until its intricate front façade was completed. The exterior of the cathedral is covered in white marble with a red, pink and green polychrome design.
The cathedral had re-opened to visitors with just a short wait outdoors before being allowed in. Naturally in these strange times, things are different and no more so than in the cathedral with gadgets being handed out to visitors to hang around their necks. The device beeps softly, vibrates and a light flashes when two people are within a range of two metres to help keep visitors apart, a new way of sightseeing in the age of COVID-19. After use the devices are then disinfected before being handed out again.
On leaving the cathedral we admired Giotto’s Campanile which is a separate building to the Duomo. Its Gothic architecture is a true masterpiece with its sculptures, artwork and decorative panels. The Baptistry of St. John is another building associated with the cathedral and is positioned in front of it. Its exquisite design is similar to both the Duomo and Campanile and as it was so quiet we could take in its beauty without hordes of tourists in our way.
It was then only a short walk to the Palazzo Vecchio where visitors are able to walk through its inner courtyard which leads to the Piazza della Signoria. Whilst the Duomo is the most important religious building, the Palazzo is the most important administrative building in the city. After formerly being a palace it now serves as the town hall with its huge clock tower visible from many parts of the city centre. On the front façade a series of coats of arms can be seen which represent families and important people of the city of Florence. Outside the entrance replicas of the famous statues of David and Hercules can be found.
The statue of David is one of the most renowned and easily recognisable statues in the world and is a magnificent piece of renaissance art created by the legendary artist Michelangelo. The statue depicts the biblical hero David who was said to be the first king of Israel. The original statue can be found in the Galleria dell’Accademi.
Just to the left of the Palace is the Fountain of Neptune which was turned off as we approached but after window shopping around the square, we noticed that it had started operating so we returned to view it in all its glory.
Located just off the Piazza della Signoria is the famous Uffizi Palace and Gallery which is considered to be one of the most important art museums worldwide. I had visited this museum on my previous visit to Florence when I was staying in the city and recalled having to queue outside for absolutely ages as it is such a popular place to visit. I’d recommend visiting if time allows as not only is the artwork absolutely stunning but also the museum’s magnificent interior as well.
Our walk then took us along the riverbank where we caught our first glimpse of the absolutely gorgeous Ponte Vecchio, undoubtedly the most famous bridge in Florence spanning the River Arno. The bridge is unusual as it has shops built into its sides lining its main walkway. Most of them had re-opened and the collection included jewellers, galleries and gift shops.
There were plenty of people about but nowhere near as many as might be expected in August so we were able to take advantage of unobstructed views at the mid-point where the bridge opens up, revealing absolutely beautiful views along the river.
Reaching the south bank, we followed a signpost towards the Palazzo Pitti which was built in the 1400’s and is a fine example of Renaissance architecture. Formerly the home of Italian royalty, it is now the largest museum complex in Florence. As we were only visiting the city for the day and had limited time we decided to enjoy the outdoors and save visiting for a future visit.
We were intrigued though by a pack of one hundred socially distanced wolves adorning the square in front of the palace. On reading a sign we discovered that they were created by the Chinese artist Liu Ruowang and the art installation had only been on display for two weeks. If you might be interested to view it yourselves it will be on show until 26th October 2020.
Leaving the Pitti Palace we popped into a small grocery store for some bottles of chilled water before our final activity of the day which entailed an uphill walk to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Our walk took us along Via de’ Bardi which gradually gets steeper as it leaves the riverside leading to a flight of stone steps as we approached the hilltop.
I think we had saved the best until last as the twenty minute uphill walk was definitely worth the effort as we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the cathedral, city walls and the river with its numerous bridges crossing the River Arno.
My previous visit to this vast square couldn’t have been more different as then it was crowded with cars, tour buses, people and street vendors but not in these unusual times as we had the viewing terrace almost to ourselves. The square is named after Florence’s favourite son Michelangelo and in the centre there is a brass sculpture of David.
We followed a path down to a slightly lower viewing terrace which in turn led us to the entrance gates of the Giardino delle Rose (Rose Garden) which was free to enter and filled with many different varieties of fragrant roses and other plants. We also came across a small Japanese garden which had been donated to Florence by its twin city of Kyoto.
As well as enjoying the delights of the Rose Garden, its undulating paths led to an exit in the lower part of the park from where we could easily find our way back downhill to the riverside and for a final glance at the wonderful Ponte Vecchio.
After so much walking we were then ready for a little rest, so we enjoyed tea and cakes in one of the city centre cafes before taking the train back to Pisa. Unlike our outbound journey this train was not terminating at our destination so we tried our best to stay awake so that we didn’t miss our stop. The end of a fascinating day in Florence, my second visit but the first for my son who enjoyed the city just as much as me.
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