13. To Florence


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Apr 26th, 2011
13.  To Florence

James spent the early part of the morning dashing around Genoa going from ATM to ATM in order to extract enough cash via the SA credit card, to cover the train tickets and our Florence rental – since the AMERICAN EXPRESS travellers cheques had been refused everywhere the day before. Note everybody please boycott AMERICAN EXPRESS.

Plastic, Glass or Other...... recycling at the train station

On the station platforms there are 3 kinds of litter bin – one each for plastic, paper and food waste, and a separate steel bin affair for fag-ends. Recycling is a way of life here, as is smoking; people of all ages seem to smoke endlessly in Italy. ‘TrenItalia’ trains leave exactamento on time, and ours is nice and clean. There are 220v plug-in points for one’s laptop at every seat.
The train trip to Firenze goes via Pisa, and for the first part of the trip the railway lines follow the coastline, which gave us lovely views of little towns like Ciavari and La Spezia. James missed most of this, as he had his head down, working on his laptop, the connection speeds in the train being pretty good.

The day was overcast but, once past all the outskirts of Genoa and the tunnels and graffiti-ridden embankments, the landscape opens out to show lovely seaside villas and spring-greening trees, many with pink blossom. This is the “Cinque Terre” area, typical postcard-Mediterranean, with a placid blue sea, palms and elegant, thin cypress trees. Forested hillsides as we go further into the countryside, and the remains of snow on the tops of the mountains. After changing trains at Pisa we pass several marble or pale stone quarries, the huge square blocks lying on pallets near the train yards, for export I suppose all over the world.
We arrived a little early in Florence, with a taxi right to the door of number 18 via dei Benci. Our hosts had not yet pitched up to let us in, so, with our too-many suitcases surrounding us, we sat at a tiny shop nearby, bought a bottle of local plonk and passed a pleasant while watching the world go by until the appointed hour of 5pm.
So we felt pretty mellow when finally we climbed a flight of gloomy ancient stone stairs and entered the apartment on the first floor. The door has an extreme lock which turns 4 times before opening. It’s a tiny space dominated by many heavy brown ceiling beams which create a space-under-the-floorboards look and feel. The owners switched on all the lights, showed us round very briefly, noted the electricity meter reading, took the cash payment and promptly left. A quick look round revealed cheapo furniture, but a nice little bathroom, a boarded-off bedroom space and the smallest kitchen area an adult human has ever had to juggle with. The cooking and eating utensils are all mismatched odds & ends, but serviceable.

View out from the BatCave

James immediately dubbed the apartment ‘the Bat-Cave’.
But it’s not so bad – and we were both  happy to have arrived. Florence is to be our home for the next month, so dumping the too-many suitcases in the black hole of a bedroom, we rushed out to explore the immediate environs.

View into the BatCave. Top left is Kitchen window

The owners weren’t kidding when they advertised the place as being right in the heart of Old Florence, near all the tourist attractions. The first major surprise was to discover, 20 metres away up our street, the piazza Santa Croce with its majestic white cathedral and statue. Then 300 metres further along, we  stumble across another grand piazza (della Signoria) with Michelangelo’s David, adoring crowds at his feet, and an open air loggia sheltering several other magnificent sculptures. James is in 7th heaven. But then down one narrow street we catch sight of the top of the Duomo…. we zig and zag, turn a corner and there is probably the most famous cathedral in the world after St. Paul’s.

Front of the Cathedrale del Duomo - staggering

The Duomo is utterly staggering (truly, when you look up to contemplate its enormity, you stagger in awe). It was built to be awe inspiring, and it sure is. It’s early evening but there are still quite a few parties of students and tourists being led around. Vespas and bicycles are everywhere. We circle the cathedral and there are the golden Baptistry doors.

Look what's on our doorstep.... Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise

Hugging ourselves with delight, we decide to get back before it’s too dark and we get lost. We eat out at a small restaurant on our street (still craving salads). On returning at around 8 pm we find the doorway to number 18 besieged by a chatting, drinking crowd of mainly young and trendy people who have overflowed onto the pavement from the bar next door. We retreat inside to unpack, wash and retire to bed. But….
Is it normal for the Florentines to party all night on Mondays? The BatCave is one floor directly above the “Soul Kitchen” bar, which generously shares its loud music with us. They are playing quite good stuff, too – a lot of Doors (hence the name Soul Kitchen we suppose) and other classic rock. The crowd carried on drinking and carousing into the early hours of the morning, still going strong at 2 am with what sounded like group drumming sessions on the tables. The bar closed at 3 am.


  • Connie

    01 May 2011

    We had a similar experience in San Vincenzo some years ago – stayed in quite a nice little apartment but the complex boasted a disco, and although there were no customers, the youthful staff liked to play the latest hit over and over until late. For the whole week.

    Still – hope your sleeplessness didn’t detract from soaking up all that art and culture – actually I find that a day of walking and hyper-boggling usually produces a good night’s sleep anyway!

  • Peter

    02 May 2011

    So obviously this has occured every night and you’re too exhausted to carry on the blog, poor things ?

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