Travel Tuesday: The Florence Files - My Trip to the Renaissance Capital
By: Emily Archer
We found Florence bustling in the midday sun. There were narrow cobbled streets lined with umbrella-covered diners. The soft earthy hues of buildings seemed to radiate warmth into the shadowy alleys. We checked in at our hotel before heading to the Uffizi Gallery to meet friends. The art gallery possessed endless rooms and hallways bedecked with busts, paintings and marble sculptures depicting biblical and mythological scenes. Tragic women, crazed beasts and sombre priests gazed outwards from their gilded frames in the conventionally detached style of the renaissance. The iconic form of Venus was the most serene of all, which stood amongst other bloodier paintings. There was nothing detached about these gory, twisted and sickening depictions.
After wandering round the Uffizi, we visited a restaurant owned by the family friends of one of our group. Fortunately, this came with the perk of complimentary taste-testing! As for the gelato, there were flavours upon flavours to choose from, including ricotta and fig to a rather sickly and dense Austrian chocolate. These scoops were piled onto crispy cones with shovels a bricklayer would envy! There really is nothing half-hearted about Italian ice cream…
A more surreal experience came next. After trawling through the lesser known parts of TripAdvisor, our friend discovered a tiny bar well off the beaten track. This bar was home to Edi – an eccentric man with hair like Einstein. Meticulously, he prepared some fruit for us to eat. Suddenly, though, he began shouting at our friends to eat the fruit before slapping a shot onto the table in front of us. ‘That too, that too!’, he exclaimed. If you ever want a completely bizarre experience, then Edi’s pre-drinks ritual is for you. (Beware, however: there is the risk of having a heart attack should you ever choose to set foot inside his drinking den!) We then headed to the Mayday Club, a retro-themed drinking parlour. The cocktails were wide in variety, and simply delicious.
The next day, we found breakfast at the tiniest panini shop overlooking a cobbled square. Making our way to the Mercato Centrale indoor food market, we were greeted by a rainbow of exotic fruit and veg, and the heady smell of mushrooms and truffles. Today was the day that we intended to see the other two main tourist attractions - the Galleria dell'Accademia and the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (roughly translated as the ‘Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers’).
We sought out the Galleria dell'Accademia first, but were greeted to a queue that stretched on and on. Unfortunately, the cathedral was the same, so we each made the decision to explore the city as thoroughly as possible rather than standing in queues all day. I am sure the cathedral and gallery are worth seeing by those tourists on longer trips or who have earlier bedtimes, but for us it seemed more important to spend time getting to know the city. After wandering round the streets, we met the other half of our party and headed to get the bus. After a little more confusion and running round (public transport is even more confusing in another language, apparently), we finally made it onto the bus to Castello del Trebbio.
Except not quite. Our bus took us to another stop somewhere in the rolling Tuscan hills where we were supposed to wait for another bus. We were dropped off next to an abandoned Land Rover with only a few crumbling stone barns as signs of civilisation. I have a dysfunctional relationship with ‘nature wees’, which was (since I was bursting for the toilet) rather unhelpful.
After a while of waiting and waging an internal war about whether to water the surroundings, a car pulled up next to the Land Rover and a man got out. Quickly realising he barely spoke any English (out Italian wasn’t too good, either), we managed to communicate our situation. He gestured towards the car, offering us a ride. The saintly, incredible ‘Luigi-from-above’ then drove us to the vineyards! We were each greeted by a glass of rich, red wine (and, in my case, an actual ceramic toilet!) while we sat chatting to an American couple who were also on our wine tour.
Wandering round the gardens and vines, we drank in the breath-taking views before heading in for a tour of the castle and wine cellars. I have never met someone as knowledgeable and passionate about wine as our guide. We then sampled some of their wines - a young, dry white; another young wine, red this time; and later, my favourite - an older, fuller red. These were accompanied by cheeses, meats and bruschetta. A dessert of biscotti dipped in sweet sherry finished off our tasting. We then precariously walked back down a winding road to the bus station before returning to our hostel.