Florence - a treasure house of art
"Florence - impressions"
Florence is one of those cities you feel you must visit at some stage in your life. It is, after all, the birthplace of the Renaissance and home to some of the world's greatest artistic and architectural masterpieces. What follows is an account of my impression of the city, gathered during a four day visit at the end of March/beginning of April 2005.
Following extensive research on the internet, I first of all decided that the most convenient way to travel would be to fly to Pisa and then take the train to Florence. This worked well. At Pisa airport, you buy the train ticket in the terminal (5 euros) and then walk directly from the terminal to the platform. Trains run frequently - some go directly to Florence (Santa Maria Novella) but some only go to Pisa Centrale, where you have to change. Be aware, if you are not particularly agile, that there are steep steps from the platform onto the train and that, at Pisa Centrale, it is quite a hike to pick up the train to Florence.
I also searched around on the internet for a hotel. I decided on the Hotel Cestelli - and this turned out to be a good choice; reasonable price, excellent location and very helpful and friendly owners. My full review can be found in the hotel review section.
My impressions of Florence can be summed up with three words: stunning, crowded and expensive.
It is stunning because there is so much of beauty to see. The buildings and artworks are all that you hope they will be. I found four days to be about right to get to see most things. More time would be better, but I think anything less than three full days will leave you with the feeling that there is much that you will have missed.
It is crowded - even in early spring. This is hardly surprising but it does still come as a bit of a shock. The trick is to make sure you book in advance wherever possible. For the Uffizi and the Accademia, book well in advance (even before you go) to avoid queues of two hours or more. Also, get you hotel to book restaurants for you, or you might be disappointed.
And, finally, Florence is expensive. If possible, stand at bars for drinks or breakfast. Even in a very modest establishment, you will pay three times more for a coffee if you sit down. You can find places to get a fixed price lunch, but these are generally not very exciting. Dinner will cost at least 25 euros per person. Entrnace fees to galleries and museums soon mount up.
"5 things you must see"
Any list of "must sees" will inevitably be very personal and may not be agreed upon by everybody. For me, however, the top five must be the following.
1. The Uffizi. I really don't see how anybody could visit Florence without going to the Uffizi. There is so much to see here, that anything less than half a day is really insuffcient. Guide books will detail what is to be found here, but do take your time. You may read that the galleries are crowded - but only a certain number of people are allowed in at one time, so if a particular room has a big party in it either wait or go back a bit later. If you need a rest, go to the cafeteria. (as an added bonus, there are splendid views from there). My tip is to book ahead for the 8.15am entry. That way, you can spend a whole morning browsing around.
2. The Duomo. Have good look round the outside before you go in. This way you can appreciate the scale and splendour of the place.
3. The Baptistry. Again, have a look around beforehand. Inside, the ceiling is awe-inspiring.
4. Giardino de Boboli. On a sunny afternoon, a spell in the gardens is very rewarding. It provides a rest from the crowds and offers some tranquility. Even more, as you climb upwards, the views of the city are stunning.
5. Mercato Centrale. Perhaps an odd choice, but as a break from the art and architecture, the Mercato Centrale is packed with stalls selling stunning food. Even if you don't buy, the sights and smells are fantastic.
"A few other thoughts..."
It is worth visting some of the "lesser" sights in Florence. In particular, the churches of San Lorenzo and Santa Croce are very rewarding - and tend to be less crowded.
The Accademia is very disappointing, however. The statue of David is really stunning and well exhibited. But there is very little else of interest. For some reason, there is a display of modern art, which is really crass. I can only surmise that this modern art is there to contrast the paucity of ideas and skill of modern artists with the genius of Michelangelo.