Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Visit to the City of Florence (Firenze)

We had been at sea for 12 days when, on October 30th, our ship arrived in our tenth port, Livorno, Italy.  From Livorno, passengers could explore the famed Tuscany region with beautiful historical cities like Pisa or Florence.  We would be in port for 12 hours, from 7AM until 7PM.  It would be a long day and one that required an early start.

Shortly after 5AM, I peeked out of our stateroom window and could see dramatic lightning over the sea.  I dressed and went to the deck in anticipation of our arrival.  I saw the lighthouse and lights of Livorno.  It seemed we were part of a procession of cruise ships docking that morning.

The excursion buses were already lined up to take passengers to their destinations
I went to the Lido Restaurant to get breakfast and found it packed with hundreds of passengers fighting through the breakfast and coffee lines to get an early start.  Several impatient people were rude and grouchy.  Ron, who had been to Florence before, decided to stay on board the ship. I met our friends, Bob and Sharon, at 7:30AM at the excursion meeting area to catch the transfer to Florence (a 1.5 hours bus ride to Florence each way).  After boarding our bus, we basically went our own way for the day. I read E.M Forester's Room with a View earlier this year, and was excited to see the city that was the subject of that wonderful novel.  I had my Fodor's European Ports of Call guidebook and was plotting out my day. We had an excellent on-board guide who gave us a wonderful overview of what we might see when we got to Florence, where to get the best exchange rate, how to avoid the long queue for the most popular sites, where to buy the best leather, jewelry, etc.  He handed out maps of Florence and pointed out where the various attractions were and how far they were from each other.

I decided I must see Uffizi Gallery, one of the world's foremost art collections, so I carefully listened to his directions on getting into the right line for an appointment tour.  I would try to see the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michaelangelo's David and his other masterworks, but it was across the city, so I'd have to play it by ear.  In reality, I only got to the area marked by the blue marker below in the time I had.

A map of Florence or Firenze. I walked in the area within the blue lines
There was a copy of David nearby the Uffizi in the Piazza della Signoria where the original David was first placed in 1504 in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

A reproduction of Michaelangelo's David outside the Palazzo Vecchio
Arriving in Florence amid light traffic, our guide announced we would have six and a half hours to spend on our own before returning to the bus.  Unloading by the Arno River at 9:45AM, we walked as a group to Piazza Santa Croce. Here, we were told, was to be our reunion place at 4:45PM.

Piazza Santa Croce and the Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world
I walked to the Ufizzi and was able to get an appointment for entrance at 11:15AM.  Having more than an hour to wait I walked around and enjoyed the statues and shops in the Piazza della'Signoria.

The Palazzo Vecchio
I had a cappuccino and a delicious chocolate filled cannolo at a outdoor cafe while I waited.  I started my tour at 11:15AM and walked up the stairs to the 2nd floor where Roman and Greek sculpture, Renaissance  paintings, sculpture and tapestries adorned room after room.  I especially enjoyed the work of Donnatello and Botticelli.  Stopping by the window overlooking the Arno River, I took a picture of the Ponte Vecchio, the only Roman-built bridge crossing the Arno that was not bombed by the Germans in WWII.

Ponte Vecchio
 I couldn't take pictures of the artwork, but you can see what I saw here.  After 2 hours of this endless art museum, I was exhausted.  I wish I had planned my visit before I came.  Here is a website to plan a visit by room/period/artist in case you go there.  I was disappointed that Titian's Venus of Orbino was closed off in a locked room that required a special tour.

I walked up to see the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or il Duomo di Firenze, but it was under construction and I could not find an entrance.  I took pictures of it from the outside.

I wandered the narrow winding streets back toward the Piazza della'Signoria and entered a couple of leather shops.  I bought a nice leather belt for Ron and a leather wallet for a friend.  I found three beautiful leather purses and another wallet in another shop.  These will make nice gifts.

A gift for a friend

A gift for my sister

A gift for my daughter

A gift for me
A gift for my other daughter
I walked by a restaurant that advertised a Special Lunch of appetizer, salad, lasagna, and wine for 12 euro that enticed me to rest and get some nutrition.  It was nearly time to get back to Sante Croce to reunite with my group.  But first I purchased a bottle of Tuscany red wine for our stateroom and T-shirts for gifts.  Florence was truly a beautiful city that needed at least a week to truly appreciate.  Like Rome, there was too little time, but at least I got to spend time walking the wonderful streets for several hours.

I walked back down the narrow Via del Neri toward the Piazza Santa Croce
Meeting up with Sharon and Bob in the Plaza by 4:15PM, I shared a glass of wine with Sharon at the outdoor cafe  while we waited for our tour guide.  She and Bob had crossed the Arno on the Ponte Vecchio and visited the Palace Gardens.  When all were assembled, we marched back to our bus by the Arno River.

We drove through a neighborhood above the city with scenic views as we said goodbye to Firenze.
We got back to the ship about 6:15PM, in time to depart by 7PM for our next Port of Call: Monte Carlo, Monaco.

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