Dick, ahead of me, walking toward the city center
Back in 1972, when I was still an undergraduate, my high school friend Rosemary and I backpacked through Europe, with a copy of Frommer's Europe on Five Dollars a Day in hand. The trip lasted six weeks, and we economized every way possible, including sleeping overnight on trains, eating out of markets and grocery stores, and tagging along for free on tours of attractions. We almost never bought tickets for anything. As we visited placed we ripped out the chapters and threw them away to lighten the loads we carried on our backs. One of the things I remember from that trip was cats in Italy, everywhere. In Florence I remember looking out the window of our pension room and seeing cats walking on red tile rooftops.
Us, standing near a replica of David outside the Signoria. The original, damaged in Michelangelo's day, is elsewhere.
So, for years I wanted to return to Florence and sleep comfortably, eat in restaurants, and visit museums that charge admission. I wanted to show Dick the cats. While we had a hotel in which to stay, I can't say I slept much. The window, with its view of the old wall and charming shutters, was also near a busy highway with lots of loud scooters and trucks rumbling by. Not even a sleep aid in pill form helped much. We had fun choosing restaurants and trattorias, and one night we did get an inexpensive bottle of wine and sandwiches from a market. We visited the Uffizi and the Academy with Michelangelo's original nine foot tall David. But the cats were nowhere to be seen. I asked our bubbly Florentine guide, Francesca, where they went, and with a sly grim she said that Chinese immigrants took care of the cats. She was kidding. It turns out that Italy has a no-kill policy for stray cats and dogs, and most of the felines were being fed in the Boboli Gardens, abd a large cemetery.
Florence is an interesting mix of profane and sacred. It is a place to shop, if you want gold jewelry, fashion, or leather goods. You can eat and drink very well indeed here, and if its warm enough to want something cool, gorgeous piles of fruit-studded gelato are for sale on almost every block. Their hot chocolate is rich and expensive, and was popular with our group, especially since most of us were chilled by the unseasonable weather.
Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers)
I am old enough to remember the devastating flood in 1966, the one that damaged thousands of art treasures, including the famous Baptistry doors. Much of what people go to Florence to see is sacred in nature. The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with its famous dome and the nearby Baptistry are high on the must-see list. When Rosemary and I saw the doors they were damaged by the flood. Today they have been restored, and are in a museum. Replicas of the Doors of Paradise are there now, though I think it would be hard for anyone to tell the difference. We got a ticket to go inside, and I was amazed by all the mosaic work, from marble tiled floors in Moorish designs, to gold glass mosaics on the walls, depicting heaven and hell.
The Baptistry ceiling - click on this photo to see the mosaic angels in more detail.
We also toured the Gothic cathedral, and Dick, who had read books about how the dome was built, climbed to the top while I cooled my heels inside. If we had more time I would have liked to see some of the other churches as well, but I was happy to see these attractions.