Romanced by Florence

I saw Florence once again through the eyes of my love. In it, I found inordinate pleasure.

That was another time it seemed when I had caught the train from Milan to Florence in the spring of 2016. Though it was not quite long ago. I had set out on a walking tour with a middle-aged artist with a long, gaunt face, dishevelled hair covered by a tweed flat cap, his ample girth covered by a capacious coat that had seen better times. He had drawled about the finer points of Florence which could not be missed by the most absent-minded person that ever existed. Mouths gaped open then at the sight of the Renaissance magnificence that reared its head in a cluster upon the Piazza del Duomo.

The wonders wrought by the compilation of bands of serpentine green, red and white stones by Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Giotto. Sculptors of the likes of Ghiberti and Pisano whose doors retain their arresting quality so that Michaelangelo declared Ghiberti’s doors of bronze to be the ‘gates of paradise’. Those gates lead inside the Baptistery of St. John where the mosaic clad dome blinded me momentarily with its flamboyance in gold. So that when I had stepped outside and one of those street artists, a pot-bellied jocular Italian, had grabbed my hand while streaming out words in Italian, I remember feeling bewildered, amused and seized by the urge to swat his hands off mine. My blank expression made him break out into bits of English and the mixture of persistence and perseverance was difficult to escape.

But this was now and Florence had acquired an added sheen of romance. Adi’s jaws dropped visibly as we walked into the Piazza del Duomo just like mine had. Soon his face wore a hangdog look as he followed me up Giotto’s Campanile. A steady stream of climbers made sure that we had to keep climbing. By the end of it, legs reduced to a jelly consistency, my darling flatly refused to subject himself to the same torture up the Duomo. His excuse was the 5pm ticket slot we had. ‘It will be dark by the time we are up on the Duomo,’ he insisted. I felt benevolent. I relented. You have got to choose your battles after all. There was a long walk ahead. I had planned to make him walk up the hills that climb above the city. We lunched at a cutting-edge seafood restaurant where the salted codfish made me want to trill. The dopey fellow who took our orders and messed it up did not however make me want to trill. Balance was achieved.

We were soon wandering around the Uffizi, staring at the imposing Palazzo Vecchio guarded by the copy of Michaelangelo’s David and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. We stood at the spot where the Renaissance preacher Girolamo Savonarola had been hanged and burnt, shivered at the thought, and Adi wondered aloud at the Rape of the Sabine Women. You see, when the first king of Rome, Romulus, came to power, the Romans wanted to marry the Sabine women. But the ancient Italic tribe did not agree and the Romans abducted the Sabine women. There might not have been sexual violation thrown into the fray, yet the event was dubbed so. The plethora of stories upon stories that lie buried within the old walls of Florence makes the mind whirl.

We found curious quiet once we had crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge populated by rows of jewellery stores spanning the River Arno. A bylane led us up and up and soon we were on cobbled paths lined by elegant old villas and olive groves, an old chiesa, an old man stooping upon a walking stick to pick his way carefully upon the cobbles. The silence of it broken only by the occasional Fiat that swept by us with great speed. The Italians are supersonic on their Vespas and Fiats.

Adi wondered if we were lost. I soldiered on with a determined look that relayed more confidence than I felt. The road not taken was taking its own sweet time. Yet how beautiful it was as it gradually opened up to a road that snaked past the gardens of Boboli and offered up views of Florence below us, framed by an army of green and golden trees. Words are always inadequate to express the beauty of any moment.

Later, after we had watched lovers embracing by the medieval defensive walls of Florence, traipsed through alleys in which leather shoemakers sat crafting hair-raisingly expensive shoes, peeked into shut antique stores and upholstery studios, gobbled up cake and coffee at a charming coffeeshop, watched a couple of men stop in their tracks to gawp at a woman running in shorts, we had a leisurely stroll by the Arno. Dusk descended upon our shoulders in rosy hues and an old man bicycled along the river with his arms entwined about his lover. There it was, that incredible feeling of love and belonging. We were caught in the bubble where nothing else mattered but that we were there together in the midst of the impossible beauty of that ancient city called Firenze.

Adi turns his back on the Renaissance magnificence of the Piazza del Duomo rather grudgingly.
Florence Cathedral and Baptistery of St. John in profile
Giotto’s Campanile
The Duomo
Baked terracotta roofs of Florence

 Fishing Lab alla Murate
Salted codfish with onion relish in chickpea puree
Grilled shrimps
Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio. Cacus, the fire-breathing giant, was slayed by Hercules for terrorising Aventine Hill before the founding of Rome. 
The Rape of the Sabine Women
Piazza della Signoria
Hilly roads that lead above Florence

Via San Leonardo 
On the southern outskirts of Florence
Chiesa di San Leonardo in Arcetri, an 11th century church from the pulpit of which Dante and Boccaccio had preached sermons.

In the distance stands Torre del Gallo, an ancient castle belonging to the Galli family of Arcetri.
The Tuscan atmosphere of our walk

Former defensive walls of Florence
Antique stores
Upholstery studios
Leather shoemakers off the Tower of San Niccolò
 An alley opening up to the Tower of San Niccolò
Coffeeshops of Florence
Coffeeshop residents
A slice of chocolate cake to take the sting off incessant walks above Florence
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The Ponte Vecchio on the Arno

Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

60 thoughts on “Romanced by Florence

  1. You have brought alive the beauty of Florence with this beautiful write up and lovely pictures .This is now my dream destination ,I wish one can see it .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That book sounds dreamy! I started reading a book in Rome about the memoirs of a British woman who lived in Florence around the WWII. Unfortunately it was hotel property and I had to abandon it when we left it. But I am keen to look it up. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wondering what the jocular Italian artist wanted with your hand. Hmmm? Wonderful post about Florence. It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the Ghiberti and Pisano doors. There’s actually a replica of the Ghiberti doors here in Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills of all places. I would probably be slack-jawed myself seeing the real thing! – Neek

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah he was just an incurable Italian 😛
      Thank you Neek! The Ghiberti door particularly dazzles you. Slack-jawed you would be alright.
      I could not access my cloud since I am in Calcutta — and that fact is annoying me because all my photos are stored there. I did have one of the doors from my previous visit. Maybe I shall post them later when I get back home. I would like to see the replica of the Ghiberti doors in the Hollywood Hills cemetery! 🙂 xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well that means you get to revisit it 😉 I have a horde of others left because since I am travelling for some strange reason I cannot connect to my cloud! Gah. But Florence is special. It somehow reminds me of the way I felt about Dresden, just incredible beauty to zap the senses. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the whole Renaissance feel of Florence. The artistic history here is felt deep within your bones, unlike any other Italian city I have visited, and that is why it remains quite a special place for me. Love your pics of the Duomo Arundhati. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lorelle! The Florentine school of architecture quite boggles the mind with its beauty. You are right that it stands quite apart with its Renaissance character. The Duomo always makes me go berserk. I have at least 10 shots of it from different angles! xx

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  4. Your words and photos bought the beauty of Florence back to me. Enchanting. I love the duomo photos, but the simplicity of that wooden door and it’s gorgeous shades really speaks to me. I am now getting real excited about spending time in Italy. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tracey, you are also a lover of Italy, isn’t it? It is difficult to not fall under its spell. The food is heavenly, the people are lovely and eccentric, and the history, mamma mia! 🙂 Where do you head to next? xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We are in Amsterdam now. I am still (and feel I will be forever more) trying to learn to drive. Our plans for this year are England (housesitting), France in May, Istanbul and a mock version of the Orient Express to get there in June, and Italy in Sept/Oct. Maybe southern India at the end of the year – or back to Amsterdam, if I haven’t passed my test by March! Where are you hoping to go? Good job you’re not in New York at the moment – I see they have temperatures way, way below zero….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a busy year lies ahead of you! Love the sound of the line-up. Though I am curious – why would you persevere with driving lessons particularly in Amsterdam? And where in southern India will you be?
      Right now Tracey, we are wondering about how to chart the year. I want to do something fantastic like Antarctica but I am guessing the expense of it would burn a hole in our pockets and make everything else recede into the horizon. There are so many plans but up in the air. We shall have to chart it out soon!
      I will keep my fingers crossed that you pass that test with flying colours and all.
      Oh yes, my husband flies back early next week and he is quivering at the thought of thawing himself out alone in the apartment. Plus no wife to pamper him for a while is sending him into spirals of depression 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Poor Adi! Wow, Antarctica would be amazing. Looking forward to learning more about your plans when they’re ironed out. Jim wants me to learn to drive – he’s sick of having to do it all! And as I live here, I have to learn here. Haven’t made any plans for southern India yet – but as we’ve spent time in the north we just want to go south now. Like yours, our plans are a work in progress! Hope Adi survives on his own!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hah survival mode kicks in. He warns me that I might return to find him passed away in one corner of the apartment.
        Adi is apprehensive of letting me behind the wheel because once I almost drove our rented car into a field with a bull in Polperro, Cornwall. He insists he shall deposit me into a driving school in NJ. I meanwhile am quietly confident of driving a truck.
        I think you better pass this test for Jim’s sake and oh I did not realise that you live in Amsterdam. What a lovely city to live in, Tracey.
        May both our plans work out with lucidity. xx

        Liked by 1 person

  6. It definitely sounds like romance was in the air . . . which I am hardly surprised at considering what a simply beautiful place it is! Beautiful photography as always. You have me itching to go on a quick trip away! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] wait, did you think I was done with Florence? You do know my proclivity for banging on about one place till I have flayed it to its core, right? […]


  8. Ah, Florence. You have done such a lovely job presenting its beauty and charm through your words and pictures. I was there in Nov. 2001 when my older son was doing a study-abroad in Florence, and in the off-season we were spared the crowds, so it was fun to see your photos with more people!


  9. I’ve heard about Florence so many times but what I didn’t know is I would love the place already even if I only saw it on photos. The architecture looks beautiful! Those are the kind of buildings/places I’ve always wanted to go to ?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “Impossible beauty” indeed. How cleverly you put Firenze in two words.
    It is one of the few cities in the world where I could easily lose myself for a few months.
    Or years?
    Thank you for a magnificent post.
    Grazie mille Arundhatiji. 😉


    1. Prego Brianji. Ah, for the charm of Florence. It is difficult to escape its spell, but then who wants to? 🙂


      1. Yup you did not ignore my end-of-the-year trip 🙂 It was in the post on ‘How to Turn One of Britain’s Best Walks Into an Adventure’. And I wrote this there:
        ‘Oh it was grand. Came back with bittersweet feelings, heaviness in the heart. Took a while to get back to the mode of life here. You realise how diverse the world is despite how connected it is.’


      2. Got back to your post. Had missed that. I will have to check whether we still are connected. I think so. (Otherwise, I will “hitch” back to one of your previous posts…)


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