Walking through the backstreets of Florence, we found ourselves away from the rest of the tourists.
A man emerged from a rundown block of flats and walked a little in front of us, his long straggly white hair giving him an appearance of being slightly less than salubrious.
As we walked into the next palazzo, a small fountain stood to one side, a slow trickle of water filling the trough.
The man bent down and scooped his hands through the water, gathering the coins foolishly dropped as wishes into the water by unsuspecting tourists.
There was something a little shocking about it as robbing a fountain just seemed wrong.
Three coins from the fountain, not quite the same.
Saturday morning and we were off like greyhounds (or whippets) out of the trap. We decided the only way to beat the crowds was to get out early. Surely no other tourists would be out at 9am?!
We started with a coffee and then headed to the Duomo to get in early. Good plan, except it wasn’t open. And so we decided we’d go up the Campanile (the bell tower) as it was open and there wasn’t a queue.
|The Duomo, Florence
I was pretty sure there’d be a lift (there was in Milan) but it seemed Florence was more traditional and so 84.7 metres later up a very narrow staircase (or four) and we emerged on the roof of the Campanile overlooking the red roofs of Florence.
It was a breathtaking view, the history of Florence immediately visible and relatively unchanged over centuries.
|View of the dome from the Campanile
Descending from the top, four hundred and fourteen steps later, we emerged back at the base of the cathedral and after a second coffee, joined the queue of early bird tourists to go inside.
The inside of the Duomo was strangely austere compared to the almost gaudy marble-covered exterior. Devoid of decoration with the exception of a beautifully painted dome, it was a dichotomy of design.
From the Duomo we walked around the rest of Florence but all roads seemed to end back at the Duomo as we repeatedly found ourselves back at the great marble icon.
After the fourth or fifth time, we decided we needed to get off the tourist track and venture beyond the immediate centre. With map in hand we explored every piazza and sculpture and then went in search of a non-touristy restaurant for dinner.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all!
After a dubious and disappointing breakfast, I set off to the biggest kids’ fashion trade show of the season to see the latest collections.
Housed in an old fort, the setting was a welcome change from the usual convention centre. We walked for several hours absorbing the fashion, reviewing the competition and looking for inspiration before unfortunately lunching in the cafeteria due to time constraints.
I was getting concerned about the food. This was Italy after all and I’d had three bad meals. Where were the delicious fresh ingredients I’d had on previous Italian adventures? The delicious fresh pasta, pesto and bread?
After lunch we had free time for a little sightseeing so I set off to meet Letad at the Boboli Gardens.
I walked from the fort, past the main railway station, crossed the river at the Ponte Vecchio, an ancient bridge lined with jewellery shops and thousands of tourists, passed the Palazzo Pitti and eventually found a gate to the gardens. It was very hot and I was feeling a little overwrought.
Climbing up the steep hill, I finally found Letad and we spent a couple of hours relaxing on the grass with a glorious backdrop of Florence. I still had no sense of the city having been by taxi from the airport to the hotel.
A calming breeze soothed away a little of the stress and we decided to head back into the fray before dinner with my colleagues.
A restoring glass of cold white wine (a familiar theme) was very welcome and we had a relaxed and much earlier dinner than the night before. Delicious food was still proving elusive but at least the dinosaur steaks were missing.
And so with the work commitments honored, it was time to join thousands of tourists and explore Florence for the rest of the weekend…
Arriving in Florence at 7pm, it was hot. I did a quick change at the airport, quick check-in at the hotel and jumped in a taxi to go to a reception at the Four Seasons.
As luck would have it, I was just in time and managed to see the recent apparel collection. The hotel was stunning and Florentine society were out to mingle.
After a reviving glass of Prosecco, we set off for a team dinner. The packed restaurant was hidden away on a backstreet. Local knowledge.
Despite having a 9:30pm reservation, it was almost 11pm by the time we sat down and exhaustion was setting in. Enormous dinosaur steaks appeared to be a Florentine speciality as they were on almost every table. A surreal sight.
By 1am I staggered into the hotel room. Letad had arrived and after a long journey was asleep. I collapsed but sleep was elusive, exhaustion prevailed.
Gatwick airport, day two. A strange sense of déjà vu but here I am again waiting for gate information.
This is as far as I got yesterday but things seem more optimistic as flights are actually departing and France is open again.
Maybe going to Florence…
Apparently the French have decided that France is closed and no one can fly through their air space. Very unsporting of them.
My flight was cancelled and the ensuing debacle of having to come sadly back through immigration, unused boarding pass in hand, security which meant I couldn’t leave the airport until all luggage was returned and everything else in general meant it was a fairly frustrating and pointless waste of time.
Basically I went to Gatwick airport for the afternoon.
I’m booked on another flight tomorrow afternoon but to be honest, I can’t really see the point of trying. The dispute is scheduled to go on until at least Sunday.
It would seem I’m not going to Florence.
I’m off to Florence to go to a trade show.
Letad is driving to Florence from France as he’s homeless (the house being rented out) and so we’re spending the weekend there.
It seemed a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity!
And so we’re off to Florence!