Perhaps one of the more exciting trips we've been on in 2007, at about 650km Florence is a good 7 hours drive from our home in Munich, Germany. The trip takes us south from Munich, across the Austrian alps into the Austrian town of Innsbruck, through the Italian Alps into the border city of Brenner. We discovered an important milestone here; and that is that it takes just on 2 hours to travel from home in Munich into Italy!
From here, we continued south. While major traffic turned west towards Milan, we continued into the Tuscany region and into Florence. The Tuscany region is famous for its wines, food and medieval cities. The 650km journey took almost 8 hours to achieve, with one 1 hour break to ease fatigue. Commencing at 4.30am, we missed our self-imposed target of crossing the Italian border at the town of Brenner by 6.00am. We missed it by 3 minutes! (Not bad considering we had to drive across Austria, with the speed limit of 130km/h). Here, we discovered another fact - that filled with the right premium diesel, the BMW 535d can give us 900km .. not bad for an engine this powerful.
We stayed at a converted convent (for nuns of the Christian faith). The owner gave us what was the best room (well, more like a suite) in the building. A charming old place, our room was formerly the chapel - it had a view to the quiet street and high ceilings. Best of all, it had a really powerful airconditioner, a must when returning from a busy day discovering what Florence is all about. However, we have had to park our car in a local secured garage (for €30 per night!), whichi was some 500m away from our accomodation).
It"s easy to walk yourself into the ground in Florence, as there are many Piazza's and although the sights are easily within walking distance, the distance covered to see all the sights would mean having to walk some 20km over the course of the day. Believe me, we found this the hard way.
With ancient but fully operational buildings (there are very few new buildings around) all around, its place brings about a historic emotion just by being in Florence. Lots of churches, museums, piazza's (and with that sidewalk cafe's, gelati and sidwalk traders), the magnificent ponte vecchio (bridge) and just outside Florence again,castles, museums and squares.
In Florence, the Duomo is perhaps the most famous sight of all, is an awe inspiring building right in the middle of ancient Florence. Because of the long queues, we didn't quite get into the Duomo. "Duomo" means Cathedral and the proper name of this Cathedral is Duomo Santa Maria. Most of the visitors were tourists bussed in by hugh coaches into the city. It looked as though the city of Florence, which is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO can survive purely from tourism.
The Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizzi) is located about 500m from the Duomo and within another square called the Piazza Della Signoria which it shares with another imposing building, a former palace called the Palazzo Vecchio. Pallazo Vecchio, or "old palace" came into use after 1549, when the Medicis moved across the river to the Pitti palace. Long queues can be seen going into the box office of the Uffizi, but it doesn't take long to figure out when tour busses operate and to then go into the Uffizi when the busses aren't there. Besides, you don't really want to go into the Ufizzi with thousands of tourists, with their tour leaders speaking at the top of their voices to their group. The Ufizzi holds works of art in sculpture, tapestry, mural paintings and even holds a library. You can literally spend hours there, pondering through the works on offer..
Another great square in Florence is Plaza de la República, a square lned with restaurants and an awe imposing city gate leading to the west of the city.
Palazzo Pitti, the new palace is across the river from central Florenace and can be reached on foot via the Ponte Vecchio, a historic bridge which today is used by hundreds of street stalls trading in souvenirs, clothing, leatherwear as well as light entertainment. Palazzo Pitti today is also a museum, showing a huge collection of Roman pieces as well as the residence of the former royal family.
Ponte Vecchio, the historic bridge is a must. The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic, unless your vehicle is a humbe bicycle. A touristic attraction today, literally thousands travel on the bridge each day to buy things ranging from home made jewellery, clothing and other textiles, leatherwear, silverwear etc.
While in Florence, do not forget to drop by in Pisa - the city made famous by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which orignally was in Florence. Pisa is some 75km to the west of Florence and well worth the visit to appreciate the tower and its surrounds.
September 26th, 2007
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