I had a one day layover in Florence, Italy…just one day.
How much can you really do in one day?
Wait for it…I packed so much into this day, I have to write the story in two parts.
I checked into my hotel, Hotel NH Porta Rossa, a fabulous boutique hotel in a fabulous location.
The hotel is in a 12th century building, and is one of the oldest hotels in Italy. When I took my suitcase to the storage room (it was too early to check in), the porter showed me a secret view through a narrow passageway to the remains of an ancient stone stairway.
On the way back to the reception room, I passed by the charming pigeon hole mailboxes, filled with messages for guests, just like the old days.
My room was going to be ready soon, so I went to have breakfast in the hotel dining room while I waited. A lovely room, and a great breakfast.
My room is ready…the elevator opens into a large reception room with a forest of luminous sculptures.
The guest room was sleek and contemporary, with a gorgeous view over the rooftops.
I brushed and washed, and made a quick wardrobe change, and I’m on my way. There’s a museum just down the street, and it’s open. Palazzo Davanzati is a historic home that was built by the Davizzi family in the middle of the 14th century.
From the 16th to 19th century, the palace belonged to the Davanzati family. I’m captivated by museums that are former residences…there’s an element of time travel, especially as you tread on floorboards previously walked on by the slippered feet of Renaissance ladies.
For the next century, the palace went through numerous transformations. After a major restoration, it was opened in 2005 in its current incarnation as a museum.
Apparently there’s a lot of things you’re not supposed to do here. (Yes, I’m taking a picture of the “no photographs” sign. We’ll talk about it in a moment.)
I tried not to take pictures, I really did.
Okay, actually I got caught. (“Mi dispiace, I didn’t know!”) I groveled, and asked nicely, but still the surly guard refused my request to take pictures.
Then I saw the graffiti. I’m not talking about Banksy…I’m talking 14th century graffiti.
I can’t not take pictures of 14th century graffiti!
I found another guard, groveled and asked nicely, and it worked this time. Hence, the photographs.
Seriously, how cool is that? Furthermore, this guide was so nice, that she took four of us past the rope barrier to a floor not usually open to the public.
Photographs and a secret room? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Back outside and into the 21st century, I headed towards the Duomo, passing under the arches at Piazza della Repubblica, and then past the carousel and al fresco dining tables.
I stopped for a moment and looked around…it’s a beautiful day and I’m in Florence!
I came to a halt in Via dei Calzaiouli to photograph this candy sculpture of Michelangelo’s “David.” It won’t be the last David product I see today…just wait.
I turn the corner, and there’s the Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, in all its glory.
The horse and carriage driver was on his mobile phone while waiting for his next customer.
This interesting couple examined the elaborate detail of the carvings.
I joined the queue to go inside.
Some people got a little impatient.
And then we’re in, the austere interior a sharp contrast to the elaborate exterior.
Candles burn on iron branches, like lights on a Christmas tree.
The clock above the entrance was designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello, in a time where the twenty-fourth hour of the day ended at sunset.
A group of tourists captured the frescoed dome on their cameras. I did, too. It’s kind of irresistible…Giorgio Vasari’s “Last Judgment.”
A steady stream of people bolted out of the confession door exit, having been absolved of their sins and anxious to be on their way.
A few tired visitors sat on the sidelines.
Leaving the Duomo, I zigged and zagged over to the Piazza della Signoria, which is bordered by the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Vecchio. Having been here before, I know that I’d be there the rest of the day if I went inside, so I took some photographs in the piazza before moving on. I had too much ground to cover to stay in one place for long.
I wandered over to Via della Condotta, in search of a ristorante for lunch, and stumbled upon this store that looked like it was frozen in the past. There were floor to ceiling dusty shelves, crowded with ancient apothecary bottles.
Dr. Alessandro Bizzarri has been in operation since 1842. Antiquated bottles with yellowed labels are filled with mixtures of ingredients from recipes that have been passed down from generations…extracts, spices, and herbs; scented essences to be used in perfumes and cosmetic products; pigments and dyes for paint and artists’ materials; chemicals for photographic restoration…a treasure trove of magical potions.
Laboratory paraphernalia occupied lower shelves. There were flasks, cylinders, beakers, mortars and pestles, that looked as if they had been there for centuries.
The next detour is the sort of store that I can’t resist…a stationery store.
This isn’t just an ordinary stationery store. It’s a Florentine cartoleria. There’s thick, creamy stationery, letterpress cards with Italian engravings, monogrammed writing paper, glue in boxes with retro graphics, flowery wrapping paper, fountain pens and colored pencils. I could have spent all day in there.
I bought beautiful cards for future use…
…and a handful of marbleized porcelain marbles…I’ve never seen anything like it. (They’ll end up in a little dish on a side table in my apartment…objets d’art.)
The stores are closing…it’s lunch time. The proprietor of the cartoleria recommended a restaurant around the corner that is a favorite of the locals.
Read about it in part two!