When most people think of Italy, they picture the Roman ruins, including the Coliseum, the canals of Venice, or the vineyards of Tuscany. However, thinking of all of these places, most people forget about perhaps the most culturally significant city of modern Italy. The birthplace of the Renaissance: Florence. I visited Florence about three years ago, and while I enjoyed the history of Rome and the beauty of Venice, Florence is my favorite Italian city. My day in Florence consisted of an early morning visit to Pisa and its leaning tower, and a city tour that included visits to the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo, the latter of which provided some of the most spectacular pictures I have ever taken. I also met one of my true loves in Florence: gelato.
After disembarking our ship, our first visit was to the small town of Pisa on the outskirts of Florence. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of those things on everyone’s bucket list. The town of Pisa itself was very small and was obviously completely centered on the cathedral, of which the Leaning Tower served as its bell tower. Our tour guide told us of how Pisa and other surrounding towns competed with each other to build the tallest bell tower in the region. Pisa’s, of course, was built on unstable ground and began leaning over time. Our guide described how in the late 1990s, the lean was corrected slightly by the addition of counterweights, thus ensuring that the tower would not collapse anytime in the near future. Though the tower did not turn out as its builders intended, I nonetheless found the humor in the fact that Pisa gained its notoriety for this failed structure.
Upon leaving Pisa, we continued on to Florence. A walking tour took us first to the Ponte Vecchio. The world-renowned bridge spanning the Arno River was a truly amazing, picturesque site. As our tour guide recounted the history of the bridge, I pictured merchants during the Renaissance period, working out of the shops built onto the sides of the bridge, whether butchers, jewelers, or artists. I found the bridge incredibly unique as I have never seen a bridge utilized for anything other than transport, while the Ponte Vecchio not only traversed the river, it also provided shops for hundreds of merchants.
We travelled through the streets of Florence until we reached the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, better known as Duomo. The Duomo is the pinnacle of Renaissance architecture, with its dome being the largest brick dome ever constructed. After telling us the history of the Duomo, our tour guide told us the bell tower we were standing near offered stunning vistas of the Duomo and the city. She also informed us that we had thirty minutes until we had to depart for the ship and that the tower unfortunately usually took forty-five minutes to climb to the top.
Naturally, my mom wanted pictures of the Duomo from above. While initially reluctant, I agreed to climb as quickly as I could to take pictures. I am so glad that I took the time to climb the tower. The views provided from the top of the bell tower were indeed stunning. I was able to capture some of my favorite pictures that I have ever taken. Amazingly, I did it all in twenty-five minutes. Exiting the tower, I accidently stepped on an “ancient statue” that a group of African peddlers were selling near the tower. Though one of the peddlers promptly asked for $100, he let me go after I told him I did not have any money.
As we strode back towards our bus to return to the ship, I had my first taste of real gelato. Gelato, an Italian version of ice cream, was actually invented in Florence. The lemon gelato, which I enjoyed that day, was the perfect way to cool me down on that scorching Italian afternoon. I have had gelato in other parts of Italy and back in the United States, but nothing can come close to comparing to the gelato in Florence.
Florence is, to this day, one of my favorite cities that I have visited. Its beauty and history combine to give it an incredible vibe. Florence is one of the few places that I have visited where I think I could actually live.
Next Week: Liverpool