Florence IV: And the Rest

I’m starting with this photo because this pup was the cutest thing I saw in Florence.

This was the second cutest thing.

We did a lot of wandering around Florence and I have photos that don’t fit into any narrative but that I still wanted to share.

The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge that houses jewelers and souvenier shops. It’s the only Florentine bridge not to have been destroyed by retreating Nazi forces during World War II.  There are several theories as to why it wasn’t, but one story says that after a 1938 visit to the city, Hitler deemed Florence “too beautiful a city to be destroyed” and, in a letter, told the German ambassador in Italy, “Do what you can to protect it.”

What the ambassador could do wasn’t much, however.  The military decided that the threat of advancing Allied forces required the destruction of all the bridges across the Arno.  The Ponte Vecchio survived only because it wasn’t large enough to accommodate Allied tanks.

A couple of random street scenes, below. As you can see, Florence isn’t one of those cities that totally ban vehicles. In order to drive in the historic city center, however, you need a special permit. And to get a permit, you must be a resident, taxi or bus. Without that permit, you can still drive through, but only during certain hours (mostly at night, Monday through Saturday).  Motorcycles and scooters are exempt from these inner city restrictions.

A piece of advice someone gave me about crossing Italian streets: find a pregnant woman and cross with her. No Italian driver will hit a pregnant woman. Do you know how much time can be spent waiting for a pregnant woman (1) to show up and (2) who wants to cross the street? Not that we’d do that. We usually did, however, always try to cross with someone else.  With a child. Many more of those out there.

I just wanted to tell that story (which is true) but our actual experience was that while it was scary being in a vehicle on Italian roads, we had no problem being pedestrians. Even where there were no traffic lights, the cars stopped immediately when we stepped onto a crosswalk.  Which is more than we can say about many American drivers.

What it said in the lobby of the commercial building above was, basically: Leonardo da Vinci lived here as a child.  That’s our tour group reflected in the glass. I’m the one front and center in black and blue, taking a photo while everyone else is listening to the tour guide. I have to take my shots when the opportunity presents itself, after all.

We never did find the restaurant and the gelato shop that were recommended to us.  On that day, we ended up having a satisfactory (but not memorable) meal at a place called Gusto Leo. . .

. . . and gelato at the Gelateria Santa Croce.

Our hotel was the Ambasciatori, across from the train station. It’s a sleek, modern hotel without much charm, and I think it was the place with two tiny elevators and a zillion rooms.  Which meant we spent a lot of time walking up and down the stairs. That was better for us anyway, considering how much (no matter what Patricia is claiming to the contrary) food, wine and gelato we were consuming.  But the location was great — across the street from the train station and within a short walking distance of the historic center city.  The view from our balcony featured the trains (which were busy but we truly heard nothing in the rooms) and the church of Santa Maria Novella beyond.

Florence is remarkable for its beauty, culture and history.  But as far as the Big Three (Rome, Florence, Venice) went, I enjoyed my experience there less than I did Rome and Venice.  This was my third visit to Florence, and I seem to remember that was my judgement on my first two visits as well.  My enduring impression of Florence this time will be crowds, crowds and more crowds, especially in the Accademia and the Uffizi.  And this was in April, which isn’t high tourist season.  Should I return in the near future, I’ll concentrate on the more obscure sites and less populated parts of town.

For now, it was time to move on to fair Verona, where we’ll lay our scene.

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