Continued from my earlier post -“Exploring Amalfi”
We set out early from the Amalfi coast and headed out to Naples -a distance of about seventy kilometres which we covered in an hours time . We initially went on the Amalfi coast road towards Sorrento and thence on the Superstrada 45(National Highway) connecting Sicily with Venice Via Naples and Rome . This highway cuts through Italy along the ancient Roman Highway . We passed Pompeii and on to board the Trenitalia treni (train) bound for Florence , our next destination.We had our bigglietti (tickets) in hand , watched the big screen for the departure binari (platform), used the acensori(lift) to head to the servizione (rest rooms). The majestic Garibaldi Piazza with a mounted statue of the Italian patriot and Red Shirt leader adds to the impressive facade of Napoli Centrale Stazione .We boarded the Premi(premium) seconde class on the Frecciarossa train bound for Venice via Roma and Florence which touched speeds as high as 250 km per hour . Apart from the speed what never fails to impress me are the spotlessly clean interiors of the train . Keep wondering whether it was the civic sense of the passengers or the efficient of the sanitation staff or both ! The journey was pleasant and we got into Firenze Santa Maria Novella (Firenze SM Novella) station in a few hours time . Florence is Firenze locally and the station takes its name after the Cathedral of Santa Maria.
We followed the Uscita(Exit) signs and found ourselves on the high street.Our attempt to flag down taxi after taxi bore no success – A kind passer-by explained that in Florence taxis do not float around seeking passengers -You need to call a central number or use the APPTAXI – very similar to Uber which is currently banned in Italy. And so with the help of the App we got to our hotel quite easily.En route to the Hotel the cab driver informed me that Florence has 73 museums and 125 cathedrals/churches. Tried to verify this and the best answer I got was “many many”! But then we chose to see just one Museum and one cathedral and spend the rest of our time absorbing Florence and Tuscany.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany province and is astride the Arno River. The Arno brought back my knowledge of the Italian Campaign which I so assiduously studied for my military promotion exams nearly 35 years ago.The retreating Germans blew up all but one of the bridges across the Arno and razed to rubble buildings on both sides to act as a further barricade to the advancing Allied troops in 1944 . The city had not been razed completely and was spared as both the Allies
and the Germans were alive to the historic buildings and architecture of Florence. As Hitler is rumored to have famously said “Florence is too beautiful to be destroyed” but that did not stop the Germans from mass looting of art works and sculptures , many of which have over the years been painstakingly restored to the museums. That however is a fascinating story for another day. The allies limited their bombings to only the railway station to cut off German supplies . And so Florence survived the Second World War with only one ancient bridge the Ponte Vecchio intact. Rumour again has it that Hitler had a hand in this noble gesture(!)as well .
After a quick check in at Hotel Kraft, a modern Hotel in the city center (Check out my review on Trip Advisor) we spent the evening at one of the many Medici Palaces -The Palazzo Riccardi.The Medici family of Florence were a trading family(1500s to 1700s) with immense wealth who
wielded great influence over Italy but are best known as generous patrons of art and culture.The music concert by a local group was set in the huge spacious courtyard of this palace and was a fine rendering of classics from Mozart and Strauss . Such concerts are organised each day at one of the many beautiful architectural buildings of Florence and must not be missed .Gives a tourist a few hours of taking in the ambience amidst great music .!
The concert was followed by Ravioli with Truffle sauce in a restaurant off Piazza San Lorenzo yet another picturesque Piazza that is part of the history of Florence . Malati had Zuppa Verdure (vegetable Soup) served in the most beautiful surroundings in a sidewalk cafe besides the San Lorenzo church. We were by now quite into Italian food, bland by Indian standards though I must say I did not miss the Indian spices and deep fried foods at all.I am now veering towards the view that unspoiled natural flavours of farm fresh
meats and vegetables should be savoured without sullying it with spices . Another feature common to all restaurants is the large bowl of grated Parmesan Formaggio (cheese) kept on the table as a spice equivalent ! My knowledge of Italian food was fast improving – till now limited to the to the “Little Italy” chain of restaurants in India.
The next day we headed for Piazza Michelangelo. The route went past Bobboli gardens ,an open air museum built over four centuries which is another much visited
tourist attraction.We were however content to look at the gardens through the bus window. The Michelangelo Piazza is a large square set amidst rolling gardens at different levels and affords a panoramic view of the city of Florence.In good light you can get some brilliant pictures. In the centre of the square is a replica of the famous statue of David surrounded by souvenir shops selling Italian football and other memorabilia. David is one of the best known sculptures of Florence and Michelangelo and the original is located in the Accademia Galleri. Another replica exists at the entrance to the Signoria square.After some time watching the sunset over the skyline we hopped on to the first bus back to the hotel only to be told that no tickets were available for sale – we got off at the next stop and hopped onto another one only to be told the same thing . Buses are manned by only a driver and as we discovered he is not obliged to sell tickets on board . Tickets are sold at all cafes , stores and numerous outlets across the city. Since these tickets are undated and are valid for a fixed duration (day/ week /month/single trip ) or they need to be punched with the start date and time else they can be used without any limit .This process is referred to as validation and is done with the help of a small yellow coloured card punch machine available on every bus and tram in Florence. Traveling on an un-validated ticket is treated as ticket less travel and attracts hefty fines . The process is pretty much the same in the water transport system of Venice but with different user interfaces.And so with this new found knowledge we head for lunch and onwards to Ufffizi museum, the largest museum in the world. One the way we enviously saw lavender and oleander bushes growing wild . Malati has been trying to grow lavender in her garden but with limited success