DAY 6 in Florence, Italy:
We were crossing Ponte (Bridge) Amerigo Vespucci when Miriam spotted the definition of silence and serenity in the face of a hustling, bustling town getting to work. It was beautiful, the way he remained so still and at peace with the environment. Miriam described him perfectly, he ‘found the eye of the storm that is everyday life’. The image of him perched on the bridge the way he was, screamed nothing but Gandhi.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” — Mahatma Gandhi
We slowed down today, having only 5 things planned, namely the Free Walking Renaissance Tour at 11am, lunch at Santa Croce di Firenze, dessert at Gelato dei Neri, a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo and a stroll in Boboli Gardens to end the chill day. Anything would have been done spontaneously, where-the-wind-would-take-us-ly — aka. my favourite kind of day.
We had a couple of hours to kill before the tour, so we visited the Fotoautomatica booth near the Santa Maria Novella station (props to Miriam for finding this under the search: “Unusual things to do in Florence, Italy”!), where we took a series of shots that still crack me up. The instructions told us that pictures would be taken after the green light, but we didn’t see any?!
Miriam — eyes wide in shock, confusion, amusement // Nat — spasm, spasm, spasm
Second & Third shot:
Miriam and Nat — Okay, smile, we get it, sort of… we did the same pose for both
(It took a lot longer than the past three, so I looked out of the photo booth when… SNAP!”)
Miriam — “Seriously…” // Nat — not even in the picture
We didn’t have time for a second or third try because we had a tour on the Renaissance to join. Surprise surprise, the same Singaporeans from yesterday’s tour were on this one too! This time, we conversed with each other and Miriam and I found out that they were Year 3 NUS Med students! What a small world! One said he was a good friend of a senior I had in Secondary school, while a couple others said they knew Miriam’s College Mum!
I apologise, I must admit I did zone out a couple of times during this tour, I wasn’t too interested in all the geometrical aspects of the city that the tour guide was mentioning. 😦
We ended our tour at the Santa Croce Square, said our goodbyes to the Singaporeans, and looked at each other, “I need the…” “… toilet!” We tried our luck in a Chinese restaurant but got chased out by a somewhat rude restaurant owner who kept repeating, “No, only reserved!” In other words, we couldn’t eat there to use the toilet even we wanted to.
I still can’t believe we did this (I’m telling You, we didn’t have a choice, our bladders could only take so much…), but we actually walked into a leather-making factory. “How ironic, two Vegans in a leather-making factory,” Miriam commented. Desperate times call for desperate measures! In the end, we did find a toilet and we did meet an elderly man, an angel, by the name of Michele. Michele took on a special meaning for us both. Anyone else we came across who helped us in one way or another throughout our trip, we’d call ‘Michele’.
We had lunch — more spinach and broccoli in floury ciabatta — and shooooed some jealous birds near the steps of beautiful Santa Croce di Firenze before dessert at Gelateria dei Neri. Miriam got herself dark chocolate, blackberry and mixed berry scoops of gelato (2,50€!), while I got myself coconut, mango and blackberry (3€!) to fill my ‘dessert tummy’. (I seem to have another stomach just for desserts. There’s always space for dessert!)
Tip: Vegans, go for fruit sorbets, dark chocolate, coconut and mint flavours when getting gelato in Italy! They are mostly dairy-free, but do check to make sure! Also, not all cones are dairy- and egg-free so do make sure as well before purchasing any!
We sat on a ledge built on the bottom of a building to rest our tired feet, enjoy our rapidly melting gelato and steal a bit more public wifi before we get on with our day. This ledge that is now a bus stop, used to be a provision for the poor to sit on – the rich were required by law to build them for the poor.
Miriam and I said our goodbyes to our families before heading in the direction of Piazzale Michelangelo. It wasn’t difficult getting there, for there were many signs pointing us towards the top. We could see everything from up there, the whole heart of Tuscany resting on the Arno river. Florence was busy with magnificent architectural achievements — I could spot the towering Duomo (still my favourite), Firenze Basilica di Santa Croce and Ponte Vecchio — and had the incredible Tuscan countryside in the distance surrounding it.
Next was a steep hike up to the Boboli Gardens. We met a lady along the way giving out free tickets to Forte di Belvedere (where Miriam says, Galileo Galilei used to watch the skies) where they were hosting a contemporary sculpture exhibition by Jan Fabre, called ‘Spiritual Guards’. This was where we got stunning views (such as the one featured above) of another, cypress-filled, part of fanciful Florence — a different angle from that at Piazzale Michelangelo.
The historic battlegrounds which have protected the Medici family and Florentines from outside attackers are now dotted with wondrously shiny gold statues and sculptures. Each has been strategically placed throughout the artistic maze of the outdoor portion of the Forte di Belvedere. Every open space houses one or two creations, allowing the visitor to absorb all that the artwork has to offer.
This was a sculpture I found utterly ironic. We were standing in 33°C heat and there the sculpted man was, hunched over with his raincoat over his head, as he tries to light a cigarette. This sculpture would have been perfect in the rain, while this sculpture was perfect the way it was, after the rain. The sculpted man in the bathtub had his finger hovering just above the rainwater surface, just like how it was meant to look.
I didn’t realise that these two sculptures (‘The Man Who Measures Clouds’ — As it is stated in an interview: ‘The man is shown standing precariously on top of a library ladder placed at the edge of a crate [or in this case, hill], while holding up a school ruler. It’s dangerous to be an artist – both literally and figuratively speaking‘. & ‘The man in the space suit of some sort (?)’) were Miriam’s favourites too. They certainly were mine, too. 🙂
Miriam and I spent some quiet moments on our own separately up there, before we rejoined and talked about the possibility of cycling through the Tuscan countryside, which was right then so far away, at the far end of our vision. It was such an exciting thought, an adventurous dream, a possible reality in the future.
We didn’t end up entering Boboli Gardens in the end because of its 10€ entrance fees. We managed to see a somewhat aerial view of Boboli Gardens from the top of Fort Belvedere, and that was more than enough.
We walked home, got lost, saw watermelons bigger than Miriam’s head, bought some Medjool dates, imagined owning one of the many tiny Florentine lorries, and headed back to our fig-decorated room, where we called it a day… an end to a long, happy day.
Our hearts were full.