Tuesday, 28th October 2003


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We were woken this morning by the peel of bells, which made a refreshing change to electro-cock. I reached for a pillow off the floor to stuff in my ears to drown the noise. I wasn't ready to wake up!

As I moved I realised how much I ached all over. I groaned and Julie groaned back at me. We had been in bed for over 14 hours and I'm sure we were on the verge of developing bed sores! Were we guilty of Sloth? No way!

It must have been the prescription drugs. Then again, I didn't take any? Perhaps osmosis took place overnight?

Anyway I soon woke up after literally falling into the toilet! It came as quite a surprise to discover how wide the pan was and how painfully narrow the rim was.

I was almost swallowed up by it, nearly disappearing down the U-bend, legs a flailing. (OK, a little too much information, I'll stop now.) The toilet certainly wasn't designed for those with a petit posterior and lets just leave it at that.

We popped down for breakfast. The cold toasted bread, very crispy rolls, cream cheese, and sticky croissant were sufficient, and the coffee was very good. So we decided that we would eat here again, unlike the Rome hotel.

At 9am we headed straight for Giotto's campanile for the climb to the top of the tower. It cost us 6 Euros each. It was torture for Julie to walk up those narrow enclosed steps.

Every new level we got a chance to catch our breath before hiking up the steps to the next.

At the last level but one there was a thick iron grid on the floor through which you could see the 100ft drop all the way down to the previous level.

Even my stomach flipped over, so Julie's must have been doing cartwheels with a twisting triple salsa in pike position.

Being the clown that I am, I instinctively stood on the grid just to provoke Julie's reaction, but to be honest with you it backfired on me as I felt my knees go weak, and my head spin.

I couldn't get off quick enough!
We finally reached the top, and Julie bravely shuffled all the way around the rim. She felt petrified, as if she could fall off at any time, despite it being covered by a safety cage. The view was great, if a little obstructed, especially if you were only 5ft 2in and crouching with fear!

I finally got the opportunity to whip out my new huge zoom lens and focused on one of the many incredible statues that adorned the Duomo.

I was impressed with how near I could zoom.

We left the campanile, planning on going inside the Duomo, but a large coach load of Japanese tourists had just descended and were forming a long orderly queue outside the large cathedral doors. We decided not to wait, and moved on towards San Lorenzo.

This church looks unfinished from the outside, and in fact that's precisely what it is, unfinished. Apparently the façade was designed by Michelangelo but never completed. The pope summoned him to Rome to start work immediately on painting the Sistine Chapel.

Five hundred years later and San Lorenzo still has the scaffolding up!

The ceiling inside was quite impressive, in an organised multi-squared kind of a way, (not in a Sistine Chapel jaw dropping beauty kind of a way). Several of the smaller chapels off the main church were however quite beautiful, but the best was not accessible directly from within San Lorenzo.

The entrance to the Medici Chapels was from a separate entrance at the back of the complex and required a separate entrance fee, of course. I was disappointed to see a 'No Photos' sign despite paying a small ransom for the privilege to enter, but after walking into the Medici Chapel and seeing it mostly covered in scaffolding I wouldn't have wanted to photograph it anyway. But when we walked into the room that housed the Medici tombs I was desperate to sneak my camera out. Night and Day, on one side, with Dawn and Dusk on the other were very striking. That Michelangelo must have been a very busy artist!

The market that surrounded San Lorenzo didn't really have much that interested us. Although we did buy a tiny Italian football jersey for my 6 month old nephew Llyr.

The market is quite popular for its leather goods but they did nothing for me. I'm not a big fan of wearing animal skin, they smell.

In contrast, the indoor food market, Mercato Centrale was quite fascinating.

With its sheets of tripe, piles of pig intestines, bowls of sheep brains, and so on, would be enough to give a vegetarian nightmares but it was certainly an experience!

My curiosity was certainly stronger than my repulsion. It was such a bizarre sight to see these peculiar "foods" on display.

Upstairs was even more enjoyable, very colourful and vibrant, and smelt more pleasant!

The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables were amazing.


The mountains of sun-dried tomato, pyramids of oranges, piles of fresh porcini mushrooms, zillions of zucchini, and asparagus that any Italian stallion would have been proud of!

Browsing all this food had made us hungry, and as luck would have it I knew of just the place to eat, just a stone's throw from the back of Mercato Centrale. A trattoria called Mario's, whose Ribolita is world famous.[click here for it's recipe!]

It didn't open until noon, so we killed some time wandering around Via Guelfa, drinking a McCoke, and walking past a huge queue outside the Galleria Academia.

We noticed numerous shops selling wooden Pinocchio puppets and only later realised that Carlo Collodi, who wrote the story, was a Florentine.

We turned up early outside Mario's at 11:45am but were allowed to wait inside for the remaining 15 minutes. We spent the quarter of an hour writing postcards, reading reviews about Mario's, and enjoying a ¼ litre of 'Castello di Brolio' wine.

I had no idea what to expect, but when my Ribolita arrived it just looked like a bowl of brown slop. "Fart fodder" was Julie's accurate description. Although when I tasted it I would have gladly farted forever as a result of eating this dish. (I'm sure that Julie would say that I already suffer from perpetual flatulence!) It was such a delicious intense flavour of vegetables. The pool of olive oil that lay on top was surprisingly the perfect finish.

Julie had ordered pork, and that is exactly what she got! Just a plate, a large slab of roasted pork, and nothing else! Her initial concern at being under nourished disappeared with her first mouthful as she honestly claimed it to be the tastiest pork that she had ever tasted. Another ¼ litre of the red wine was supped as we basked in our lingering flavours.

We thoroughly enjoyed lunch. Not only was the food tasty but the whole buzz was great. The open kitchen was entertaining, the waitresses were colourful and all the customers were most appreciative. One group had travelled from Hawaii with a magazine recommendation of Mario's as their guide. They had reached their holy grail and were having a great time.

After lunch we headed back to the Galleria Academia but the long way.

We passed the Duomo and popped in to have a look inside. It was refreshingly free to enter. That was a novelty!

The interior was quite bare, not even as striking as San Lorenzo, but its enormity was certainly impressive.

As we entered Julie strangely agreed to climb up the dome, but withdrew her offer as soon as she realised that with 461 steps it was higher than the campanile, which meant that it was THAT dome!

As it happens the entrance to the steps weren't accessible from the inside.

A side door had been made into an exclusive entrance to the Cupola, and the queue of eager climbers stretched outwards as far as we could see. We decided to pop back early Thursday morning instead, much to Julie's relief.

We left and walked towards Piazza della Sautissimo Annunziatal.

I remember seeing a wonderful painting of the Cupola from this square, down Via Del Servi. I wanted to see that view for myself, and be inspired by what the artist saw, but as I stood there trying to soak it all in, I heard Julie say "Oh My God! Look at him!"

I turned and saw an orange man in a bright yellow M&M leather jacket! I kid ye not! Complete with those little M&M cartoon characters on the back. How ridiculous did he look? Perhaps he was Mr M&M, and owned the company, but no matter, he still looked ridiculous. He had a poodlesque wife tottering a few yards behind him.

Julie and I stood mouth agog, finding it hard to believe that a grown man would ever wear such an awful jacket! I guess there's no accounting for taste.

When we arrived at the Galleria Academia, to our surprise, there was no queue at all. It did cost yet another 6Euros each to get in, but you couldn't come to Florence and not see the main attraction of David, (the real David) by Michelangelo.

I had read previously on the internet that David was undergoing some restoration work since September so it wasn't a great shock to see him obscured by scaffolding. Once again there was a strict "No Photo" policy, (this photo is taken from the excellent Web Gallery of Art.) and again scaffolding didn't make the view particularly photogenic anyway.

It didn't spoil the occasion though. We stood there for quite sometime just looking. I was amazed to see how enormous he was. (Obviously I'm taking about his height not his modest member!)

I did wonder why he was in the nude. I mean would he really have gone to fight Goliath without protective clothing? I think not! Unless it was a tactical ploy to confuse the Philistine warrior.

Looking closer at him it was quite shocking to see such large cracks in his left wrist. The restoration work was obviously very critical. (The work was scheduled to continue until May 2004.)

When we saw the original "Rape of the Sabine Women" we realised how important restoration work was. It was in terrible disrepair, with pieces crumbled off, and having to be supported by several iron posts. It looked quite a tragic piece, especially when compared to the powerful flawless copy in the Piazza Signoria.

We found the rest of the Galleria Academia to be a bit dull. There were too many iconastic paintings although a few Botticelli and Lippi pieces lifted our interest.

We left the Galleria and went up the short distance to San Marco only to find that it was shut at 1:50pm. It was a shame as I wanted to see the cells of Savonarola. He was the fervent religious and political reformer during the 15th Century who famously organised the Bonfire of the Vanities by encouraging the people of Florence to give up their "vanities".

"A great pyramid, fifteen stories high, of carnival masks, rich dresses, wigs, mirrors, powder puffs, rouge-pots, perfumes, cards and dice, books of poems on magic, musical instruments, trinkets and paintings in which Greek nymphs displayed their unclothed shapes were all burned."

He was publicly executed in 1498 for being such a killjoy! Although officially they said it was for sedition and for falsely claiming that he had seen visions. (Does anybody know what the hell sedition means?!)

Anyway, back down Via Ricasoli we went to find a recommended ice cream parlour called Gelateria Carabe. It is renowned for a Sicilian ice cream sandwich, but they looked a little too sickly sweet for our tastes. We went for a few dollops of fruit ice cream instead.

They were almost like iced fresh fruit puree with some cream mixed in. We were a bit undecided on whether we liked them or not. They weren't as refreshing as we had imagined.

It was probably pig gelatine that I could taste!

It was now only 2:30pm and we had nothing else planned for the rest of the day. So we spent a few minutes pondering our next move. We decided to head for the Boboli gardens because the weather, despite being dull and grey, was at least dry. The forecast for the rest of the week was wet, so we made hay whilst the sun (almost) shined, so to speak.

Along the way we passed Mercato Nuovo, a covered market place full of tatty stalls of no interest to us, but at least we saw the famous bronze wild boar, Il Porcellino. We fed him some coins, and rubbed his nose for good luck or for a speedy return to Florence or for whatever the legend says. Apparently the coins are distributed amongst the city's charities.

We shot over the Palazzo Vecchio with the minimal of browsing in the jeweller's windows, and then up to the large Palazzo Pitti.

The palace is home to Galleria Palatina which has many renaissance work from all the top names but we didn't feel compelled to walk around another gallery today. (We're keeping the Uffizi until Thursday)

Despite only wishing to walk around the Boboli Gardens it still cost us 6Euros each!

We had a small map in our guide book and we decided to follow the path that took us all the way down to the very end of the gardens to see L'Isolotto (Little Island).

It was quite pretty but hardly worth the effort of the trek! But the main reason to walk here was to walk back up the Viottolone.

This was a very picturesque avenue, lined with cypress trees planted in 1637 apparently, but it was one hell of hill to walk up after being marching on our feet all day.

Benches had been strategically placed just off road for unfit couples such as Julie and myself to catch some respite. We eventually made it to the top without crying or rolling back down!

The Grand Old Duke of York would have been proud of us!


At the top we had the option to look around the Porcelain Museum (as it was included in the price), but we couldn't think of anything more tedious than perusing pottery.

To our left we saw the Neptune Fountain which from our vantage point looked like a pile of rocks in a pond but apparently hidden from view was a spear wielding Neptune. We continued onwards and upwards towards Fort Belvedere hoping for an incredible view of the city.

When we got to the gates of the Fort we saw that we had to pay extra to get in, and saw nothing as regards to a view.

We walked down towards a building called the Kaffehaus which not surprisingly was a coffee house. We were getting weary and very ready for a sit down to enjoy a decent cup of coffee; but the damn café had shut down for winter! How annoying!

At least the view of the Duomo from here was glorious despite having to climb a wall to take a photograph.

By now my bad knee was beginning to ache, Julie's entire lower half had gone numb, and it started to rain.

Flippin' fabulous! We refused to let our spirits be dampened though and decided to walk back to our hotel past some restaurants on our short list. We passed Ristorante Beccofino, last night's choice. It looked very contemporary but perhaps a little too pretentious, or as they say up north, a little up their own arses. So we decided not to eat there tonight. Perhaps we're not as "young and trendy" as we like to think we are!

We crossed the Arno over Ponte alla Carraia, and noted that to the left was a road named Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci, named after a Florentine who rivalled Christopher Columbus. In fact he is the explorer after which the continent of America is named. Amerigo Vespucci set foot on the new continent much later than Columbus but he knew it wasn't India!

Now, imagine this; if Christopher Columbus actually knew where he was going then all Americans would either be called Columbians or better still, Christopharians! All but for a simple twist of fate!

We returned to the comfort of our bed, sprayed our feet with Lemongrass and Rosemary ointment, and fell in a heap. Our feet certainly knew that we had covered some miles today! A bottle of Prosseco and a delicious Reserve Chianti was administered to help sooth our aching limbs.

After a three hour siesta, we had to force ourselves to get up before we slumped back into another 14 hour coma! We had short listed our top three restaurants, all within a short distance of our hotel. Top of our list was "Il Latini", described as an "experience such as being in a Federico Fellini film"!

We turned up outside Il Latini to see a very large queue outside. We don't do queues very well so we decided to go elsewhere. (They didn't allow bookings either.) Our second choice was Garga which smelt strongly of roasting meats, which would have enticed almost everyone but my delicate stomach was churning after only the briefest of whiffs. So next we tried Oesteria Belle Donne, a hidden gem (allegedly).

When we arrived a group of four American-Italians were asking for a table. They were turned away and told that there would not be a table available until 9:30pm. When I walked up to ask if I could reserve that 9:30pm table the snooty waiter barked "No way!" and shut the door in my face! How rude! Hidden Gem? Pah!

We ended up at a restaurant that wasn't on our list; La Spada. There was a small queue inside with two other couples in front of us. They had a busy take-out counter at the front. The food being shipped out looked great. We startled to drool.

We were queuing alongside the food preparation area where they also had a large wood fired oven. The cook was busy preparing someone's order when he noticed Julie and I pointing in admiration of his T-Bone steak.

"Inglese?" He asked. "No, Sonno Gallese" I said confidently as I had practiced this one many times. But I must have blurted it out in my excitement because he looked at me completely confused, and said something that sounded as if it contained the word "Africano"?

I don't know why but I instinctively turned to Julie for help but she understands even less Italian than I do! It took her several weeks to learn how to count to 10!

Sensing an awkward silence, I repeated slowly, mouthing the word, "Gal-le-se". I must have come across as being very patronising, but at least this time he understood. He laughed out loud as if he had realised his mistake, and then said something which I took to mean "I thought you said you were Senegalese, you stupid turd"! But we all had a good chuckle about it !

We were shown to our table, and enjoyed an evening of good food and wine. My Gnocchi arrived first and was delicious. The dumpling balls were green with Spinach, and the mushroom sauce was intensely flavoured. I also had a Caprese salad on the side. It may have lacked a little style in its simple presentation, but the huge lump of buffalo mozzarella was delicious.

Julie's food arrived and was again a large thick slab of pork, but it came nowhere near the flavour of her pork at Mario's. For my main meal I had a dish called Parmigiana del Melanzane which is one of my favourite meals, and it was almost as good as the one I make myself at home! The sweets menu arrived and I simply had to try their home made Panacotta despite being absolutely stuffed to the gills. Julie said she was sweet enough already and abstained from pudding. The bill came to only 45Euros which we felt was very reasonable especially including the wine.

Julie hadn't eaten much so when we got back to our hotel room she was ravenous and gobbled my peanuts, but that was fine with me, as I was literally fit to burst. Bloated and in agony I knew that just one nut in my gut would have killed me!

Guilty of Gluttony your honour and paying the price!

Wednesday 29th October >>

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