Thursday, 30th October 2003


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The drilling started at 8am again, but we were a tad more tired this morning! We were a little sluggish, and it was well past 11am by the time we had showered, had breakfast, and made our way towards the Duomo.

Julie was very apprehensive about today because she had a bad experience when we walked up to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, a few years ago where the final steps were nothing more than a rickety ladder, (or at least in her mind).

As usual she fought her demons and climbed up to the very top; but when she stepped outside she almost passed out with fear.

She did walk all the way around but only by clinging onto the side for dear life. Halfway around she met a fellow sufferer who wasn't going to budge, so she had to cling onto him also as she stuttered past. She has not been up another dome since!

When we arrived there were no queues whatsoever, so it gave her the opportunity to ask the ticket officer if there were any open tread steps along the way. He assured Julie that they were all enclosed, solid all the way.

We started the ascent in good spirits, despite the hard work. Julie was happy with the stone steps, but she came to a sudden stop when we had to walk along the inside of the first level of the cupola.

We had already reached such an altitude that Julie needed oxygen and now we were suspended on just a small concrete ledge. It was covered with a high Perspex screen and perfectly safe, but it proved extremely difficult for Julie to put one foot in front of the other.

She found this insanely stressful. We shuffled across at high speed and back out onto the inner staircase.

Higher and higher we climbed, the stairs became narrower and the walls started to curve inwards. It felt as if we were pot holing or something and could have done with some hard hats.

The final climb was up some very steep steps, but at least they were solid. We looked out of the ventilation holes and noticed how high we were. We could see above the roof tops of San Lorenzo and Mercarto Centralle.

We reached the top and Julie stepped out onto the viewing balcony, and froze! Her main concern was that the barrier was only about 3ft tall and that anyone could be quite easily pushed over the edge. Always thinking of the worse case scenario!

She decided to try and just stand still but she found that too difficult, and had to retire to the safety of the cupola's womb.

I spent a few minutes taking photos of the breathtaking views over the city before rejoining her.

We returned back down the same steps, and came out into the cupola interior with the narrow concrete ledge again, only this time we were at a much higher level.

A family in front of us were enjoying the frescoes and taking a very good look as they casually strolled across. We had patiently shuffled along behind them for most of the way when, a metre from the exit, they decided to stop and admire the view for one last time.

From behind me I heard Julie whimper "p-p-p-leease!". Whether they heard her or not, and not a moment too soon before Julie pushed them out of the way, they moved on, and unblocked the exit.

When we stepped off the ledge she nearly collapsed with her legs of jelly, and that's no exaggeration. She had to mop her brow and seriously try and pull herself together! With some level of composure regained she made it safely down to the ground level where she quite literally cried tears of joy at the ending of her ordeal. The things I put her through!

We made it over to Mario's Trattoria by noon. The Ribolita was off the menu today, instead it was their Zuppa di Verde. (The first phase of making a good Ribolita) We shared the soup, then I had fussilli al pomodoro and a bowl of just cannelloni beans with olive oil which was different, if not delicious. Julie had pork again, but it wasn't quite as good as Tuesdays.

An Australian couple joined us at our table as the café was getting full. They were very pleasant, and recommended a restaurant down Via della Spada called Osteria di Contopoveri, especially if you like sea food.

Next a quick dash around Mercarto Centralle because I wanted to buy a Porcini mushroom to take home to cook a Risotto on Saturday.

I just managed to get there in time before the seller was packing up his stall. He was excited that I was going to buy some of his mushrooms, and started piling 3 or 4 onto his scales.

He knew I only wanted one, and I refused to be bullied into buying anymore! At 20Euros per kilo I had to be firm! One whopping mushroom came to 6Euros!

We took our fungi back to the hotel room's fridge then back out again to the Uffizi.

There were a few buskers and a mime artist along the Piazzale (or court yard) of the Uffizi which were mildly entertaining.

I parted with some coins for their efforts. Nonchalantly tossing a coin into the collection box, I missed completely, and saw it roll away.

The mime artist couldn't stop his act to go and pick it up either!

There was a small queue for the Uffizi but we only had to wait for 15 minutes. We queued for far longer to get into the 'Il Latini' restaurant last night!

It felt even quicker because I left Julie queuing for a while and walked down to the Arno to take a few photos.

I somehow felt that the couple I photographed (to the right) seemed to be on the verge of jumping in !

I rejoined Julie much to her relief before she had reached the ticket booth.

We whizzed through the first few rooms in a rush to see Botticelli's masterpieces.

Both Primavera and The Birth of Venus were in the same room. Expecting a standard size canvas I was astonished to see how massive they were, each covering an entire wall.

Throughout the viewing I couldn't get the Monty Python theme tune out of my head with Venus having been subjected to Terry Gilliam's anarchic animation.

The remaining rooms on the east side were mildly interesting. The highlights were the portraits as they were a fascinating insight into 15th Century Florentines.

We walked across the join and were treated to a fabulous view of the Ponte Vecchio and was a great vantage point to see the Vassari Corridor.

Another great view was ours to admire from the Uffizi café. It was raining which was great because a rainbow appeared, arching out of the cupola.



We almost left without looking through the galleries on the west side and I'm glad I took some time to do so. I loved the painted shield of Medusa by Carravaggio, and the Rembrandt self-portrait.

As I walked around Julie came up to me saying that she had just seen "Orange M&M man" again! Someone else was also staring at him, open mouthed in disbelief. Julie said that they both noticed each other unashamedly staring and then they both laughed out loud. M&M man could not have failed to hear them, but surely he must be used to it by now!

We left the Uffizi and followed the Arno towards Santa Croce. In the distance we could see Piazza Michelangelo but we knew our legs would not be able to carry us there, despite the promise of the finest views of Florence.

We stood kerbside waiting to cross the road whilst a thousand mopeds whizzed past, until one kind gentleman stopped, and then they all stopped behind him. Pleased by his generosity I raised my hand and shouted "Grazie". Only to then realised that we were standing by some traffic lights that had just changed colour from Green to Red! My face followed suit!

Along Borgo Santa Croce we decided to stop at an Australian Bar. Castlemain XXXX and pictures of Kangaroos on the wall must make every visiting Aussie homesick!? Or perhaps quite the opposite!!?

We had a snack of a Pizza Maguerita and a Hamburger which were surprisingly tasty.

Just around the corner we finally reached Santa Croce. It's quite a spectacular façade, my favourite of all the Florentine churches.

We paid 4Euros each for the church and the museum. The main attractions are the final resting places of a renaissance fantasy team which include such superstars as Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo.

More recent prominent Italians included Marconi, the inventor of Radio. Not to be mistaken with Macaroni which is a tubular pasta!




We were now on our last legs and stumbled back slowly towards our hotel, crossing the river over Ponte Alle Grazie.

Julie took advantage of our slow pace as we crossed back over the Ponte Vecchio to do some window shopping.

I told her that she ran the risk of suffering from avarice, covetousness or Greed or whatever the name is given to that deadly sin of desperately wanting something.

She wouldn't listen to me and of course the inevitable happened. She fell in love with a stunning solitaire; a huge rock of a diamond, in the window. Oh how she doth covet!

It had no price near it but we imagined it being thousands and thousands of Euros. I promised to return to Ponte Vecchio the day we win the Lottery!

We made it back to Hotel Albergotto by 5:30pm and collapsed once again in a heap of aching limbs.

We fell asleep instantly, and deeply. We didn't come around for another two hours, and we had a table booked for 8pm! We had half an hour to wipe the sleep from our eyes, throw the gladrags on, and trot over to Trattoria al Trebbio on Via Delle Belle Donne.

The restaurant was warm and cosy, dimly lit and perfect for a romantic evening. Appropriately a very "Italian looking" bella donna of a waitress came over and showed us to our table. When I say bella donna I'm not admitting to lustful thoughts, just an appreciation of her artistic impression. However when she spoke, out came this terribly English accent, and she turned out to be more of a Yorkshire lass from Sheffield than a Sophia Loren from Pozzuoli! She was in Florence studying art. How fantastic.

The menu had plenty of choice for me, and even had Crespelle Fiorentina which was the only dish I wanted to try before we left Florence. Bonus! I had to wait though until I had eaten an anti-pasti of grilled aubergine and mozzarella before I could tuck into my Spinach & Ricotta filled pancakes!

Julie rediscovered her liking for anchovies as she had those little salty strips of fish on crostini. She then had a decent fillet steak which she really enjoyed. My main meal, (a risotto) arrived, and I tucked in straight away. Not that I was hungry but because I couldn't wait to try its flavours. I had ordered smoked mozzarella and radicchio and it sounded amazing. The initial taste was very disappointing. I then suddenly felt ill when I noticed that it was littered with strips of ham! Aargh! They'd given me the wrong dish!

It was too late as I had already swallowed some contaminated rice! Sheffield lass was very apologetic. When I finally got my smoked risotto it was absolutely delicious. It was unquestionably the most flavoursome dish I have had all week.

Once we finished chewing we started talking to a couple who were sitting opposite us. They told us that they had just been married at a civil ceremony in the Palazzo Vecchio. How incredible! They told us all about their wedding and the reception they held in a 14th Century villa up in the hills beyond Fiesole. It all sounded extremely idyllic.

With Hannah, my daughter, now sixteen going on seventeen, I know that it won't be long (especially if she follows in her parents footsteps!) before I'll be asked to provide a wedding, and I couldn't think of a more special location to get married. I'll certainly be a proud father that day!

Now Pride is a sin that I'm not ashamed to commit, as long as I'm prepared to swallow it. It should always come hand in hand with humility, which it can do. As a young girl she often said that she would like to marry an Italian, but rather worryingly she also mentioned that she liked the idea of him being a member of the Mafia!?

We had talked for over an hour, discussing such diverse topics as animal welfare and the survival of the Welsh language! I think the conversational bridge was made by the subject of sheep!

Our bill came to 78Euros which was the most expensive of our stay, but because it was our last blast we didn't go for the cheapest wine on the list! We felt it was money well spent as it was our most enjoyable evening meal.

We went back to the hotel and phoned home. Hannah told us that her tattoo "secret" was out. How will I explain that one to my parents? I consented, and even paid for a very large tattoo across the base of Hannah's back as a reward for not flunking her GCSE exams.

I fell asleep thinking up of reasons to excuse my behaviour. I don't think they'll believe me if I plead temporary insanity, but it was the best I could come up with!

Friday 31st October >>

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