If you’ve missed my previous Italy travel blogs, here they are!
Train travelling was definitely a popular option in Italy, especially it only took around an hour from Pisa to Florence. We saw lots of foreign tourists at the station.
A tip to any visitor who wishes to choose this travelling option is to buy his/her ticket in advance via the auto machine locate all around the station. You may not need internet pre-book system however it’s advisable to buy them at least a day before your travel at the station. Booking your ticket in advance through these auto ticket machine is speedy and straightforward, and it has most of the European languages built-in. It also allowed you to book any ticket to any Italian destination on any date upto 12 months in advance!! Getting your ticket on the day of travel not only risk of not getting the time you want, but you may not even get the seat at all! Each train we travelled in was packed! There was no spare seats and luggage space was limited also. Buying in advance would mean guaranteed time and seat to your destination. Just make sure you get to the station in advance and wait for the train so you can get as close to the front as possible to avoid not having any space to put your bags. For train time table, you can visit http://www.trenitalia.com/.
We arrived at Florence Centrale just around lunch time. Leonardo House, our stay in Florence, was only ten minutes walk from the train station. We were fortunate that all our stays in Italy were in the centre of towns so we never needed to use taxi or public transport, apart from Rome where we did use its metro trains since the travel from our apartment to Vatican City was a lot further.
After settled ourselves at the tourist house, we headed straight to San Maria Cathedral in the centre of Florence. This magnificent building was the central point of anything in Florence. We often used it as a landmark to get our bearing to and from our stay and destinations.
The cathedral was probably the biggest thing in town with its gigantic central dome. The clock tower consumed the air space from pedestrian level. After arriving and without hesitation, we entered the cathedral. There was no entry fee for the cathedral but if you are fascinated by the structure itself, all the brilliant paintings on the wall and ceiling, and that clock right above the main central entrance and the history of the cathedral itself, then it is advisable to pay a little extra for the audio guide.
The further you walk inside the cathedral, the more you will appreciate it, both architecturally and engineering. The main dome construction was also the first to be built without extensive scaffolding! As an engineer (I used to study and work as a professional structural engineering consultant!), I love looking at giant buildings. I was totally impressed by the innovative design and construction method in that time. We’d certainly learnt more the next day when we entered the dome itself!
There was a basement to the cathedral but mostly a souvenir shop and another paid-entry to an empty space where it used to be a prayer area. I bought a visual guide book instead, at least for a memoir for this magnificent building.
Next, we bought the ticket to the bell tower which also included entrance for the basilica next to the cathedral and the climb to the dome itself. The climb to the bell tower was rather challenging. There was 414 steps before you reach the top but there were three levels in between where you could take a rest and enjoy the view of city from a higher vantage point. Yet you don’t actually see the city until you got right to the top where you could walk around the tower in a very narrow path covered by steel safety wire. Here you could also get to see the magnificent St. Maria dome up close and personal.
When we arrived at the top, all we heard was ‘Wow’. It was definitely filled with ‘amazement’. Both my wife and I were excited by the view of the city and the sheer scale of the cathedral dome before us. It was simply stunning.
There was no time limit for the visit so you could stay as long as you wish. It’s rather pleasant during off-peak season because you would not need to fight for space to enjoy the view. Nonetheless, getting down from the top was a different story. Amid the narrow staircase, the only accessway, two-way traffic appeared to be too much even with not that many visitors. At times, we had to sqeeeze through the climbers and it might even be more difficult if someone was carrying a big rucksack or handbag.
414 steps proved to be too much for us and we called it a day after it and decided to return to climb the dome and visit the basilica the next day.
As I was traveling light, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a couple of lenses proved to be valuable and more than sufficient to capture all the beautiful scenes of Florence or Italy as a whole. I may miss the ‘experience’ of DSLR in the old days but now the OM-D is my travel buddy, perhaps my Leica (but it was still in Germany when I travelled).
Here are a set of photos that I will treasure for life!