If you’ve missed my previous Italy travel blogs, here they are!
After an exhausting first day, we only wanted to do two things, climb up the famous dome at St. Maria Cathedral and to visit one of their famous museum, Uffizi, where it exhibited many private collections of statues, sculptures and paintings from the powerful Mecidi family back in the days.
Another travel tip was that you could save yourself money and time if you could book the ticket for Uffizi via the internet in advance. Go with the official museum website rather than tour agency sites because they often charge a higher fee than the official price. Alternatively, you could do what we did, queued up at the door. Even at off-peak season, we still queued up for an hour to get our tickets and I’d heard that it could take up to five hours during summer time!!! So, plan this in advance in your itenary if you are thinking to visit Uffizi.
Many Uffizi visitors would try to see the works from Micheangelo such as the painting Tondo Doni and the Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
If you are a Micheangelo fan, then visiting you would be happy to hear that there are three statues of David lying around Florence. But the famous two, one that most tourists will see and photograph was located at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio adjacent to Uffizi in Piazza della Signoria and the ultimate original was in Galleria dell’Accademia at the north of Florence centre. We never got to find the third one despite the hotel manager’s description.
While Uffizi was interesting, nothing could be more exciting than climbing the dome of St. Maria Cathedral. We waited around twenty minutes at a special entrance for the dome on the side of the cathedral. Unlike the Bell Tower, there was virtually no warning sign about the number of steps we were about to climb. As soon as we entered, we started climbing. Similar to the Bell Tower, the stairs was very narrow but unlike the Bell Tower, there was no resting levels. Though we saw a few seniors rested at every turn of the stairs. It wasn’t easy and it only got harder as we went up.
Before we reach the top, we got to walk around the inside of the dome just beneath the beautiful painting. We didn’t realise how high it was until we looked down but as I was already breathing heavily, I knew we’d already climbed a few steps.
We continued our escalation and the lack of windows and ever decreasing space meant that we all felt hot and suffocated. I couldn’t imagine what visitors go through during peak time in the summer! But if you like structures and architecture, there’s no better sight than this because we were walking right through the void between the inner and outer dome structure. It was just a wonderful experience. Just before we exited to the viewing platform, we had to climb he last slop of the dome and only then you realise how steep and big the dome really was!
Like the Bell Tower, there was no time limit for the visit so again, we stayed as long as we could. The dome was a little higher than the bell tower so we have a higher view of Florence. It was a beautiful sight indeed. I didn’t think there would be a better place to see Florence from ‘above’ other than hiring a helicopter.
We headed down after a good twenty minutes ‘rest’. We went through the same route as we went up. Climbing down the first steep slope was probably the scariest bit. Not for the faint hearted for sure. Then we had to fight through the two-way traffic just like the Bell Tower until we got to the bottom of the dome level where we exited through a separate exit-only route to the street level.
This was an exciting, refreshing, yet exhausting experience. But the view was simply stunning and from the top of either the bell tower or the dome, you would have the best 360 degree panoramic view of Florence, how could you beat that? We got up to either with little wait and I do personally think that if you ever want to visit this magical city, go during off-peak season!
It’s late afternoon and we thought we could check out the leather market and food market that the tourist house manager recommended. Because everything was within walking distance, we got to the leather market in around fifteen minutes from St. Maria.
The leather market, as the name suggested, was packed with leather merchants selling all kinds of leather goods. But before the market, there lied a very old church. It’s massive yet very low key when you compare it with San Maria. We didn’t bother to go in because it was late and having seen many cathedrals and churches during our trip so far, we’d decided to leave it for the leather market. But if you do have time, do check this place out because it did look cool from the outside. However, beware of vicious mosquitos! Yes, they bite hard and it’s very painful if you got bitten!! All we could hear was tourists screaming! Locals didn’t seem to care too much however. Strange.
So if you ever fancy any leather goods like bags, briefcases, handbags or anything you could think of in leather, they sell them. Even with tourist-inflated-price, they are still relative cheap for what they are! Of course, you could always bargain a little to get an even better price. My wife bought a leather handbag there for twenty euros! I was a little interested in a blue leather backpack and the merchant immediately offered us a ‘good’ price and told us that he reduced it from 60 to 45! When we hesitated, he further reduced it to 40. And when we decided that we didn’t want it and slowly walked away, he shouted, 35!!! We still didn’t take it but that just showed just how much you could have bargained!
The leather market wasn’t big and it’s no more than a couple of blocks of market stalls. Most sell the same bags and stuff so after about ten minutes, you would feel bored yet if you look deep enough, you may find something interesting or better prices.
After the leather market, we went to the food market where it was in the middle of the leather market. This was a very unique place indeed. The market had two floors. The bottom floor was a traditional food market that sold fruits, vegetables and meats. The top floor was a food court that serve all kinds of local delicacies including dry cured meats, pastas, seafoods, cheese and wines! It was a lovely place indeed. We ate our dinner there with a mixed platter of ham and bread, then a couple of fresh sea urchins (yes!!! it was my first time!) and finally, we bought a platter of mixed cheese to take away so we could enjoy back in the tourist house.
A truly packed day, though tiring but we were rewarded with amazing view, city-buzz and lovely food! We couldn’t ask for more before we left for our next stop, Venice!
Here are a set of photos that I will treasure for life!