This weekend a couple of us travelled up to Firenze (Florence) to see the sights before classes begin. The trip, although short, was fantastic. The Duomo was the main site for the first day as the lines can be pretty intense to get into the church and to the top of the cupola. The real treat of the cupola was the climb to it, in my opinion. Winding staircases literally in the wall of the church take you up to the base of the dome, where you get a closeup view of the frescoes on the interior of the dome. More winding slanted staircases take you through the dome where there are many sights to see such as old cages and cells for god knows what and interesting situations with too many tourists to go through small openings. The view from the top is most definitely worth the hour-plus wait and the refreshing breeze cools you off while you watch tourists take panoramas with their iPads. The Duomo itself is strikingly sparse. The space is massive in scale but the walls are white plaster which gives it a very humble feeling, and adds to the awesomeness of its dome and the frescoes painted on it. The dome is a great piece of history – the church actually stood without a dome (just a giant hole) for about 80 years because technology at the time (1400’s) wasn’t advanced enough. This makes the Florence Cathedral one of the most impressive pieces of Renaissance construction and the Duomo the most notable landmark in Florence. The church literally dwarfs the town – it’s unbelievable how vast it is (almost as great as St. Peter’s).
That night we took a walk to Piazzale Michelangelo which has a beautiful panoramic of Firenze. We ate at a local pizza shop / hole in the wall which was very authentic feeling – much nicer than all the overpriced American-Italian restaurants that line the piazzas. My best recommendation for visiting these Italian towns is to try your best to find a local restaurant and stay away from those that cater to tourists – your food will be better, usually cheaper and you get a taste of what normal life is like in these areas – which is really the best way to experience Italy in my opinion. That night we grabbed a drink in Piazza Santo Spirito and sat on the church steps – another local favorite. The next day we started off with the Uffizi Gallery, home of the Birth of Venus, the Primavera and hundreds of other paintings and sculpture housed in an old palazzo right next to the Ponte Vecchio. My art history courses had never come so in handy, and a walk around the gallery (which is deceivingly huge) is like a history course in all things Florentine from 1500-1700. It was probably the best thing we saw while in Firenze. The Ponte Vecchio was probably my least favorite part of Firenze. In three words, overcrowded, expensive and underwhelming – at least it looks good from far away. We spent the rest of our hours in Florence checking out lesser-known churches, the Medici Palace and, after a debacle at the train station, headed towards Rome.
On our trip back we stopped in two towns on the way. First stop was Arezzo which is a small hill town in Tuscany which included a few medieval churches and a large castle. The town was still laid out on its ancient hill, and there were a couple Roman ruins as well. The tourists here tended to be more Italian, checking out their own country, which I found nice and refreshing. The second stop was Orvieto which was the highlight of the day for me. Orvieto is an entire town perched on a large butte in Umbria known for a massive medieval cathedral. Some of the church’s windows were made of thin onyx and when looked at from the outside they looked like stone but from the inside glowed veins of amber. We walked the entire length of the town to a beautiful lookout right at sunset. The highlight of Orvieto was the Pozzo di San Patrizio which is a double helix well built by the order of Pope Clement VII when he took refuge in Orvieto in 1527. It’s carved straight down through the bedrock – it’s one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen. Orvieto was just about an hour train ride from Rome, so we’ll be looking into other close-by towns that we can ride a train to! Italy has so much to offer – there’s not enough time in the world.