We kept the last 4 day of our trip open so that we were free to wander as we desired. After looking at the map, we decided on the inspirational town of Assisi, home of St Francis and the pilgrimage site of thousands of faithful marking special religious holidays and festivals. Luckily we came at a time of “no importance” and reserved a room in an old hotel with views of the basilica and valley below us.
Our train from Milan took us directly through Florence so we hopped off the train, brought our bags to the Left Baggage service (6 euro/bag for 5 hours) and away we went into the city. Florence is one of the busiest cities, primarily due to the oodles of great art (Michelango’s David among others), but on this visit we wanted to do a quick renaissance tour including a visit to the Baptistry (located directly in front of the beautiful Duomo) which originally featured the famous bronze doors (replicas now line the baptistry doors and the originals are on display in the Duomo Museum).
With limited time, we decided to skip climbing the bell tower outside the Duomo and to visit the baptistry and Duomo museum. The interior of the baptistry is bursting with shimmering mosaics, practically every surface is covered in vivid color with plenty of saints and ogres to attract your attention. In days gone by, you had to be baptized before gaining entry into the basilica. Once baptized in the baptistry, you would walk ceremoniously out of the bronze doors and walk to the fabulous church just yards away. Thus the doorway, and the bronze doors that adorned it, became known as the “Doors to Paradise.”
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Duomo Museum) in Florence is one of the rare gems we stumbled upon that we would recommend everyone visit. It tells the story of the building of the Duomo and includes fabulous art, such as Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, and original bronze panels for the famous doors of the baptistry. Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà in Florence is here as well as Donatello’s Mary Magdalen, my favorite piece in all of Florence.
On other visits to Florence we made sure to stop into Santa Croce Church, the final resting place of Michelangelo and my favorite church interior in all of Italy, but this time, the line was obnoxiously long. We walked past the Accademia and Uffizi to take a long look at Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge that crosses the Arno River. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think they’ve done a facelift on the bridge…it looks like it has a fresh coat of paint. Unfortuntely, this takes away some of the charm of the bridge, where before it looked like the little shops were in danger of falling into the river.
A highlight of our stop in Florence was a visit–two times in 5 hours to be exact!–to Festival Gelato, our family’s European winner for gelato. Their vast selection, low prices (2.50 euro for a generous medium cone and 2 flavors) and the use of neon lights in the window displays sold us on our first visit many years ago. We still recall the time when we returned to Florence and Will navigated us down alleyways directly to the front door–his super food powers in action.
We left Florence exhausted, a very hot day with too many people all trying to see the same things. The art is definitely worthy of a visit…but for a second or third visit, I’d plan a time during the off-season. The challenge of hopping off the train for a 5 hour dash was exhilarating and making it back on to continue the trip south to Assisi was gratifying.