Tuesday, 8 January 2013


View from the tiny windows in the bell tower
Today was the most wonderful day ever, and to be able to enjoy with family made it even more special. Ok so the start wasn't too spectacular. We woke up early to visit the fresh produce market at the Piazza Ghiberti. It was smaller than I expected and the fruit and vegetables just didn't seem that good? We had fun strolling around nonetheless and headed towards the Palazzo Vecchio.

Walking across the Piazza Santa Croce to head towards the market


Malcolm had organised a Secret Passages Tour of the Palazzo Vecchio. We had enough numbers to make the tour "private" which was great! As a quick background, the Palazzo Vecchio was first built in the 1200s. The Medici family, one which essentially accounted for Florence and Tuscany's success, eventually took it over and it became their place of residence. Secret passages were built into the buildings which linked secret rooms and also allowed the VIPs to move and leave without being seen both for privacy and safety reasons.
It was a good thing that my claustrophobic mother-in-law did not come on the tour as some of the passages were extremely narrow. Some windows have now been cut in to give natural light but in the good old days, it would have been pitch black with light only coming from hand held torches. We oohed and aahed at what we were shown and the morning flew past. There is also a covered passageway that connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti including over the Ponte Vecchio which crosses the Arno River. Unfortunately, the tour for that passage only runs once a month for a group of 15 and is run in Italian...

Palazzo Vecchio

Waiting for our guide

Let's go!

Into the first narrow passageway

The camera has made this wider that it is! To give you some sort of idea, my brother, the one who you can see in the photo, is tall and very  skinny. He weighs a mere 54kg...

A representation of some of the passageways that we took

A secret study which housed treasures collected by Francesco Medici. Each panel of painting on the lower level opens up to reveal shelves! The clue to the contents of each section can be found on the painting on the outside

The ornate ceiling. The woman seen there was Eleanora, Francesco's mother

And some panels revealed a door!

There were more than 1 door

Francesco had himself painted into his study. The one in red pants is the man himself

One of the panels lead to a stairwell which lead to this study, one that belonged to Cosimo, Francesco's father. It was small but again ornately decorated. 

The hall of 500, so called because it could entertain 500 guests. The original medieval roofline only went  to the top of the bottom arches. It was raised to the current level in 1500s and remodelled. On the day we were there, they were preparing the hall for a fashion show hence all the workmen

The amazing ceiling

And as you do, just chuck in a Michelangelo there while you're at it.

We were able to go up into the space between the roof and the ceiling. In the 1800s, to prevent further sagging, they had to "lift" the roof and insert more trusses as the existing ones could not hold the weight of the ceiling and the roof.

The private apartments within the Palazzo Vecchio. This one belonged to Eleonora.

Ceiling beautifully decorated in the grotesque style

She had her own private chapel

The outside just as glorious as the inside

I just adore the attention to detail everywhere
We took my family back to our favourite lunch place near the Uffizi. The people at the shop were glad to see us and we were glad to see them! The selections were different today and we had our fill and a great price! More family members were hooked on to the Italian style hot chocolate. My parents somehow managed to shop on the short walk home back to the apartment. Malcolm had allowed us a short rest before embarking on our afternoon adventure.

We took up all available seats

He wanted me to take a photo of him. Wonders will never cease!

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo, or better known as just The Duomo, was our first stop of the afternoon. It was begun in the late 1200s and its dome was the largest of its time. The Basilica is enormous. I loved the balance of simplicity and awe-inspiring beauty on the inside giving it a completely differently feel to that of St Peter's Basilica in Rome. After our Basilica visit, we had three volunteers to climb the bell tower - Michael, Elliot and I. It nearly killed me...twice. The 460 steps up was bad enough. Just as we neared the top, the bells started ringing! It was incentive enough for me to urge my weary legs and sprint the rest of the way up. And what a reward I received at the top!

Pigeon poop. Surely that's good luck

The impressive and imposing Duomo

I remembered my wide angle lens today!

A closer view

Inside facing the altar

Above the duomo entrance

Marble floors

It looks like this place was built for Opa...

The Cupola from the inside

Detail of the art on the dome

Church not complete without stained glass window

The bell tower which nearly killed me...twice

View from the top

2 out of the 3 that braved the stairs

The troop caught taxis to the Piazza Michelangelo on the Oltrano side of the city for a panoramic view of Florence. Although we had clear skies, there was unfortunately a haze in the air. It didn't stop us from enjoying the beautiful sunset as well as the buskers playing music in the square. Against their better judgement, the family ignored the call of the taxis and followed Malcolm's urging to walk down the hill. I discovered his secret of keeping the family compliant. It was so simple I should have worked it out earlier. He promised them shopping at the bottom of the hill! Alas there were none that satisfied and by this time, knees and backs had given way. We tried desperately to hail a taxi before being rescued by a local man. He stopped spontaneously and called a taxi for us, organising for one to be there in minutes! We certainly have been looked after very well by the Italians on our trip. Malcolm's parents and my aunt went back to the apartment in the taxi, as well as Jonah. The rest walked. We deposited our shopping from the afternoon as well as Lara. The ones not battle weary set out to find a restaurant to try the famous bistecca alla fiorentina.

My aunt desperately wanted to come out with us for dinner but was dissuaded by my cousin. We knew that her knee would not hold up. We all promised each other that no matter what happened, the story would be that it was a LONG walk and the steak was TOUGH. Fortunately for us, the walk was not long and steak was not tough. In fact, it was an amazing meal with yet another amazing waiter. We all laughed at Ryuji when he got told off by the waiter (in a joking manner) for asking about wifi all because of angry birds...

We somehow found space for gelato on the way home, truly exhausted after another fulfilling day.

Still trying to get that elusive family photo...

Piazza Michelangelo

The whole family...no one left out!

The view of Florence, unfortunately obscured by haze

The gorgeous red and orange hues of the sunset

The trattoria that served our wonderful dinner

Polenta and mushrooms

bistecca alla fiorentina

Served up

The ones that made it to dinner!

Having a great time!

This may have helped...

Waste not want not!

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