We ate paninis at the small cafe between the basilica and our apartment and headed off in the direction of the river. We thought we’d cross the Ponte Vecchio bridge and see what Florence looked like on the other side of the Arno. As we walked past the Santa Maria cathedral we passed hundreds of people in running gear wearing numbered event bibs. Some had bicycles. Many seemed to be wearing tops that suggested they belonged to teams. Sections of the piazza were cordoned off. An internet search later in the day revealed that this was the start of a 100km running ultramarathon, which would begin in the piazza at 3pm and would have to be completed within 22 hours. The bikes were probably the support crews. This is the third big running event we’ve seen on our travels, after the half marathon in Prague and the 10km fun run in Paris.
We pushed on through the crowds on the bridge. It was getting hot in the middle of the day, and the bright sunlight was blinding. We walked some way in the heat, and decided that we wanted to find some shade. I stopped and bought water as we approached the massive Palazzo Pitti. We decided that we couldn’t handle another museum today, but that the Boboli Gardens a little further down the road sounded appealing. When we got there, however, the woman on the gate wanted ten euros each, which seemed awfully steep for a garden. But we were very hot and keen to find some shade, so we paid it and went in.
We found the shade, which was great, and the water I’d bought was a lifesaver too. We stopped in the shade for a while and cooled down, then ventured further into the garden. There wasn’t much to see. We stopped for a while at a fountain, though it wasn’t spouting water and the sculptures weren’t the best we’d seen in Florence by a long shot. So we started walking again, looking for something more interesting. Stretching ahead of us, to our dismay, was a long path going uphill all the way. With no other real options, we began the long, hot, slow walk up the hill. I stopped in the shade for a breather a couple of times on the way up. I was so glad I’d bought that water.
When we got to the top of the hill, we found ourselves on a lawn overlooking a part of the city. It was a fantastic view and a great place to take a breather. But there still wasn’t a lot to see or do, so we walked on up yet another slope in the direction of the Belvedere Fort. We thought that might be worth a look, as we still felt that we hadn’t got much value from our entry fees. But the gate to the fort was closed.
So we were left with no alternative but to leave the gardens and head back down to the bridge. The good thing was that we were no longer walking in the sun, there was a cool breeze, and it was all downhill. In fact, it was a long, steep walk downhill through a really interesting part of the old town and we quite enjoyed it. And we also felt very sorry for all the people who passed us, puffing and panting, walking up the hill on their way to the gardens. We probably should have warned them about the steep walk that lay ahead and the fact they would probably be underwhelmed by the gardens, especially if they were also stung for ten euros each to enter.
Two houses, virtually next to each other, caught our attention midway down the hill. They were places where Galileo Galilei lived when he was in Florence. One of them bears his portrait painted high on a wall below the eaves. Eventually, now feeling cool and refreshed, we reached the bottom of the hill and found ourselves back at the beginning of the Ponte Vecchio bridge across the Arno River. It was still very crowded there. We crossed the bridge and wandered down to the street where we entered the Uffizi several days ago. There are some wonderful sculptures there of the great Florentine Renaissance masters, including Leonardo and Michelangelo. And right across the street from them was a street performer channeling Leonardo with his smiling model framed as the Mona Lisa. They looked great. From there we walked through the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, past the Duomo (where an acoustic guitarist was playing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah) and down the street to our piazza, where a surprising event was just about to occur (see the next post).