Florence’s is a subtle beauty—its staid, unprepossessing palaces built in local stone are not showy, even though they are very large. They take on a certain magnificence when day breaks and when the sun sets; their muted colors glow in this light.
~ From Fodor’s
I stepped into Florence Thursday morning as the last drops of darkness fell into the Arno River. God only knows why I decided to take a 6:30 train to Florence, although when I made the reservations, I think I was hoping to take photos before tourists invaded. I also made the reservations in August when the sun was up and shining way before 6:30, so the fact that it would still be dark this time of year didn’t cross my mind.
The early train might not have been too much of a problem except that I went out to dinner with friends Wednesday night, and since dinner started at 8:30, getting to bed early was not going to be an option for me. I did fall asleep somewhere around 12:30, but I was awake within four hours trying to force myself out of bed. Once I got ready, I headed to the train station (on foot), stopping only to take photos. I forced myself to stay awake on the train which wasn’t too hard as the lady sitting next to me kept shifting in her seat which caused my seat to move, too.
As we pulled into Santa Maria Novella some 30 minutes later, it was still dark, and I had hopes of seeing the Duomo lit up. I scurried along the shortcuts I know, past the mercato, around San Lorenzo, and down the street that leads to the Duomo, and as I rounded the corner, the lights went off. I took a few photos and walked toward the Ponte Vecchio.
I saw a pair of Gucci shoes that I needed. They were only 2000 euro, but since it was 7:45, the store wasn’t open. They lost a nice sale.
As I crossed the Ponte Vecchio to get to the other side of the river, a man was power-washing the street and decks. Fog shrouded the Arno River, and it had just started to lift when I made my return trip. It was, at that point, around 8:15, and I stopped to check my watch to see how far I had walked. I had hoofed almost five miles, and I still had six hours left in town.
I headed back over the Ponte Vecchio (above), amazed that I could once again see the Duomo. Most of the time, the bridge is so crowded that the throngs of people prevent a view of anything but throngs of people.
I tried to replicate how I had taken earlier photos of the bell tower and Duomo, but I didn’t quite get the angles right. That said, look at how the sun makes such a difference in the colors of the marble.
By 9:30, my scurrying had slowed to shuffling, and I decided I needed a bit of a break. I headed to Florence’s wonderful Mercato Centrale. Erected in 1874, the glass building is home to a real food market on the first floor and cafes and restaurants on the second floor. Since the cafes didn’t open until 10, I walked around the mercato taking photos of the different booths while counting down the minutes until I could go upstairs.
I was just about to order when the computerized cash register broke, so I started to sit down and was happy that I was going to rest for a minute. (You know something’s coming, don’t you?) An alarm went off, and a voice announced in Italian, “A fire is reported in the building. Please leave by the closest exit.” My head hit the table as the voice made the announcement in English, also. A waitress came over to where I was sitting and, as I picked up my belongings, said, “It should only be a few minutes.”
Down the stairs, I went with the few other people who apparently didn’t want to die in a horrible inferno. We passed shoppers and vendors on the first floor who stood by nonchalantly watching us tumble out of the building while they continued their business as the announcements went on. Amazingly, I think only 10 of us ever left the building, and as we stood watching, dozens more replaced us.
After 10 minutes or so, I went back in, climbed the stairs, and ordered a “cappuccino big.” I took my time drinking it, did a little work, and had just gotten my lunch when the alarm went off again.
“Oh, what fresh hell is this?” I moaned. I was not going to carry my food downstairs, nor was I going to leave it sitting on the table unattended. I also knew that if I went down those stairs, there was no way I was going to climb back up again. No one made an announcement telling us to leave, and no one moved towards the steps. I decided to finish lunch as quickly as possible, head to the train station, and see if I could get an early train home.
Long story short, I was back at my apartment and asleep by 2:00. After having walked about 10 miles, I deserved it.