Renaissance Walk In Florence
A 10-minute trot and we are at the Duomo where all of touristic Florence converges (after paying obeisance to David!). The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the third largest cathedral in the world — after the ones in Vatican City and Milan — and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rules from the centre of a piazza bursting with the aromas of warm waffles and freshly brewed coffee. Little cafes sit perkily between souvenir stalls and designer windows, and while you absorb the grandeur of the green and white 13th-century Gothic-styled edifice, banish from sight the selfie stick hustlers who constantly step into your circle of privacy, trying to ruin your own selfie moment!
When the ankles begin fretting at the 13,000 steps we have clocked in on our pedometers, we head back to the family suite at Portrait Firenze, a haven of silence and comfort. Pale olive furnishings, Egyptian linen, vintage lamps, oversized beds; the intricate touches masterminded by Florentine architect Michele Bonan to create contemporary Florence from its classic roots also find their way in the Carrara marble bathrooms flaunting attractive Tuscan Soul amenities by Salvatore Ferragamo. The kitchenette, blessed with all things modern like a microwave, Nespresso machine, dishwasher and porcelain crockery, begs for some room-cooked fare but we are already gathering our stoles and clutches for a dinner date at the adjoining Caffè dell’Oro.
Michelin-starred chef Peter Brunel, famed for his innovative flourish of traditional Tuscan cuisine, serves up a medley of meats, pastas and desserts that are flavourful enough to often distract you from the heart-stopping view from the windows. The lamb chops, tender to the bone, complement a tart apple salad and the prawn risotto with lemon foam competes with platters of fennel-roasted sea bass. When we down the last drop of a full-bodied Bocelli from the home-grown wine cellars, we can even feel Botticelli smiling down at us proudly. “You mean Bacchus,” comments my companion drily.
In the early morning light, Piazza della Signoria is a photographer’s dream. The sun’s rays bounce off Neptune’s shoulders, throw dancing beams on the seahorses at his feet and settle on the nymphs rising out of the fountain. Not far away, the snake-haired Medusa’s slain head dangles from Perseus’ clasp and David’s twin rises out of a passing cloud’s shadow. Strolling past more gigantic sculptures, all copies of originals that stand sentinel-like in an open-air museum bustling with gelato-eaters, handbag-sellers and immovable people-watchers, we reach San Lorenzo Basilica. An orchestra is booming forth from the steps as Canadian schoolchildren give a lusty, encore-worthy performance. Possibly the oldest church in Florence, it is also the burial place of the Medicis whose tombs within have been designed by Michelangelo.
And then there is the surreal Ponte Vecchio, caressed by a copper-tinted sunset. Robust survivor of World War II bombings, it is where all that glitters is pure gold. Jewellery stores show off their pink sapphire rings and diamond-encrusted bracelets from a privileged position once occupied by the town’s butchers. Brave the superior air of the sales personnel at the 1888-opened Dante Cardini or the fourth-generation-run Carlo Piccini and be amazed at their collections. This is handcrafted Italian jewellery at its best. Wander into the hallowed surroundings of Galleria Ponte Vecchio or Ceramiche d’Arte and pick up, as I did, traditional handmade pottery and wine stoppers, many engraved with the six-petal red iris, proud emblem of Florence, a city that was born in the Middle Ages and continues to be in well-preserved bloom.
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