Friday 12th June
No cycling today. Yes!!
We’re in Florence: time to do the only sensible thing and replace cycling with gelato.
The Ponto Vecchio, a famous bridge over the river Arno which is full of gold and jewellery shops.
We went inside. It’s quite a plain interior, but the exciting bit is the dome (known as the Duomo). You can climb four hundred and something steps to have a good look at it – our legs did not thank us. It depicts Heaven and Hell.
Heaven is pretty standard (clouds and angels) whereas they went to town much more on Hell: three-headed Satan chews Judas, Brutus and Cassius, men are being flayed, women bite their own flesh, a lizard-headed demon clubs a man on the head… we spent a while having a good gawp.
Then afterwards we went to the very top and enjoyed the view.
Then it was off to the famous Uffizi art gallery. Last time Eric was there he had to queue for 4 hours, but we got lucky, as we were there at 1.30 it was quieter and we walked right in.
They also had Spring, another super famous painting:
After a few hours in the Uffizi we finished up the day by climbing the tower of the cathedral (as you buy a combined ticket for the dome and the tower for a day.) Our legs said ‘Why do you keep doing this?’.
Some more marvellous views:
Saturday 13th June
Today we planned to fulfil one of our longstanding goals for our travels through Europe: buy ourselves leather jackets from the leather market in Florence.
Before we left I Googled “How to barter in Florence leather market” and we read through what to do to get the best price. Now armed with some know-how we walked to the market, discussing tactics all the way and feeling a little bit nervous!
I wanted to spend about 100 euros. Eric wanted to spend about 120.
We arrived (here’s Eric stroking the nose of the lucky bronze pig):
In the second shop we went into we were taken into hand by a salesman, who assured us we should feel free to try, there was no pressure whatsoever, we could think about it and come back another day.
The game was on. Here’s how things went down…
He fetched me three jackets and I tried each one on. He very helpfully(!) demonstrated the zips and spoke about the quality etc.
I didn’t look at all enthusiastic. I said things like ‘This one’s OK,’ and made a point of not smiling.
There was one I liked so I asked the price. He showed me a label saying 600 euros! I looked horrified (this was part of the plan, but I didn’t have to fake it).
I told him that there was no way I could afford this. He asked what my budget was, I told him I wanted to spend about 60 euros.
He told me that I could never get a quality leather jacket for this price. He said he would do me a special price (of course). He offered 220.
‘It’s a good discount but I just can’t afford it,’ I said.
‘We’re students,’ said Eric. ‘If we pay those prices we won’t be eating tonight!’
After a bit more back and forth I indicated to Eric that it was time to leave (we were doing the classic walk away).
‘Wait, wait, wait!’ he said (he who 5 minutes ago had been Mr. feel free to come back another day). ‘I can go as low as 180,’ he said.
‘Thank you, but I just can’t afford that,’ I said.
‘This is a quality leather jacket,’ he said. ‘You could put a lighter to it, this jacket will last you fifteen years! I guarantee you, you go anywhere else, this jacket will be 400 euros.’
‘Maybe if you could go to 110 we could afford it,’ said Eric.
‘You cannot get a leather jacket for that much anywhere!’ said the salesman.
‘My friend got one for that price when he was here,’ said Eric.
‘Ah well, it’s very rare. But 180 is the best I can do,’ he said.
We had reached somewhat of a stalemate here and both parties sensed it. He had a “take it or leave it” expression going on.
‘What about you sir, what would you like?’ said the salesman.
‘Me? Oh I’m not really looking to buy,’ said Eric (haha!).
‘Come on, try a few on,’ said the salesman. ‘What would you like?’
‘Something manly,’ said Eric.
‘This one?’ said the salesman.
‘Manlier!’ said Eric.
‘This one?’ said the salesman.
‘Manlier!!’ said Eric.
Eric tried a few on. He found one that he liked. We sensed the potential for a multi-buy discount.
‘You like it?’ said the salesman.
‘I like it… but can I afford it?’ said Eric.
The salesman laughed and patted Eric on the back. We also laughed (Eric employing some rapport-building skills).
The price tag on Eric’s jacket said – surprise, surprise – 525 euros. But, even bigger surprise, the salesman – who confessed himself to be an honest man and not like all the other guys in the market – was going to give us a very good price. Both jackets for 280.
140 each. We conferred and decided we could live with that.
The good news was we didn’t have that much cash with us and the salesman didn’t want us to pay by card (I guess that he isn’t paying tax on this purchase) so we got both for 265!
We left feeling a little giddy.
We were a bit over budget, but having ear-wigged on the other purchases going on in the shop we felt as if we had gotten a good deal (we heard one woman paying 400, and another couple paying 180 each). It’s hard to tell… it is their job after all to make you feel like you’ve gotten a good price. But one thing I can say for sure… if you ever go to the Florence leather market ignore the prices on the labels!
And here they are – I am assured by the unusually honest salesman that they are of the finest quality.
We bought a picnic lunch and then spurned a perfectly decent bench in the shade to find the often elusive lunch with a view. This led to a hot 30 minute trudge uphill (Eric was quite grumpy, it had been my idea) until we ended up on a piazza with an art display overlooking the city. It was quite interesting. We took some pictures.
We were now right above the Boboli Gardens (big garden with sculptures). We bought tickets and had a look around. Very beautiful. So hot.
They had some museum displays as well. As interesting as the displays was the building itself. They used a lot of trompe-l’oeil in this place (paintings which look like they’re 3D objects. Yes I just Googled that spelling) and oh boy were they good at it:
Sunday 14th June
We started the day with the Museum of the Palace of Vecchio. In here:
After this we headed back over the river Arno to the Oltrano District, which, according to the internet was less touristy, had cheaper local places to eat and some nice things to see. Unfortunately a few other tourists may have also read this, and seem to have had the same idea as us. We had just gotten to the market outside the Sancto de Spirito church when the rain started and we ducked into the nearest restaurant. We had a very long lunch. The price was pretty good, but we were charged 4 euros for our table mats! That’s a new one.
Then it was back over the bridge to see the Da Vinci museum. This was fun. It was full of Da Vinci’s inventions, many of which you could play with.
Here’s Eric on what is possibly the world’s most ancient leg press and pull-down machine (his first visit to a gym in a while):
Monday 15th June
We had designated this day to be a “do nothing” day, as we were still feeling rather tired.
In the morning we headed back to the leather market where Eric flexed his bartering muscles and got himself a belt and a wallet at respectably discounted prices.
Then, hankering after another viewpoint we walked to the Piazza de Michelangelo, said to be Florence’s most famous view, and had a picnic lunch here.
We got chatting with some other cycle tourists, one from Holland and one from Norwich, and had a couple of drinks with them while we swapped stories and tips (one recommended Bosnia, we’re thinking about it).
Then we walked into town for dinner at an Indian restaurant which we had spotted earlier. The food was excellent, and we had a chat with the very amusing owner who was delighted to learn that we were English.
‘England, great!’ he said. ‘Finance! Architecture! Aeroplane! Boat!…’ he continued to list all the things that we should apparently be taking credit for. ‘England… you have good brains!’ he exclaimed, tapping his head.
‘But Italy has better food,’ I replied. It’s true. Oh it’s true.
He was so impressed by our lineage that we got a free cup of chai at the end of the meal. Makes you proud to be British.
Tuesday 16th June
The morning’s job was to pack up our leather jackets, belt and wallet, along with a few other items we no longer needed, and send them off to England. We found the nearest post office, and got to experience first hand the bizarre wonder that is Italian bureaucracy (ticking the “authentic experience” and “mingling with the locals” boxes very nicely). The man at the post office printed off and filled in no less than 6 different documents, which were then either stuck on the parcel, scanned and filed or stapled together and put into mysterious piles (why? What does any of it mean?). It didn’t help that he had to throw away two of the forms and start again when he learnt that my full name was Penelope, not Penny (oops! I guess that matters in Italy). It turns out there are special regulations of some kind about posting leather. One day when I remember I’ll look it up and see what all the fuss was about.
After this we had lunch in a park, and then another generous gelato from our favourite gelato store.
Then, back at our campsite we took it in turns to guard our electronic devices while they charged up in the bar area. We’re planning to get a campsite plug which camper-van people use, as I have had enough of skulking in sanitary blocks waiting for the iPad to charge.
However, sitting at the bar did lead to a fun evening, as we got talking to some other travellers: one very young-looking hitch-hiker who had come all the way from Estonia, and a couple from New Zealand who regaled us with tales of how rich the girl’s employer was (she was an au pair for a multi-millionaire investor). We laughed a lot when we were told that this guy’s kid’s treehouse spanned 5 trees.
It was a nice way to end our visit to Florence, which has been pretty great. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen: there are interesting statues and monuments and thoughtful architectural details everywhere, and the city is small enough to walk around and feels personal – in this way it reminded me a little bit of my previous home in Bristol. Plus, did I mention the gelato?
Next stop… Roma!