Florence, Italy, May, 2005

After cycling through the hilltowns of Tuscany for a week on a VBT bike tour, I spent 3 days sightseeing in Florence. Click here for a report on the bike trip. Continue below for some photos of Florence.

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Two of the world's great art museums are in Florence: the Uffizi with it's collection of Renaissance paintings and the Accademia with Michelangelo's David and other sculptures. Photography is not allowed in these museums, so you need to visit for yourself. Fortunately, our VBT tour guides were able to get ticket reservations through our hotel. Without reservations, lines can reach 2 hours during the spring and much longer during the summer.

Florence also has much free, outdoor art, including copies of David and other great statues. Here are some examples from the Piazza della Signoria and the hall outside the Uffizi.

Apparently, Macchiavelli is a lot more popular in Florence than in the USA. He has a statue at the Uffizi and is burried in the Santa Croce church, near Michelangelo and Galilelo.

(Click on any picture for a larger image.)
David David statue statue Galileo Dante Micheangelo Leonardo Macchiavelli
For a great overview of the city, visit the gardens below San Miniato on the south side of the Arno River. From here we can see the Arno River, Ponta Vecchio bridge, Palazzo Vecchio tower, and the Duomo complex in a single view. This is also a great spot for wedding photos, as we see two different wedding parties in the foreground.

The south side of the Arno isn't full of tourist shops like the north side, but it is still great for wandering around. While the city walls on the north side of the Arno have been mostly destroyed and replaced with highways, many of the southern walls and gates have been preserved.

panorama Vecchio Duomo arch arch wall
The most impressive buildings in Florence are the Duomo (cathedral) and its Campanile (bell tower). Completed during the 15th century, the dome is almost 300 feet tall, while the Campanile is slightly shorter. Both are open to the public (for separate fees) and give you great views of the city, the religious paintings inside, and a glimpse at 15th century civil engineering techniques. There are no elevators, so be prepared for about 460 stairs each to climb these, but the views are worth the effort. dome dome dome tower tower tower vecchio dome dome
Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452 in the town of Vinci, just east of Florence. In addition to being a great painter, Leonardo was a prolific inventor and engineer. A small museum near the Accademia displayed models based on Leonardo's drawings. One of these drawings (apparently never actually built) was a bicycle that looks very much like modern bicycles with a handlebar, seat, spoked wheels, chain, and gears. These drawings were some 400 years ahead of their time. Other bicycle-related inventions include the gear and chain, cupped ball bearing, and the ratchet.

Leonardo was apparently the Florence army's chief engineer during the war with Siena. Other inventions in the museum included armored vehicles, flying gliders, and various bombs.

Leonardo's bicycle Leonardo's bicycle Leonardo's ball bearings Leonardo's gears Leonardo's ratchet
The Ponta Vecchio bridge was built in 1345, connecting the northern and southern halves of Florence across the Arno River. It was the only bridge across the Arno that the Nazis did not destroy during World War II, reportedly after city leaders made a secret deal to preserve the historic bridge.

Sometime Sunday night, some clowns (not including me) attached hundreds of pad locks to the Cellini statue in the middle of the bridge. The worker on the right will probably spend all day cutting off the locks.

Cellini locks Ponta Vecchio Leonardo's ball bearings
The world's second most important bicycle race is the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy). On the Sunday and Monday of my visit, the Giro rolled through Florence. Ivan Basso (in the red and white Team CSC jersey) was Lance Armstrong's main rival in the 2004 Tour de France. After a great performance in Sunday's time trial, Basso jumped up to second place overall in the Giro. In the first mountain stage, a few days later, Basso would take the overall lead in the Giro. At only 27 years old, Basso may be the future of pro cycling.

Lance Armstrong is not participating in the Giro, but his Discovery team is there; led by former Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli. Savoldelli also did well in the time trial, finishing in third place overall. Savoldelli is the only one to keep pace with Basso in the mountains, moved up to second place a few days later. Here is the Discovery team at the Monday morning race start. Savoldelli is number 71.

The Monday stage started under the David statue (copy) at Piazzale Micheangelo (near San Miniato).

Basso Discovery Giro David

That was my three days in Florence. The old city is very compact and easy to get around on foot. During the summer, however, the hot weather and crowds of tourists might not be very pleasant. During May, temperatures were generally in the pleasant 60s to low 70s F.

For more trip reports, please click on the link.

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Copyright 2005, Kenton Lee, Palo Alto, California. All rights reserved.