On the morning of August 26, we got up early to head to Florence since our rental car had to be returned by 11 am. Once we finished checking out of Greppi di Silli, we headed up the road and decided to take some pictures in the vineyard. After that, we decided to take a brief stop at the church up the hill from Greppi, Pieve di Santo Stefano a Campoli, just to see it a little closer since we had been driving by for a week.
After the stop at Pieve di Santo Stefano a Campoli, it was on to Florence, about 20 km north of Mercatale. We stopped for gas on the outskirts of Florence to satisfy the rental agreement and then proceeded to try and find our hotel in Florence. The first issue we ran into was that our maps made everything look much bigger than it was, but we managed to find Residence la Contessina relatively easily. I must thank my mom for the wonderful accomodations since she arranged the hotel in Florence. Residence la Contessina is only about 600 yards from the Duomo and is right within easy walking distance of all of the sights of central Florence, and couldn't have worked out better for us.
After checking in to the hotel, we set off to return the rental car. This involved a somewhat circuitous route because of the one way streets and traffic reduction laws in central Florence. After a couple of trips around the block on Borgo Ognissanti, we asked a couple of Carabineri where the Europcar office was, only to notice that they were standing right next to it. The rental return only took a couple minutes and then we walked back to the hotel to plan the rest of our day.
The desk clerks at Residence la Contessina couldn't have been more helpful in setting up some of our plans. They called ahead and got us advance reservations for both the Uffizi and Accademia. They also gave us a much better map of Florence than was in our Fodor's guide.
After talking with the desk, we headed over to the train station to get our tickets to Rome so that we didn't need to worry about that later. On the way we stopped for lunch as a small pizzeria for what was unquestionably the worst pizza that we had in Italy.
Following our trip to the train station, we decided to head over to Santa Maria Novella since it was right next to the train station. After seeing the entrance fee and comparing it to the other places we wanted to see in our guidebook, we decided to pass on touring the church.
We then walked back through the Mercato di San Lorenzo to go tour the Basilica of San Lorenzo. The market is an experience all to its own as there are small carts pushing leather jackets, clothing of all sorts, souveniers, and all other manner of merchandise. We got through to the front of San Lorenzo and decided to go in and tour the church. San Lorenzo was consecrated in 393 AD and is one of the oldest churches in Florence. It is a rather unassuming structure on the outside since the Romanesque stone was never deemed worthy of receiving a marble facade, but it was the city's main cathedral for over 300 years before being replaced by the Duomo. San Lorenzo was also the Medici parish church and contains a number of renaissance artworks, including the pulpit by Donatello.
After our tour of San Lorenzo we walked around the building, looking for the entrance to the Medici Libraries and the Medici Chapel. We never did find the entrance to the libraries, but we did end up touring the Medici Chapel. The Medici Chapel is the large dome at the back of San Lorenzo and contains the tombs of all of the Medici Grand Dukes. We were relatively disappointed in the Medici Chapel despite its high billing because the vast majority of the interior of the chapel was covered in scaffolding. The renovation had evidently begun in 1999 after a large chunk of marble fell from the ceiling, but it definitely made for a disappointing experience since all of the famous marble work was covered by scaffolding.
After touring the Medici Chapel, we went back out into the Mercato di San Lorenzo and paused to check out some of the leather jackets. It was truly amazing how the vendors would show you a coat or two and then end up dragging you a block or two away to their storefronts. We ended up looking at a couple of stores before heading on our way again.
We walked through Piazza San Giovanni by the Duomo towards the Piazza della Repubblica. We paused for a moment in Piazza della Repubblica before continuing on toward the Arno. On the way, we saw the Chiesa di Orsanmichele. The building was originally constructed as a grain market and later converted into a church as the chapel for Florence's trade guilds. As such, it is one of the strangest churches I have ever seen. The arches of the original grain market were filled with gothic style walls, and the altar inside is not centered and is in the front right part of the building from the entrance.
After walking through and around Orsanmichele, we went over to the Mercato Nuovo which was right next to the church. We wandered through the market for a bit before stopping to put a coin in the mouth of the famous bronze boar statue. The legend of this statue is similar to that of the Trevi Fountain in Rome in that if you put a coin in the mouth of the boar and it falls through the grate below, you will return to Florence some day.
Leaving Mercato Nuovo, we continued down to the Arno River. Reaching the Arno, we headed over to Ponte Santa Trinita for a better view of the Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Santa Trinita is also know as a hangout for young lovers so we figured that was appropriate since we were on our honeymoon.
We then walked back along the Oltrarno side of the river to the Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is famous for all of the gold shops along the bridge. Originally populated by butchers, Cosimo I de Medici did not like the smell and banished the butchers from the bridge and replaced them with the jewelers. As we walked along the bridge, we were truly amazed at the radiant heat from all of the jewelery cases along the bridge. We were also surprised at how expensive the jewelery was since there was so much built in competition on the bridge.
After crossing the Ponte Vecchio, we walked along the Arno, pausing to look through the courtyard of the Uffizi before walking back across the Arno towards Piazzale Michelangelo. We climbed up the hill through the numerous gardens to Piazzale Michelangelo. The view from Piazzale Michelangelo over the entire city of Florence is incredible. We hung out in the plaza for a while, called our parents, and then headed back down to find some dinner.
On our way down the hill we found a group doing sound checks for a free concert later in the evening, so we sat and listened for a bit. The group was called Gezz Zero Grup and the art series was called FirenzEstate_06. The sound was very interesting with a drum set, saxaphone, and electric cello, so we decided to come back after dinner to listen for a while.
As we wandered down the Arno in search of dinner, Andrea pointed out a building back in a small park that we thought was interesting. It turned out to be Chiesa Luterana, the oldest Lutheran church in Florence. It was a small but beautiful building and it was definitely a highlight to find a Lutheran church in such a Catholic stronghold.
We continued on down the Arno and then back past Palazzo Pitti towards Santa Spirito. Unfortunately the restaurant we were looking for was closed on their holiday for one more day, so we ended up walking back towards the Arno. We ended up having dinner at Restaurante sull'Arno right at the base of the Ponte Vecchio where we ate overlooking the river. At one of the tables next to us was a group of English speaking tourists who were evidently on a bike tour of northern Italy and were presenting "awards" to each other that were absolutely hilarious. The food at the restaurant was also excellent and I would definitely recommend it.
After dinner we went back to Piazza Giuseppe Poggi to listen to the Gezz Zero Grup for a while. The concert was quite entertaining and we listened for about half an hour before heading back to our hotel to call it a night.