Florence – Rickshaw day

Yes, I said Rickshaw. Hopefully our Whatsapp machinations with our driver wil work out and we will meet him at Torre della Zecca, across the river from our hotel for our bicycle rickshaw tour of the historic city.

Torre della Zecca, Florence, Italy

I awoke at about 6:00 local time and once again quickly took up residence on the terrace (better description than balcony) to enjoy the gentle murmurings of the pigeons over the rooftops before the din of the traffic would drown them out as well as the sounds of a city slowly waking up on this holiday. The Nespresso coffee machine off the lobby is available 24/7 and it gives me the opportunity to practice my stair climbing before the big day when I will mount the 400 some stairs to the Duomo dome.

Poor Stephano is having a rough day. Apparently he hit something on his tire on the way to pick us up and created a slow leak in one of his tires, however I’m pretty sure this was Italian hyperbole (aka bullshit) because he carried a battery operated tire pump with him (ok he rides prepared) and by the look of the tire he was just about running on his tube anyway. We had arrived at the parking lot next to the Tower about a half hour early and while we waited watched the parade of tour busses spew touists into the street and then be lead like ducklings down the street to the historic center of town. It was a United Nations parade, we heard Japanese, Korean, British English, American English, and yes, German.

Stephano arrived at the parking lot next to Torre della Zecca at 11:00 (Italian time which means about half to three-quarters of an hour late but we are in Italy so just enjoy the local culture). After he pumped up his tire we hopped in the seats and headed off to the old part of town.

As are most Americans we are always struck by the age of things. In one of the piazza (Piazza San Firenze) has examples of Medieval, Baroque and Renaissance architecture on the three sides of the plaza. The earliest of the buildings dating back to about 1100 ACE, 1000 years ago. Mind blown.

Just before it’s heyday Florence was a pretty violent place. Warring gangs fighting for resources and resources dictated the way the city was built. In the time before the Mediccis consolidated power violence and fighting in the streets was commonplace. It was dangerous to go outside your fortified home. The mere task of going for groceries or, heaven forbid, Mass was taking your life in your hands. “Streets” in the old part of town were very narrow and the piazza were small to discourage fighting. You need a little room to battle one another especially if you are riding a horse. At the intersections iron rings were secured into the walls where you could attach heavy chains again to discourage rampaging on horseback.

The richer you were the higher was the tower in which you lived. Oddly many of these towers had no entry door on the street level. Instead there were stones in the wall onto which you would place boards and you would climb up the wall of your house, removing the boards behind you and reusing the board on the next level until you reached the entry “door.” This way you made it difficult for an enemy to attack your home and you could defend your home by throwing stuff out the window on anyone attempting to climb up. The home that was occupied by Dante Aligheri is a good example of this since many of the stones still exist on the side of the tower.

Mass. A dangerous endeavor. Some of the most beautiful churches in the world are in Florence for example Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, aka Il Duomo (I plan to climb those stairs tomorrow), would be an incredible place to go to for Mass, however, the fighting and crime doesn’t take Sunday’s off. All over the old city there are tabernacles on street corners, displays of various saints. It is said that while these could be landmarks for directions around town it also allows for people to experience a little sacred time without the danger of walking all the way to the church. These tabernacles are mostly situated on the walls at street corners so while you were praying you could see down both streets in case violence was approaching and you could quickly return home behind a locked door.

It wasn’t until the Medicci consolidated power that the city began to thrive. A powerful economic power including extensive leather works, think guuci, prada, etc, and in particular banking. The populace found that their personal economic fortune was enhanced by supporting the Medicci. Florence became an economic center starting in the 14th century. It was during this time that the larger Piazza were built and art flourished under the patronage of the Medicci.

One glitch in the mid 1300s was the bubonic plague extimated to have killed between 25 and 50 million people. An interesting adaptation of the buildings during that time was finding a way for monks to dispense charity to the poor while mitigating the risk of contracting the plague. Near the door of monasteries would be a slot. This was not a mail slot but a way to push food or alms out to a person on the street without even touching which could transfer the plague.

The “crown jewel” of our tour was Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Coming around the corner into the piazza where the church is is breath taking. The building was starting in 1296 with the famous dome completed in 1436. What is most striking is the complex is completely covered in marble, white, pink and green.

OK. Enough. Stephano rode us back to our pick up spot, scanning for polizia all the while since, again, he was outside his designated touristic zone and we bid him arrivederci with hugs and a little tip.

Well worth the trip. Very energetic storyteller and helped us understand what it was like to live in this city over the centuries.

We walked back and looked for a little lunch. Our first choice would not be open until dinnertime so we went another block down the street to Trattoria Gigi. Ruby ordered her Baccala and I had the recommended home made pasta with mushrooms as well as a delightful little cake for dessert (the name of which I can’t remember).

After we went back to the room to nap. it was time for dinner, we were so looking for a pizza at La Piperna, about a block away from the hotel. Ruby ordered the polpo appetizer and I ordered (and shared) something called Ripiene. It was described as an open book pizza, pomodoro tomatoes, rocket, ham, buffalo mozzarella and pizza crust like a cloud. No lie, the best I’ve ever had. For dessert, agnolotti con nutella. OMG. Let’s just say when we finished they would not have to wash the plates!

And that is full day one. That’s the best I can hope to remember from a very full day. Hopefully we can get closer to this time zone by tommorow when we take a tour to Pisa and Luca and I can share some more drunk history.