On our previous trips to Nannini's, we had admired the exciting pastries, so that is where we headed the next morning for breakfast. Cannoli e crema and an espresso later, we were ready for the bus to our next Tuscan destination: Florence.
As Florence is the favourite city of B's sister (so much so, she told her now-fiance to propose there - he didn't by the way) we had high hopes. Founded (probably) by Julius Caesar as a strategic garrison along the afore-mentioned Via Flaminia, it has exerted great influence over the politics, religion, finances and culture of Tuscany over the years, not to mention being the birthplace of the Renaissance.
During the Middle Ages Florence spent a lot of time being ruled by the Medici family. First they were in power, then their banks failed and they were ousted, in favour of the Dominican monk Savonarola. He is my favourite monk, because he was completely bonkers. He burned many paintings by important artists such as Botticelli, and priceless sculptures, on his 'Bonfires of the Vanities'. He had a lot of good stuff to preach, and was opposed to things such as the exploitation of the poor and corruption in the ruling classes. But he also claimed to be a prophet akin to Moses, and when a rival challenged him to a 'trial by fire', in which he would be able to walk unscathed through fire as God would help him, he was not able to, and lost his followers. Later, he confessed to having invented all his visions and powers.
Around the same time Machiavelli (of 'Machiavellian' fame) was busy in Florence's political circles. Widely credited as having founded modern political science, he was quite an interesting bloke who wrote some heavily praised and criticised political works. Nowadays 'Machiavellian' is used to denote someone who remains emotionally detached from events in order to manipulate and deceive others for their own gain. Machiavelli himself was a proponent of the idea 'the end justifies the means', or 'it's for the greater good'.
Now, to put that into a context I can understand, lets consider the complex political treatise of J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At the end of this book, Dumbledore is shown to be highly Machiavellian; he manipulates people and events so that they will all end up dying at the right time, to ensure the downfall of Voldemort. The end justifies the means. And the fact that Grindelwald's motto was 'For The Greater Good' shows Dumbledore really didn't change his moral views that much from his youth, despite what he wanted to believe.
Anyway, after that particularly apt and useful political discussion, let's continue with our holiday in Florence.
Nowadays, Florence is a big tourist city. By day, churches, art galleries and designer shopping. By night, restaurants, wine bars and clubs. First stop for us was our hostel, which had been surprisingly cheap. We soon found out why.
Designed specifically for gap year students, hen/stag do's, and less rigorous university field trips, the hostel was huge, and boasted swimming pool, bar and own restaurant (which served up cheap British and American versions of Italian food). If you ever want to suddenly realise you are no longer a teenager then I would recommend this hostel. Being in my mid-twenties, all the young 18yr olds (when you could stop them running around in their bikinis and talking really loudly about the amount of cheap alcohol they put away the night before) seemed a little baffled by mine and B's desire to get up while it was still before midday, see some culture, and spend a few quid on some authentic Tuscan cuisine.
They were all very nice though, and did try not to disrupt us when they came in in the early hours. Except when two of the girls came back with two boys from another room, collected their mattresses, and left again. There's no sleeping through that, really.
After dumping our bags, we headed off to grab some food in Caffe Gilli on the Piazza della Repubblica (savoury brioche with mozzarella and tomato, and a ricotta e pinoli pastry). It was here I got my first proper sunburn ever. Through the Factor 50 suncream.
Having suddenly realised i was beginning to roast alive, we set off on a little walk around Florence. We had already had a quick peek of the Duomo (more on that later) and the Basilica di Sante Croce (more on that later too) we wandered to the River Arno. From the Ponte alle Grazie, the longest bridge in Florence, we gazed at the Tuscan hills to the East, and the Ponte Vecchio to the West.
The Ponte Vecchio was the infamous home of the city's butchers in the Middle Ages, and believed to be the site that Julius Caesar first set up what would become Florence (as it is the narrowest crossing over the River Arno, and thus strategically a good stronghold). In the 16th Century member of the Medici family, in an fit of unknowing hygienic wisdom, got sick of the butchers chucking their leftovers and gone-off meat in the river, and ordered the butcher's stands to be replaced with jewelers. These jewelers are still there to this day, but now have shops that have been kind of tacked on to the back of the bridge.
If you have come to Florence with your lover/spouse/beloved/pet tradition has it that you are meant to buy a padlock and lock it to the statue of Benvenuto Cellini, then throw the key into the river, thus locking you together for eternity. However, because the city officials were getting sick of continually having the cut off padlocks there is now a 50euro fine for doing so. Also, there is a nasty rumour the 'tradition' was brought in by the owner of the nearby padlock shop.
Me and B didn't do that, not being lovers/spouses/beloved/pets.
Now feeling rather sweaty and weary, we headed back to the party hostel for an afternoon break on the roof top terrace with our books/Kindles.
For tea, we declined the offers of the girls in the dorm of joining them for mac 'n' cheese, and went to find a nearby restaurant. It had a rather interesting menu; while I didn't opt for the 'fried balls of grandmother', I did go for a pizza which was just described as being topped with raw ham. Which, indeed it was.
After that, it was time for a little live music on the Ponte Vecchio, mouosse di pistchacio e nutella and crema gelato, then to bed.