Sadly, holidaying in Italy had to end. We had 3 nights in Florence, in the city, and for our final morning we decided to do a bit of shopping, a bit of eating and a little bit of basilica gazing before heading to the airport for our flight back to London. How little did we realise our mistake in thinking we were leaving so easily – due to some marvellous time wasting by Meridian Airlines, our flight was delayed, and then cancelled, forcing us to stay another night. We were put up in a fancy (but rather strange!) hotel and driven around a lot, but the delay was not providential. We saw a lot more of Florence’s airport than was really necessary and formed some pointed opinions about middle-aged ladies from the Midlands… but anyway, on with Florentine basilicas!
Our bags packed and left downstairs with the concierge, off we went to see the inside of the Duomo, an impressive domed cathedral complete with a bell tower and baptistry. Hushed & lofty, beautiful paintings & mosaics and an exquisite dome – a wonderful way to summarise Italian religious buildings. And then, the fantastic surprise of archaeology! Down in the crypt area was an excavated site of the earlier church that made my day. It’s highly possible that the previous church is also the place of a Roman temple or Etruscan religious site, and it’s that mystery and sense of time that I love about these places. York Minster is a fantastic display of this (well, the whole town of York is really!) with it’s lovely French Gothic cathedral on top of Norman, Saxon and Roman foundations. Going down those steps is a tangible time trip, though your imagination is needed a little more than the recreated Yorvic a few streets away – that comes complete with odours worthy of a Viking town!
There was little information around about the remains and what was there was mainly in Italian, so I’m guessing a fair bit here with what I know. It looked like this was part of the early church, a Byzantine looking mosaic on the floor. I read a plaque that had ‘primitive’ on it, so I’m guessing early Christian church. There were several areas of preserved mosaic floor and a few tombs, and a strange relic of a skull in one corner.
A fresco was displayed on a wall, but I was unable to get too close to really check it out. The muted lighting & scarcity of people down here was a welcome change to the business above ground, the connection to the past made me have affection for the Duomo (cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore). It reminded me of how little I know of Italian history, and how much of Firenze’s medieval history is shadowed by the splendour of the Renaissance, the wealth & power of a people who turned their city into the central focus for a change in art, in politics, in religion (although they did not go as far as ‘reforming’!).
Emerging from the cooler interior of the Duomo, we decided on a farewell meal in a small trattoria near the Central Market. I had a calzone with mushrooms & ham, plus the best iced coffee ever. It was chilled espresso, with a perfect crema and sugared liberally. This is how coffee is supposed to be drunk cold, that was obvious to me! None of that icecream, cream & chocolate dusting for Italians! It is only now, 1 & 1/2 months after I left Italy, that I am realising the depth of my addiction to coffee, in particular the coffee like I had in Italy.
After lunch (brunch really, it was before midday) we sauntered around the Central Market fondling leather handbags before heading back to our hostel, jumping in a taxi and heading to the airport. For the first time. Checked in, duty free perfume bought, we played the Meridian Airlines Disorganisation game. The delay and cancellation of of flight didn’t bring us anymore sightseeing of Firenze, but a different outlook on middle-aged English ladies and their inability to be courteous to families with young children (what do you call a queue jumper who then proceeds to book flights & hotel rooms for the 40 odd friends she has waiting at the end of the line?). We also got a look at an upmarket hotel and it’s rather strange decor (fibre optic grid lighting on the shiny black walls and paintings of Renaissance people on the doors) before we were flown back to London, via Roma.
As I sit and write this on a cool, wet and drizzly August day in London, I am struggling not to romanticise summer in my mind – the hot 30 degree days, the fantastic gelato, the confusion over what Ciao actually means. I want to go back to Italy and discover more of the Boot!