We caught the bus from outside the campsite into Florence, which took about an hour. We re-grouped ourselves in a McCafe with a coffee, studied the map and then headed straight for the Duomo. What a splendid building with its pink, white and green marble facade and campanile (bell tower) and red tiled dome that dominates the city. It is free to visit the inside of the cathedral but you have to queue as they only let a certain amount of visitors in at a time. The interior is a rather sparse as most of its artistic treasures have been removed over the centuries. We went downstairs to the crypt and bought a ticket for €15 that allowed us entrance to the exhibition in the crypt showing where earlier excavations unearthed parts of the 5th Century Chiesa di Santa Reparata that originally stood on the site. The ticket also gives you entrance to climb the Cupola del Brunelischi (the Cathedral Dome) the Campanile’s 414 steps to the top and the Batisterro di San Giovanni (Baptistry).
Tony, John and I joined the queue to climb to the top of the bell tower, it took about 45 minutes to get to the front of the queue and it took about another 10 to 15 minutes to reach the top. The climb is quite narrow and steep but there are a couple of platforms that you can take a rest whilst taking in the views of the city. The final climb is really hard work as it winds up a narrow stone staircase and you need to pass the visitors coming back down, so at times you do get rather personal with each other as you pass!
The view from the top is amazing as it overlooks the city and the Duomo next door. From here you can see the visitors who have made the climb up the dome and to the outside for more spectacular views. The climb back down is much easier but you still have to pass in those awkward narrow spaces!
We then wandered through Florence until we came to Palazzo Vecchio, the fortress palace now home to the mayor’s office and the municipal council and surrounded by lots of statues of nude men! We walked between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi museum that houses 1500 odd masterpieces. As we were short on time, we chose not to enter either Palazzo Vecchio or the Uffizi and headed for Ponte Vecchio lined both sides with jewellery shops. We crossed over the bridge as we had planned to visit Giardino di Boboli and Giardino Bardini but as they both required entrance fees, we followed the city walk as indicated in the Lonely Planet guide book. We ended up in Plazza della Republica and stopped for a coffee whilst being entertained by an opera singer.
We went back to Palazzo Vecchio for a proper look around the square and then back to the Duomo and queued up to climb inside the Dome of the Cathedral, however there was an hour and a half wait time to get inside and as we were running short of time, gave this a miss and finished off in the Baptistry the striped structure with its beautiful mosaic covered interior of the octagonal dome.
We ran out of time as we didn’t want to get a late bus back to the campsite but we did manage to see many beautiful ancient buildings and statues and feel it would be great to come back to Florence, stay overnight in the city and do some more exploring. It was a great taster for Florence.
We stayed at Camping Il Poggetto, Troghi , 3039 in the ACSI book. A good campsite but as it is quite close to the motorway, we could hear this most of the time. The bus into Florence cost €5.60 each return and I would suggest that if you are catching the 9.00 am bus, get in the queue by about 8.45 am, particularly if busy as the bus we took had seating room only. If you are planning more than one day in Florence we had been told about a Camperstop that is about 3km from the city centre which may also be worth considering. The ticket for the Duomo, Campanilla and Batisterro is valid for 48 hours so useful if you are staying a couple of days as climbing both on the same day is pretty energetic!