Firenze

Something very unpleasant happened upon my arrival in Firenze. I discovered that I had booked, and paid for in full, a shabby hotel. Frankly, I had seen and even stayed in poorer ones in Marseilles and Paris. But then those ones had charged very low prices. This one in Firenze was not particularly cheap (HKD 590 or about L125,000). I am sure that I could find much better ones at this price locally. The most unbearable thing was that the room was dirty. It was visibly dusty, just like the lobby downstairs. The door to the room could hardly be fully opened because the bed was in the way. There were no TV and no “clean” towels. The furniture was unbearably seventyish with cigarette burns. Actually the room smelled like cigarette. So I repeated what I had done the last time I was in Paris – I left my luggage there, went out to find a new place and returned to check out. I was so eager to move out that I checked in the first decent-looking hotel I could find without comparing prices or bargaining (what a fool). When I left for the new hotel, the manager of that shabby hotel stopped me on the street to ask me why I left. I told him that I didn’t like the room (now I think that maybe I should have asked for another room) and reassured him that I had already paid for that room for three nights. He told me that he would not charge me for the next two nights and suggested that I try to claim back the payment from the agency. The room in the new hotel, which was on Via Panzani (I quite like that street), was all right. There were a very large bed and plenty of clean towels. But the window was not double-glazed so it was a bit noisy.

And since I had booked another room in London for four nights through the same agency, I could not help but worried about its quality. I kept asking myself if I should steal a clean towel from the new hotel (but of course I didn’t).

It was the Easter holiday. It had never occurred to me before that while I was enjoying my Easter holiday in Firenze, other people could also be doing the same thing. Horribly, the place swarmed with tourists. And as it was the holiday, almost all the shops were closed. Even the tourist offices were ridiculously closed because they were on strike. Luckily, many museums were open on the Saturday before the holiday. And during the religious holiday, I visited churches and scenic places that required no admission.

I still consider Firenze an exceedingly beautiful place. I have no doubt about this.

During this stay in Firenze, I was particularly impressed by the prominence of Michelangelo. This time, I finally made it to the Galleria dell’Accademia and met David. It was of course a masterpiece. Outside the gallery where we queued, there was a sign declaring “Galleria, David”, or something to this effect. Everyone came here to see David. It seemed that nothing else could interest people more. And when I was about to enter the gallery, a visitor leaving the gallery informed the people in front of me, “He is on the right”. I therefore imagined that many people just went in the gallery, turned right, looked at the sculpture, took a picture, and then their mission was accomplished. Just look at how prominently the sculpture was displayed. It stood high on a pedestal in the centre of a hall. There was nothing else around it. David was quite alone. Visitors were therefore bound to focus all their attention on him, whose strength and beauty were worthy of all the admiration. (I later learned that it was the symbol of Firenze because David defeated the strong enemy with his bare hands.) Who would ever care about the other works in the gallery? Some might be curious enough to have a look at the nearby Slaves, also by Michelangelo. That would be quite enough for us tourists. Come meet David and learn how unfair it is to the average souls that geniuses such as Michelangelo (did) exist. But however great he was, I bet his own bust on his grave in Santa Croce is not his work.

When I later visited the Cappelle Medicee, I saw the same kind of sign. On the way to the New Sacristy, there was an arrow saying “Michelangelo”. Actually, similar thing had happened in the Castello Sforzesco in Milano. There, the staff was enthusiastic in directing the visitors to see one of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures.

I thought I started off early enough in the morning on Easter Sunday. I thought it was 8 am when I was buying train tickets at the railway station. But I saw a clock saying that it was 9 am. First I thought that the clock was out of order. But later I found that the many clocks in the station all displayed the same time. I lost an hour without knowing it because they had changed to summer time!

From my guidebook, I had an idea that there would be some kind of celebration on Easter Sunday but I could not get more information on it because the tourist office people were on strike. At 10:30 am, when I was around San Lorenzo, the bells of the churches rang crazily like a signal to gather people to the celebration or ceremony. The event took place between the Duomo and the Battistero. There were uniformed people on horses, people in colourful costumes waving colourful flags, drums, bands, and firecrackers/fireworks display. The piazza and the windows around it were filled with spectators. It was kind of exciting. But I dare say anyone from Hong Kong would be disappointed by the fireworks or the scale of the event.

My nicest experience in Firenze this time was the visit to Forte di Belvedere. I started the long walk from Palazzo Pitti. The uphill climbing did take my breath away because the road, though pleasant to walk on, was steep. But the views up there were superb. Blue sky, white clouds, green grass, little yellow and white flowers, Firenze down the hill and the hills of Toscana beyond it. They may sound common but together they were beautiful beyond words. I discovered that I had never seen so much of a sky with no limit at all. I had never known before that the sky without any skyline could be so large. It was a pity that the photos I took there could not capture one tenth of the crystal-clear beauty.

Having been to the Forte di Belvedere, Piazzale Michelangelo seemed like a circus. It was noisy, filled with tourist attractions, and surrounded by tourists and their coaches.

I felt unwell the next day, so my trips to Siena and Fiesole were not fruitful. Siena was full of visitors. But as one could expect on a holiday, most shops were closed. I can only say that I visited the Piazza di Campo and the Duomo in Siena. But I did not see or feel much. All I felt, I think, was how sick and tired I was. It was the same for Fiesole. I had been to the arena in Verona, the Colosseo in Roma and the amphitheatre in Nimes. The Teatro Romano in Fiesole, therefore, could hardly be called impressive. The bus rides between Firenze and Fiesole were quite pleasant, though.

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