With thanks to our kind tutors, the College and the Holroyd-Collieu-Stelling-Hall Memorial Travel Grant, we were afforded the necessary means to soak up as much art, history, language and food as we possibly could in beautiful Florence this summer. During a pre-trip Starbucks rendez-vous, we had meticulously planned our entire week, navigating Italy’s tricky online ticketing system for museums and other attractions, and even booking ourselves on a pensioners’ day trip to Siena and San Gimignano (not the easiest to pronounce, even for the linguist). Upon arrival, we found that Google had led us to Florence’s best-kept secret, a stunning three-room apartment right in the centre of the city, at an absurdly reasonable price.
On the first afternoon we went to the main square of Florence for a restorative bruschetta and drink after our dawn flight at stupid o’clock that morning. Then we looked around a mini-museum dedicated to the fashion house Gucci, which featured everything from travel cases to one-off dresses worn on the red carpet. It also had a room dedicated to the “logomania” fashion of the eighties in which Gucci stuck their emblem on everything from crockery to golf clubs. There was even a car which was upholstered in fabric printed with the company logo and “Gucci” stamped on the steering wheel and the bonnet. Things could only get better from here…
Considering that we’d both had a grand total of four hours’ sleep the night before, we crashed pretty early and it was about midday the next day before we made our way to the Mercato, a giant two-story warehouse which is the pride and joy of Florence’s foodies. It cost about eight euros to buy cherries, peaches, fresh spaghetti, tomato sauce and spiced olive oil, and then another eight euros to buy a fresh mozzarella. Totally worth it.
In the afternoon we got our first big culture hit in the Accademia gallery, home to Michelangelo’s ‘David’. He is displayed in the centre of a T-shaped room so you can walk around and admire him from every angle. The same room houses Michelangelo’s unfinished series of sculptures, “The Prisoners”. He carved their torsos and limbs but not their heads, hands or feet, which creates the stunning impression that they are straining to pull themselves out of the block of marble. A real highlight, which deserves more love. Elsewhere in the museum, Louise was lost in medievalist heaven amidst the glimmering altarpieces and manuscripts, featuring one from Oxford’s very own Ashmolean museum!
On day three we went to the Uffizi, an amazing U-shaped gallery on the banks of the Arno. After some very successful haggling over the price of a poster in the courtyard in the middle of the U, we went in and sneakily crashed a guided tour to get a personal commentary on the collection, which seems to be made up pretty much entirely of masterpieces. One room has the giant Botticelli canvas “The Birth of Venus” on one wall and another giant Botticelli canvas, “Spring”, on the opposite wall. We took selfies with our favourite works because we’re awful.
By day four, we were overconfident in our ability to soak up culture and totally exhausted ourselves, beginning with an early morning climb up the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, a medieval centre of government, to get a great view over the city. Then we headed to the Palazzo Pitti and got lost in the gorgeous and unexpectedly huge Boboli gardens. The Palazzo houses a museum of costume, everything from the clothes Cosimo de’ Medici was buried in, to 1980s couture. We also looked around its gallery of modern art, providing great inspiration for Charlotte’s essays on Italian nationalism, and the museum of the house itself, which became home to the Medici family when they decided the Palazzo Medici wasn’t grand enough (seriously).
Our pensioner’s day trip came at a depressingly early start the following day. A multi-lingual coach tour drove us through rambling Tuscan hills to a brisk walking tour of Siena, where we admired the cathedral, the famous Palio Square and learnt more about their tradition of biannual horseraces, in which each quarter of the city sends one horse to compete. San Gimignano, the medieval Manhattan, was superbly impressive as ruined cities go.
We rounded off the last couple of days of our trip seeing the main religious monuments that Florence has to offer. The magnificent cathedral took up most of our penultimate day, and we climbed up the dome, much to our amazement, and surpassing our yearly dose of exercise! The views from the top were not only mesmerising, but Facebook-cover photo worthy - impressive indeed! Next on the hit list was Santa Croce (which features in E.M Forster’s novel A Room With a View), containing the tombs of numerous famous Florentines and yet more artistic masterpieces, notably frescoes by Giotto in which one can see the beginning of Renaissance style. Finally we battled security to visit the Grand Sinagoga-come Temple, a stunning feat of architecture in a Moorish design.
Our final evening saw us battle the city’s in-built Stairmaster again to the Piazzale Michelangelo, featuring breath-taking views of the river Arno and the city at dusk. It was here that we felt if we were to conclude something from our trip, it’s that it’s hard not to be in love with Italy!
Charlotte Ward, 3rd year Historian & Louise Naudé, 3rd year French and Italian