Travel from Rome was hampered by an accident on the busy roadway. Our tour bus crawled along, but I didn’t mind. It gave me time to catch my journal up-to-date. The next day we drove into Florence and walked to the Piazza of the Duomo in a cold, biting wind. The green, white, and pink marble adorning the many faces of the ancient facade was breathtaking. Our guide told us the geometric patterns in the mosaics are typical Florentine Renaissance. To me, they appeared almost Moorish or Byzantine. The arches are pointed – quite different from rounded Roman arches. Many of the statues and busts are by famous artists like Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
The famous dome is made of Terra Cotta tile and was constructed with an inner and outer dome formed at the same time – all without the benefit of scaffolding. What a feat!
Later we toured the inside of the building which was just as impressive as the outside.
Florence’s side streets display an interesting blend of medieval and modern. An interesting tidbit about housing. Because ground space was at a premium, many families built upward using multi-floored towers for their dwellings. Kitchens occupied the top floor so minimal damage resulted from frequent fires. Hooks embedded in walls near doorways revealed the fashion demands of the day. To keep hair and skin light (as the upper class preferred) lead-based cosmetics and animal urine were used. The hooks held tethered animals (usually horses) so maids could collect the urine used to wash their mistresses hair, bleaching it blond. Many women suffered from lead poisoning and other skin diseases from using beauty products.
The piazza outside the home of the Medici family contained several fountains and the original “David” carved by Michelangelo. A replica stands in its place now while the original rests inside to preserve it.
The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge into Florence not destroyed by the Germans in WWII. It houses gem and leather merchants. Farther down the Arno River a newer bridge showcased the fading sunlight.
The next day we flew out of Florence’s small airport to land in Madrid, Spain. Our luggage chose to take an extended Italian holiday and didn’t catch up with us for four days. (Mine and my husbands didn’t arrive until nearly a month later.) Thus our backpacking experience began.
Madrid and Toledo
Madrid’s city center contains many fine plaza’s. We arrived first to the Puerta del Sol and the statue of the bear and the Madrilena tree whose berries make you drunk after you eat them. The buildings – tall, typically-European marble constructions with iron balconies – and markets filled with tapas galore were impressive. We walked through the Plaza Mayor en route to our dinner restaurant. When we emerged, Madrid’s famous nightlife was just beginning to flourish. Buildings were lit in various hues. One gave a nod to Ukraine in yellows and blues.
We toured the Palacio Real – an impressive 2000 room structure of ornate design and decoration before traveling to 4000 year-old Toledo, former capital and Roman fortress city. I loved the ancient design and architecture. The narrow streets, merging of Roman, Arabic, and Jewish cultures, as well as the timeless feel of the cobbles, walls, and buildings sent me imagining life as it must have been before.
Our dinner in Madrid included tapas and a tuna band. The university men were talented, and it was a unique experience.
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If you didn’t read part 1 of the blog series, click here for Rome.
Next month: Barcelona and Valencia