Florence

When I say that one could write a whole book on Florence, it’s really not necessary to quantify the statement. I mentioned to friends that I was off to visit that beautiful Tuscan city and seven different guidebooks came my way (and that’s on top of my own collection).

The architectural headlines of the city are the Ponte Vecchio (‘old bridge’) and the domed cathedral (il Duomo). Cultural treats include several world-class art galleries and the Galleria dell’Accademia which houses Michaelangelo’s David. For me, the interesting bits were different entirely.

In reality, Florence looks nothing like it does in the tourist guides. Typical photos of the city show acres of red clay roofs but as the buildings are tall and the pavements narrow, these delightful expanses are rarely glimpsed. At least the city is blessed with a number of unique features at eye level.

The first quirky difference with England that I noticed might bore many but it’s worth a mention nevertheless. Locally, our drainpipes either vanish under the ground at the fronts of buildings or allow water to gush out onto pavements or into small drains. In Florence, they travel down the fronts of buildings as one would expect and then, just below first floor level, disappear into the façade, never to be seen again.

I tend not to be bowled over by palaces and cathedrals; the small details all around are much more exciting. The pairs of huge fortified wooden doors at the entrances of most buildings in the centre of Florence are one such (not so small!) example. Countless arrays of brass doorbells characterise the streetscape too.

The River Arno flows through Florence and is very different to most other rivers with which I am familiar. Presumably its various weirs give depth to each section as the river changes level in its path down from the mountains. But only a trickle passed over each barricade which appeared to contradict the need for such high banks. I later discovered that the river goes from one extreme to the other (and in 1996 a devastating flood led to many deaths and the destruction of ancient works of art).

I should thank my friend Julia Burdet for lending me her unique flat in the heart of Florence. Situated in an ancient guild tower with extravagant ceilings (and the biggest bathroom that I’ve ever used), the apartment couldn’t have been better.