Lavarapido and Brunelleschi’s Duomo

17 July 2013

Laundry expedition day. A 12-minute walk this morning to the Wash and Dry on via del Campuccio (just in from the intersection with via dei Serragli.) Our entire mountain of laundry fit in one washing machine, with room to spare! Seven euro for the wash, 3.50 euro for the dry. A lot cheaper than the 36 euro it would have been at the lavendaria just round the corner!

I had my camera in my bag because it is my constant companion. We both laughed when we saw a poster on the wall labelled Laundry Art, with some neat artistic photos taken in laundromats (lavarapido). There was even an email to send images to. So how could I not?

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Laundry done, we braced ourselves to face the first serious queues of the trip. So many people had said to me, ‘You have to climb Brunelleschi’s dome. It’s awesome.” While we could have booked a guided tour online, it was really rather expensive. And, having paid for tours of the Vatican and the bus tour to Siena and San Gimignano, we elected to take our chances.

The line to get into the Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Florence) was longish by the time we got there just after 10am, but in the shade. And it was moving pretty quickly. Free entry to the church, with not really that much to see inside. Whilst the outside is over-the-top decorated with white, pink and green marble (14th century style, as we saw in Siena)…

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…the inside is sparsely decorated (except for the beautiful dome.) This is in distinct contrast to the churches of Rome, which are boring old brown brick on the outside but stunningly and lavishly decorated on the inside. According to Paolo, this is because in Florence when you are in church it is just “you and God” — no need for all the decoration. This statement sounded remarkably Protestant, so I did have the cheek to ask him if all the Christian churches were Catholic. He said yes. (I have subsequently found that there is both an elaborate Jewish temple and a Russian Orthodox Church in Florence as well.)

Interestingly, all of the tourist-information websites that we checked before departing for Italy said that to enter religious buildings both men and women must have their shoulders and knees covered — so we both brought appropriate clothing. But the vigour with which this is enforced is variable. Most of the women under about 30 are wearing hot-pants-length shorts (regardless of whether their figures make this a wise choice of clothing!!) and tank tops. Most of the blokes are in shorts of varying lengths, and T-shirts. The major churches — like that in Siena and the Florence Cathedral — give inappropriately clad women fabricy-papery shawl things to cover shoulders. No one seems to care about the legs. And there were men everywhere in shorts. Odd. Many women had brought a scarf or a light shirt that they could throw over their shoulders for the duration of the church visit.

After about 15 minutes in the cattedrale we trundled out into the baking sun again, into the throngs of tourists — all with cameras. When we had asked an official-looking gentlemen inside the church where we could get to the dome, he said, “Round the other side,” so that’s where we went. We joined the queue (not too long). After we had been standing in it for about 10 minutes or so, the Chinese-American girl behind us asked if we had tickets. We said, no; couldn’t we buy them at the door? No, she said. You had to buy the ticket before getting in the queue. The people immediately in front of us (a Kiwi mum and university-age son) didn’t know this either. So Dave and the son set off in quest of a ticket office while the mum and I held the place in the queue. Happily, they returned, tickets in hand, before we got to the door — where a German family was waiting, without tickets, for a member of their party to return with them. The only signs we saw explaining the ticketing arrangements were visible from the very late stages of the queue, and right by the entry door. Not helpful, Florence!

So we climbed the 463 steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s monumental dome. Kinda cool, stepping your way up the narrow, steep, tightly wound stairs of a building that was standing when people were dying of the plague! (Washed hands carefully before lunch!!)

We came out on to a balcony inside the dome first. Taking photographs was tricky, because above the handrail a pane of glass (probably 9 feet at its top) prevents, presumably, suicidal maniacs from despoiling the floor. It is covered with fingerprints and smudges in most places. There’s not much light, either, so the ISO was up at 1600 again.

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But from there you get to climb up a bit further and out into the open air on the balcony around the outside of the dome. Great views, and a chance for the sweat to dry after the climb. (Ick, I know, but true!)

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The campanile (bell tower) just lower than us.

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And our first cheesy “I was here” snapshot.

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Back on the ground again, and not only dodging people, cars, motorbikes and cyclists:

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Can’t help but feel sorry for the horses, mushed in amongst thousands of people in the scorching heat, standing on cobblestones all day. But they all seemed healthy enough.

A quiet afternoon, with me dragging Dave all over the place trying to find another Cuoieria Fiorentina shop to buy a small leather backpack. We didn’t find a Cuoieria Fiorentina — later discovering that despite the information on their website, they only have shops outside of the main centre! — but I did get a leather backpack made by a retirement-aged artigianale (artisan) leather craftsman named Artpell Coke (which is stamped on the bag). He and his wife run the shop and sold me the bag (with no English whatsoever). How cool is that? Also stamped on the bag is Esercizi storici fiorentini. I googled it, and found:

In order to safeguard this heritage [of Florentine businesses], the municipal government has established a special registry for Historic Florentine Businesses. The registry is a tool to valorize and promote these living jewels and to tell the world about them through this site and periodical publications. It has already created a distinctive and immediately recognizable logo that identify the genuineness and typical nature of the Florentine tradition.

So I have a genuine piece of Florence — which, again, smells divinely like a new saddle. Mmm.

Still haven’t solved the Seagate hard drive problem, despite having received a reply from the technical support desk in record time. Their advice: push the reset button with a paperclip. I tried that, but the reset didn’t take. Sigh. Well, I have a growing stable of memory cards now, and a very nearly full iPad — so possibly a dwindling in the number of photos I can post, as I can’t use Snapseed to manipulate images on the camera card!

Anyhow, one last quintessentially Italian image for today.

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Uffizi Gallery tomorrow.

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