“Caravaggio, Caravaggio …”
Of course we hurried. This was the troublesome young artist so famed in Naples. Long dead we thought so why here in Florence.
“Caravaggio!” The male voice was raised, impatient.
The voice, we discovered, echoed out of a small art studio and belonged to an anxious young man in a cravat. An older gentleman was beside him surrounded by expensively framed paintings.
Which was Caravaggio? We peered through the doorway forgetting our intrusion. Neither of the distracted men paid us any attention.
“Caravaggio!” This time it was a definite order and seemed to be aimed straight at us. We backed away and … then we saw him, hopping along the floor towards us.
Caravaggio was a large, independently-minded pigeon who looked like he had just decided to flop off his perch and make a break for freedom.
There was a brief scuffle of well-dressed shoo-ing and scolding from the two men until Caravaggio finally agreed to return to the back of the shop. Then the door was firmly closed.
Finally … personality amongst the works of art.
Celebrity status is known to be a mixed blessing with privacy its biggest casualty. If you happen to be a city there’s no way you’re going to get any privacy and that, as always, must take its toll on personality.
Florence, so beautiful and so famed, has no place to hide.
On our two-day visit in November everyone seemed to be there hurrying between attractions. How did the city feel? Unbalanced and a little stressed … at least until the Palermo Chapter of the HOGS rode into town, there for the fun of it.
We seemed to bump into them everywhere as they posed for selfies in amongst the antiquities. They were just beside us as we met this bride heading for Florence’s most famous bridge.
Florence is not a big city, it has a population of around 400,000, and many of its best-known sights are within a short walk of each other. That means that when the tourists are in town, over 7 million of them each year, with specific places to visit the heart of the city seems to stop. One academic paper I found put the number of annual visitors to Florence seven years ago at 32 million.
It’s easy to see why everyone keeps coming. There’s plenty to visit but the art, and not the people, are the point.
So – worth a visit? Yes, if you want to ‘do’ Florence but don’t underestimate the crowds.
Warnings – there are two types of predators in Florence:
1) aggressive beggars particularly around the Duomo;
2) mosquitoes – large and persistent, especially at night.
The best way to visit? My recent visits have both been from Naples. It’s three hours by train on the Frecciarossa or about four hours by car.
Tips: I’d suggest spending a night either in the city or close by. That way you’ll be able to walk its piazzas in the early morning and at night when you should have a better chance of some space.
We spent one night at the guesthouse Casa Howard, which is an easy walk to the main sights. It’s not a hotel so is able to charge less for fewer staff and no meal options. Once you’ve met the concierge and collected the key to your room you’re free to come and go through its huge, unannounced entrance as you wish. Reasons to stay there: the rooms are as individual and unexpected as you could possibly want. I can’t speak for them all but ours to the back of the house was comfortable and quiet. We did manage to take a peek at two others.