Florence II: The Pimping of Venus

This is Part II: containing the Uffizi, Brancacci, Ognissanti, Santa Maria Novella, and San Marco. Part I, with Orsanmichele, San Miniato al Monte, Santa Croce, La Specola and Santa Trinita is here.

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Florence I: Red Meat

On our last night in Florence, we decided to splash out by booking a good trattoria and ordering the signature dish of the city; the bistecca alla fiorentina, a huge slab of beefsteak on the bone, cooked very rare. It is expensive, and priced by the kilogram. When we asked for it, the waiter said the smallest piece going that night was 1.2kg. A few minutes later, a mountain of steak was set down before us. Cooked to the brink of charcoal on the outside and scarcely at all on the inside, it was rich, juicy, well-seasoned, full of flavour and quite hard work; they talk about rare meat being pink on the inside but this was the purple of the Fiorentina football shirt. You have to apply some elbow grease to cut through the tendons and chew the meat, yet it is soft and slides gently down the throat. Our tactic was to dive in without abandon in the hope that most of the steak would be eaten by the time the message that we were full got from our stomachs to our brains. The mood of decadence was heightened by the fact that house wine was only sold by the litre, meaning that I put away a bottle of wine at the same time and left the place punchdrunk. The richness and the excess and the struggle to take it all in seemed to sum up the experience of visiting Florence.

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Siena: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso

With so much of the core of Italian cities preceding the creation of Italy by several centuries, it is perhaps inevitable that for all their cosmetic similarities, every one has a rather unique look and feel. Siena, however, perennially identified as the archetypal Gothic city, still struck me as a particularly singular place. Plague and foreign invasion meant that an important capital city of 100,000 was reduced within a few years to an insignificant market town of 8,000, giving the city the San Gimignano effect a thousandfold. Walk in from the bus terminus and you will begin to sense it right away; spend any length of time in the town and you will probably come to think that the unusual layout of the town, as much as the Assassin’s Creed look of the buildings, marks Siena out as extraordinary. Think of the famous, distinctively shell-shaped Piazza del Campo as a spider, and the rest of Siena is its web. The streets shoot out in rays from this magnificent centre, and it feels as if the whole of Siena consists of horseshoe-shaped corsos reflecting the shape of the Campo, like outward ripples; a sort of Gothic Amsterdam. The streets incline slightly downhill towards the Campo and if you go for an aimless stroll you will inevitably gravitate there as if the town were a giant pinball board (with the Campo’s tourist-trap pavement cafés perhaps acting as the flippers sending you rushing back out). Because of this, Siena might just have been the perfect place for us to endure a Dantean odyssey and be taught a salutary lesson…

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