aCanadianInBrazil does Florence

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Florence (Firenze in Italian) was a very beautiful city, but I found it very small. Minha Namorada and I were there for three nights, and with the exception of a couple museums, we saw basically everything. Now, our timing has to be taken with a grain of salt, as we did travel shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, and the tourist crowds were significantly reduced, but there just wasn’t that much to do in the City. I think a week there would be far too long.

One significant drawback of the small crowds was the lack of taxis when we arrived. We ended up waiting at the train station for over half an hour, even after calling one. Note: do not expect anyone to help you find a taxi – I found the people at the train station were too busy to be willing to help. Finally, one older gentleman agreed to help us, despite his poor English. After that, we learned to call ahead to arrange for a taxi.

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Michaelangelo’s David, at 5.17 meters tall, it was much bigger than I ever imagined.
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It was weird to view Michaelangelo’s David from angles not normally photographed

The best part of our trip was probably seeing Michelangelo’s David. Now, I had known for a long time of the name, but it was only when there that I realized it was a sculpture of King David from the Bible. As well, David is much larger than I ever would have guessed. Sadly, it has been damaged over the years, including by some saboteurs, but it still is a wondrous site to see. Looking upon it, one gets the impression that this marble man could move at any moment.

As well of interest, is the fact that many famous artists from history are buried in Florence. Viewed as a high honour to be buried in the churches, the Basilica di Santa Croce is the burial place of Michelangelo, Bartolini, Galileo, Machiavelli, and many others. The reason for the burials in Florence, is that it has a long and storied history as a center of wealth and intellect. It is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and even served at the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1865-1871.

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Some of the artwork of the Basilica di Santa Croce, the burial place of Michaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and others

Florence is also extremely walkable, and is viewed as one of the most walkable cities in the world. Other than when you have to carry your luggage to and from the train station, I don’t see any need for taxis/transit. We booked our tour of the Florence Duomo online ahead of time, which included skip-the-line passes, but you should be aware that there are also free tours offered in the Duomo. So, check those times, and if you don’t mind a wait in line, you may be able to save your money.

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The inside of the Florence Duomo, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. He refused to tell anyone how he built it, to protect his work and prevent others from copying it. Entire theses have been written by architecture PhDs trying to replicate this fifteenth century work
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The Florence Duomo is also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and remains a fully functioning church

One thing to be aware of, depending on where you stay, when hotels offer an “Italian Breakfast” in the room, it will be basically a croissant and a coffee. Even ordering additional food for breakfast, Minha Namorada and I were often left hungry in the morning. I felt like a Hobbit always wondering what I wanted for “Second Breakfast.”

aCanadianInBrazil does Rome!

For our Honeymoon, Minha Namorada and I we went to Italy, and our first stop was Rome.

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Rome is a beautiful history with an amazing history – almost everyone studied the Roman Empire in school, and Rome was, of course, the epicenter of the empire. Walking down the street, you will see amazing sights that you can’t imagine in Canada. 500-year-old buildings are “new” there, with even the historic first churches being relatively modern compared to the surroundings. One of my favourite sites we happened upon by chance, we just walked a corner and noticed a cordoned off area, and it was actually the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. We were surrounded by such history, it was amazing.

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This tree marks the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed by the Senate. Supposedly, 60 people agreed to stab him, but he had only 23 wounds

The Tour of the Coliseum was fascinating; at the same time, it felt both larger and smaller than I had imagined. The most crazy part was seeing the inner workings from underneath the floor of the coliseum. I’d heard that animals of all sorts were kept there, and entire teams of workers were kept to create large battles between men, or beasts, or even sometimes mimicking battles at sea, but I never thought of all the mechanisms that were needed underneath – in a time before the light bulb, there was an entire underground theater production, where people would toil for days without seeing the sun to put on the gladiator games. While gladiator battles were obviously controversial, it was fascinating to see the mechanisms and technology that existed even then.

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Roman Coliseum – apparently all sorts of people and animals were kept underneath in nearly complete darkness for days before their gladiatorial battles

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I didn’t find most of the museums very interesting – it was far more fascinating to walk the same streets as St. Peter, Mark Antony, or Cleopatra would have walked. To see the stones worn from the steps of people millennia ago. These were things we simply don’t have in Canada. Museums move things from their original location, and don’t always display them as they once were. One more “modern” (by Roman standards) area where I did find things fascinating was the churches in Rome – and there are a lot. Generally, within a block, you would see two or three churches. And they actually had amazing artifacts in them. We saw pieces of the Jesus’ cradle, and the chains that St. Peter wore when he was arrested before being put to death, and numerous other artifacts with a rich storied history. Because the churches tended to only have one artifact, I found they had much better descriptions than the museums, which are more worried about keeping traffic flowing and being concise in their descriptions. Churches are more contemplative locations, and the history helps show the significance of the place. As well, because Rome used to be the center of the Papal States (which continue today as Vatican City), the previous Popes placed a strong emphasis on commissioning the very best artwork for the churches. The statues, paintings, and carvings in the churches were among the best that I saw – and churches are almost universally free to enter.

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The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was one of my favourite churches in Rome, beautiful inside, and with a fragment of the cradle of Jesus Christ

Some tips about travelling to Rome though:
1. Tipping is expected in your hotel room for the maid staff.
2. Tipping is not expected at restaurants, generally they won’t even give you an opportunity to do so.
3. Almost nothing is included when you go to restaurants, water is extra, as is table bread (which they may bring even if you don’t order it), and always make sure to check whether there is a “service” or “table charge” before going into a restaurant.
4. Uber is more expensive, by far, than Taxis.
5. Despite the reputation, the trains aren’t any more reliable than TTC/GO.
6. Rely heavily on your hotel concierge and TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations, we chose not to and often found the food was no better than is available in Canada. We probably only had two really good Italian meals, and one of those has a franchise on Yonge Street in Toronto.
7. Prices are expensive, even Europeans we met visiting from outside of Italy complained to us about the prices throughout Italy.