Apparently Florence hospitals treat about a dozen people a year for sensory overload – too much art is what the guidebook said. But I feel it is Florence as a whole: the art, the traffic, the food, the heat and the markets that overwhelm the visitor.
I was feeling intimidated by Florence even before we got here. You see, I don’t really like art, shameful though that is to admit. But my daughter insisted that we must see this city and it’s treasures. So here we are.
Small markets filled with dried and canned foods that I’ve never seen before dot the block. They might have two different brands of canned jackfruit but no other canned fruit.
We bought fruit, nuts, fresh pasta, bread, prosciutto and smoked cheese in the shape of a hinder, all from different vendors. We bought meatballs in sauce from a funny guy who made us laugh about our attempt at Italian. We were set for dinner.
Then we wandered through the outdoor stalls, which provide a glimpse into the past when Florence was renowned for dyed woolens (wool from the north and dyes from the orient) and leather goods. I felt sorry for the woman selling her beautiful wool capes and scarves – the heat was killing her sales.
But be careful when you reach the intersection with cross-streets where cars are allowed. Typically they are speeding too fast for conditions on narrow streets, often without sidewalks, crowded with pedestrians and bicycles, even going the wrong way on one-way streets. While traffic is not allowed in the city center, that seems to make the traffic just outside the center all the worse.
Then there’s the famous architecture. For the most part, Florence is not as pretty as Venice. But it has some beauties like the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (or the Duomo) – white, green, gray and pink marble in a grand awe-inspiring structure. By contrast it’s interior is plain with the exception of the painted dome.
To complete our sensory journey, we rounded out the day with a visit to the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. One of the oldest pharmacies/perfumeries in the world, Dominican monks who started it cultivated medicinal herbs in their gardens to make balms, ointments and medicines.
They opened the pharmacy and their products to the public in 1612. The Italian government confiscated the church’s assets in 1866, but sold the pharmacy to the nephew of the last monastic director. The business is still in the family.
As someone who spent part of her professional career working with fragrances, I found this place fascinating. The many rooms smelled faintly of rose, and were the original production facilities for their many products between 1612 and 1848.
Wish me luck. Tomorrow we tackle the art with a tour of the Uffizi. I already got a taste today with a glimpse of the fake David outside.
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
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