Today we got up at seven o’clock to find the Azamara Pursuit slowly sailing into the port of Livorno, which would be the gateway to Florence (or, to give it its Italian name, Firenze). We had to meet in the Cabaret Lounge at 7.45am to register for our full-day excursion at eight, so we ate our breakfast in the Windows Café as usual then hotfooted it back to 6062 to gather together everything we’d need for today: tour tickets, photo ID, vaccination proof, mask, hand gel etc. in addition to essentials such as money and credit cards. Then we went along to the lounge and sat to await the call to disembark.
Around 8.15am our tour was announced, so we went down to Deck 3 and down the gangplank to the waiting buses. We were told it would take about an hour and a half to get to Florence, depending on the traffic, so in the meantime it was just a case of relaxing and enjoying the journey, with our guide pointing out anything of interest on the way. Once we reached the outskirts of the city of Florence, our guide came round and handed out radios and headsets, with instructions on how to operate them. This meant that everyone would be able to hear her clearly on our walking tour through the city.
At about 10.30am the bus pulled up in a street and we all alighted. We had a walk of about 10 minutes until we reached the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Academy of Florence Gallery) which is most famous for housing one of Michelangelo’s most celebrated sculptures, that of David. It also has other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300–1600, the Trecento to the Late Renaissance. It is smaller and more specialized than the Uffizi, the main art museum in Florence.
Outside, there were several queues and our group was asked to wait while the guide went inside to collect our tickets. Tickets were allocated at 15-minute intervals to help with crowd control; our allocated time was 10.30 but it was actually 20 minutes after that that we were finally allowed inside.
Inside, there were many paintings and scultpures, many of them religious themed. There were some of Michelangelo’s earlier works; some were unfinished or more roughly hewn; it was as if the great sculptor got better at it the more he did (as is the case with most things). None of the works were signed; in fact the only work that does bear the signature of Michelangelo is La Pieta which can be found in the Vatican (and which we saw on our visit there in 1995).
Of course, there was one statue in particular that we couldn’t wait to see. David is famous the world over, and is a masterpiece of detail. It is a 17ft marble statue of the Biblical figure David, who conquered the giant Goliath. David was originally commissioned as one of a series of statues of prophets to be positioned along the roofline of the east end of Florence Cathedral (which we would visit later), but was instead placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of civic government in Florence, in the Piazza della Signoria, where it was unveiled on 8 September 1504. The statue was moved to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1873, and later replaced at the original location by a replica.
The dimensions and detail were stunning. The male figure was perfectly proportioned apart from the unusually large hands and head; but there was method in the sculptor’s madness as the head and hands would look in proportion to the rest of the body when viewed from below (as the statue would have been if placed in the location for which it was intended). Looking at David’s face, you could see the calculation and concentration in his eyes as he weighed up his chances of defeating Goliath with the slingshot that he carries in his left hand, slung over his shoulder. The work was so intricate you could see individual tendons, muscles and veins; I could hardly take my eyes of it and photographed the statue from all angles.
After we’d feasted our eyes and looked around the rest of the gallery, we made our way back outside onto the street to wait for the rest of our party. There were many art shops and street vendors selling posters and reproductions of famous works of art, but we didn’t buy anything for the simple reason that we have no more wall space at home!
Once everyone was out of the gallery, our group reformed and we walked along the bustling streets to see our next famous sight, the incredible Duomo di Firenze (Florence Cathedral), or to give it its formal name, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower). The detail was simply breathtaking. The building was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio and construction began in 1296 and was completed in 1436. The exterior of the basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink, bordered by white, and has an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade.
Of course, there was also the famous brick-built dome, which was not added until 100 years after construction of the cathedral began.
As if there wasn’t enough to see, opposite the cathedral was the Florence Baptistry, and its amazing golden gates known as the Gates of Paradise, each panel of which featured scenes from the Bibles. One again, the work was dazzling.
As we walked along in the hot sunshine, my feet were aching and we were ready for something to eat and drink, but there was just so much to see and do. What a truly beautiful city Florence is! We walked along until we came to a large square, which our guide told us was the Piazza della Signoria, and this contained a number of significant statues, including a copy of the David statue at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio, a large statue of a man on horseback – this was the former Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’ Medici.
There was also a statue of King Neptune within a fountain, and another statue taken from Roman mythology of the god Perseus holding aloft the head of the gorgon Medusa. So many statues and works of art, each with a fascinating history. It was incredible.
Our final visit, before our welcome lunch break, was to see the famous Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone arch bridge over the Arno River. It is noted for the shops built along it; building shops on such bridges was once a common practice.
We then walked to a large square, around which were numerous shops, bars and restaurants. Our guide took us to a shop selling high-quality hand-made leather goods, and the propietor came out to greet us. A couple of doors down from the shop was an attractive looking restaurant. We were advised that if we purchased anything in the leather shop there would be a discount for cruise passengers, but we were too hungry and decided to give it a miss. It was now 1.15pm; our guide told us to be back outside the shop for half-past two for our next visit, this time to the legendary city of Pisa.
Inside the restaurant we were shown to a table and each given a lunch menu. We first of all ordered a large beer each, the hungrily perused the menu. I ordered a starter consisting of locally-produced prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella; it came with a side order of freshly-sliced avocado. The portion was large; it was almost a meal in itself and I was pleased I had only selected salad for my main course. Trevor, predictably, ordered a pizza. 🙂
My salad consisted of lots of rocket, olives and fresh tomatoes with a basil-infused olive oil dressing. It was accompanied by a basket of fresh bread. We both passed on a dessert. The meal was not particularly cheap – it was over 52 euros which would be about 44 quid as the pound is quite weak at the moment. Nonetheless it was an authentic Italian meal in a charming restaurant, and we were on holiday after all. 🙂
Afterwards we used the restrooms and went back outside into the sunshine, as we still had about 30 minutes before we needed to be back with our group. There was an interesting-looking cathedral and we laughed as we overheard a couple of blokes behind us comment “ABC – another bl**dy church”. 🙂
A quick look at Google identified the church as the Franciscan church of Santa Croce. It was built in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, its facade of inlaid colored marble added in the 1800s. Along with its exceptional frescoes and other artistic attractions, it is notable as the burial place of Florentine luminaries, including Michelangelo and Galileo. We thought about having a quick look inside, but there were large queues, and we didn’t really have the time.
Back with the rest of our group, we returned to the waiting coach and settled in our seats for the 1¼ hour ride to Pisa. Many people dozed on the coach after all our walking around in the hot sun; I spent some time reading and looking over the photos I had taken so far today.
Soon our guide pointed out the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in the distance, as our driver made his way to the coach park near Piazza dei Miracoli (Miracle Square). We all alighted and walked for about 10 minutes past stalls selling plastic models of the Leaning Tower, postcards, magnets and other ‘holiday tat’. We were told to be back at the coach for 5.30pm from where it would only be a 45 minute ride back to the port of Livorno and our ship.
As we walked into Miracle Square, we could see the amazing buildings on each side. The Piazza dei Miracoli is a walled 8.87-hectare area partly paved and partly grassed (signs at regular intervals admonished us to Keep Off The Grass), designated as an important centre of European medieval art and one of the finest architectural complexes in the world. Considered sacred by the Catholic Church, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile (better known as the Leaning Tower) and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery).
Of course, the most famous site was the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s ironic that it probably wouldn’t have been as famous if it didn’t lean. Construction of the tower started in 1173 and, before the second tier was completed, the tower began to sink in 1178, due to a a mere three-metre foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil, a design that was flawed from the beginning. Construction was subsequently halted for almost a century, as the Republic of Pisa was almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence. This allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled. Over the centuries, remedial work has taken place to prevent the tower leaning over greater than its usual 3.97 degrees. By 1990 the lean had increased to 5.5 degrees, and between 1993 and 2001 the tower was attached by strong cables to nearby buildings in order to try to pull it back upright again. I remembered seeing the cables on our last visit here in 1998.
As we walked along, taking many photos, we saw lots of people standing in the foreground with the tower in the background, doing the usual pose with hands out to the side, looking as if they were “holding up” the tower. 🙂
As we started making our way back again, we came across a large statue depicting Romulus and Remus. In Roman mythology, the story of Romulus and Remus tells of the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus, following his killing of Remus. The image of the she-wolf suckling the twins in their infancy has been a symbol of the city of Rome and the ancient Romans since at least the 3rd century BC.
Back on the coach once again, we handed our radios and headsets back to our guide and settled down in our seats for the return to the ship, after a very full day. We arrived back in Livorno about 6.15pm and because we still had to be washed and changed for dinner we decided we wouldn’t bother going to the restaurant tonight.
Instead, we thought we’d go up to the Living Room where wine and tapas is served every day from 5.00-8.00pm. We therefore enjoyed some savoury treats washed down with a couple of glasses of prosecco (which went down very well indeed), and we sat and relaxed and whiled away the time while we listened to Lucky Charm playing tunes with a Latin beat.
At 7.45 we made our way up to the pool deck for a very special open-air performance by classical sopranos the Incanto Quartet. As we arrived, we were greeted by cruise director Ernest Marchain as well as various officers. Seats had been covered in fabric and laid out in rows, each with a thoughtfully-placed blanket in case anyone felt a little cold once the sun went down. Many of the seats were already full, even though the performance was not due to start until 8.15pm, but in the meantime waiters were coming round with prosecco, wine, martini and sherry, along with tasty hot and cold canapés.
The Incanto Quartet were fantastic. Four lovely ladies in matching sequinned evening dresses all singing in harmony, as we sat in the balmy open air, sipping prosecco and listening to the much-loved and recognised classical pieces. As the dusk gathered and little twinkling lights came on at the pool deck, here we were in Italy after another day of art, history, architecture, culture and now this wonderful music. How absolutely brilliant was this? 🙂
The performance lasted about 45 minutes and ended to rapturous applause, then we went along to the Living Room for music at the opposite end of the scale – yes, tonight was karaoke night! 😀 😀
As we took our ‘regular’ stools at the bar, the stage was already set up with a large white screen and a microphone on a stand. I went to DJ Nelson and asked him for the karaoke song list, but what an absolute disappointment – none of the songs that I do were on it! Not one. I don’t know who provides the music but I had hardly heard of many of the songs and a lot of them were American which I didn’t know at all. I wasn’t going to bother, but in the end Lee, the assistant cruise director, persuaded me to get up and do Tainted Love by Soft Cell, saying that if I was appalling I wouldn’t see anyone after this cruise anyway! 🙂
It was a very lively crowd in the Living Room tonight. Lots of people got up to sing and we were sure some of them must have been semi-professional because they were very good, and didn’t need to look at the lyrics. But what added a totally surreal note to the evening was when Pinky, a flamboyant gay guy, effortly seemed to take over Ernest’s cruise director role by choosing the song Summer Lovin’ from the movie Grease, and saying into the mic, “come on now, can we have all the ladies on this side, and all the gents on this side”, then had them all singing the appropriate lines. I was falling about in my seat laughing, Ernest’s face was a picture and when the song finished, Pinky wasn’t done yet… oh no. He proceeded to take the mic and tell everyone a really funny monologue with an excellent punchline. 😀 😀
What a guy; I think everyone on the entire ship knew him, he had such a fun personality. We asked him if he was a professional entertainer and he did admit he used to do stand-up comedy; that much you could tell.
All in all, we had a great night in the Living Room; our drinks glasses on the bar magically seemed to refill themselves, and it was well after midnight when we retired for the evening after an action-packed, really good day.
The Azamara Pursuit was remaining in port in Livorno overnight and we didn’t have any excursions planned for tomorrow, so a nice ‘lie-in’ in the morning then. We slept well. 🙂