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The cupola of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. Six hundred years after the dome was constructed, it is still the largest brick-and-mortar cupola in the world. If you could only pick one tourist activity to do in Firenze, climbing the stairs to the top of this dome would be it. The line may be long. The ticket is €10 and provides value with admission to several other worthy attractions.

 

If we exclude intra-city systems, I took my first true European train ride from Venezia into Firenze. The ride took two hours and five minutes and cost €19, but it would have been €45 if I had secured the reservation same-day. Bus, train, and even air routes vary as to their premiums for booking in advance. Some discount heavily for booking in advance. For other routes, one may as well wait until the last day or week since the premium may be nil. I often test dummy queries to see what the case may be.

2014-12-04 Battistero di San Giovanni

I was disappointed to see that the Battistero di San Giovanni is under renovation, although the interior can still be toured. The octagonal exterior and its three sets of bronze doors are famous.

 

The train station in Firenze was a 21-minute walk away from my Hotel Panama. A taxi ride would have taken seven minutes and cost €8 so I walked.

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Fiume Arno is a disgusting brown color. In 1966, the river flooded the city, killing more than 100 people and damaging tons of buildings and art.

 

This Hotel Panama is quite ordinary, barely in the top 40 percentile of available commercial lodging. The retail rate would have been $129, but with the help of some timely coupons months ago, I travel-hacked a daily rate of $14! I have a bed, a hot shower, and a sub-20-minute walk to the historic center. I do not need much else.

2014-12-04 Palazzo Pitti

Palazzo Pitti

 

In Italia at this time of year, there is only nine hours of daylight. It kicks a sense of urgency into me although the museums here are open later than in most cities, with many staying open until 18:50.

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Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

 

Firenze is splendid to walk around due to its Renaissance history and resulting architecture. It also has the best publicly available Wi-Fi network of any city I have visited on my world tour. One day, I wish to awake in a world where Internet access is freely available without having to stop at random street corners and checking to hop on a neighboring restaurant’s signal.

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View from the top of Campanile di Giotto (height 85 meters)

 

Italia is arguably the most visitable country in the world. It has the tourist infrastructure and features many of the greatest destinations: Roma, Siena, Sicily, Firenze, Venezia, Capri, etc. However, many people would be surprised to learn how third-world it can be. The Western Roman Empire ended more than 1500 years ago. The Repubblica di Venezia ceased more than two centuries ago. The country rejected monarchy in a referendum to become a republic only in 1946. Despite featuring a healthy purchasing power parity (PPP) figure, Italia’s economic freedom is worse than Samoa and the Kyrgyz Republic, according to the Heritage Foundation. Italia’s labor laws and venal politicians are notorious for perplexing market policies. This month, no less than The New York Times published an article that made a big deal of a Italian village having Internet access because one third of the population has never been online!

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Campanile di Giotto on the left. Cupola of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore on the right.

 

The city is an open-air museum. My favorite area is the Loggia dei Lanzi, adjacent to the Palazzo Vecchio. I love sculpture and enjoy Greek and Roman mythology. In a city that features the most famous sculptures of both Michelangelo and Donatello, both of which are Davids, I think the best piece is Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini. It helps to understand the story of Perseus, Medusa, Pegasus, Hermes, and associated gods, but in any case, the bronze work is visceral and stunningly bloodthirsty. The piazza and many sculptures in this area are free. The art and structures are in fantastic shape. Perseus and the other statues are about 500 years old! I was reminded of how old they are when I was viewing paintings that were hundreds of years old with the piazza and the sculptures in the exact same locations as today. Even though Firenze is now a normal city with luxury retail and tourist restaurants, I try to imagine what it must have been like when these great artists were competing with each other in the same city. Prior to visiting Firenze, my familiarity with the buildings come from playing the video game Assassin’s Creed II for 50 hours, which is wholly set in Florence, Venice, and Forli.

2014-12-04 Perseus with the head of Medusa

Perseus was one of the sons of Zeus. That’s Medusa’s head held up high in his left hand.

 

Firenze may feature the best gelato in the world. The majority of the gelato is artisanal. In the U.S., almost all the gelato you see in those glass display cases is factory-produced, with huge fruit chunks stuck into ice cream piled high. I never buy ice cream in shops in the U.S., but I was happy to eat it here.

2014-12-04 Hercules and Cacus

Many critics think Bandinelli’s sculpture of Hercules and Cacus sucks, largely because it stands in between Michelangelo’s David and Cellini’s Perseus!

 

2014-12-04 Loggia dei Lanzi

Loggia dei Lanzi. The massive arches contribute to the airy feel of the building. Notice how empty the Piazza della Signoria is. In August, it would be jam-packed with tourists.

 

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Food at La Prosciutteria, a delectable sandwich shop