Wednesday

In Florence with Charles

I don’t know about your experience at school. My history teacher wasn't the most entertaining or engaging person. She didn’t manage to interest me in history at all. I had to drag myself to class, rather than to feel I couldn’t wait for the next sitting. As I follow Charles around the historical centre of Florence I think how easy it is to interest people in history, if you are the right person for the job. Charles walks me through four centuries of action-packed history with ease. He would make the perfect history teacher: a great entertainer and knowledgeable at the same time. Within moments I am hooked. Often it feels like he can read my mind. When I am about to ask a question he already answers it. You are dying to know who Charles is, right? I better start right at the beginning.


After driving through big parts of Italy, from the south all the way up north, with many Espresso (plus chocolate) stops at several different road houses, I eventually arrive in Florence shortly before
sunset. The blue hour is the most magical of the day. Best of all, before the stores close I manage to buy two pairs of very soft leather sandals.

Florence is super busy with tourists, there are certain spots in town, where they are almost crawling one over the other like ants, and I totally understand why, it is beautiful. As one of the 380,000 Florentians told me “Florence is busy with visitors for the most part of the year, but a little quieter in January and February.” Looking at the crowds I instantly know that it would have taken hours to enter the Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David and to visit the inside of the stunning Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, which together with the bell tower and the baptistery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Piazza de Duomo. 


In this town, you certainly heard that it is the centre of the Italian Renaissance, did happen so much over the last centuries. I was looking for a way to learn as much as possible about it. After a quick research, I decide to join a guided walking tour. Wherever I am, I secretly laugh about all people who follow a tour guide in the same way custard runs down a sponge cake. You know the guides are often carrying a crumbled and red umbrella. Luckily for me I get a radio headphone, and Charles the guide does not carry an umbrella but pretty sexy sunglasses. People as far away as Pisa must hear my massive sigh of relief.

There was a lot of mayhem, murder, and fighting in Florence. The nobles and the church with the pope at its head are usually cliquey but there are also fascinating intrigues going on between them. The merchants and the bankers have their arguments, the poor workers always at the very end of everything. Business is mainly about wool and money lending. And in between all of them there are also the artists and big thinkers who try to find their own way and express their views. The result of all of this is a city which produces pearls of art and literature. Florence only is this magical place it is today because of all these people who gave the city life.

Along the way we learn so much about Michelangelo and have an intimate look at David, and yes, he is quite a sight for sore eyes. We also meet Cosimo de’ Medici, the very powerful and famous leader of Florence and hear about his fascination of ancient Greece and his obsession with Plato. His son Piero and soon after his grandson Lorenzo take over from him. Young Lorenzo hasn’t got enough experience and nearly gets killed in an assassination plotted by the archbishop and the Pazzi family. As always in life the reason for this is money and the power that comes with it. To cut a long story short the Medici stay in power for years to come and Lorenzo even manages to make one of his sons a cardinal. 


We jump on to the bonfire of vanities held by Savonarola, that guy who couldn’t stand any luxury and burns everything that gets in his way. He is too extreme in his anti-hedonism. People back then already understood that it is best to trim negativity from your life. Savonarola gets burned in the end (folks very obviously behaved rather drastic in those days). And years later the Medici’s are back in power ...



The stories told by Charles are dramatic up until a point where I often think this could not have happened … but it did happen, the history of Florence is sheer entertainment. While we say goodbye on Ponte Vecchio we learn when the bridge was build, what happened over the centuries, and why butchers had to stop selling their wares on it. At the very last minute we find out for which "friend" Mussolini replaced old windows on the bridge with bigger ones.

Verdict: The tour is for literally everyone who enjoys good history stories. You wouldn’t need to know anything about European history beforehand. Just to give you two tiny examples. Charles didn’t even mind to explain (general knowledge) things to the group, as in what guilds are and which role they played. And he also took the extra time to explain about Michelangelo’s work in the Cappella Paolina for the Vatican. The tour is as excellent for couples who visit Europe for the first time as well as for solo travellers on a repeat visit to Florence or the family with teenage children. I had a fantastic morning and often couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. I heartily thank Charles for his time and Walks of Italy for having me as a guest. As I said in the beginning, I wish my teacher would have been half as convincing in history lessons ... school life would have been so much more colourful.

Do you like guided tours? What do you expect from it? Can’t wait to hear from you.

From Berlin with love

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Greetings stranger. I always try to be myself and to be a tourist as often as I can. I would love to get in contact with lots of hard travelling tourists who love to be out and about as much as I do. I am looking forward to all your comments. Thanks so much in advance.