Two years ago, we flew to England to spend twenty-four days in pursuit of more information about the time in which our books take place. To visit the places we had already used as settings and to research new ones for future books. And to take photographs. Lots of photographs. (That trip is detailed on this blog in posts dated April 2017 and May 2017.)
Since then, we’ve finished six Regency-era books and one based in ancient Greece and Rome. We were in the midst of deciding where (and when) to place the rest of the books in the Stella of Akrotiri series—stories about an Immortal couple who first meet on a Greek Island—when the opportunity to tour with a local college group came up. We signed on for EF Tour’s “Intercultural Studies in Italy and Greece” the day after we learned of it. Since EF allows travelers to delay their return, we arranged our own travel plans to add that Greek island to the itinerary. By doing so, our flights to the first stop on our multi-city tour were different from the rest of the group.
We wouldn’t discover just how fortuitous that arrangement was until we reached Florence.
Although twenty-one of us flew on the same plane from Billings, Montana to Denver, the rest of the group were scheduled to fly to Florence by way of Frankfort while we were routed through Munich. Scheduled departure times out of Denver were about the same, although our flight left first.
By over eight hours.
We reached Munich on a Sunday morning and met up with the eight students and a faculty advisor from the University of North Carolina’s School of Arts who made up the rest of our tour group. Our flight to Florence was quick—too quick for our luggage to make the plane, but with an overnight bag, we were set for a full day in Florence.
Our EF tour director, Katia, met us at the airport, informed us of the delay for the rest of my group, but assured us they would arrive later that night. After a short bus ride to Hotel Athenaueum, we checked into what had to be the largest room in the hotel and had a few minutes to freshen up before we hit the ground running.
Or walking, rather. The 1.4 kilometers from the hotel to the Piazza della Signoria takes only 17 minutes. On the way, we stopped at the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or the Florence Cathedral. Begun in 1296, it wasn’t completed until 1436, when the dome was finally erected. The exterior of the basilica is a masterpiece of detailed artwork, faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink and bordered in white.
For a dramatization of what it took to finish the dome, check out the first season of Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence TV show starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden.
The Baptistery of St. John is opposite the Duomo. Constructed between 1059 and 1128, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. This octagonal minor basilica boasts three sets of bronze doors. The east doors shown here were designed by Lorenzo Ghilberti and were dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo.
Then we were off to the Piazza della Signoria, where statues of David, Hercules and Cacus, and Cosimo Medici share the backdrop of Palazzo Vecchio, the townhall of Florence.
The Loggia della Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, can be seen in the far corner of the Piazza della Signoria beneath part of the Uffuzi Gallery. The open-air Loggia houses an impressive array of statues, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines (1579-1583). Installed in 1583 at the behest of the son of Cosimo I, Francesco I, this statue
is over 4 metres high and was made from the largest block of marble (and an imperfect one at that) ever transported to Florence. It’s the first group statue representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint, meaning it can be viewed from all sides equally.
The other statue shown here is Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, originally discovered in Rome. From the Flavian era, it was copied from a Hellenistic Pergamene original of the mid-third century BC.
When our tour of the piazza was complete, our guide released us with instructions to take in as much as we could on our own and meet at the Cosimo statue later that evening to head to dinner.
Next up: Free time means an afternoon at the Uffuzi.