I woke up on Christmas morning to the sound of children laughing and dice hitting the floor in the apartment above our Bed and Breakfast. It was comforting to hear the sounds of a family enjoying Christmas together. My Christmas was certainly unconventional.
Virtually all the tourist attractions in Florence were closed on Christmas day–except the synagogue and Jewish museum. The synagogue was built in the nineteenth century in the Moorish style. It was very beautiful, but the overall experience was bizarre. A soldier stood in the compound observing the street. We had to walk through a metal detector to enter. Inside, we were not unable to wander freely, and we had to wait for a guide to open the museum section. The guide was giving a tour in Italian and Hebrew, which didn’t help me at all. We trailed along behind a group of people from Israel. Still, the visit gave me a different perspective on the city’s history.
For the rest of the day, Jesse and I wandered around the city, enjoying the sunshine and the architecture. I was glad that we could stroll along the relatively quiet streets without any agenda or time constraints.
Although it was not a white Christmas, we could see patches of snow on the mountains in the distance.
Jesse and I asked some strangers to take our picture by the river. You can see Brunelleschi’s dome in the background.
The dome is the most impressive landmark of the city. It is an engineering marvel, and the ribbing on the red brick is striking.
The cathedral is actually called Santa Maria del Fiore, but it is nearly always referred to as the Duomo.
We spent quite awhile looking at two medieval towers that are still standing by the Arno River. The city used to be enclosed by walls, but they were torn down in the nineteenth century. This is the Porto San Niccoló, a watch tower built in the 1300s. Behind it is a path that leads up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Jesse and I accepted that we would once again be climbing hundreds of stairs, and we headed to the top of the hill, pausing to take in the view several times along the way.
It seemed that all the tourists in Florence had the same idea as us, and the Piazzele was filled with people snapping photos, dogs in sweaters tugging on their leashes, and African vendors selling leather bags and prints of paintings.
The churches on top of the hill were open. We peeked into at least two dozen churches during our trip. Although they quickly blur together, stepping off the street and into a peaceful church is like opening a surprise. You never know what beautiful frescoes or treasured altar piece might be hiding inside. I particularly enjoyed San Miniato al Monte:
Construction was begun on this church one thousand years ago. There was a beautiful Byzantine style mosaic inside.
The sunlight was fading fast when Jesse took one last photo of me. I was so happy that we got the chance to spend Christmas day together in one of the most amazing cities in Europe.
Our feet were tired as we headed down the hill. We were looking forward to riding the bus back to our hotel, but to our dismay the buses stopped running at 1:30 on Christmas day. It was okay, though, because at least I walked off a few of the thousands of calories that I consumed in gelato!