The highlight of our trip to Florence Italy was the guided bicycle tour we took with Leonardo, a middle-aged athlete and history buff with a generous beard and black frame glasses. He was a veritable walking encyclopedia about the city of his birth. My husband Dave was keen on gathering information for the advanced placement course in high school history he was teaching at the time. He could ask Leonardo about anything that happened in Florence from the time it was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC to the present and Leonardo knew the answer.
We met Leonardo to begin our tour near one of the more than 40 large historic churches in Florence. Leonardo said people rarely attend them. “Most of Florence’s churches are visited only by tourists.” He told us church attendance by the 400,000 residents of the city is normally reserved for weddings, funerals and baptisms. Leonardo pointed out the huge rings on the sides of most churches in Florence. They were used for tying up horses many years ago when people still came to church in carriages. My husband Dave tested the strength of these rings and verified they were firmly implanted in the walls. Leonardo took us to a square near one church called Piazza del Limbo, or the Limbo Plaza. It was once a cemetery for babies that had died before they had a chance to be baptized and thus were ‘in limbo’ and unable to enter heaven.
Leonardo led us expertly through the city on our bikes, giving us a running commentary about what we were seeing on his microphone. His interesting narration was fed into the earpieces we wore while we cycled. He took us to the square where the Medici family, Florence’s leading citizens from 1350-1750, used to host jousting matches, chariot races and the first soccer games played in Italy. He showed us the tall towers built by rival feuding families as safe fortresses during medieval times. He took us to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge, built in 1345. It is the only bridge the Nazis did not blow up before retreating from the city. He pointed out the art students everywhere sketching and touring with teachers. He told us every year 60,000 American students from forty different United States universities participate in study abroad programs in Florence to learn the Italian language and study history, art and literature. Leonardo showed us the apartment where poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning lived for 14 years. He told us the famous nurse Florence Nightingale had been named after the city of her birth.
There was only one other woman on our bike tour and she was Japanese. I thought she was a tourist but she told us although she had grown up in Japan she now lived in Florence and worked as a wedding planner for Japanese couples who wanted to get married in Italy. We passed a young Japanese woman in a wedding gown and a Japanese man in a tuxedo shivering in the freezing January air as they had their pictures taken on the steps of the Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in the heart of Florence. Leonardo our guide told us Florence is hugely popular as a destination -wedding site for Japanese couples.
If it hadn’t been for the chilly temperatures I could have spent days on end touring Florence on my bicycle with the knowledgeable and interesting Leonardo. However, after several hours our fingers were frozen and we were chilled to the bone. It was time to say good-bye to Leonardo and head for a coffee shop where we could warm up with some thick, rich and very sweet Italian hot chocolate and talk over all the new, intriguing things we’d learned about Florence.
Other posts about biking…….