Not far away and on the way to Ponte Vecchio there’s the strawmarket and the bronze porcellino - a little pig. A few coins of Lire you have to roll from the pig's nose into a hole to its feet and you’re coming back to Florence. If you’re superstitious. But I'm not. Also the Trevi-fountain in Rome has never seen my money. Well... let's go on to Ponte Vecchio. You know the bridge over the river Arno, that is crammed with small to tiny shops. When it was built in the 14th century only meat slaughterers and butchers had their domicile there, who used to throw all their litter into the river. It was Duke Cosimo I who put an end to the practice because he felt annoyed by the stench. After all he had to cross the Vasari-corridor when he wanted to go from the town hall to the Pitti Palace, his home. And the corridor leads directly over this bridge. So he banished the butchers on the spot and established instead goldsmiths and jewellers. On early Sundays their closed shops are looking like old jewel boxes with heavy locks and keys outside. But today isn't Sunday and the bridge is bursting with tourists.

From outside the bridge looks better than if you're standing on it - assuming you aren't interested in gold, like us. There's a bronze-monument for Benvenuto Cellini, the narcissistic representative of the goldsmiths' art ... and soon the rush is behind us.

Oh, did I mention that Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge that wasn't destroyed by the German Wehrmacht? In 1944 they bombarded Florence bridges, but Hitler himself had apparently fallen in love with the bridge and on his assertive order it wasn't detonated.

It's getting hot while we're on the way to Palazzo Pitti. You have to swallow a lot of exhaust valves and fumes because the pavements in Florence are small everywhere, which is good for the cars but in no way good for pedestrian. Luckily the Florentines (like every Italian) are excellent drivers otherwise the number of tourists lying under a car or bike would rise to astronomical heights. Anyhow, it's annoying enough. Therefore the splendid Boboli-garden is an all too welcomed change.

The Pitti Palace was built by Ammannati (you remember the Neptune-fountain) for the Dukes of Tuscany, represented by the family of Medici (who else?). It's a gigantic, light brown facade, a tarred place in front of it (where several teens are resting in the broody sunshine), but I long for shade. Nowadays the town demands an entrance fee, because too much of the garden had been destroyed (did I tell you before that I was wondering how the town managed to avert vandalism?) Oh well... Some of the statues were smeared and arms and heads were missing, so the city fathers decided to get the money from the tourists. I guess, it's just fair enough. It's pure nature in an otherwise tree- and branchless town. There's a turtle-fountain whose basin comes from the Diocletian-termi in Rome and the obelisk in between directly from Egypt. The rise is steep and tiring but as reward a cafe-house is waiting. But a cafe-house with more than a stupendous outlook. The whole town of Florence is lying at our feet...

Later there's the Forte Belvedere, even higher than the cafe. There's a terrace among old villas and oil trees. Tuscany itself just a few steps aside from the hurly-burly of the town. There's an eternity of looking and looking but it doesn't help, we have to go finally passing the grottos of Buontalenti on our way down. Built from some strange ideas they once housed Michelangelo's "slaves" (now in the Accademia-museum), from the darkness peers odd sculptures and there's the favourite dwarf of Cosimo I. It's a women's habit to stroke the little penis in case they want kids. Well.... perhaps we have other reasons ;-)

Another evening falls. In the search for a restaurant we stroll through the oldest part of the town. It's the Dante-quarter, interlarded with housing-towers of the Ghibellins and the Guelphs. It's supposed Dante was born here, although nobody can say for sure which house. On the walls are hanging plates with quotes from the "Divine Comedy". I remember the only quote I know: "Through me leads the way to town of pain. Through me leads the way to everlasting mourning. Through me leads the way amid the lost people. Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate. Let all hopes die, you, who enter." That's the inscription over the gate to hell.

It's so dark you actually need a torch. Who's afraid of the ghost of the Middle Ages? The ghosts of plague, of death and of murder?

Now we are crossing the place of the former notorious jail, which is today the Verdi-theatre. We are crossing Via del Corso: in the middle ages clattered the hooves of Berber horses over the paving. The winner got the Palio - a banner - on dark red brocade a lily and a red cross: that's Florence's coat of arms. The walls are also decorated with the lamb and the cross: the sign of the Arte Lana (the wool weavers) and the balls of the Medici (sorry, not THE balls, ouch). There are nine balls or circles on a plate, Probably because they are matching their names well, doctors are using pills, don't they.

The next day there's Fiesole to conquer. The summer residence of the Florentine in the hills high over the town.

It's an old Etruscan town, much, much older than Florence. You remember the soldier veteran's who founded Florence. But the valley wasn't exactly healthy, you know. Malaria and marsh fever made the people suffer, not to mention the terrible heat in summer. So they realized why the Etruscan hadn't been so daft to settle here. It was easy for the Romans to conquer Fiesole and made the free Etruscan tribe their slaves. Why did the Romans always have to conquer? Anyway, the summer resort of Fiesole was now Roman.

On the way up we pass beautiful villas, splendid gardens, blooming roses and lilies and red poppies. Not far from here are the Medici-mansions where Lorenzo succumbed to the family disease gout. The outlook is great: A cherished garden's landscape, in between dark green cypresses, hills are drawing soft rounds, red tile roofs are looking down to the valley. Once more Florence is lying at our feet. A Postcard's landscape.

Final station is the Piazza Mino da Fiesole (a painter and architect) where we are greeted by the inescapable monument "Meeting of Garibaldi with king Victor Emanuel". If you're in Italy and unsure about a monument that shows two guys be sure it's always Garibaldi and Victor.

Fiesole houses a fine museum for Etruscan art and roman excavations. Part of it is in a building, the other part is outdoors, like the amphitheatre. You stay and look down the semicircle, small seats and the old settings. You can look far into the valley of Mugello. The family of Medici came from the valley of Mugello. They were farmers and peasants actually. You know the proverb: Trade has a golden ground or something.

Blue hills are blurring in the distance. You can follow down the path to the excavations. Long lines of graves, old pedestals of urns, guarded by black cypresses, the classic cemetery-tree. We stroll under olive trees through freshly mowed grass. It smells for hot hay and herbs. It's quiet and only the birds are singing. At last there's the ruins of the Roman hot springs. You can see the basins for the warm bath, the exposed under floor heating and the pipes where the cold water was carried up from the Arno to be heated up here. It's a truly romantic place.

There's a steep lookout. But the weather is a little hazy, so Florence vanishes in a foggy haze. Anyway, there's still the duomo San Romolo to visit. It's a Romanic, red-brown chunk of tiles that resembles Palazzo Vecchio. In the very dark crypt under the altar burns the eternal light in front of the translucent sarcophagus where the bones of Holy Romolo are lying.

Fiesole can be a starting point for walking through the valley of the Mugello and it's highly recommended. Back in Florence you can drift in the gloomy alleys. Or look what the price lists are saying in the noble restaurants on Piazza Repubblica. Troppo caro I'd say. Tourists' rip off. The straw market is emptying, the merchants packing back their odds and ends, the porcellino is deserted. The sun is throwing long shadows on the Piazza Signoria. Tourist and inhabitants enjoy the last beams in the garden of the "Rivoire" one of the best restaurants and cafes in town.

The next day San Lorenzo is on our agenda, passing the duomo and the baptistery. Did I mention that the doors to this building are most precious? By the 14th century plans were already under way for the creation of the new doors which also had to be worthy of the monument. The sculptor Andrea Pisano was commissioned with the first pair, which he carried out between 1330 and 1336, while Lorenzo Ghiberti designed and made two sets of doors one pair he finished in 1424. The other pair between 1425 and 1452.

Both are of bronze (four pairs on each direction), but the latter pair is gilt. It's the "Doors to Paradise" as Michelangelo said, when he was still a teenager, standing admiringly in front of them. It's not the beauty exactly what makes them so precious, but it's the complete new invention how it was planned and made finally. Not a flat plate with lots of figures but each detail was worked so that it looks three dimensional like a scene you can touch (but you mustn't). Since the originals floated through the town when in 1966 a big flood threw Florence into a catastrophe they are protected in the museum of the cathedral. But the copies are precious as well.

Dante himself declared that his "beautiful San Giovanni" (That's the name of the baptistery) was a classical Roman building. The foundation of the first building dates from the 4th century and got its octagonal shape later. It had the function of a cathedral then and became an official part of history in March 897, when Amadeo, the Count Palatine and envoy of the Emperor, sat beneath the portico in front of the "Basilica of San Giovanni Battista" to administer justice. Mid 12th century the external revetment of the baptistery was started. It's a masterpiece of white Carrara an green Prato marble inlay, geometrically designed in a harmonious classical style to cover the original sandstone. Already it shows signs of the search for spatial delimitation that lead to the perspective of the Renaissance.

Inside the large basin where Dante had been christened is vanished. But a huge Christos Pantokrator is looking down on you, as mosaic of course.

If you step out from a small sideway you are on the backside of San Lorenzo. Our look wanders up to the red tiled egg of the Duke's chapel. "Ingresso Cappella di Medicee". My heart beats faster because I have been looking forward to this the whole time.

First there's a low, white crypt. Almost all members of the Medici-family are buried here to the last member Maria Ludovica. It's her merit that we can find Florence as it was in her time in the 18th century. Just before she died without having heirs she bequeathed all the Medici-possession to the town, on condition that nothing, absolutely nothing should be sold. Just lent. Perhaps. The government of Florence fulfilled this last wish until today.

The entrance to the Duke's chapel. The tombs of the six big Medici-Dukes. You stay and are dazzled. Not because it is so splendidly decorated with gold, no. Nothing in Florence is decorated with gold. It consists from up to down with Pietra-Dura: Stone-in-stone-intarsia. That's a Florentine speciality, which the workers still control (the large ground was finished just a few decades ago). You pass the 16 Tuscany coat of arms. There's the red lily on white ground. Sienna's black and white coat. The black half moon of Fiesole. Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, corals, mother of pearl and the bright blue of the lapis lazuli. I touch the cool, smooth stone. The cupola is covered with freschi painted in the last century. The Old and the New Testament: huge pictures with unbelievable brilliance, and above all that unearthly blue....

It's hard to go, but the next highlight is waiting: The New Sacristy, completely worked by Michelangelo.

Even more?