One of the things we had read about was the Easter celebration in Florence, which apparently is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. They have a procession of over 200 people dressed in medieval garb who walk through the city with oxen pulling a giant cart of fireworks, and the procession ends in the space in front of the Duomo. From there, a wooden dove is released from in the Duomo, is supposed to "fly" on a wire to the cart and then "fly" back inside the chapel. If the dove makes it back all the way, there is a good year ahead for the city; last time the dove didn't make it back was in 1966 and that year the city had massive flooding. Anyways, either way, after the dove, the fireworks on the cart are set off, literally right in front of the Duomo, which is the fourth largest chapel in the world, and a major architectural achievement and they set off the fireworks right there in front of it! The details on the whole thing are a bit vague, and you get slightly different stories depending whom you ask, so it isn't easy to plan for, but if you embrace the spontaneity, it is great fun to watch.
(lots of photos if you click to read more!)
We watched the first couple hundred feet of the procession, which started at 9:30 (ish) and then hightailed it over via side streets towards the Duomo, with hopes of beating the procession, so we could watch them arrive. No one could really tell us the exact route the procession was going to take, but on our way over, we literally stumbled upon a flag/drum show in one of the courtyards that we had planned to run through to get a good view, so obviously, we stopped and watched the amazing show.
That delayed us and we got to the Duomo around 10:15, by which point, the crowds were already at least five people deep behind the barriers. Never fear, we are tall and courtesy of all our time at Disneyland, we are experienced with mobs trying to crowd around a sight. After a brief divide and conquer to scout a good spot (again, being tall helps with the hand signals to gesture in the air), we had a spot where we were only four people away from the barrier! Woo hoo!
The weather for the day was 90% chance of rain, and up to that point, we had been fortunate, a little sun, light clouds, nothing too bad, but the dark, foreboding clouds were starting to pile up as quickly as the crowds behind us (at least another five people deep) so the crowded started getting antsy wanting the procession to make it to the Duomo and literally get the show on the road. The procession made it in time (around 10:30), the oxen got unhooked in time, but then the sky started pouring big, heavy raindrops before the actual church service began. This was the kind of storm that in California would prompt non-stop TV coverage called "Storm Watch" but in Florence, with the crowds waiting for the dove and fireworks, it was umbrella watch, because all anyone could see was a sea of umbrellas.
Church service starting; can't forget that it is Easter!
At this point, we like everyone else, had sort of managed to stay dry-ish under umbrellas and rain gear, so we wanted to eek it out and see the dove and fireworks darn it. It wasn't like we were coming back to Easter in Florence next year! The church service started, the priest walked around with an umbrella and sprayed everyone in the crowd with holy water (yes, even when we were all slightly damp from the rain), and just as it was getting time for the dove, the rain seemed to stop. Word of the dry weather spread through the crowd quite urgently in a flurry of languages, since everyone wanted the umbrellas to come down so we could have our view back. All things considered, it was as close as we were going to get to an Easter miracle. Hallelujah, praise the baby Jesus, and have the director in the made for tv movie that was our morning cue appropriate harp music.
At 11:00 on the dot, we saw a flash that I didn't even realize at the time was the dove, and so you know, it will be a good year for Florence, since the dove made it back to its perch at the top of the ladder in the chapel. Immediately after the dove, as promised, there was a ten minute fireworks spectacular, alternating between fire crackers circling around the cart, shooting in the air from next to the cart, and out of the top of the cart. All in all, it was a great Easter morning, and one that I don't really know how it could possibly be topped by another city. Sure Rome has the Pope, but comparatively, Florence has much smaller crowds and while it may not be the most religious celebration, it was great fun to watch.
Small blip slightly to the left of the center of the photo with a small trail of smoke behind it is the "dove" returning inside the chapel