**WARNING*** READ something before you travel!!
My first visit to Florence underscores the reason to read about where you are going before you go there. I was traveling by train from Venice to Siena, and decided to hop off the train ramble through Florence for a few hours, then take a later train on to Siena. I checked my backpack at the station, and with only my day pack in hand, I hit the street. I made my way to the great cathedral that I spotted from the train station literally dodging the swarms (yeah, that's the best way to describe it, swarms) of motor scooters that were as thick as mosquitoes during breeding season! The crowds were murder. Coming straight from Venice where there are no motorized vehicles, I was overwhelmed by the traffic and crowds. I had no heart to be in such a crowd... I decided to retreat back to the train station, find a quiet place somewhere in Siena to hole up for a bit of rest. I left, but not before noticing a handful of artists... sketching a big fat octagonal building in front of the cathedral. What stands out in my mind was the last cursive glance I gave that strange looking building.
Now anyone with at least a 10% knowledge of Florence knows I am referring to the Baptistery of San Giovanni that that dates back to the 12th century. Unfortunately, my knowledge was less than 10%... and my cursive glance, which was to haunt me for four years, was about the same as the way a chimpanzee looks at a roll of hundred dollar bills. If you cannot eat it, it is of no use.
Immediately that cursive glance began to eat away at me, but it wasn't until long after I returned home did I pick up a few books, and realized that I had almost committed a sacrilege... as I learned that gave such a casual, cursive glance at a work of art that took Lorenzo Ghiberti a life time to complete. Through my self guided study, I actually felt I owed this great artist of centuries ago a return trip to Florence, to give his life's work the homage and appreciation it deserves.
Besides 'The Agony and Ecstasy, by Irving Stone, another great book that helped me greatly was 'Michelangelo', by Howard Hibbard, and 'The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall,' by Christopher Hibbert.