July 9, 2016
Outside my window, a man plays an accordion and the sounds float into the open windows of our third floor flat, interrupted by the obnoxiously loud scooters speeding way too fast down our little, restaurant-lined street. This is my second time in Florence this trip. This is where it all began; where I first felt Italy. When Mom and I landed here from Greece two weeks ago, we took a taxi to our first rented apartment in Plaza Santa Croce and were stunned when the taxi dropped us off literally across the street from a magnificent, towering basilica (which we knew nothing about, but as it turns out is the famous Basilica di Santa Croce) which I could also see perfectly from my bedroom when I woke up the next morning.
Mom and I had only one day and two nights here, which we essentially spent running errands throughout the city, getting organized for the Tuscany group trip/birthday party that everyone was coming in for, and of course, stumbling upon a few important city landmarks in our mad rush around town.
I liked Florence from the beginning I think. I like the size of it (population of about 361,000). I like how walkable it is. I like how it’s close enough to home that I don’t feel completely out of my element. You know—it has enough familiar shops and amenities that it’s a place I could actually live and function comfortably. But I like how different it is, too. Piazzas featuring famous statues, lined with sidewalk restaurants serving pasta and wine at all hours of the day. That’s Europe. That’s Italy. And that I like.
Today, we shall walk and although we are not exactly “museum people”, we’ve got tickets to visit the David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, as well as the Uffizi Gallery this afternoon. We also plan to pass the Duomo, so James can see it, and lunch in the Piazza della Signoria, staring on at the famed historical statues including a copy of David, and of course, drink more of the regions tasty red juice that we just can’t get enough of.
Three days later…
We survived our drive out of the city, barely, but successfully (shout out to GPS right here) and head south to Chianti, ready or a change of pace from city life—and mostly ready to get ourselves into a pool ASAP. The temperatures were hanging around 37-41 degrees Celcius while we were there, and trying to survive that in the centre of tall buildings and no breeze (and it wasn’t standard for downtown Airbnb apartments to come with a pool…) was getting downright exhausting. I had to wear black clothes all the time, so as to mask that fact that within 45 minutes of sitting anywhere, I had completely soaked my clothing all the way through with sweat. I was even concerned for my leather shoes, as droplets of sweat traced intimate lines down the insides of my legs (not in a sexy way), past my ankle bones and around the curves of my heels, onto my shoe soles. Did I put on any leather protector when I bought these for the trip? Was I going to ruin them with my tidal wave of bodily excretion? Ew.
But anyway—Florence. You’re probably wondering what we did. And what we thought. Being that this is a travel blog. Here are my notes:
See The David
The moment you turn the corner and you spot him, you can’t help but catch your breath. I didn’t study art history, and I’m not religious, and he doesn’t have any real and incredible meaning to my life… but still. It’s just… staggering. And for the bargain price of 12 euro, you can book a time to get in there (sans line up) and see him yourself. Then you can peruse the rest of the exhibit(s) and act like you get and/or appreciate the ancient, religious art you get to view. Haha, okay sorry. This is absolutely no slight to anyone who loves this kind of thing. I wish it moved me. It just doesn’t. We did the whole place in 40 minutes. But I still say, to see the David (which maybe had an impact purely because I studied it in grade school—in textbooks, which are super legit and memorable), it was worth it.
Visit the Uffizi Gallery
Okay… this one, mostly only for art buffs. Or those that love history enough to appreciate the art. First off, it’s really big. Thanks to my need to feel cultured and do what a cultured person might do when in the city of Florence, I convinced myself we should go. Plus, the fact that artists I actually knew some of the Renaissance artists featured there (not personally, again, from grade school textbooks) at least made it feel somewhat relevant for me. Like Botticelli. And Da Vinci. I felt more cultured just saying those names out loud as we walked there (stopping only for a midday glass of white wine and an accordion serenade). Reality: We walked a far too steady pace through most of it, taking photos of things we thought looked important, but didn’t really know or understand, unfortunately. Botticelli was incredible—to see that red-haired painted woman in original format in front of me was definitely what even I would classify as “cool”, but I didn’t know a single thing in the Leonardo exhibit. So… meh. Again though, this is not advice not to go! This is simply an explanation of how I am (actually we are—I get to loop James into this as well) not cultured enough to really feel this.
Lunch (or Happy Hour) at Piazza della Signoria
It’s not going to be the most affordable meal/bill of your trip, but comparatively, it’s really not that bad (foreshadowing to Venice). And how often do you get to sit and stare on at a line up of spectacular statues while you sip Rose and twist forkfuls of pasta around on your plate? So bite the bullet, wander here, pick a place (we picked Il David, but honestly I would say they were all fairly similar), order a bottle (or two glasses, if you’re feeling modest) of wine and your pasta of choice (and for goodness sakes, always say yes to the bruschetta) and enjoy.
Statues here include:
- Copy of Michelangelo’s David. at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio; the original by Michelangelo is housed in the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts.
- Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, honoring Cosimo I de’ Medici and sculpted by Giambologna (1594)
- Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati (1575)
- Il Marzocco, (the Lion) with a copy of the “Florentine Lily“, originally made by Donatello (copy)
- Judith and Holofernes, by Donatello (copy)
- Hercules and Cacus, by Bandinelli (1533)
- The Rape of the Sabine Women, in the Loggia dei Lanzi by Giambologna
- Perseus with the Head of Medusa, in the Loggia dei Lanzi by Cellini (1554)
- Medici lions, by Fancelli and Vacca (1598)
– Thanks Wikipedia!
Stumble upon The Duomo
Mom and I actually stumbled upon this running errands and much like the Basilica di Santa Croce, we had no idea what we were marvelling at at first. It’s a pretty amazing experience to just turn a corner, following the mapped out route to the nearest nail salon as closely as possible when you see something like that. It’s so… monumental! Spectacular, really. Afterwards, over lunch when we put together what we’d seen, it all made a little more sense. Apparently you are able to go inside and climb up, which would likely reward you with spectacular views and enough calories burned that you don’t have to feel guilty about saying yes to some tiramisu for dessert that evening. James and I did consider partaking when we returned, but sadly it was closed that day. Womp, womp. But yes, we did still get the tiramisu.
…everywhere. It is by far the best and easiest way to get around. The city isn’t big enough to make this difficult, although the cobblestone streets may give your ankles a run for their money. Or, if you’re like me, and haven’t yet resigned yourself to buying the “Fit Flops” that your mother wears (although they do have rather fashionable styles and are INCREDIBLY comfortable), your feet may ache from the the 15,000+ steps a day they’re taking on that hard ground, with no more than a slab of Steve Madden-approved leather between them and the floor. Mine sure did. But hey, at least I did my part to work off SOME of the bread and pasta and wine I was eating with each and every meal.
Buy an Italian suit
The one’s for the men out there, but hey, you’ve got to. You can do something custom made, or buy designer. Or if you’re not rolling in the dough (too busy saving up or recouping from Venice—more foreshadowing), head to Gutteridge. James found a beautiful, blue Italian suit for only 99 euros. Which is insane! I’m not sure if this is regular occurrence at this shop, or if it was a one-time crazy, awesome sale, but either way, he was pretty pleased.
Get truffles on everything
We all know one of the most awesome things about Italy is the pasta. You know what’s even more awesome? Pasta topped with truffles. Truffles are everywhere here and trust me when I say, you need them in your life. Note: This tip is not solely relevant for Florence, but for all Italy. Get truffles EVERYWHERE.
Buy leather bags
You know the dude in the Italian suit standing in line at the airport that makes your insides feel funny? Well, guess what he’s carrying? An Italian leather bag. A beautiful, smooth, classic “weekend” bag likely filled with more sexy Italian suits, XX bottles of wine, jars of truffles, olive oil and maybe gelato. Okay but seriously, these are the kind of classic pieces that one can own for years and whenever carried, one can feel immediately more suave. So, we had to get one, you see? James bought two, because he’s an over-achiever. He bought a beautiful brown laptop bag and then he carefully selected a dark blue and brown bag and when he hung it on his shoulder, I could start to feel my knees buckle beneath me. Ladies, get your man one of these. And hey, I’m also just as excited to borrow this from time to time, when the opportunity arrises. I think I could pull off the super suave leather look myself, thank you very much.
And that’s Florence. Or my take on it. I could see myself returning here one day. I’d always wanted to spend a month here studying photography (in fact, my boyfriend tried to surprise me with a day course at the school I’ve always looked at attending here, but alas, Italians are too laid back to make plans with sometimes). C’est la vie (or is there an Italian version of that)? Maybe it just means I still have that on my bucket list.
But as much as I really enjoyed Florence, in the end it was somewhere else that won out as my favourite.