Florence Part I
Our first trip to Florence was on a rainy, dreary day and admittedly we were not excited to explore the city in such conditions. Our hotel was located near the Santa Maria Novella train station. This old area of Florence was difficult to navigate with its narrow streets, thus taking us 25 minutes to find an available parking garage. Furthermore, we discovered that the hotel we booked was only a scant representation of the photos on booking.com. In other words, we were not aware we had to share a bathroom with another room and the owners (a husband and wife who didn’t speak English), were quite disorganized. The room was clean, but everything needed an update. The building also had paper thin walls, so we could constantly hear voices on the floor above us and across the hall. We made our way out as soon as possible, walking to the Piazza deal Duomo and admiring the cathedral’s immensity and architecture. Unlike Siena and San Gimignano, Florence was just as amazing as I remembered. Every piazza we walked through – from Palazzo Vecchio to Piazza Della Signoria, was unique in its art and character. Since we had JoJo, we decide to make this a shopping day and save tomorrow for museums with our friends Christiana and Josh, who were in Florence as part of s biking trip through Tuscany.
I was lucky to find a leather jacket at a reasonable price at Michelangelo leather, a store recommended by guidebooks. The owner, Michelangelo, was very friendly and absolutely loved JoJo so he gave us an extra 10% off if we took a picture of him and the dog and put it on Facebook. Michelangelo wasn’t the only one who liked JoJo, we had many tourists on the street often asking us if they could pet him or take pictures with him as if he was an attraction! He was even allowed in a leather shoe store with us (which would never happen in the USA !) where I ended up with a nice waterproof pair of leather boots for winter. After walking around for another hour, we headed back to our hotel to get ready to have dinner with the owners of the home we were renting in Strettoia. The couple lived in Florence and wanted to treat us to one of their favorite local spots as a treat called Santo Bevitore. We had a lovely time and the food was well prepared and reasonable. The area also was also a trendy neighborhood for locals located right across the river, so it was a breath of fresh air compared to the crowds in the old city.
The following day was warm and sunny. We set off early in the morning to venture off to the Piazzale Michelangelo across the bridge. We passed through the packed Ponte Vecchio crowded with merchants and the ended up in a quiet residential neighborhood surrounding the Boboli Gardens and Belvedere castle. It was very hilly, and by the time we climbed the steps to the Piazzale we were out of breath. The walk was worth the energy though- once we reached the top we were greeted with a hilltop view of Florence with a statue of Michelangelo in the background. The area was full of tour buses, but that didn’t deter from the view.
We met up with Christiana and Josh in the Piazza deal Duomo with JoJo. We decided to head for lunch at a place Christiana had been recommended called Gusto Pizza located near the university area. There was a line out the door with study abroad students who clearly favored this inexpensive pizza joint. The menu only offered seven pizzas, but they were huge single portions, and in my opinion definitely worth the hype with its crispy yet soft on the inside dough and fresh toppings. We only had time for one museum at this point, so we chose the Uffizi Gallery (one of the most famous galleries where you apparently have to wait hours for tickets). It was also one of the museums I had not visited in Florence during my first visit (I only remembered seeing was David in the Galleria dell’Accademia). Since Christiana worked for Sotheby’s in New York, we had free tickets and VIP access to the museum. We were able to view the majority of the museum in an hour, admiring the old classics in each of its majestic halls.
We finished the culture filled day with an aperitivo at a local wine bar followed by reservations at one of Tuscany’s most popular restaurants, La Giostra. We could tell is was hard to get into because we had to wait over an hour to be seated with a reservation! The setting was very romantic, with small lights on the ceiling illuminating an otherwise dark room. We started with a prosciutto and melon appetizer and an antipasti mix. We opted for a first course of white truffle pasta in season. It was divine, but unfortunately four ravioli was not enough fulfil our craving. I opted for a sea bass with wine sauce, while everyone else split the Florentine steak. While the steak was good from what I tasted, my sea bass had way too much sauce for such a delicate fish. Despite a few mishaps, we overall agreed ambience was unbeatable and we had great company.
We made an early departure the next morning back to northern Tuscany. Despite our short visit, we will certainly be returning to Chianti and Florence several times with various friends and family to explore more of the region’s museums and sights.
Florence Part II
I could not have ended my Florence blog without including our trips to the Galleria Accademia, the Bargello Museum, the Gucci Museum, Palazzo Vecchio, and the Boboli Gardens!
I finally did the Galleria Accademia during Lauren’s visit to Italy in February. The museum is quite small, and certainly the main attraction is the overwhelming David sculpture. There are few more rooms including marble busts, medieval art, and an exhibition on musical instruments throughout Italian history. My impression, however, was that a half hour is all you need in the entire gallery as it gets very hot and crowded.
I actually enjoyed the Palazzo Vecchio museum more, which houses Roman ruins, a medeival fortress, and impressive rooms full of Renaissance chambers and paintings. Each room provided thorough descriptions of the furniture, paintings, and decorations on the wall. I was impressed by the opulence of the palazzo as well as the main banquet center, which used to house hundreds of local Florentines for events.
Next to the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza Signoria is the Gucci Museum, which is one of the only modern, contemporary museums in the city. The museum documented Gucci’s rise to fame after he started creating traveling bags for men. His brand spread and he became very popular for his scarves, home-wear lines, and other miscellaneous household items. I had no idea that Gucci had designed with such breadth! The top floor houses several gowns that have been worn on the Red Carpet and discusses how his legacy has made a mark on Italian fashion and culture.
In May, I revisited Florence with Ryan’s friend, Dave, and had the chance to visit the sprawling Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. We only were able to walk around for 20 minutes, but the flora, trees, and sculpture in the park was absolutely stunning. I could have spent hours exploring every nook and pathway of this oasis. The Medicis were known to create elaborate gardens all over Tuscany, with this being one of their most famous.
The same afternoon, we visited the Bargello Museum located in one of the oldest buildings in Florence dating back to 1255. It used to be head of the police and was used as a prison during the 18th century. The 14th century hall displays works by Donatello and Michelangelo. There were also extensive gold, ivory, and porcelain works, as well as unique jewelry and wooden statues. There were rooms dedicated to glazed terracotas, as well as collections of art from the middle east. Personally, the museum was not my favorite. Although the collection was impressive, its scope was so wide that I had a hard time piecing information together. It was more like looking at a picture book rather than understanding the historical and cultural significance of each item you were viewing.
Despite this, Florence remains one of my favorite destinations in Italy for its manageable size and abundance of sights within walking distance. However, my only advice is to come in off season as the crowds can detract you from admiring its beauty!