Florence, or “Firenze” (not quite sure how those translate into each other), is a really beautiful city. Bustling and definitely full of students, it is lively and yet not overpoweringly “city”, if that makes sense. I think my housemate at Miami who studied here last semester for architecture made a great choice on places to study! The buildings with the red tile roofs, the style and architecture, the green hillsides lined with huge cypress trees makes for a very picturesque setting.
Our hotel here was very nice, and we pretty much just got settled and searched for a place to have dinner that night as it was already late in the afternoon. Before dinner, though, we had a drink in the hotel. Here we discovered their beautiful terrace and the aperol spritz. This seems to be the drink in Italy. It’s a pretty orange color and made with an orange flavored liqueur called aperol, prosecco, and a bit of soda or fizzy water. My mom and I had found a restaurant right near our hotel that was very highly ranked for the city (TripAdvisor is a great travel tool). Trattoria Nella, a small restaurant tucked away in an ally and owned by two brothers, was a nice find for dinner.
We shared two prosciutto with melon antipasti dishes – it was the best prosciutto any of us have had! Then my mom had a pasta with a really good, smooth walnut sauce and I had one of the special pastas of the day. It was voted the winner for the night and was a tortelli with speck (ham or bacon) inside, in a butter sage sauce. My dad had ate other pasta special, the penne with sausage in an olive oil tomato sauce. He also got the staple in Florence/Tuscany, a steak. (Surprisingly, though, we’ve only seen one cow in the Tuscan region despite being known for steak and leather)! The steak was good, though a little on the rare side for my tastes. I’m sorry to say that none of us remembered to get pictures of this wonderful meal – I guess we were too busy enjoying it!
We decided to walk around after dinner and ended up at a nearby cafe where we had some of the best cannollis we’ve ever had! The shell had chocolate lining the inside, the ricotta mix was thick and smooth, and the dried orange rind strip on either side complemented the chocolate and creaminess. I wish you could have tried a bite, it was so good. Hopefully we will be able to reproduce all of these good foods when we get back home! Unfortunately, we would be unable to find this place again on our mission for those cannolis the next night.
Our second day in Florence was our museum day there. We went to the Uffuzi museum first, where we had a reservation for that morning. The Uffuzi is a collection of paintings and statues (mostly busts) donated from the Medici family, and only a certain amount of people are let in each day. It was pretty cool, and we certainly got our fill of a lot of Madonna and child scenes! But there were some Botticelli’s, Raphael’s, a Michelangelo, and others among the impressive collection. The tapestry section was pretty amazing, too, with these vast woven masterpieces that must have taken a lot of patience and planning to weave.
We walked from the Uffuzi to the Galleria dell’Arte, incidentally down the same road my housemate lived on last semester! We had a little time before our reservation for that museum, so we stopped at a little place and had some excellent panini sandwiches for lunch. The bread was awesome! Then my mom and I had to try the little freshly made meringues, as we’ve seen them in many of the pasticcerias. These were dipped in chocolate on one side and reminded us of eating a roasted marshmallow!
The main attraction in the Galleria dell’Arte is of course, Michelangelo’s David. And boy is it worth it to see in person, nothing else compares. I’m so grateful to my parents for taking me, and certainly can appreciate more now than I would have as a kid, as I noted when seeing younger families pass by. I circled the statue and admired it from each vantage point, noting the I intricacies that make it so incredible. The veins, for example, are so real, the furrowed brow, the muscles, the hands, all of it really, that make it the best known sculpture in the world! It truly is a wonder how Michelangelo was able to create such a thing – and the fact that it survived in such good condition to this day!
It took him 2 years to finish, and it wasn’t commissioned by anyone. Michelangelo simply asked to use a block of marble lying around in the church to create this tribute to the story of David and Goliath. The sling is thin and purposefully not prominent in the statue to highlight intelligence over brute strength. That is the reason for his pose and facial expression as well. As my mom pointed out, his face gives off a pondering expression as if thinking “what have I done?” rather than a victorious expression. After it was completed, it was placed in a town square in Florence until being moved, where David became a symbol for liberty and compassion for the people of Florence. Should you ever find yourself in Florence, do not miss the chance to see this magnificent work of art with your own eyes. Seriously, you will not regret it!
After taking our fill of the David and other paintings and statues at the museum, we decided to check out the Duomo. “Duomo” signifies the status of a cathedral in Italy. The Duomo in Florence is exquisite from the outside, is mostly green marble, and huge! Began in 1296 under the direction of Arnolfo di Cambio, it wasn’t completed until 1436 by Filippo Brunelleschi. We went in a side entrance, thinking we’d get in to look around the main floor. We were in for a surprise…
You had to buy a ticket for entrance so we just bought the basic one for the dome. There was only one way to go from the ticket stand and it wasn’t further into the building on the bottom floor, oh no. It was up. And up. And up. We thought we were done when we got to a walkway around the top of the main part of the building, where you could look down into the pews and main entrance. But no, there were more stairs! By my count, when I remembered to start counting that is, we took about 350 stairs up one way. So if we add those stairs I missed, consensus around the Internet has it at around 420-463 stairs total! Though we were surprised, the climb through the crowded tight spaces turned out to be very worth it. My dad unfortunately, but understandably, decided to turn around right before the very top, however my mom and I decided to see what was at the top since we’d made it that far.
The final set of stairs brought us into the sunlight and open air at the very top of the dome. The little terrace was made of marble and the view was absolutely amazing. We got some great pictures of the city and surrounding countryside, and took in the view from each side. Yes, it ended up being well worth the effort. Plus, going down was much easier as well!
After the Duomo excursion, we decided we deserved some gelato, and we hadn’t had any in Italy yet – so it was time! We made our was to the square of San Marco and stopped in a gelato shop. My dad got a caramel panacotta flavor, my mom a green melon (honeydew), and myself a scoop of the orange melon (cantaloupe). Each was excellent!
My dad went in to a tiny grocery store near our hotel on our way back to buy a bottle of wine. When we got back to the hotel, however, we were plus a bottle of wine…and two very nice, genuine Italian leather jackets, care of the salesman we ran into at the tiny grocery store! (Watch out mom, I may be borrowing that jacket when I get home!)
Dinner that night was at the Quattro Leoni, on the recommendation of the leather jacket salesman. Not as quite good as the trattoria the previous night, though it was still pretty tasty. The notable pasta here was their pear and cheese ravioli, which we all enjoyed. We all split a slice of pear torte with chocolate and currant berries for dessert.
The next day we had the morning to walk around the city before heading back to the hotel and checking out. We called a taxi and had a surprisingly good conversation with the driver on the way to the airport (he had kids, my parents have kids…his kids play sports, we played sports – it’s not so hard to find commonalities with people around the world when you try!). A flight is not what we were catching, however, as we pulled into the car rental lot. Yes, my dad was set on driving on some point of the trip, and this was the perfect opportunity (driving in the cities is best left to someone who is most definitely not a tourist). So, with navigation system in hand and bags in the car, we set off to our next destination: Tuscany with a stop at Pisa along the way.
And that completes our journey to Florence, one of my favorite cities I’ve been lucky enough to visit thus far in my life. It is a lovely place, has great food, beautiful architecture and art, and is not quite as touristy as Venice or Rome would prove to be. If you are planning a trip to Italy, try not to leave this wonderful city out! Another post to come soon, about Tuscany as well as this weekends excursions to London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…
P.S. Ok, so my uploading quota is apparently filled so you’ll have to bear with me until I figure out the best new way to upload photos. So if you want to see descriptions of the photos here, you will have to click on the photo which will take you to another page to view.