My Florentine and Venetian adventures began Thursday when the train scheduled to leave at 8:15am didn’t slug off until 8:30. And I always thought the railway system was famous for punctuality or something. Piano piano, Italia. Just an hour and a half later I had already arrived in Florence. Despite barely comprehensible English directions from the website, I managed to find the hostel without too much trouble. Florence is a little city, yet perhaps not so surprisingly, I still got turned around on more than a few occasions. Italians are not famous for their strong English language skills, so I'm very thankful to have accrued at least a passing Italian.
Above were my room keys in Florence; the antique models are extremely commonplace in Italy. You know a building's old when the key looks like it could have belonged to a Medieval jailer. That, or something that fell off an American Eagle necklace.
Very aware of a foreboding weather forecast for the following few days, I dropped my bags in the room and hit the streets to start my extremely nerdy Florence audioguide. Yes, I really purchased traveler’s apps for my trip and YES, THEY WERE REALLY REALLY cool! Don't judge me. The Florence guide walked me through Il Duomo, Giotto's Bell Tower, The Baptistery, San Lorenzo, Church Orsanmichele, Piazza Repubblica, Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Pitti, and Ponte Vecchio, just to name a few.
San Lorenzo and Medici Chapel
From left to right: the Baptistery, Il Duomo, and Giotto’s Bell Tower. These mammoth structures are strange to behold during the day and even a little spooky at night. One minute you're strolling down a sleepy side street and the next three massive green and white edifices rise up from nowhere and without warning. The experience is up close and personal and entirely overwhelming, but in a good way.
I stepped inside the Medieval Baptistery and sat for a long time with my head tilted back admiring a myriad of black and gold religious icons. I do a lot of staring at ceilings these days. It’s as if there isn’t enough room in Italy for all the incredible paintings and mosaics, so they're forced to use floor and ceiling space as well.
Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria
Palazzo Vecchio 1
Replica (womp womp) of the David in front of Palazzo Vecchio
Foyer of Palazzo Vecchio
more Piazza della Signoria
View from Ponte Vecchio
Well thanks for posing, complete strangers.
I lunched on tiramisu gelato, just because I could, and headed for the Boboli Gardens. I really love gardens. I guess most people do, but somehow the flora and fauna tend to draw me even more than an impressive feat of architecture. Well, I found my gardens behind Palazzo Pitti and was a very happy girl. After much meandering past marble statues, lakes, and flowerbeds, and scaling a series of strenuous inclines, the payoff was a spectacular urban panorama at the summit. It was so beautiful I literally laughed out loud. That’s happened several times to me since being in Italy actually. Embarrassing, but true. It's honestly my natural reaction—when something seems just too incredible to be true.
Panorama from Boboli Gardens 1
More Boboli Gardens
Seeing as Florence is THE city of art, I found choosing my artsy souvenir (almost) stressful. Since I wasn't able to differentiate for talent or style, I resolved to base my decision on artist friendliness...naturally. So I struck up a conversation with one named Alfredo and the choice was no longer so difficult. Fine, he was adorable. Forking over the bills has never been so easy.
And just to burn a bigger hole in my pocket, I quite literally lost myself in a colossal flea market nearby. Right up there with gardens, open-air markets are one of my very favorite places to be. This proved a dangerous little area for me.
flea market 1
And take it from me, ladies, you've never felt so beautiful as in Florence. Spain ain’t got nothing on this city. It's also quite possible that pick-up lines are the only true English that most Italian men know, but does it really matter? ;)
To top off a very full day, I took myself out to a romantic dinner at Trattoria da Guido (yes, that’s really a name here). At a table outside on the cobblestone street, I sipped on delicious Chianti (the local wine) and enjoyed the typical Florentine vegetable and bread soup. Yum!
Just down the street from the hostel, I began Friday morning the best way I know how: with a frothy cappuccino and warm nutella croissant. Everyone in Italy seems to have his/her own bar and I am often one of the few people not on a first name basis with the bartender. It’s cute watching these interactions, and yet makes me miss “my” bartender in Salamanca.
With a happy heart and even happier belly, I made a beeline for Santa Croce church, the resting place of many Italian greats like Michelangelo, Galileo, and Dante. Less significant but still worth mentioning is the famous leather school and shop within the cloister of the church. Truly, this entire city smells like leather; it’s fabulous.
Santa Croce exterior
Santa Croce interior (well, kind of).
Having recharged with my second cappuccino of the day, I was ready to brave the massive Uffizi Gallery. Home to a number of works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Rembrandt, Donatello, and the like, each display was surprisingly anticlimactic. I had expected large plaques or spotlights to highlight the most famous masterpieces; instead, I had to read each cookie cutter label so as not to miss them. I guess making such distinctions within an art hall-of-fame isn’t so easy.
Afterward the tour, I stopped for lunch and consumed quite possibly the most delicious sandwich on the planet. Hear me out on this one. Composed of just four staple, yet magical Italian ingredients: prosciutto crudo (raw), tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, all in between two discs of crunchy homemade bread. I’m speculating that the simplicity of Italian cuisine is perhaps the major reason I have managed to keep the anticipated weight gain at bay. Italians rarely add extra seasonings to their dishes (Tots, the worst?), generally use very few ingredients, and you can count on it all being fresh and local. These things really do make a difference!
On my way back to the hostel, I got sucked into another leather market and almost forgot about the train I had to catch. It was a good thing I was leaving for Venice or I would have bought everything!
Love you too, Florence. Ci vediamo dopo!