Florence may have been my favorite city in Europe. Or at least my favorite in Italy. The architecture and the landscape are simply breathtaking. And the fact that most things you see around you have been around for literally hundreds of years just makes it all that more amazing. Not to mention that the people are just so friendly!
When we realized that our train from Cinque Terre to Florence had a stop in Pisa, we decided that we had to go see the leaning tower! So off we went (after quite some confusion about how to get the right bus to and from the train station), with our rolling suitcases and airplane-approved carry-on bags and joined the zillions of tourists trying to take pictures staged like they were holding up the tower with their hands (we also tried to take said picture, but there were SO many people that we were unsuccessful).
I will say this: the leaning Tower of Pisa is totally worth the stop. Yes, there are way too many people, and yes, there are pick-pocketers and tons of tourist traps and kitschy items for sale, but the tower and the buildings around it are a sight to behold. They are just SO WHITE and HUGE! It’s amazing that the tower is still standing, when I’ve heard that it sinks a little more each year.
Having checked that off our lists, we made our way to Florence. We had a bit of a rocky (you might even say “cobbly”) start, as it was much more difficult in Florence to navigate our way from the train station to the hotel and we had to lug our wheeled suitcases over blocks and blocks of cobblestones until we figured out how to get in a taxi.
But once we checked in (our room was beautiful, with painted ceilings, marble floors, and a CHANDELIER!!) and started walking around the city, everything just became so magical and wonderful.
We walked around and found Brunelleschi’s Dome – a dome that changed and inspired Renaissance architecture with its innovation – which you can pretty much see just about anywhere you go in Florence. The structure is massive, and also about 600 years old. Just the fact that Filippo Brunelleschi conceived the idea of this huge dome and then built it with no cranes or modern architectural equipment and it still stands today is so incredible to think about.
The next day as we were climbing up the 450+ steps of the Duomo, however, we really started thinking about how old this thing was, and just how many people climb up it each and every day…
Having reached the top (via some VERY claustrophobic winding stairwells), the view was amazing. A panoramic view of the entire city! We decided that we were glad we had made the hike, but that both of us were probably good to skip any other trips to the tippy top of really old buildings for a while.
On our second full day, we visited the Boboli Gardens in the morning, which had been owned by the uber-rich de Medici family during the height of the Renaissance (do check the schedule – they are closed on some RANDOM days every month). The gardens were beautiful and we were again able to see a gorgeous, hazy panoramic view of the city from the top of the hill. Though not as impressive as Versailles, these gardens were much more peaceful, and way less crowded.
We had lunch at a pizza place recommended by someone at our hotel. The restaurant is owned by four boisterous and hilarious men from Napoli (psst – where pizza originated!) who immediately started flirting with me and teasing Brian. They made my pizza into the shape of a heart and asked Bri if I was his sister! We both had a great time – not to mention FABULOUS pizza (oh, and cheap vino!!!!).
That afternoon, we stood in line at the Accademia Gallery to see Michelangelo’s Statue of David. It is truly a sight to behold. Standing an impressive 14 feet tall, with features perfectly proportioned (actually, perfectly proportioned so that if you were standing under the ledge where he was supposed to have stood, that his head would be the right size for his body), including veins, fingernails, and his piercing gaze.
There really is nothing else of note in the Accademia, except for some unfinished blocks of marble that Michelangelo began carving into statues and then stopped. It is kind of interesting to see a little of his process here. But go see David. #worthit
We finished our time in Florence by having drinks on the rooftop of the Westin, which overlooks the Arno River, and then heading down the street to another recommended restaurant, Bistro del Mare.
Let me tell you: Bistro del Mare was amazing. I ordered the fish of the day, which had perfectly paired flavors and textures to make it a deliciously balanced meal. Bri had the grilled seafood, which came out on a salt block to regulate the temperature of the food!
Our dessert was some sort of fabulous peanut butter and chocolate ice cream bar, which they paired with raspberry puree and little meringue cookies. This had been a recommendation from our server, and boy was he right! It was fantastic! There weren’t many people in the restaurant (because it was a Tuesday night, and apparently no one in Italy goes out until about Thursday), so we basically had the restaurant to ourselves!
After our meal, the server brought us two small glasses of limoncello, which he said were on the house! This was actually the third time this had happened to us while we were in Florence, and when we asked a server about it, we were told that it was because we seemed relaxed and that we were having a good time, and that the servers enjoyed us.
I was sad to leave Florence, but I hope to go back again someday.
ColaTownTourist’s Travel Tips:
I learned a few things during my travels that I wish I’d known before I went. In case they are helpful to anyone else, here they are:
- Relax and have a great time! As we learned in Cinque Terre, the Italians are on their own time frame, and they won’t be rushed. But if you relax and have a good time, you may be rewarded with a great conversation and maybe even a limoncello!
- Go with the recommendations. We tried to steer clear of most of the touristy restaurants (with a few exceptions), and were always rewarded with incredible and authentic meals. The best meals we had in Europe were places that had been recommended by locals (usually at our hotel). Also, some of the best dishes we tasted were off of recommendations from the restaurant staff.
- Buy skip the line tickets. Once again, because we weren’t sure what we wanted to do each day, we had to stand in some long lines – particularly to get inside the Duomo (the ticket line itself had been deceptively short). I’d recommend buying tickets ahead of time, and then hopping to the front of the crowds.
- Everything in Florence is closed on Mondays. Like, everything. Florentines don’t seem to go anywhere on Mondays, and as a result, many of even the major tourist attractions are closed. The Duomo at Santa Maria del Fiore was about the only thing we could do on Monday. Even the restaurants we wanted to try (and eventually did – on Tuesday) were closed. If you are there on a Monday, use that for sightseeing and getting your bearings. And maybe just go ahead and climb that Duomo.
- If you see a big hill, climb it. You will be rewarded with the most amazing views of the city. We went to the Piazza de Michelangelo one evening to watch the sunset. It was like the largest hill of my life, and having climbed the Duomo earlier that day, I really thought my legs were going to fall off. But despite my burning legs (not to mention the throngs of tourists), the view was incredible. There is even a little bar up there where we had a glass of wine.
- Do your research before you go. Bri and I spent a lot of time reading books (Brunelleschi’s Dome, Masters of the Renaissance, Inventing Leonardo, and even just Rick Steves’ audio guides) that taught us a lot about what we were looking at, and helped us to appreciate the city much more than if we’d just gone without any research.
Check out the other parts of my Adventures in Europe: