Florence (Firenze) was the next stop of my grand tour through Italy. A city I have been excited about since I learnt about the Renaissance at school. I spent 48 hours in this beautiful capital of Tuscany. But I could imagine spending more, because there is so much to explore!
It first comes as a shock when you arrive to Florence from Venice, because there are suddenly cars everywhere. They honk, stink and they are the kings of the road. The taxis have an annoying feature too – when they drive through the pedestrian zone, they beep. Nonstop.
Florence is relatively easy to navigate (or it felt like it after getting lost in Venice). You can sense the medieval atmosphere and the Renaissance architecture from every stone that you walk on. I was scared that it will be nonstop walking on cobble stones like in Prague, but instead the pavements are made of huge blocks of stone. It was less tiring for all the 50,000 steps that I made in Florence.
I stayed in an Airbnb apartment that featured a little British blue cat (just like mine when he was a baby boy) and my windows were facing the beautiful and lively Santo Spirito square. My host Sara was very nice, she made sure I am enjoying my stay to the fullest. She got me even an electric heater when the gas heating broke down. The location was convenient for discovering the city of Florence and to have some eating experience too.
My first steps were leading to the Osteria Santo Spirito, where I had the best spaghetti ever in my life. Beauty lies in simplicity, tomatoes and garlic make up a great combination. It was also the thickest pasta I ever had. I loved the service and the food so much that I even returned there the day after for dinner. I usually don’t eat in a place twice. That good it was.
When you travel through Europe in the off-season, the biggest challenge is making use of the daylight. I had no chance than to get the first impressions of Florence at dark. I headed downtown to the famous Duomo. Although it was around 6 pm, I was surprised how many tourists there were out there. Certainly much bigger crowds than in Venice. Also, you will learn to duck walk in Florence. The city seems not to be designed for pedestrians so much, because the pavement was just two stones wide. So you essentially have to walk in a line – like little ducklings.
The Duomo is a fascinating building, it takes roughly 8 minutes to walk around it. It looks like painted but when you look closer, you will distinguish green marble, with pink and white in an astonishing geometry! This building will be my favorite for quite some time! One little advice: if you want to explore it inside out including a hike through 440 stairs to the cupola, get your tickets in advance. I didn’t manage to get inside and I will deeply regret that. The number of people that can go up every day is only 120, which is not much considering the hordes of view thirsty tourists around there.
I didn’t like Florence so much at the first sight because of all the crowds of people around me. I was really missing the story behind the buildings I saw, the Renaissance similes and the smell of oil paint. This led me to only one conclusion, I have to get on a tour. As my budget is limited, I went on a Free Walking Tour of the Medici influence in Florence and would recommend it to anybody going to Florence. The tour was covering San Lorenzo, market hall, the Paradise, Duomo, Piazza della Republica, Town hall, Ponte Vecchio, artist streets and the Pitti Palace. The only disadvantage was that I didn’t manage to go to the Boboli Gardens as the tour arrived right at the end of the last admissions. Filipe was a knowledgeable guide and I was happy to get guided by a local with passion for his city. Do it too, there are two tours every day (11.00 – Renaissance tour, 14.00 – Medici tour) both starting from the Santa Maria Novella church. The tours are free, but you can tip the guide at the end.
As the sun was getting low, I decided to go catch the golden hour to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It is a hill with an incredible parking lot that was just getting ready for the New Years Eve. The view from the top was worth the hike. Plus, as a bonus, there’s a bronze David statue overlooking the city. In total, there are three David statues in Florence. The original – located in the Gallery d’Accademia, authentic copy on the Piazza della Signoria where the original stood until its arm got destroyed during a street riot and the bronze one at Piazzale Michelangelo. The statue is 4.34 meters tall, a giant male nude. I just wanted to see the original, so I spent 2 hours waiting in a queue to enter the Academy Gallery. My bad that I didn’t order the tickets online, because I was just hoping to get inside on the first day in Florence but ended giving up on the idea. If you ever plan to come to Florence, book your tickets online. The two hour wait was really frustrating and kinda hazardous as the temperatures were not really high.
Seeing David by Michelangelo was truly a special moment. I don’t think I was the only one who was astonished by the magnitude and precision of the statue. It was just stunning! I loved it a lot and didn’t want to leave at all. Even after discovering the icons in the first floor, I returned back to say goodbye to David. I am not sure you can have a love relationship with a statue, but certainly I created an affection for this cute nude boy with veins, six-pack and a sexy posture.
Like Prague, Florence is also keeping its unique medieval atmosphere. I really enjoyed walking on the Ponte Vecchio and seeing the secret gallery in the corridor that features the self-portraits of the artists. The tour guide also told us that Mussolini built three extra windows in the middle of the bridge to impress Hitler during his visit to Florence. Similarly to the Charles bridge, this one is really packed with people. Oddly, you do not really feel like being on a bridge. It is packed with small jewelry shops.
Like the rest of the city, Florence seems to be a great place to do your shopping. Sadly, the sales start only in January, so I didn’t really bother checking out the stores. I saw many people getting tailor made trousers or shoes, others walking with bags of big and famous clothing bands. Really astonishing.
Based on the recommendations of the tour guide, I had a lunch in the new market hall of Florence. A very vibrant experience with the hungriest and loudest folks I have ever seen. Great for the atmosphere, bad if you don’t want to eat standing in the middle of a moving crowd. The little pizza slices I got were quite tasty and also quite expensive. But sometimes you have to try something the locals do and eating in the new market hall of Florence seemed to be it for me.
I had to say goodbye to Florence, as there’a already a new stop of the road trip awaiting me. I will be celebrating the New Year in Arezzo. I didn’t feel like being in a big crowded metropolis, so the city of 100,000 seemed just big enough.
Thank you all for reading my shenanigans this year, I am wishing you all the best in the upcoming year that will hopefully be full of adventures and travels! Be healthy, happy and smiley! And btw, 2017 is a prime number 🙂 not sure if that makes any difference, but I felt like letting you know.