My third stop in Italy after Venice and Rome, I had high hopes for Florence. I’d been here once before as part of a cruise, but all I remember is seeing the copy of the Statue of David and it being a mega 42C! So, it was as if completely new as I found my way to the hotel on the first day before Will arrived. After meeting at the airport, the day was pretty much complete so my take on what to do in Florence comes from the three remaining days, which were enough to see the best of what this pretty large city has to offer.
First point to note is that we had a Firenze card; a pre-paid voucher that gives you free access and queue skips to all of the city’s major attractions! The card is also my souvenir, handily. Getting into the action, we walked to the centre of the city to the Piazza del Doumo to validate our cards and get jaunty… started. Here hoards of tourists were taking photos of the unique Doumo Cathedral that reminded me of a mosaic Lego project, which is a compliment. The streets surrounding it have a ‘tuscan feel’ to them and in some ways actually looked like rural England?
Of course, one of the top things to do in Florence is to see Michelangelo’s David, which lies in the heart of Galleria dell’ Accademia. Skipping the queue (mwhahaha) we flounced in and because we weren’t out and about early, thought we might have to queue inside… as was the narrowly avoided situation for The Scream in Oslo. However, the gallery has the huge statue in pride of place and on a mount that means you can see it almost immediately as you enter and turn left.
I was struck by how large it was and also by how beautiful, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been knowing it’s reputation. I’d seen the artist’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican and knew he was predominantly a sculpture; the evidence was clear! The facial expression is completely up to interpretation as it’s timeless and complex – how do you put that into stone? I’ve seen a lot of artwork this summer and this was really the finest example and even in this famous gallery with hundreds of statues in the adjoining rooms, however precise or skilled, did not compare to this pinnacle of artistry.
Impassioned, we strolled through Piazza Della Signoria (with replica of Dave) to the Uffizi Gallery, home of Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ and generally amazingly decorated rooms with intricate ceilings. From here, you also get a wonderful view of Ponte Vecchio, the arch bridge over the Arno River where the shops, once butchers, now sell jewellery and even more jewellery. There’s a lot to see from and in this gallery, taking around two hours to complete.
By now, the heat was getting a little too much as we ventured outside again, so we opted to take a long lunch of pasta, wine and espresso… and tiramisu. After our bruschetta (there were several courses) it became apparent Carrot Top of The Hangover film fame was inside the restaurant as he stopped for autographs and pictures. However, not knowing who he was until after he left and checking on imdb, we didn’t go up and ask.
Next, it was about time to have some panoramic views so we headed up Palazzo Vecchio in storm conditions, as thunder was taking off in the background of our day. Climbing nearly 400 steps, it got breezy and on the way down, I was hit in the head my a fire extinguisher pole, which was knocked over by the force of the wind from a conclave in the stone staircase. Ouch. All worth it though as I love a good view and also a bit of drama; this ‘head injury’ resulted in the purchase of watermelon sweets from Gilli. I’d recommend this viewpoint as it’s easy to climb and I assume usually less hazardous. From being here, up the Doumo and to the Giardino di Bobili, I can safely say it has the best views in the whole of Florence. With three major sights seen and a lot inbetween, we ended the day with one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had, courtesy of La Dantesca.
Day two and it was time to go up into the dome of the cathedral (Doumo) for some more views. This was very nearly a mistake, but in hindsight was still worthwhile. To get to the top you climb and climb from comfortable stairs to narrow spirals until you lose understanding of what you’re doing and that you’re not being pranked. Along the way, people are coming down and you have to stand in hot tunnels without any space for indeterminable amounts of time. Perhaps this was human error on the part of the staff as on the way down we noticed it was more efficiently monitored, but at a couple of points we nearly quit.
The view of Florence, whilst beaten by Palazzo Vecchio, weren’t the highlight anyway. The best bits were seeing the dark and hellish artwork in the dome up close and also viewing the interior of the Cathedral on the way out without queuing for it’s separate entrance. Afterwards we managed to check out the Baptistry (also a dome) before showering to get over the sauna conditions of the ascent.
For our late lunch, we had the pleasure of eating a Florentine steak, the city’s speciality more or less since it was founded. Without a doubt, this was the best steak I’ve ever had; the cut was perfect and it was seasoned and cooked wonderfully. This dish can be found on every street, but we went to La Fonticine and definitely recommend.
After a trip across the river through the markets, we grabbed some gelato and visited a couple of churches before walking back across the Ponte Vecchio towards the Santa Croce Basilisca. I was keen to visit as it houses the graves of Michaelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. By now it was evening, and as we sat on the steps of the adjacent square listening to a busker sing pop classics, we were ready to visit Brew Dog, a craft beer bar near our hotel which kept us entertained for two evenings with it’s football table 🙂 Current score 4 – 4 games each.
The evening meal (can you tell there was good food in Florence?) was a meat platter followed by lasagne, which was actually not as good as I hoped but the atmosphere definitely made up for it.
Day three was a bit of a slower pace as we ventured out for lunch – this time bolognese – and another go at gelato before trekking across the river once again to tackle the ascent to Giardino di Bobili, Palazzo Pitti and Forte di Belvedere. Easy to get tired walking up as it’s quite steep, the view makes up for it. The gardens themselves are extensive and well-kept, even featuring artwork and enormous fountains. There’s something very rustic about it and it felt a little like being back in simpler times, if it’s not too unfair to say. We took our time, taking over three hours here but it could been seen in perhaps two. The fort as well is interesting and easy to complete being on the small side.
Our last evening was spent with pizza at Zazza’s and back with Brew Dog because it was awesome. For maybe the fourth time on this trip, Will was asked to take a photo for someone and word must be spreading because they each say they love the result!
All that was left for day four was to tackle the ‘statue museum’ as we called it, otherwise known as Bargello National Museum, featuring many of Michelangelo and his student’s work. I was particularly keen on an exhibit upstairs showing game sets used by the richest family in Italy, so rich that they started a bank! Notably the museum has a chess set and backgammon, and even a keyboard. Also lions sculpted onto cannons, but they’re not to be played with.
Somewhere on this busy holiday, we also visited Santa Maria Novella Church, which is similar in design to the Doumo and in a cute little piazza. What didn’t we do? After three viewpoints, it wasn’t necessary to go up Giotto’s Camponile (bell tower). After Rome, Florence had some pretty high standards to meet and it very nearly matched Rome and might have even done so if it also had a Colosseum!
During our time here, it was a relief to get a thunderstorm to freshen up the air and by the time we left, we felt like we knew the city very well and it should be noted that everyone was extremely friendly, particularly at Hotel Mario’s where we stayed. After check out, they were kind enough to let us return to watch the season final episode of Pretty Little Liars before I took my train to La Spezia and Will his flight home, even after they’d serviced the extent of my washing which hadn’t been done since I left England…
My final stop in Italy awaits!
Will’s thoughts: We probably won’t go back. Florence, wonderful but done.