Florence: Living Out the Italian Renaissance


The wonderful city of Florence is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Just walking through the narrow, cobblestone streets, it seems like every building, every plaza, every sculpture has an age-old story to tell. The architecture and decor screams "historical" and "artistic". It's no wonder people fall in love with the city's beauty and charm.

In all my travels, Florence is one of the few cities I left longing for more. The food, the people, the sights and sounds. There is simply not enough time to absorb the city, certainly not in a matter of days!

If I ever return to Italy, I'll be sure to reserve more time just for Florence.

To-Do List:

Day One

The train ride from Rome to Florence was swift and easy. We flew by more of the Italian countryside, a common view throughout the northern part of the country.

Our train arrived on time at Firenze Santa Maria Novella (S.M.N), the main train station in Florence. Stepping outside with our backpacks strapped on, we realized the sun was out in full force today.

We meandered through the streets from the train station to our Air BnB lodging. One of the best things about Florence: the entire city is walkable. We never once had to take any public transportation during our entire stay!

Nestled in the heart of Florence, our Air BnB apartment was an old-style flat right along Via Dante Alighieri. Our hostess made us feel very welcome. It was no more than a 5-minute walk to most of the sights in the city, we were literally in the middle of it all!

Hungry from our travels, we walked a bit further outside of the central part of the city to a small sandwich cart named Sergio Pollini Lampredotto. Lampredotto is a bit of a delicacy in Florence, a peasant dish made from the meat of the fourth and final stomach of the cow. While the texture was a bit off-putting, the seasoning made the sandwich delightful!

After chowing on some tripe, we walked back to grab some coffee at the cafe right outside our apartment. The cafe was named Bar Aligheri, and had a great view of our balcony from down below.

After walking along Via dei Calzaiuoli, the main street towards the Duomo, stopped and gazed in awe at the ornate, gothic structures from Piazza del Duomo. The architecture was quite unlike anything I've seen before!

The inside of the Duomo, now called the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, had high ceilings and tall arches, but lacked the grandiose decor and vast frescos of many other churches we had visited before.

Unfortunately, access to the top of the Duomo was closed for the day due to the large amount of foot traffic in the stairways. So, we opted for a walk up Campanile di Giotto, a 50-foot bell tower right next to the cathedral!

There were stopping points at various levels, offering views of the city down below and artifacts from the tower's construction in the 14th century.

It was quite the walk up, and the same stairway was used for both climbing and descending. There wasn't much room to maneuver. However, the views at the top were outstanding! We were even able to capture the top of Duomo itself in our panoramic photos!

After the steep climb down to the street down below, we made our way towards Arno River. The river divides the northern and southern part of the city. On the way, we stopped and looked at the many sculptures in Piazza Della Signora. The plaza is a major focal point for the origins of the Florentine republic.

After navigating through the narrow streets near the river, we stopped into a small cafe named Gelateria Caffe delle Carrozze. We sat outside and sipped our coffee while watching many tourists walk along the river.

Once we finished, we walked a couple of paces to the Ponte Vecchio. The "Old Bridge" is a medieval arch bridge with many little shops built along its exterior. I've never seen anything like it! The shops lining the edges offer mostly jewelry and were fun to look at while crossing over.

After crossing the Arno River, we walked west along the narrow sidewalks of Borgo S. Jacopo. To get a different view of the entire Ponte Vecchio, we crossed over the Ponte Santa Trinita.

The Ponte Santa Trinita was a bit busier, since cars were allowed to drive across it. So, we didn't spend much time there. We walked back along the south side of the Arno River up towards Piazzale Michelangelo.

The beautiful Giardino delle Rose was a great resting point on the steep stairs up to the viewpoint!

At the top, sweeping views of the entire city!

And a replica of David by Michelangelo.

For dinner, we went to a nice little place named Trattoria Gabriello. To our surprise, there was only one other couple there. The food was very good! We enjoyed a bottle of Chianti and an appetizer of foie gras, my wife did not enjoy the appetizer. We also shared a first course of potato-stuffed pasta.

For the main course, we had a generous serving of roasted spinach with garlic and ribeye steak with green peppercorn. The ribeye was cooked perfectly!

Finally, for dessert, we had espresso and almond biscotti dipped in orange liqueur. Prior to this, we hadn't dipped biscotti in anything but coffee, but this was a delicious alternative! This was probably one of our loveliest meals on the trip.

Day Two

To get our first full day in Florence started, we needed a nice cup of coffee. After doing some research, we decided to go to a place named Coronas Cafe. It's a busy little place, right on the main drag of Via dei Calzaiuoli. The coffee was actually pretty good!

Our first goal of the day was to climb the 463 steps up the Duomo! Since we missed out yesterday, we made sure to get in line early.

Right underneath the dome of the cathedral, we realized the size and scale of Vasari and Zuccari's beautiful fresco. It's massive and detailed, with different paintings telling several biblical stories.

The journey up to the very top of the dome was similar to the one up Campanile di Giotto: very narrow and shared between climbers and descenders.

After marching up the claustrophobic stairways, we finally saw some light! One last ladder-like climb up to the top of the dome revealed one of the best open-air, panoramic views I've seen of any city!

And now, we were able to capture the bell tower in our panoramic photos!

After climbing all the way back down, we were ready to eat like Americans. Fortunately, we made our way to the busy storefront of All'antico Vinaio, an extremely busy sandwich shop.

Fortunately, a friendly American student encouraged us to get one of his favorite sandwiches, the La Summer.

The sandwich did not disappoint... The prosciutto was salty and very tender. The tomato and mozzarella cheese gave it a nice, cooling texture. The star of the sandwich was the basil, adding a swift, floral kick in the nostrils with each bite. Easily one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten!

The sandwich brought on somewhat of a food coma, so we stopped into a bar named Bar San Michele. Our sever was an old, intimidating man, but he was prompt and straightforward with us.

At this point in the trip, my hair and beard were getting really shaggy. It was time to find someone who could give me a semi-decent fade and line-up. I ended up walking into a men-only barbershop named Zelfiro Parrucchiere Per Uomo, just east of our apartment.

I knew the language barrier would be a huge problem, so I simply showed the barber a photo of someone with a mid-taper fade. He simply brushed it off and began cutting my hair. I was extremely worried...

It's crazy, I've gotten so many bad haircuts in the states, but this Italian man who didn't speak a lick of English gave me one of my cleanest haircuts! Looks like I have to head to florence any time I want a clean line-up...

After a quick break at our apartment, we went back out to explore the Oltrarno neighborhood. Before wandering the neighborhood, we ate "a bit" of ice cream at Caffe Maioli, just after crossing the Ponte Vecchio.

We ordered small ice creams, but they really only serve one size. Let me clarify, they really only served one expensive size... I'll be sure to avoid this place next time I come around.

We walked by the Piazza de Pitti, peering into the many leather stores along the street. It was interesting seeing many little shops selling all kinds of specialized items.

A little exhausted from the sun, we sat and sipped on Tuscan wine in a small restaurant named Trattoria Boboli. It's very much an Italian restaurant, but it had a very Mediterranean vibe to it, from the music to the decor. It was a lot of fun talking, sipping wine, and snacking on bread!

Refreshed, and a little buzzed, we walked back towards the water to Piazza Santo Spirito. It seemed like many locals of the neighborhood were out enjoying the sun! Some were drinking beer by the fountain, others were playing guitar and singing loudly, and most were sitting along the steps in front of the Basilica di Santo Spirito.

We had dinner reservations in Oltrarno, but not for awhile. So, we wandered a bit closer to the Arno River. Fortunately, we found a hidden coffee shop named Libreria Cafe La Cite. It was very much the coffee shop vibe we're used to: indie music, young people on laptops, and a barista who was meticulous about the coffee. It was also a library, with shelves stacked with many Italian books!

Eventually, we left the coffee shop and stood on the Ponte Santa Trinita to watch the sun set on the Arno River. It was a romantic sight!

When it was finally time for dinner, we made our way back to a restaurant named Trattoria Casalinga. The restaurant was extremely busy, but since we had reservations, we didn't have to wait!

We began our meal with a bottle of Chianti and Tuscan bread. The unique thing about Tuscan bread is it's lack of salt, which gave it a very plain taste.

Our starter was a platter of bruschetta with different toppings along with a sampler of various salamis. It was quite a large appetizer!

Our first dish was spaghetti with pesto. The pesto was extremely flavorful and fresh-tasting, I couldn't get enough of it!

Finally, we made it to the main course: the infamous Bistecca alla Fiorentina! Prior to cooking the meat, the server actually came out with the raw steak and showed us the large cut of Chianina beef. Seasoned with just salt and grilled to perfection, the T-Bone steak came out with a side of lemon and olive oil. It isn't quite the seasoning I'm used to, but the flavor was excellent!

Very full, we enjoyed a brisk walk from Oltrarno back to our apartment in the center of town.

Our last night in Florence? There's always room for gelato! I stopped into a place named Bar Il Granduca and bought a single scoop of hazelnut on a chocolate sugar cone.

Day Three

Before leaving on our train, we paid a quick visit to the Saint Lorenzo Market. Like many other open-air markets in Italy, there were many bags, belts, scarves, etc. being sold among the many tents lining the streets.

The indoor portion of the market is named Mercato Centrale. Here, many different types of foods are beautifully displayed for customers to look around.

After enjoying our time wandering the market, we made our way back to the train station to venture off to the next city.

Until Next Time

I fell in love with Florence in the short time I spent there. I'll be sure to return soon!

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