Europe Week Three: Florence
Thursday afternoon we rushed out of our Italian class as it ended and jumped onto a train. Three hours later, we found ourselves in the heart of Tuscany. After grabbing late night gelato with a friend living in town, we settled into her surprisingly spacious and elegantly old-fashioned apartment for the long weekend. Ciao Firenze!
We started our Friday morning climbing the 400+ steps (each!) up to the top of the Brunelleschi's Dome and Giotto's Campanile, part of the complex of buildings that make up the magnificent Florence Cathedral, also known as the iconic Duomo. Thankfully we did this early on, because those narrow stairwells could have been a lot worse if we had bumped into hordes of tourists. At the end of the leg workout, a cooling breeze and the most amazing view greeted us. Standing atop one of the greatest feats of Renaissance architecture looking down at the medieval cityscape of matching red rooftops was definitely a humbling and spiritual experience.
We spent the day wandering the cobblestone streets of Florence, stopping to take in the major attractions. (I have to do all the touristy things the first time I visit a place; it's only fair.) Piazza della Signoria was one of the biggest and most beautiful piazzas I've encountered in Europe so far. Its statues stand triumphantly in the open air sculpture gallery, Loggia dei Lanzi, and the crowds of visitors and residents alike bring life into the square. The fortress-palace Palazzo Vecchio towers above and the replica of Michelangelo's David statue stands at its door, ready to battle Goliath (or more like an army of selfie sticks nowadays). We then visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, the burial place of well-known Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. The basilica was one-of-a-kind, featuring frescoes, tombs, and a peaceful little courtyard. We also explored the other side of Florence, walking up more stairs up to Piazzale Michelangelo to see panoramic views of the city from above. The balconies overlooked sweeping views of the Tuscan hillside and the city walls that surround Florence. (Definitely coming back here at sunset the next chance I get!) After lunch at a small Italian ristorante (pasta and more pasta!), we found ourselves by the Arno River, perusing sparkling jewelry shops along the always photogenic Ponte Vecchio.
At the end of the day we bought some ham and crackers and picnicked on the walls above the Arno River bank, watching the sun turn the sky every shade of pink before it quietly set behind the bridge. Florence glistened in the night and the swift flowing river mirrored the enchanting city above. The mesmerizing "water and a view" made for the most perfect laid-back dinner location. The next night, after coming back to Florence from our day trip to Cinque Terre (blog post to come!), we were lucky to catch a special reduced-admission night opening at the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. It was the biggest and most beautifully curated, elegantly designed, and perfectly located museum I've ever visited. A huge collection of Roman and Greek statues lines a Hall of Mirrors-style corridor that connects a chronological timeline of adjoining exhibition rooms featuring a seriously impressive collection of Renaissance art. Gasping at every turn and gawking at the fantastic views over the city through wide windows, I walked down the halls taking a trip back in history, pretending to be of Medici royalty and appreciating the timeless collection of treasures. Getting to marvel at Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and hundreds of art pieces from the Renaissance era was an art history dream come true.
We had walked well over ten miles that day, and my feet were beyond exhausted as I finally got home. But I could hardly complain. Navigating by foot around a historical city (without fancy elevators and air conditioning) has a certain age value significance. Florence is quite small, with the towering Cathedral and the river always helping to orient you in the right direction.
Florence is rich in culture, but also home to fashion giants like Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo (that store is a museum in itself!). Walking past high-end shopping streets, I was reminded of NYC's Fifth Avenue. Along with upscale name brand boutiques, shops selling all things leather were everywhere. I window shopped til I dropped.
Florence is definitely a more pleasantly clean and pedestrian-friendly city than Rome. The masses of tourists can get overwhelming at times, but I'm glad people in the world are getting to travel and experience this beautiful treasure of a city. I think we got pretty lucky with the crowds, the weather, and the queues in the limited time and college student budgets we have.
A city so full of Renaissance charm and fashion, Florence was romantic and an absolute delight to visit. Piacere, Florence, until next time!