As Angela was headed to the airport at 6 am, we were both up not long after 5 am. This gave me plenty of time to get myself ready and finish tidying up the apartment, as my train wasn’t until 10:30 am. It was a remarkably quick and easy busy ride over to the station, but I’d given myself plenty of time, so I was fairly early. I grabbed a McDonald’s cheeseburger to tide me over until Florence and used their wifi to pass the time. Finally, about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure, the platform number was posted, and I made my way to the train. The train ride was quick and comfortable and even had free wifi. It was only an hour and a half ride to Florence, through picturesque hills and fields of sunflowers. It wasn’t long before we pulled into Florence’s station, and I was off the train in search of the bus to my AirBnB apartment.
I eventually found it and grabbed on of the buses that would take me there. Much like Rome, you can buy cheaper tickets in advance at bars or tabacchi, but you can also buy them on board for 2 euros. Indeed, there was a sign that said that, but I couldn’t see where to actually buy the ticket. It was only a few stops later that the bus was inundated with young people and was stuffed to the gills. Mercifully, it was a short bus ride to my stop, and I elbowed my way off the bus. I arrived earlier than I had informed my hosts, but thankfully, one of them was their cleaning my room. She showed me around the apartment, a cute little space on the third floor of an elevatorless building with a charming balcony. She also provided me with a map as well a list of recommended restaurants and supermarkets. I stowed my things and headed out to see the city.
Florence is apparently a walking city, as most of the highlights are concentrated in a relatively small area. I started my journey walking through the Piazza Santo Spirito, which was just a few blocks from the apartment, which my host recommended as a good place to find restaurants. As the place is located in the Oltrarno area, across the Arno river, I crossed one of Florence’s many bridges and took in a splendid view of the city and of Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge lined with shops perched on stilts. From there, I wandered into the city, down what looked to be the Rodeo Drive of Florence, with high end fashion shops abounding. Apparently, central Florence is a restricted traffic area, which made for a much more pleasant and quieter walk. It wasn’t long before I turned a corner and stumbled across the hard-to-miss Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (better known as the Duomo), Florence’s iconic landmark. It was certainly breathtaking and not what I was expecting. I suppose I’m used to the French cathedrals made of grey stone–this was white with green and salmon highlights. The dome was strikingly large, and I looked forward to visiting it in more detail.
My host recommended going to the top floor of a nearby department store for a view of the Duomo and the surrounds. I passed through Piazza della Repubblica, a large square complete with its own carousel. An art stall with original etchings caught my eye. As I’m a huge fan of etchings, I had to take a peak–they were all lovely, but I was particularly intrigued by a series of whimsical ones, portraits of gnome-like creatures. As I didn’t have much cash on me, I mentally earmarked the place and continued on to the department store. I eventually found the top floor cafe and paid for a rather pricey lemonade. The view was lovely, and I sat admiring it from my prime seat for a time before moving on. I found myself an ATM and headed back to the art stall and picked up a pair of etchings. She was a sweet little Italian lady, and I was pleased with my purchase. While she did have many cityscape views of Florence, I thought these might fit better with my current collection (hopefully).
From there, I came across Orsanmichele, what looked to be a square church that was originally built as a grain market in the 1300s. Photos weren’t allowed inside, though I did manage to snap one of the beautiful marble altar from outside of the church. Around the corner, I came across Mercato Nuovo, with aisles of stalls, largely devoted to selling leather goods. Apparently, Florence is known for its fine leather goods and have been making leather products for centuries. Right off the market, was Il Porcellino, a bronze fountain of a boar, with the idea that you put a coin in its snout for good luck and rub its nose for a return to Florence (I didn’t partake in this tradition, as there was a line to do so).
I wandered through the winding streets, only to stumble across yet another landmark, the expansive Piazza della Signoria, marked by Palazzo Vecchia and its tall tower. People aren’t kidding when they say that Florence is filled to the brim with art–everywhere you turn there are gorgeous sculptures or medieval churches. On one side of the square is the Loggia Dei Lanzi, which is a beautiful open-air sculpture gallery, with marble and bronze statues depicting mythological characters including Perseus and Hercules and guarded by the pair of imposing Medici lions. The Uffizi Gallery was just around the corner, a massive U-shaped gallery housing the Medici’s family private art collection. I walked past it and along the river, deciding that I would take one of my host’s other suggestions and hike up to Piazza Michelangelo for a view of the city.
It was a pleasant walk along the river and through the restaurant-lined streets. My host had noted that there would be a number of steep steps to get to this piazza, and she wasn’t joking. I stood at the bottom of what looked to be a very long staircase and considered that this was probably not the wisest choice for the end of my lengthy walking tour but soldiered on. Indeed, there was a little old lady trudging up ahead of me, so I was determined to not be put to shame. Huffing and puffing, I finally made it to the top and was definitely rewarded for my efforts. The piazza afforded a gorgeous view of Florence’s skyline and both sides of the river. The sun was hot, but a stout breeze kept things relatively comfortable. Satisfied with my whirlwind walking tour of Florence, I made my way back down the hill and headed back to the apartment. I made a brief pit stop in a supermarket on the way to pick up some supplies (cheese, crackers, tomatoes and salami) to have on hand for a meal or two.
I rested my poor battered feet for a time before venturing out to try one of the recommended restaurants, which was thankfully only a few minutes away. Vivanda looked to be a chic little place, though empty when I arrived. They have their own organic farm and produce their own wine, so I had a glass of their white wine, which was lovely and very drinkable. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, I was ambitious in my ordering–a pear and gorgonzola green salad with walnuts as well as handmade gnocchi with a gorgonzola fondue, liquorice and mint leaves. The salad was superb; not surprisingly, I love the combination of cheese and fruit. The vinaigrette was light, allowing the cheese and pear flavours to shine. It was a hefty portion, but I was hungry and finished most of it. The gnocchi was also good, though the liquorice flavour was quite strong and overpowered the other flavours a bit too much. Filled with tasty food, I waddled my way home and tucked in for the night after a long, fulfilling introduction to Florence.