After Venice, the next stereotypical-first-time-in-Italy destination was Florence. We arrived in Florence mid-day on Wednesday and after a short 15-minute walk from the train station, we checked-in and settled in our spacious room at our B&B.
For our first day we walked around Florence’s historic downtown to get familiar with all the sites. Florence is rather walkable, so getting around was very easy. As we made our way to the centre of town it was hard not to notice the beautiful and enormous Duomo of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore and its intricate and colorful exterior. Greg and I thought it was charming in its own pajama-pants-like way and spent time admiring it from all angles. Unlike the exterior, the interior was a tad underwhelming. The Basilica is very large, and its interior is quite sparse with very little glitz – all the churches in France and St. Mark’s in Venice may have raised the bar too high. The Basilica’s floor and the Duomo’s interior with its beautiful, intricate frescos were the only parts that stood out. After the Basilica we spent the next few hours walking about the rest of town and then called it a day.
Our second day in Florence happened to be a national holiday, which meant everything was closed. Greg was smart and had reserved two bikes from the B&B before our arrival for the day. After breakfast we got our bikes, which were much better than those from Albert, and headed to Piazzale Michelangelo, a square that sits atop a hill across the river that offers magnificent panoramic views of Florence. The views did not disappoint as we spent the next couple of hours taking photos and visiting the Basilica of San Minato del Monte which sits just above the square. After making our way down and parking our bicycles next to Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most popular and famous bridge, we walked further into town and followed another one of our free audio tours, which highlighted Florence’s main tourist attractions. The audio tour led us back to the Basilica of Santa Maria and the Baptistery across from it, which of course was under restoration work, and highlighted the amazing Baptistery doors designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. These massive bronze doors are a must-see with its golden relief sculptures that are simply beautiful, so much so that Michelangelo called them the “Gates of Paradise”.
A few more minutes into our walk we were caught in the middle of a parade where hundreds of men, women and kids were dressed up in full medieval costumes marching along the streets of Florence. Some played the drums while others did some decent tricks with flags. We followed the parade and ended up at the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s town hall, where a multitude of people had congregated for an annual 1 May speech. We have no idea what the speech was about, but it was cool to witness the spectacle. We can only imagine they were welcoming us into town and giving us the keys to the city…
After a long day of biking and walking most of Florence we made our way back to our B&B, cleaned-up and went out for a nice, well-deserved dinner to Perseus, a traditional Florentine restaurant that was recommended by our hosts. The restaurant was packed with locals, always a good sign, and we were lucky to grab one of the last few unreserved tables. The place was dark, cozy and buzzing with loud chatter and laughter while several waiters were running back and forth with giant steaks and pasta dishes. The whole ambience felt very Italian and the food was authentic and good. As if the biking was not a good enough workout for the day, we decided to go for a second workout and do another walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo to take panoramic night shots of the city.
After our night photo session only one thing was missing from this fun day…yes, good guess, that was gelato! We treated ourselves to what locals had suggested as the greatest gelato in town at Gelateria della Passera, a tiny spot with some delicious-sounding gelato flavors that made it hard to decide which one to have. In the end we went with chocolate and pistachio; they were superb.
Our third day included a lot more walking around town, exploring every corner of the city centre, opting to not stand in line for four hours, even in the “skip the line” line, for the Uffizi, followed by another pasta dinner and more yummy gelato for dessert to round out our stay in Florence. Now on to Rome.