It always feels overwhelming to come back from vacation and distill everything that happened over the last several days. I couldn’t even look through my photos until yesterday because that would require looking for a narrative thread that would give form to these blog posts. I prefer to hold onto the memories as something beautiful and personal for a few days before viewing them through the lens of family, friends, and blog readers.
But, I love digging through people’s vacation photos (both people I know and those only through virtue of the internet) so here they are! The first installment at least. We spent two and a half days in Florence with, oh, about three hundred thousand million other people. Remember when I talked about shoulder season and the beauty of traveling with less people? Well, not the case in Florence. Ever. It seems that there are maybe two months out of the year when that place isn’t swarming with outsiders. I can’t help but feel bad for the locals.
Nevertheless, we were there, hitting all the usual spots and few sneaky ones I remember from my study abroad days. It was pure pleasure to be back and revisit my summer there eight years ago. That trip really solidified my love for traveling and being abroad and it was a definite catalyst for my decision to be an au pair after graduation. It’s funny to think how my time there has impacted my life today.
Our flight from Zurich took less than an hour so we arrived in early afternoon to our Airbnb rental. It was in a great spot by the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrarno neighborhood. I would highly recommend staying in this area, as it’s a bit away from other tourists (but not by much) and has a cool nightlife scene with lots of cozy outdoor wine bars and cafes.
After dropping off our stuff we headed right into the thick of things with a walk across the famed bridge and into the giant plaza outside Palazzo Vecchio. We checked menu prices to find a place to grab a drink and people watch but they are absolutely criminal. We ducked into a side street instead and grabbed sandwiches at I Due Frattelini, the famed hole-in-the-wall snack bar run by two brothers. I used to grab sandwiches here all the time and it was a treat to revisit this spot.
We then walked to a few other of my favorite haunts, including Santa Croce and The Lion’s Fountain, an Irish bar my friends and I used to go to on late nights (no judgment!). We spotted the massive, hugely impressive Duomo in between bites of gelato before making our way to see it up close.
There is no way around it, the Duomo is incredible. The size and scope, not to mention the incredible colors and details of the marble, are astounding. You’ll be rather surprised to find the interior is very conservative given the vast ornamentation outside. Nevertheless, it is a truly special sight that never gets old.
We walked around that afternoon and made our way to a little wine bar around the corner from our apartment, Le Volpi e l’Uva. They have a great selection of wines by the glass and lots of delicious snacks, which are perfect for an aperitivo. We stayed for a couple of glasses of Tuscan wine and then left for dinner, which was a bit of a disappointment. But at least there was wine : )
The next day we went to Mercato Centrale to peruse the hundreds of stalls that surround the building before making our way inside to ogle all the delicious foods. One could spend a good chunk of the morning admiring the colorful produce and watching in awe as a butcher cuts a bistecca fiorentina, a local steak specialty.
Upstairs you’ll find a dozen food vendors and communal tables. It was a perfect place to have lunch and rest our feet. I went bold with pasta but you can find lighter dishes there, as well as desserts and a shop selling items from Eataly.
We left with full bellies to continue walking around the winding alleys and streets. I did a little shopping, but mostly we walked and walked. And walked and walked. I must confess that part of that walking occurred in the Uffizi Gallery, which was packed. We pre-booked our visit, which I would recommend, though there doesn’t seem to make much difference during these busy times. I really like this museum and have been several times before (when I was there with my family we saw Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick–she’s as tiny as you imagine), but it was nice to see some of the masterpieces again. Like everyone else I was interested in revisiting some of Botticelli’s most famous works and they did not disappoint.
We stopped for ice coffees at Ditta Artigianale, which is just around the corner from the exit of the Uffizi. It sits on the corner of this very quintessential Italian intersection and there was an old man just walking around the street, greeting everyone who came by and generally keeping his eye on things. It’s not a terribly bustling corner, but we stayed there for almost an hour just watching, absorbing this fascinating Italian culture. SO different from Switzerland!
Our apartment sat on this amazing staircase that looked right onto the Arno river and across at edge of the Uffizi. Every evening we would sit out there with some wine and snacks and watch people walk by or scream by on their motorbikes with a little less caution than I would like. But, you know, this is Italy. The staircase was large enough to host lots of people and it was fun to sit out there with others and pretend like we were all neighbors. One night as we were coming out to sit we actually saw a couple get engaged! It was so sweet and Phil took a picture of them to mark the occasion. That city, so much love!
We ate dinner at Il Latini, a traditional Tuscan kitchen that caters to tourists seeking an authentic experience. They offer two seatings each night and I would recommend making a reservation in advance, though we called earlier in the afternoon and it was no problem to accommodate us. We opted for the prix fix menu and sat and overindulged in everything they brought out. The antipasti, the pasta (including an especially memorable gnocchi with rabbit ragù), and main dishes were fantastic. It was a fun night but we all went home absolutely stuffed.
The next morning we got up early to climb to the top of the Duomo, something I had never done before. A tip: go early! We went around 10:00 and there was no line outside and the top was bearable with all the other people. Also, don’t forget to buy your ticket at the office across from the baptistry. And lastly, be ready for the stairs! There are something like 460 of them and the last bit, the part that’s actually inside the dome itself, is less than pleasant if you find yourself stuck in there for a good ten minutes, not moving. Stay calm and remember that someday you’ll make it to the top and to fresh air : )
It’s such a beautiful view and it feels incredible to be standing on such a magnificent structure. It’s fun to look out and see all the winding streets you’ve been walking on, as well as having a bird’s eye view of the churches, museums, and bridges. And, we saw another engagement! In fact, the guy asked Phil to take pictures of it and I got a front-row view of the action. It was so sweet. I just love love!
That evening, instead of taking drinks to the staircase, we headed to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best sunset in Florence. Of course it was an absolute zoo up there, but if you can find a little real estate on the steps or along the railing then you will certainly be rewarded with a lovely evening. We brought our aperitivo with us—though there are lots of over-priced vendors in the plaza—and marveled at the changing colors in the sky. There was no engagement but there was a wedding so it all evened out.
We had a wonderful dinner at Il Santo Bevitore in the Oltrarno neighborhood. A funny story: the night before we were walking home from dinner and I saw my friend’s parents sitting in the window seat of this restaurant. What a small world! We went in a shared some wine with them while we caught up on our respective travels. They highly recommended the spot for dinner so we returned the next night. That kind of thing hardly ever happens to me but it’s such a trip when it does. Anyway, we would also recommend dining here as well, though I would suggest a reservation.
The next morning we taxied to the rental car offices near the airport to pick up our car for the week. It took much longer than I thought, but by lunchtime we were on the road, headed south. Florence, you were a vision. We loved getting to see you in all your glory, even if your streets were teaming with others just like us. We’re excited to visit again someday and spend even more time south of the river.
More posts on our week in Tuscany to come!