Florence, the heart of the Renaissance, is my favorite Italian city. Situated in beautiful Tuscany and the Chianti region, what’s not to love? Allegedly they invented gelato as well! Florence is less chaotic than Rome, making it a nice reprieve. It is also a very walkable city, meaning no more sardine bus rides. Our first stop in Florence was this amazing market, the Mercato Centrale, filled with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, etc. on the lower floor and delicious food stalls on the upper floor. We had an amazing lunch of pizzas, pastas, salad, and, of course, wine! Hashtag gluttony. If I could go to this market every week I would be in heaven. Following, we walked off some of our calories just exploring the city and its many outdoor shopping markets and piazzas. Florence is apparently the city of leather and purses, wallets, jackets, and belts are everywhere. Everyone is selling them at a “special price, just for you!” One gentleman even told us that he’d sell it to us for a “100% student discount” and another “free for you because I’m young, single, and cook well!” Too funny. Artists also line the streets of Florence, selling beautiful watercolors that they paint right in front of you! We made one artist very happy by depleting quite a bit of her stock… Our city walk also took us to the Duomo, the very large, very gothic church in the heart of Florence. The outside is this amazing combination of pink and green marble, but the inside is so barren. It’s an odd contrast. Our second day in Florence, I finally dragged my compatriots to a museum! We went the the Galleria d’Accademia to see the famous Michaelangelo sculpture, David. This particular sculpture had been contracted to two other artists prior who lacked the conviction to actually make much progress. That’s where my main man, Michaelangelo, stepped in to save the day and carve the giant hunk of marble into the giant statue of David. For any unaware, this is the David from the biblical David and Goliath story. The statue took 2 years to complete and 4 days to move from its location inside the Duomo (where it was carved) and required knocking down part of a wall to get it out to its original location in a piazza outside the famous Uffizi gallery. Vandalism caused the statue to be transferred inside the Accademia (people suck) and a copy is now visible outside. It is quite an impressive work to behold. The Accademia also holds several unfinished sculptures by Michaelangelo and it was so neat to see the chisel marks on the works in progress compared to the smoothness of the finished marble, which can look just like fabric… Amazing! We learned a little about the process of making marble sculptures using plaster models, which was pretty interesting. I felt quite untalented.
Our sightseeing also took us to a famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, which is a pedestrian bridge lined with shops. Formerly, butcher shops lined the bridge and would discard their excess into the river. Now fancy jewelry stores line the bridge. We also hiked up a not insignificant hill to get a fantastic view of the city from Piazza Michaelangelo. We passed an unusual site on the way up – a cat sanctuary, complete with white fluffy cats and tiny cat houses. Weird. The views were breathtaking and we hit the top at that magic hour near dusk when everything is bathed in a lovely golden light.
Our last day in Florence we spent on a wine tour, which took us out of the city and into the countryside of Tuscany. It was just the four of us and our wonderful guide, an American expat named Todd. I’m a little jealous of his life. He met and married a woman from Florence, moved there after grad school, became a sommelier, and now gives wine tours. How cool!?! We had a wonderful time learning about and tasting some amazing Chianti wines native to the region. The countryside is beyond beautiful and I’d definitely like to spend more time there someday. Todd also gave us a mini history lesson on the Florentine Renaissance and the ruling family at the time, the Medici family. History is brutal! Plots of assassination (inside the Duomo at that!), Pope’s conspiring to take power, and of course a fair amount of bribery. Crazy times. Later that day I went on a solo (and slightly buzzed) mission to the Uffizi gallery to see some of the famous Botticelli paintings, among others. Sadly it was a bit of a rushed visit as it was near closing time. Every time I visit a museum or important religious site, I’m amazed at people who blatantly disregard the large no photo signs. You can’t exactly misinterpret the black camera logo with a giant red X through it…
I miss Florence already! On to France!