Off to Florence – the second city we were visiting on our Italian adventure. We took the train from Venice to Florence, and it was great! Super comfortable! Florence is Susan’s favorite place in the world, and we were so excited to be there with her.
We stayed at the Hotel Pitti Palace al Ponte Vecchio. This hotel was not as beautiful as the hotel in Venice, and the shower situation was a little odd (the faucet for the shower was somehow hooked up through the faucet on the sink), but the location could not be beat. The hotel was located at the base of the Ponte Vecchio, a pedestrian-only bridge that spans the Arno River and now houses jewelry stores. We purchased a nice gold chain for Tim for half of what we were quoted here in Springfield!
Our first day in Florence consisted of getting our bearings, walking around a bit, jewelry shopping, and finally a food tour! As I said in Our Italian Adventure – Venice, a food tour on the first or second day of being in a city I alway a good idea! We booked the Florence Sunset Food and Wine Tour with Eating Europe, with Francisco (aka Pinocchio) as our guide. It was fantastic, and definitely a highlight of our visit to Florence!
Our second day in Florence just happened to be Tim’s birthday (yay!). What a way to spend your birthday! We started off at the Bibi Graetz Winery, which you can read about here.
After we got back into Florence from Fiesole, we stopped at The Fiddler’s Elbow to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (and St. Tim 😜)
The Fiddler’s Elbow was located in the Santa Maria Novella Piazza, which lucky for us was close to the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a perfume and herbal shop that is sometimes called the “oldest pharmacy in the world”. In the 13th century, monks developed balms and tonics from the flowers and herbs grown in the garden of the monastery, eventually developing scented waters and perfumes. It is now a retail operation selling perfumes and lotions. Even if you are not interested in purchasing anything, it is worthwhile to go into the building. I purchased my only souvenir from here (I’m not counting the cases of wine 😜) – a bottle of lotion called Angeli di Firenze. It is exquisite!
We ended up shopping a little more on the way back to the hotel, and Tim bought himself an ACF Florentina shirt as a birthday present. We even kicked around (get it?) the idea of going to a match later in the week, but the forecast of rain scared us off.
Our third day in Florence we had scheduled ourselves to go to the Uffizi Gallery. While we were planning our trip, we took Rick Steves’ advice and booked this (as well as the Accademia and Duomo) ahead of time. We also purchased the Firenze card ahead of time and downloaded the app to our phones – this worked out great and saved us money. The card costs 85 Euro, and is good for 72 hours from your first visit to a museum or cultural center. Plus, if you have downloaded the app on your phone, you can restart the card for free, and you will get an additional 48 hours to visit the museums. The card gives you access to more museums that any person could possibly visit in a five day period.
So on to the Uffizi Gallery! Even though we had the Firenze card, which gives us admission to the gallery, we still had to reserve an entrance time. The Uffizi Gallery is very popular, so I would suggest if you are planning to go this museum to book your entrance time as soon as you can, even months in advance. Our entrance time was 10:00 am – not too early, and avoiding the afternoon crowds. If you do not book an entrance time, you could be standing in huge lines just to purchase tickets.
Even though we had reserved an entrance time, and had the Firenze card, we still had to stand in a short line to get the physical tickets. And the Uffizi Gallery has this down to a science. There is a ticket office just for those who have reserved an entrance time, and the staff will only allow those whose entrance time corresponds within 15 minutes of their reservation to stand in line. There is a sign indicating the entrance times being served, and a couple of people are checking to make sure that you are not trying to skip the line. I was able to go in and get all four of our tickets for the Uffizi Gallery – and as a plus they also printed out our Accademia tickets for the next day.
Once you have your physical tickets, you go and stand in yet another line to enter the museum. That line seemed a little longer but went very fast. So, make a reservation ahead of time – you will not be sorry!
There are many famous artists and paintings to be seen in the Uffizi, and it takes you from Medieval paintings to the Renaissance. Lots of “Madonna with Child” paintings, and even though they all seem similar, there are differences. I am not an art connoisseur by any means, but I did enjoy walking though the Uffizi. I noticed the paintings of babies the most – at the beginning they all looked like miniature humans with the face of adult males, but by the time I got to the Renaissance paintings, the babies started looking like babies. Seeing art from Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael up close and personal in the city where they lived and created their art was amazing.
After visiting the Uffizi Gallery, we headed out to the Piazza della Signoria, considered a gateway to the Gallery if you are coming from the opposite direction. There you can see the Loggia dei Lanzi, an open-air building with large arches housing many sculptures. Adjacent to the Loggia dei Lanzi is the Fountain of Neptune. We were headed to the Palazzo Vecchio, which is located directly behind the fountain.
The Palazzo Vecchio is the current town hall of Florence and previously used by the Medici as their palace. It is also feature prominently in the Tom Hanks’ movie “Inferno”, and is where you will find the Dante death mask. Lots of art in this building as well, and is the original home of the “David” statue – there is a replica there now.
We were not done exploring by any means! Plus some of us (mainly Tim) was on the lookout for some leather goods. We headed to the Piazza Santa Croce to visit the Basilica of Santa Croce. Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and others are buried here.
We stopped for a snack before heading out again. This area is known for its leather stores, of which there are an abundance. The trick is to make sure you are buying something authentic and made locally in Italy. We went into several stores, and Tim found a really great jacket and gloves.
That night we found a great a great little restaurant very close to our hotel to have dinner. I can’t stress enough how happy we were with the location of our hotel – lots of great cafes, restaurants, and gelatarias close by. We had dinner at Ristorante Mamma Gina, and treated ourselves to a Florentine steak and tiramisu. So delicious!
So on to Day 4 in Florence! We had scheduled our trip to the Accademia for 9:00 a.m. to beat the crowds. And since I had our tickets in hand (remember I picked them up at the Uffizi Gallery) we were able to go straight in.
The Accademia houses the most Michelangelo pieces of art in the world, including The David statue. When you walk into the gallery, you first see four of Michelangelo’s unfinished statues called “Prisoners” or “Slaves”. Even though they are unfinished you can still see the genius of Michelangelo and his understanding of the human body.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but The David statue is magnificent and beautiful! Since we were there at 9:00 a.m. it wasn’t very crowded, and we were able to easily walk up to the statue and all the way around it.
After spending a couple of hours at the Accademia, we walked a few block to the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. This is the first house of the Medici, a ruling family of Florence from about the 1500s to the 1700s. They were supporters and patrons of the Renaissance artists, to include Da Vinci and Michelangelo. On my “to do” list is to watch the Medici series on Netflix 😊.
From here we walked to the Mercato Centrale to grab lunch and a beverage. This place is humongous! We did a lap around to see all of the food vendors, then grabbed a table and took turns going to get our food. So many choices!
We walked around a bit more after lunch and ended up at Eataly Florence. I have been to the one in Chicago, which is much bigger. We stopped in, shopped a little, and had a beverage.
Dinner that night was at Ristorante Celestino, another wonderful place really close to our hotel.
Day 5 – our last full day in Florence. Time has really flown by! We are headed to the Duomo and Baptistery this morning, but first we have to take a moment to rub the snout of Il Porcellino, a bronze statue of a boar located in Mercado Nuovo. This tradition ensures a return to Florence, so of course I’m going to do it!
The Duomo is free to enter, but the Baptistery, Duomo Musuem, and climbing the dome all require a ticket. We heeded Rick Steves’ advice and made advance on-line reservations. The Duomo and affiliated sites are not included in the Firenze card. If you are planning on climbing the Duomo’s dome, get reservations as soon as you know you will be in Florence.
Tim and Sarah had reservations to climb the dome at 9:45 am, so we arrived at the Baptistery of St. John around 9:00 am. The mosaic ceiling and bronze doors are well worth a visit.
This is where we all parted ways for a bit – Tim and Sarah climbed the dome, Susan went to the Museum and Church of San Marco, and I had coffee at an outdoor cafe and people-watched.
A quick story about my coffee – most of the time when you order coffee in Italy it is espresso and served in a very small cup. I wanted a larger cup of coffee, and I saw they had a jumbo size at this cafe, so I ordered it. The barista asked me if I wanted a cafe americano, and I said “Si”. Since I was sitting outside she brought the coffee to me – and I literally started laughing. I was trying to get a larger cup of coffee, but this coffee was so large it looked like a soup bowl with a handle on it! And yes, I drank all of it, and it was delicious!
We chose not go inside the Duomo even though it is free. The line of people to get in is really ridiculous! So we heeded Rick Steves’ advice (again) and went to the Duomo Museum instead. This museum houses the original bronze doors and Brunelleschi’s models for the dome. It is well worth going through!
Once we were through with the Duomo Museum, we headed to the Basilica di San Lorenzo and Medici Chapels. This was the church of the Medici family, and many of them are buried here. There are also several Michelangelo statues worth seeing.
We decided to eat a late, leisurely lunch. Susan found a restaurant that she had been to on a previous trip, and it was on our way back to the hotel, so it worked out great!
After eating, Tim and I went back to the hotel to rest, and Sarah and Susan zipped through the Boboli Gardens. These gardens were also featured in the move “Inferno”. Since it was so late in the day, they were literally “zipping”!
Our last meal in Florence was one of our favorites – charcuterie with a Bibi Graetz wine 🙂
Florence was amazing! And I can totally see why this is Susan’s favorite city. Even though Susan has been here several times, there were still things she had not done. I loved the city, the people, the food, the wine, and plan on returning sooner than later!
Off to Siena! Ciao!