|This city also known to locals as Firenze is the capital of Tuscany with about 350,000 residents. I looked forward to seeing a big city in Italy.
We arrived at the bus station in early afternoon with sketchy directions to the Bargello B&B. The only map in our possession was the guide book of Italy with all the major attractions and a few streets in the vicinity. The guidebook advised that the train and bus depot were riddled with pickpockets so I felt quite uncomfortable looking like a tourist without direction. After asking a few locals, we rolled our luggage once again about a quarter mile over cobblestones and curbs until we found the neighborhood and ultimately our destination. We buzzed the doorbell just across from the street murals of graffiti until Rosa, our lovely host welcomed us to come on up. After dragging our luggage up almost 80 steps we found ourselves in a charming 5 bedroom B&B for the next 3 nights. It is always a relief to find and arrive safely at the next destination and this was no exception. We were quite anxious to get settled and get out and about in town. We had walked by so many amazing things on our way I was quite inquisitive to see what we would find. Again, we were not disappointed.
Just one block away was one of the few restaurants recommended by our host called Centrale. It was an eatery filled with old world charm and in existence for a century. The owner was there and proud of his daily offerings. As I watched the 3 local men next to us enjoy their lunch with liters of wine, food and ultimately dessert (incredible chocolate somethings) we vowed to come back for dinner. Florence is famous for its Florentine steak. The steak is a huge cut of beef served with a couple of sides which is not to be missed. So as the afternoon was coming to a close we remembered the Michelangelo piazza had to be on the list of things to do at sunset. We strolled along the Arno River and eventually found a path leading to the piazza. After a 30 minute hike we found ourselves at the footsteps of a bronzed David with a spectacular view of the city. We took lots of pictures and found that locals as well as tourists alike were taking it all in.
We enjoyed the Palazzio Vecchio, former Medici fortified palace now converted to the town hall which had much gilded art and statues, many of Hercules. While in Florence we spent lots of time walking street after street of shopping areas. There was the gold and silver mart known as Ponte Vecchio, the leather market which consisted of blocks of vendors with everything leather you can imagine. Nearby was the overly crowded Uffizzi Gallery with works of Michelangelo, Rubens, Da Vinci and more. The piazza in front of the Uffizzi was filled with statues, musicians, gypsies, vendors hawking guides and miscellania, tourists and an equal number of pigeons. This area was very near our B&B and served as our landmark to find our way.
Another amazing gothic cathedral lies at the heart of Florence, the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore. Built in 1870 the exterior is built in pink, green and white marble and is being restored to its original beauty. Years of pollution has rendered much of the marble darkly colored with soot. But inside the dome is decorated by one of the largest paintings of the Renaissance, the Last Judgment. We were able to admire this up close after we hiked the 463 steps to the top with an observation area. Again we were treated to a panorama of Florence just after sunset (bad timing) with the piazza of David on the hill in the distance. On the descent, the steps take you inside the dome along a catwalk where we were able to admire the Last Judgment and all its thought provoking lessons. Let’s just say that the portals to hell don’t look too attractive keeping in mind forever is a long, long time.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention David. Yes, The David, the shepherd boy hero from the bible about ready to take on Goliath carved in 1504. Wow! The original marble sculpture is 17 feet tall and sits atop a pedestal and can be found inside the AcademiaGallery housed with some of Michelangelo’s unfinished carved works. Unfortunately, once I saw David in all his glory all the other sculptures paled in comparison. I just sat, then stood and returned again to admire in awe for a long time as I knew I may never return again.
We enjoyed more local eateries like the Panini cart with wonderful grilled veggies, gelatos (which became a daily desire) and finally, the Yellow Bar with lots of pizzas and pasta dishes. While there at a shared table, we met an interesting couple in Florence on business who work as teachers in Saudi Arabia. We enjoyed hearing bits about their lives, the cultural differences, the incredible pay they receive and the limitations she has as a woman in the Middle East for the last 3 years. They both believe it’s a worthwhile trade off but were enjoying copious amounts of red wine and prosciutto (both strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia). The Yellow Bar introduced us to our first unfiltered, first cold pressed olive oil. The fluid is bright green in color and is almost opaque. We were told it is an acquired taste but the locals love it. We found it to be quite strong and tasted a bit grassy but definitely something that one could learn to love.
That’s about it for Florence. It would have been nice to stay longer but many advised we would love Venice so off we went via train with only a week left before our return to America. Ciao!