Considering how many places we visited and how many interesting things we saw during our three weeks in Europe, I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that I am still sifting through all that content. You may recall the posts I did with Amsterdam photos and Paris photos, but this is my first post with our time in Italy. Even though we ended up visiting a total of seven cities during our trip, more than half of those were in Italy. Go figure.
The first stop in Italy, not counting the brief train station layover we had in Ventimiglia, was Florence. Called Firenze in Italian, Florence is a beautiful city in the heart of Tuscany. One thing that we learned very quickly is that Florence is a surprisingly small city. For the most part, aside from taking the bus to get from the train station to our accommodations, we spent the entire time on foot. You can walk to all the major attractions, really, so there’s not much of a need to familiarize yourself with the public transit system or to take a taxi.
What you see at the top is Ponte Vecchio, which translates to “Old Bridge” in Italian. It was the only bridge in Florence to survive German attack during World War II. What’s interesting about this Medieval stone-closed bridge is that not only is it closed to vehicle traffic (it’s pedestrian-only), but both sides are lined with shops. For the most part, these are jewelry stores, but historically, it was originally occupied by butchers. In terms of shopping, you’ll find plenty of great Florentine leather goods and silk ties all around town too.
The many churches in Europe are all beautiful, but Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross) in Florence is particularly special because it is where you will find the tombs of such notable Italians as Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini and, pictured here, Michelangelo. Entrance is free, but donations are obviously appreciated.
Similarly, entrance to the Florence Duomo (officially called the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, or Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower) is free. However, you need to pay 8 Euro per person to take the stairs up to the dome and the roof of the Duomo.
This entrance, if you are facing the front entrance from the outside, is to the left. It’s open until 6:20pm during the week and 5pm on Saturdays. Arrive earlier than that, though, as there can be a lineup. Also bear in mind that you will be ascending 463 steps to get to the top (and 463 to get back down)… but it’s totally worth it. You’ll see the inside of the dome, as well as get a bird’s eye view of Florence’s rust-colored rooftops.
We didn’t have a chance to visit the Uffizi Gallery, but we did go to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. That’s really the highlight of that particular museum, but there are some other great sculptures and artwork to see. You will want to hop online and buy your tickets ahead of time; they divide entrance times into half-hour blocks. There is a small booking fee, but it sure beats standing outside in the standby line for hours on end.
The food in Florence is pretty good too, as you may recall from my review of Trattoria Bordino last week. Another great place we found was all’Antico Vinaio. Indeed, it’s rated as the #1 restaurant in Florence on TripAdvisor, even though it’s not really a “restaurant,” per se. Instead, it’s a humble deli that serves up a mean sandwich where you can choose all your toppings (including meat and cheese) for a set price. Glasses of wine are self service for 2 Euro.
We ate a lot of gelato while in Italy. Most places give you the choice of cup or cone in about five different sizes, typically starting at about 2 Euro and going up to about 5 or 6 Euro. And yes, it’s good. I think we each had gelato five or six times by the time we left Italia.
Florence isn’t a huge city, but our brief two days there may have been one of the bigger highlights of my trip. While we had to rush around to see everything there was to see in Paris (and still not seeing most of it), we had far more opportunity to experience la dolce vita in Firenze. It’s a wonderfully charming town that is well worth visiting.