When you get an opportunity to visit the birthplace of the Renaissance, the city that occupies a good part of your history books over the years, the city that stimulates your imagination, you just don’t say no! I had heard that Florence is a lovely city, I had dreamed about Florence being a city that was filled with Churches and extraordinarily talented artists, but nothing prepared me for the vibrant energy it exuded. From the moment I stepped into Florence, I was floored – with the spectacular art and architecture, the haunting music from the street musicians which will stay with you long after you’ve left Florence, and the charm of this old-world city locally called Firenze.
The Renaissance marked the end of medieval Europe (which is usually seen as a period of barbarism and no real progress or advancement) and the beginning of learning, reason, questioning and of course mind-blowing art and architecture. The rich merchant family in Florence, the Medicci family were the biggest patrons of art during the period, and their contribution to the world of art is immense. All these facts we had read and learned about, so of course the expectations were high, but Florence definitely did not disappoint. It was in fact much more than what my untraveled mind had imagined as a school and college girl. The architecture was out of this world – magnificent and intricate, the food was fabulous, and the energy that every street in Florence resonated, exuberant. All in all, the essence of Florence was and still is hard to put into words.
We left Pisa at 2.30 PM and reached Florence at 3.30 PM. Our hostel was a ten-minute walk from the Firenze Santa Maria Novella station. It was called Leonardo House, and it was one of the best hostels we had stayed in. It was more like a house, maintained squeakily clean, with a very helpful and friendly host called – no prizes for guessing – Leonardo 🙂
Once we settled in, we set off to see the main attraction of the city – The Duomo. It’s right in the centre of the city, and a 5-minute walk from our hostel. The whole of Florence is easily walkable and you do not need any public transport to get around. In fact, I think I did not see any public transport around, except for horse carriages. Yes! That’s how lovely Florence is. The Duomo is simply breath-taking, its size overwhelming, architecture ornate. I was floored by Florence in that instant that I laid my eyes on the Duomo. I think it is by far my favourite city in Italy. The spectacular Duomo or cathedral in Firenze with its Brunelleschi designed dome will take up most of your time in Florence. That’s because you simply cannot stop staring at the work. I suggest that you find places around the Duomo to have your meals. That view, you will not find anywhere in the world, so might as well make the most of it.
When we had to drag ourselves away, we walked to the Accademia Gallery that houses the world famous statue of David, one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces. Nothing prepares you for an actual view of the sculpture. We walked out feeling it was well worth the visit to the Gallery. The tickets to the Gallery are priced at 22 euros, when you book beforehand, online. It is a lot cheaper (around 16.50 euros) if you go there and book, but we saved time standing in long queues. We spent about an hour and a half inside the museum. I would suggest taking a guided tour for the David, since we heard some interesting trivia the guides were enthralling their audience with.
Uffizi Gallery is the other big gallery in Florence, but I did not go inside. Honestly this was because I was not very familiar with the art inside the Uffizi, and I felt I wanted to soak up the atmosphere outside in the streets of Florence. It was definitely a great idea. As I walked I saw street musicians at every corner, playing the most enchanting music, I saw horse-drawn carriages waiting to pick someone up at the city centre, I came across San Lorenzo, a street market with leather goods of great quality, I came across beautiful manicured gardens, more buskers and quaint shops selling hand-painted ceramics. I walked across the Ponte Vecchio – the famed bridge which was earlier filled with butcher shops and now replaced by high-end gold jewellery stores. When I was tired I stopped by one of the many Gelato shops to have a Gelato. I ended my day back at the Duomo, finding a restaurant that overlooked the Duomo, to enjoy my plate of Spaghetti al-dente (pasta that is not cooked too soft).
The next day was reserved for souvenir shopping, and in this department too, Florence definitely does not disappoint. I want to specially mention “Three Angels”, which is right opposite the Duomo entrance. It’s filled with handcrafted, exquisite souvenirs, and what I remember vividly is the unique jewellery which I have never seen elsewhere. Apart from this, Florence is famed for their hand-made paper, painted ceramics and leather goods.
I don’t usually focus on the food aspect in most places I visit, but the food in Florence was fantastic. If it’s dinner time, try their Carbonara or Risotto, if you want just a snack, try their Rustico. Have a sweet tooth? Don’t miss the Gelatos! Another special mention to their seafood salad – it looks like a dream, but my stubbornly unexperimental palette and taste buds could not handle the subtle seasoning, or as they screamed out – “Where is the masala?!!”
Seafood salad aside, Florence, with its rich culture, magnificent history, unparalleled art and architecture, and dime-a-dozen street musicians playing haunting music, has me enchanted and floored.