Oh, Florence. This city is magical. This is Ginevra and Elvio’s hometown, so we felt right at home when we arrived here.
Our fights took us from Minneapolis to Paris and finally to Florence. When we landed in Paris, we got a little glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, which was kind of a cool bonus, but it was nothing compared to everthing that was about to come. Our overnight flight left us rather exhausted (of course we were too excited to sleep on the flight), but right when we saw our Italian hosts we were reinvigorated. We stuffed ourselves into the Pagano’s tiny car (cars are much smaller in Europe, and that’s no exaggeration), and headed out of the Florence airport. Things immediately went awry, albeit only a little. As we were going to leave the airport, the stop arm came down on our over-stuffed car, leading to a small Italian argument from the front seat as the jet-lagged Emily and I looked on, giggling. Gin and Elvio had a habit of arguing in Italian in order to hide it from Emily and me, but we caught on pretty quick.
The Italian summer had us sweating immediately, and between that and our 14 hours worth of flights and layovers, we were ready for a shower once we reached their apartment. After getting ourselves cleaned up, we made our way across town to Gin’s sister Ambra’s house. She treated us to a delicious homemade Italian lunch, and thus my love of Italian food was reborn. I also got my first taste of real Italian espresso, which was so much better than I ever could’ve imagined.
After our lunch, we headed out for our first bout of sightseeing, despite the exhaustion we were feeling. We made our way to the church of Santa Croce. This church housed tons of priceless pieces of art, along with many tombs of famous Italians, some of the most noteable being Machiavelli, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Galileo. It was a little strange–almost surreal, actually–to see so many graves within the church.
Next up on our tour of Florence came Piazzale Michelangelo. We made a stop at San Miniato church up on the hill overlooking the city. The chapel was getting its organ tuned when we got there, so there was eerie music playing the whole time, giving off an almost haunted vibe. Outside of the church we took some gorgeous photos with the city-scape in the background before finally making our way up to the Piazzale. The heat was getting to us, so we got some slushies and the first of many gelatos to come.
Finally, we ended up back at our home away from home. We took a quick nap, completely wiped out from the past 24-hours, before we were treated to a fabulous, home-made Italian dinner, courtesy of Elvio. Shortly after the dinner, Emily and I promptly passed out for the night, getting ready for our full day to come.
Our second day began at the Uffizi gallery. The amount of art that we saw here was absolutely insane. Some of the more notable pieces were The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, Venus of Urbino by Titian, and about a million renditions of The Madonna and Child. Funny story about that, I spent most of the day making fun of the babies drawn in all of the Renaissance art (because, have you seen them?! I swear these artists have never seen an infant before), and about halfway through the day Emily informed me that all of these art pieces were actually depicting Jesus and the virgin Mary. I definitely would not have made fun of the babies so much if I had known they were Jesus…
We made it through all of the Uffizi before 10:30am, and then went to a panini shop called All’Antico Vinaio. The sandwiches were absolutely to die for. We found the bronze statue of the wild boar in the city center and rubbed his nose for good luck. The statue’s nose was a completely different color, having been touched by so many tourists. Since we were already in the city center, we made our way over to the Campanile (aka, the Italian belltower) for stunning views of the city, especially the Duomo. After the Campanile, we saw San Giovanni’s baptistry. It was as though the entire inside of the building was cased in gold.
Next on our itinerary came the Palazzo Vecchio (aka the old palace). We started by waiting in an extremely long, incredibly hot line. Our legs and feet were practically dead by this point, so we sat for a bit… before climbing the Palazzo’s tower! The tower gave us even more gorgeous views. After the tower, we checked out the “archaeology tour” which was basically just a walk down to an underground tunnel, which would have been interesting, however there were no signs explaining or identifying anything. It was an odd experience. The rest of the museum was great, but probably the best part was the hall of the 500, which was much larger than I imagined, despite having seen it in movies. After much searching, I found the flag that reads “cerca trova” within one of the massive wall paintings. “Cerca trova” means “seek and find”, and plays a major role in the novel Inferno, which is the only reason we even knew about the hidden phrase. This book was also the reason we made a special stop in the room of maps, specifically to see the secret door hidden under the map of Armenia. Finally, we saw the death mask of Dante Alighieri.
We made a quick frozen yogurt pit-stop and rested for a few minutes before heading to the Academic Gallery. The wait was a little long, but it was beyond worth it. Michelangelo’s David is easily the most beautiful sculpture I’ve ever seen. He was perfectly anatomically correct, aside from his head and hands being slightly larger. This was done to emphasize the fact that David’s only defense against Goliath were his mind and his hands. It looked as though he was going to break out of the stone and walk away. Well, except for the fact that he was almost 17 feet tall. Yeah, I always thought he was 6, maybe 7 feet tall, but no. He is larger than life. They say that an artist had previously started carving the stone used for the David, but they gave up, saying it was too hard. Michelangelo took this as a challenge, and created this iconic piece with little to no practice work. We made our way upstairs to look at even more medieval altarpieces. I’m not a huge art fan, but I made it through all of the galleries by making fun of most of the art. (Hey, all in good fun!)
We ended the day with sore feet, sweaty hair, and full stomachs, the final bit all thanks to Elvio’s cooking. This was one of our busiest days of the whole trip, but it was worth the exhaustion. (Our next two days were spent in Pisa and Cinque Terre, so stay tuned for those cities’ posts!)
Our last full day in Florence began with us driving across town to pick up Ambra. We turned on Disney music in the car, and Emily and I sang along in English while Gin and Ambra sang along in Italian. It was such a fun sisterly-bonding moment. After our rendition of carpool karaoke, we went to the Stibbert Museum. It was a museum full of one man’s collection of armor, weapons, and tools of medieval times. The massive collection was housed in his beautiful home, and it was much more beautiful than I orginally expected it to be. Gin, a huge fan of all things Renaissance, had never even been to this museum, which was shocking to Emily and me. Seeing the horse armor was probably the most interesting part. Our tour guide didn’t speak any English, so we relied on Gin to be our translator, but we found ourselves picking up on certain phrases, like the century the armor was from. After the museum, we went to a park behind it and saw an Egyptian-style temple. Ambra said Stibbert must have been a collector of everything.
We dropped Ambra back off at her house (she had to study, sadly) and went back to Gin’s for a quick lunch. We relaxed for a bit, and then headed to the Boboli Gardens. It was absolutely beautiful. As I walked through the gardens, I could just see the Medici family riding horses down the rows of plants. We found two small grottoes, one of which was mentioned in Inferno. We couldn’t go in, but it was cool just to be able to see them from the outside. After the Boboli, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio (the old bridge) and shopped around for a bit. (Interesting tidbit, all of the bridges over the Arno River in Florence were bombed during WWII, but Hitler loved this particular bridge and allowed it to stay standing.) I tried my hand at bargaining for lower prices, but as it turns out, I’m really bad at it. Despite my failure, Emily and I still ended up getting cute leather purses for decent prices. After going to the open air markets, we found a little shop where I succumbed to my inner-teenage-girl and bought myself Birkenstocks for super cheap. The Church of Santa Maria Novella was our final destination, before getting some more gelato (some of the best on the trip), and making our way back home for the night.
We took the train back to Gin’s car, and Emily and I tried to learn how to pronounce all of the train stop names. When we reached the stop nearest Gin’s car and we were walking across the street, we watched a woman walk straight into a traffic sign. It looked like something out of a movie, if we’re being honest, and it might’ve been funny if it hadn’t looked so painful. Once we got back to Gin’s apartment, we started to reorganize our suitcases and clean ourselves up. For dinner, we had a zucchini frittata, fresh watermelon, and melon wrapped in prosciutto. The food in this country is simply to die for, especially when it’s homemade. After dinner, we lounged around for a while, then got to sleep for our early day in Venice the next day.
We had a few more evenings in the city, but I’ll include those with the other cities’ posts. These three full days in Florence were some of the best of my life. This city will forever hold a special place in my heart. I can’t wait for the opportunity to go back.
Have you had the chance to explore Florence? Let me know what you thought of the city in the comments below!
Stay tuned for more updates,
xoxo, second sister suzie