The Husband and I took this weekend and used it to explore Florence. We had a full 24 hours in the city and it ended up being just long enough for us to see everything we cared about.
The drive down to Florence was about 2 1/2 hours and we booked a room at a little hotel outside of the city center. (To find out why, see my tips at the end.) It was a junky little place, but the price couldn’t be beat and check out this sweet floor-to-ceiling window! Too bad we couldn’t really see Florence from it… maybe if the building had been taller.
Our hotel was a 10-minute walk to the Firenze Rifredi train station, and from there it was a one measly stop to downtown Florence (€3 for a return ticket. Pfff, too easy.) I think the train ride lasted about 5 minutes, during which we were able to see that our hotel was definitely in the sketchier part of town. Not sketchy dangerous, but a comparatively poor area.
Once we reached Santa Maria Novella train station, we headed off to find the indoor market we had read about. We headed north and soon found ourselves in the midst of an outdoor market, trying to get through swarms of shoppers and tourists. And talk about leather. If you’ve ever wanted a leather ________ (fill in the blank), then Florence is probably the place to find it. Leather shops seemed to be every 50 feet, and every other stall of the outdoor market was full to the brim with jackets, purses, and belts.
These vendors seemed to be surrounding the Mercato Centrale. Once we finally found it, we went inside to see the entire upper floor full of gorgeous-looking food shops. Seriously, look at this:
We were saving our appetites for dinner, but everything looked completely delicious. The Husband caught one guy cheerily waving a blurry hello. The people seemed a bit friendlier than the Italians we’re used to in the north. We also found an area dedicated to a culinary school! It would have been fascinating to watch students preparing dishes, but alas, class did not seem to be in session.
After the indoor market we meandered around until we came upon the Duomo. It was beautiful. I’ve seen pictures of the Duomo in Milan, and I’ve been looking forward to seeing that one. But this one in Florence was more lovely than I ever expected (perhaps it helps that I hadn’t looked up a picture).
From there we started heading south toward the Arno river. There was plenty of gorgeous along the way, and finally we came upon the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge). As we walked, the light was fading and an the prettiest colors started to creep across the sky.
I led the Husband across Ponte Vecchio on the search for Piazzale Michelangelo. On the tourist map we printed out, this area looked like a big green park where I knew there was a replica of Michelangelo’s David. I thought it would be awfully pretty to see the David at sunset, so we hustled our butts and discovered that the “park” is actually a pretty steep hill with very little park at all. In fact, there’s even a winding road that you can drive up. The climb was short, but still difficult for me because it was so steep and apparently because I’m such a wuss (according to the Husband).
But holy wow, was it ever worth it. I cannot stress enough how beautiful the views from the top were. You can see all of Florence stretched out beneath you, and with the sun setting it was the most beautiful sight I’ve seen so far in continental Europe. It was just breathtaking. I’ll take a break from writing and just let you enjoy some pictures.
We hung out with David at the top of the hill until the sun had completely set (it really didn’t take that long), and by the time we headed back down the path we were starving. I was completely ready to have the Florentine steak I’d heard so much about. We tried to find a couple different restaurants we’d read about online, but Google Maps was being a bitch and we weren’t able to find anything. Instead, we wandered around the small side streets till we found a place that looked good.
The restaurant we chose actually had a rack of beef sitting out, ready to be hacked up for hungry diners. The Hacker Extraordinaire was happy to strike a pose for the snap-happy Husband. We got a liter of house red to split, and I got my steak. They didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked but it came perfectly medium-rare, as all steak should. I’d like to say I ate it all, but look at that. The Husband had about half of it by the end of the meal. I was a little disappointed that it didn’t come with anything else, but I realized with a steak that size it probably shouldn’t. It would be far too much to eat.
A liter of wine later and our wallets significantly lighter, we stumbled back toward the train station to get back to our hotel. The beauty of staying one stop away from a major train station is that trains come about every 10-15 minutes. Getting into and out of downtown that way was incredibly easy and stress-free.
The next day we went back downtown for a few more hours before making the drive back up to Vicenza. It may sound silly but after seeing the sun set over Florence, I wasn’t too worried about seeing anything else. I felt like I’d seen the most wonderful thing the city had to offer already. So we enjoyed our Sunday wandering around, trying to shop, and seeing what there was to see wherever we found ourselves. By great good fortune we stumbled across the statue of Perseus, which I had forgotten about (but had been excited to see when I looked it up a couple days before). The story of Perseus slaying the Medusa was always one of my favorite Greek Myths, and I feel very fortunate to have seen the very statue I saw in pictures when I was a kid.
We also found another statue of David in the same piazza as Perseus, which was probably more true to the original because it was in white stone instead of bronze like the one on the hill. Yes, we probably should have seen the actual David to say that we’ve seen it, but, I dunno…. It’s still just a statue, you know? There’s only so much to see and as we all know, I’m a bit of a cheapskate. I’ll stick with seeing the fake one(s) for free, thanks.
Before we left, we had to scope out a place we’d heard of on a tip from a friend / close-enough-to-family member. Our tipper recommended a place called Procacci, which, as it turns out, is kind of a gourmet snackery. (Did I just make up a new word? I really hope I did, because you have to admit that “snackery” is a pretty amazing one. I think I’ll just take credit till someone proves me wrong. YOU’RE WELCOME.) It was a fairly small room with a few tables and a wall full of wine. Behind the glass display bar were dozens of finger sandwiches, many of which featured truffle flavors. We got 4 different ones to share and a glass of wine each. The sandwiches were completely delicious, as was the wine. (Is that even worth saying? We were in Tuscany.) I promptly decided that having a glass of wine around lunchtime is something I need to incorporate into my daily routine. We ended up paying €17 for everything – it’s a little steep, but worth it because come on, you’re in Florence. I highly recommend Procacci if you’re downtown, but don’t go for lunch. Go for a quick bit of delicious because it won’t fill you up.
Once we felt like we’d seen all we needed to see, we went back to the train station and to our hotel to get the car because they were nice enough to let us leave it there even after we had checked out. It was our first road trip with our little Bimo, and he got us safely to Florence and back. And there was even room to spare in the trunk… barely.
TIPS: Concerning staying outside the city center: If you’re new to Italy, it’s good to know that most city centers are no-driving zones for everyone other than residents. With one-way roads all over the place, it’s easy to end up driving into a ZTL (zona traffico limitato), with a hefty fine ensuing. Downtown hotels also often lack parking, so if you’re driving it can be smart to stay a little ways out. If you’re taking the train it’s another story.
Check out stuff to do beforehand! There are a bunch of towers downtown that you can climb; you’ll be able to see the whole city and probably have a pretty cool view of the Duomo. Obviously we didn’t do this – I wanted to but like I said, after the view from Piazzale Michelangelo, everything else seemed unnecessary. Unfortunately I’m fairly certain that none of the towers are free, but it’s something to consider.
PS – Stay tuned for next weekend when we go to Paris!