Italy : Part 1
“Can I meet you in Europe?”
“Sure, I want to go to Italy”
This conversation with my friend Dave is how I came to, 6 months later, find myself in Italy. It was impulsive at the time but no one regrets Italy, ever.
Florence is where we decided to meet. He was on a five week European holiday and was kind enough to include me on the Italian leg of his trip. We only had nine days together so we decided that our trip needed to revolve around good food/wine/coffee, a road trip and a taste of Italian history and culture.
From Vancouver I flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt (FRA), Germany, a quick 8-hour trip that included German instructions, a seat next to an astronomer and 1 sleeping pill. From Frankfurt it’s a quick commuter flight with Lufthansa to Florence (FLR) where I was served a tuna, turkey and tomato sandwich, Germans aren’t really known for their gastronomy but what’s one last sacrifice before you enter the mecca of food. Transport from the Florence airport into the city itself is painless. A taxi will run you 20€ and an additional € for each piece of luggage you bring with no need to tip. A bus will cost you 5€ and drop you off at the train station in the city centre and runs about every 30 minutes. It all depends how over transit you are at this point and how fast you want to get to a glass of wine.
For our accommodation in Florence we chose to go the Airbnb route. It’s my preferred go-to lodging when travelling. It’s inexpensive, you have a broad choice of areas to stay in and for all the times I have used it, I have yet to be disappointed. If you do decide to go with Airbnb, I suggest you really take the time to read the comments from past guests, they are usually bang-on. For our apartment, complete with kitchen/living room/dining room/patio, we paid $140. An average hotel in Florence will cost you approximately $200 and will come with nothing more than a bed and a bathroom.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and for some 250 years was the most important city in Europe. Some of the world’s most brilliant minds could be found here, people such as Gallileo and Machiavelli, the Medici family and artists such as Michelangelo and Botticelli. There are some 80 museums in Florence that house some of the world’s most renowned pieces of art. The most impressive to me was The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or simply Il Duomo di Firenze. It is an imposing church set in the historic centre of Florence. Construction on the Duomo began in 1296 and was structurally completed in 1436. It is impressive to say the least; the exterior is covered in green, white and pink marble and a 19th-century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris. I can’t even wrap my brain around the complexity. It’s best to go in the evening when there are no line-ups obscuring the Duomo’s exterior, walk right up and get lost in the details.
During the day the Cathedral is open to all and is free. Wear pants, as shorts and skirts will not be allowed in, as I learned. The bareness of the interior of The Duomo will strike you as it offers a stark contrast to the exterior and is meant to symbolize the austerity of religious life. I find that this drew my eye to the interior of Brunelleschi’s Dome which is painted with a representation of The Last Judgement. It is 3600m2 and is an impressive, and extremely graphic representation of heaven and hell that will make you think twice. If you get the chance, I recommend that you climb to the top of The Duomo. Halfway up the dome you will come out to where the painting starts and this gives you the best vantage point to admire this graphic piece of work. There is a fee to climb Brunelleschi’s Dome and I would suggest buying an all access pass. The pass will allow you to visit all things Duomo related such as; Brunelleschi’s Dome, Giotto’s Bell Tower, The Baptistery of St. John and The Duomo Museum within a 24-hour period.
Florence, as well as offering you art and history has much to offer in the way of modern culture and style. Some of my favorite moments were spent drinking wine and people watching. An area I suggest you visit is the Piazza San Spirito. It is a lively square that is anchored by the Basilica di Santo Spirito. During the day the Piazza is filled with children and market stalls and lined with cafes. In the evening the markets give way to alfresco dinning and the square quickly becomes filled with young fashionable people out to socialize. It is acceptable to bring your own beer or wine and drink openly in the Piazza. I saw many people walk by with a fresh take-out pizza and beer and settle down on the steps of the church for dinner. The Piazza is located across the Arno River from historic Florence and far enough away from the Ponte Vecchio that you feel like you may have found a little piece of authentic Italian life.
Of course I am saving the best for last. As a child I felt a connection with Garfield The Cat, maybe because I might be a cat lady with a dry sense of humor but probably because of his love for Italian Food. This dear reader is why I went on an exercise binge leading up to this trip. I was not disappointed. Every night we tried a different restaurant, sampled the bruschetta, the olive oils, the pastas and the wines. I was in heaven. Some days we headed to the market and bought delicious prosciutto, olives, soft cheeses and bread to enjoy on our patio in the summer night air. Afternoons were spent drinking wine and eating tiramisu instead of waiting in line at museums. An espresso was always the perfect antidote when the food left us feeling a little sluggish. We ate without restraint and regrets. The only way I believe you should do it in Italy.
So as you can see you can easily spend a week in Florence walking around, eating well and feeling relaxed. Add it to your bucket list and start packing.
Currency: EURO €
Time To Go: May and early June, nice mid 20’s temperature
Local Tip: Don’t tip! Freedom!!!! Also, many establishments and restaurants close mid-day for a rest but tourist traps are always open.
Don’t Go Without: adapter for your phone charger and wireless speakers for spontaneous dance parties
Where we stayed: Airbnb in Santo Spirito Piazza