Florence was our third city during our Italy part of our trip. We were there from Thursday, May 4th to Monday, May 8th, 2017. At this point we've been in Italy for over a week. It's crazy to think about all that we've done so far and how quickly our trip is going.
We were in Florence for three full days and it rained off and on for two of those days. This city is very compact with a lot to see. It's very different from both places we've been. Obviously, it's not on an island like Venice, but it still has an old Italian charm with even taller buildings and just as narrow of streets. It doesn't seem like there is as much color in the buildings like Venice, except for the Duomo. Compared to Milan, it's not as new or as industrial, but it feels richer with history and reminds me of Chicago. It even has a river that runs through the city like Chicago.
Here, we stayed on the fourth floor of a walk up apartment that we found on Airbnb (Via Faenza, 12 Firenze, Toscana 50123.) It was nice to have our own place again. There are definitely quirks to staying in an old building, but it looked like it had been renovated recently. The shower was large enough to walk in and carefully rotate, but at least the door went the entire length of the shower, which is a first. We were a five minute walk from the train station, a 5-10 minute walk to the Duomo and around the corner from the Mercato Centrale. We really could get anywhere in 15-20 minutes if we didn't get lost. It probably took about 15-20 minutes to get to the river depending on which end you're going to. I noticed some very nice boutique style hotels, which seem like a good option too. For us, it was fun to live like an Italian.
Itinerary - Sights to See
Our first full day, I woke up at 4:30am to get ready for a photo shoot with Taylor Schroeder and by the end of the day, even with a two hour nap, we walked over 28,000 steps! The first place we went was to see the Statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia. The museum was very interesting to see and to learn about the statues and paintings anywhere from the 1200's to the 1500's. The Statue of David was impressive and immaculate (photos below.) Michelangelo asked for a scrap of marble that was left over from the Duomo to construct David and this 17 foot statue was the outcome. You could see the veins in his hands, the muscle definition in his arms and the shape of his ribs. I can't fathom how he actually created this and to scale at that size. The museum was constructed to house David and it was beautiful how the light shined through on him. David was moved from a spot outside where there is now a replica and another replica at the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Later that same night, Aaron and I went across the river to the Piazzale Michelangelo (photos above) in order to see the sunset on the city of Florence. The Piazzale is up on a hill and we somehow ended up going the back way. iMaps sent us on a trek! We sprinted up the windy road and made it just in time. The area was packed! You can see all of the people sitting on the steps enjoying bottles of wine.
Walking around Florence we came across a lot of museums, libraries and churches. We really wanted to visit the Gucci Museum, but it was closed while we were there. Some of the places we visited were the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which is a palace and a courtyard built between 1444 - 1484. The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana is a library with a pretty courtyard. Santa Croce Church looked like a miniature Duomo and is a beautiful church from the outside. The Ponte Vecchio is an old bridge that has shops along the bridge.
Other things to do.... We did not make it to the Uffizi Museum, but we walked around the outside of it. On the Sunday while we were there it was a free day and the line wrapped around and throughout the square where the Uffizi is. Also, we hear that the Boboli and Bardini Gardens is a great place to visit. Lastly, we were planning on taking a day trip to Lucca, but we slept through our alarm and by the time we would have arrived there was supposed to be a down pour. By the time we were getting ready to leave it definitely felt like we were there a day too long. However, I'm glad we had as much time as we did because there are a ton of great restaurants to eat at.
Itinerary Continued - Places to Eat
It seems like Florence had the most restaurants to try than Milan and Venice combined. That's probably because I received a lot of recommendations and felt like I had to go to every single one. Also, the food here seemed very reasonably priced compared to the other Italian cities and compared to what the cost would be back home. By the time we arrived in Florence we were both in need of some American food and found ourselves at Hard Rock Cafe. I told myself I would never do that, but it felt good to relax in a tall booth.
Aaron was needing an American breakfast, one that wasn't only a croissant and coffee, but had eggs and bacon. The first one we found was Caffe il Sole and it was just okay compared to the other three we went to, but it was an authentic and cute cafe. The next day we went to La Menagere that served a continental breakfast of coffee, orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, yogurt with granola, ad a croissant. We shared that and an order of pancakes, which were surprisingly fluffy. This place is also a flower shop and has been around since early 1900's. It was gorgeous and reminded us of an Italian Liberty Market, but of course more rustic. The third morning we went to Ditta Artigianale, which reminded me of La Menagere. We ordered Croquet Madames. Aaron's was a classic with cheese and ham, and mine had mushrooms and three different kinds of cheese, both with eggs on top. Our last morning, we went to Konnubio, which had beautiful and very modern chandeliers. This place had a full service bar and a breakfast buffet of croissants, yogurt, eggs, juice and coffee. It seemed like all of the American breakfast that we had the scrambled eggs were cooked in a ton of butter and had a lot of salt. The bacon was cured differently and not as crispy as I'm used to. Nonetheless it did the trick with the toast.
We usually skipped lunch after our giant breakfasts and didn't eat again till dinner, except for one day. Aaron found the #1 restaurant in all of Florence (on Trip Advisor) and it was a sandwich shop called Sandwichic. They make your sandwich out of bread that is flatter than most of the bread that they use. They slice it in half and very thinly sliced prosciutto, panchetta, or salami. They also have spinach spread, sweet onion jam, cheeses and tomatoes. It was by far one of our best meals on our whole trip. They also had self serve wine for 1,50 Euros. One day we found a juice shop near the bridge called Forno Gastronomia. Fresh squeezed juice was the perfect break from all of the breads, meats and cheeses. The Mercato Centrale was a big market that looked to be in an airplane hanger. It was very cool to see and walk through. They have restaurant options and walk up counters to take home food too. Brew Dog is a brewery close to us and had a fun 1990's American grunge vibe.
For dinner, we went to Osteria Il Gatto e La Volpe, which unbeknownst to us directly translates to the Cat and the Fox! They had delicious pastas here, but my plate was delivered with a giant shrimp on top that still had his eyes. Aaron had to wrap it up in a napkin and remove it from my plate. I almost lost my appetite. The ravioli was still great! He won this meal with lasagna. The second night we went to Acqua Al 2 and ordered the blueberry steak. It was delicious! Another favorite meal of the trip. It came with smashed potatoes or polenta, I couldn't tell the difference. We split a bottle of wine and a dessert plate. Apparently this restaurant is also in San Diego and Washington DC. Both of these restaurants require reservations. Our last dinner in Florence was at Gusta Pizza across the bridge. We got there right at 7pm when they opened and thank goodness we did because there was a line out the door within minutes of being opened. The pizza was very good! Aaron had a calzone and the crust was very doughy. I was disappointed because they are known for making heart shaped pizzas, but mine came out as a circle even though I asked for a heart. Oh well!
The most important meal is gelato. We went to three different places. Aaron found Antica Gelateria, which was easily the best gelato that we'd had until that point. Plus it was next to our place. The next night we went to Vivoli, which is very well known and was recommended by a couple people as a "famous" gelato spot. It was okay. The first spot was definitely better and it seemed more expensive. Our last spot was recommended by a couple people as being the best gelato in all of Florence and it definitely was! Gelateria de Neri was near our breakfast spot one day and we figured might as well get it since we were close. Even being full from breakfast, I could have eaten a third scoop! It was so creamy and flavorful. Their flavor selections were definitely the best too.
When it rains a lot, you tend to go inside more shops than when it's sunny out. Florence had the coolest vintage and consignment stores. Melrose Vintage was true vintage, which looked to be from around the world. There were old American cheer uniforms, German military camo jackets, 1960's prints and styles, leather skirts, etc. Desii Vintage has newer items and mostly designer names. There were brand new Prada pumps in every size and color for more than half off regular retail. We found another Rinascente department store with a rooftop restaurant, but the most impressive designer store that we found is called Luisa. It had high end designers that I have never heard of and styles I had never seen before from designers who I am familiar with. It was an awesome selection of formal wear, day wear, athletic, shoes, and jewelry. All things that I can't afford 🙂 There were a few cute boutiques. We found a European store called Replay Jeans that we enjoyed from the windows since it was closed, and a women's store called Maje.
The fashion here is a cross between Milan and Venice. It's hard to tell what the locals wear because most people here are tourists, but I noticed a lot of silk bombers, which I definitely need to buy myself one. After seeing the military jackets at the Vintage shop, I also want a camo or an olive green jacket.
Similarities to USA
It seems almost like there were just as many if not more native English speakers to Italians in Florence. That may have been because we went to all of the tourist spots, Florence is a big tourist spot in general, or because the University is right there. Either way, it was super easy to communicate with most people and I only had a couple minor communication issues when ordering food. I was most impressed with the amount of patience that the locals had with tourist like me. We were in line at Sandwichic and the couple ahead of us asked the cashier to translate the entire menu to English. The cashier was eager to help and wanted to make sure that we ordered exactly what we wanted.
In Florence, the biggest lesson that we learned was to give our bodies rest. After coming off of a busy couple days at Venice and a lot of walking, we went right into the same mentality in Florence. Aaron broke in new shoes during our photo shoot and ended up hurting his ankle throughout the day. Our bodies aren't used to this much walking and even though there is a ton to do, it's okay to leave somethings undone, which is what I had to keep telling myself. Naps mid day are super important and so is mapping out the spots you want to hit in the morning to make sure they're all near each other and then again in the evening after your nap.