The flavors of Florence are as varied as the taste buds on your tongue and the sights your eyes find appealing.
Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, provides all that you need for a vacation that satisfies on a variety of levels.
There are gelato shops tucked into multiple nooks and crannies, and blatantly taking up large spaces on street corners. Make sure to try multiple flavors and combine two into the same cone for maximum satisfaction.
If you avoid the piazzas and obvious tourist areas, you can discover many reasonably priced restaurants where Florentines eat. The food is good, the service is polite, and you save Euros.
The same thing goes with espresso. Off the beaten path, we can enjoy an espresso and cappuccino for less than three Euros. On the path, one double espresso will run you nearly four.
History is everywhere in Florence.
In the age-old buildings, in the worn streets, and being made by the people living there right now. In an effort to consume all the museums (which would take a couple of weeks), don’t forget to simply stop and look around you. The city itself is history and the Florentines are rightly proud of it. Stumble upon, as we did, the Boboli Gardens and nearby Torrigiani Garden. Enjoy the locals as they enjoy these spots of greenery in the midst of their city.
Walking through the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, remember when you leave the square to duck your head down that slender corridor leading off to who knows what treat. Read the placards frequently inset into buildings and learn something you didn’t know before. Your guide book will translate when you need it.
One glimpse into a narrow storefront reveals depths that wind back into a building that could have once housed…what? You step inside, look over the wares, and wander through to arrive out the other side and into a new street to explore.
A tourist yourself, you still get pleasure out of watching the tourists and wondering how the wait staff puts up with them. I’m reminded of the scene in Russell Crowe’s A Good Year, where he’s waiting on a couple from Texas as they order a meal in Provence. The woman asks for something ridiculous like diet ranch dressing and bacon bits. He kicks them out. Don’t be that person when you travel. Ask for the house dressing and see what novelty they serve on a salad.
Things not to miss:
- The Museo Galileo – see numerous Galileo inventions along with an amazing array of other inventors and creators of mind-opening tools. If you are as fascinated with globes as Alex is, you will be enthralled by the collection.
- Piazza de Pitti and museum – Sadly, the day we set aside to go through the museum, there was a strike. Strikes are arbitrary (at least to Americans) and can be long or short. Select parts of the museum were open, but not the areas we wanted to see.
- Ravioli – try it as often as you can because from Milan to Florence, the ravioli will be different and delicious every time. It sometimes looks like the ravioli we buy at home and sometimes looks like a loosely formed tortellini. No matter what shape it is, I guarantee it will be light and scrumptious.
- People – Watch the residents and catch a glimpse of a man in a dark blue business suit, pink dress shirt, matching pocket handkerchief…stopped at a traffic light checking his email on his smartphone while riding his bicycle.
- Michelangelo’s David – I frequently avoid the “must see this” things, thinking that I prefer to discover the unknown. This statue is a grand exception. Don’t miss it. If you’re in Florence, buy the ticket, get your reservation (you HAVE to get a reservation—your concierge is the best option for this) and prepare yourself to be stunned by something so beautiful you could sit for an hour, tuning out everyone around you, and simply look.
- Speaking of “looking” – Pay attention around you. I’m fascinated by the doors and door knockers. There are many stunningly carved doors and I can only guess the age of them. On top of that artistry are the doorknockers—curses upon us Americans forever giving up these often beautiful, frequently creepy, ornately purposeful items!
- Ponte Vecchio – If you are into gold and other jewelry, stroll across the Ponte Vecchio as it stretches across the Arno River. Be prepared to be jostled and bumped as this unique collection of shops on either side of the bridge is visited by hundreds of shoppers like you.
- Wine – Looking for something special to take home? I’ve got a list of things to stash in your suitcase:
- Wine, of course. Each (USA) person can bring home two bottles of a glorious vintage. Take advantage of this!
- Aged balsamic vinegar…trust me, after tasting this delicacy you’ll never view vinegar in the same way. We found a little shop tucked down a side street where the proprietress invited us to sample balsamic from 5 to 25 years old. Wow. The 15-year-old came home with us.
- Attire – Scarves are worn by everyone in Italy—men and women. They’re worn with aplomb and grace. I love scarves of all varieties—simply for style or necessitated by winter. We found a lovely striped one for me—from a shop we discovered by meandering off the tourist-trodden path.
- Keepsakes – Although we have a nice digital camera and take hundreds (400 in Florence) of photographs, we still indulge in the unique postcard or picture.
As busy as Florence was with tour buses full of travelers from around the world, I’d go there again in a heartbeat. It was lovely and easy to get around on foot; the food was full of flavor and freshness; and the people pulled it all together with grace.