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Trip Report Florence: a piece of precious, magical art in its own right

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I admit it, I wasn’t looking forward to Florence, or Firenze as I came to call it, agreeing with the locals that it sounds so much more beautiful.

My first trip to Europe in July and August of this year was a six week magical ride through Spain, France, Italy and London and I had only one week unplanned on the itinerary. On either side of that week was Padova (a stunning surprise of the trip, but too hot at the time to stay any longer than the two nights we planned) and Rome (another stunning surprise for me as I had not expected to love it as much as I did). I was certain I had wanted to go to the Dolomiti for at least part of the unplanned week and by the time we left Padova I definitely needed the cooler temperature the mountains offered, after experiencing among Italy’s highest temperatures for a week already (it really only bothered me during our day trip to Venice when the 37 degree top felt like 50 degrees in the crowded St Mark’s Square, as the rest of the time we had the breeze from the Mediterranean and the stunning Cinque Terre views).

So, when my friend suggested three nights in Firenze after Ortisei I was a little hesitant; we still had four nights in Rome to go afterwards, before I headed alone to the hopefully cooler Paris. I wasn’t sure I could cope with the heat.

But while my friend was pleasantly surprised with how she fell in love with Ortisei (she didn’t want to hike, whereas I was itching to do so), it was I who was blown away by how hard I fell for Firenze. I can’t even explain exactly what made me fall in love, I can’t pinpoint the moment and I can’t tell you one particular thing; it was a series of events, of experiences, and of places. But I was captivated from the moment we arrived.

Yes it was hot when our train pulled in to Santa Maria Novella on this Saturday afternoon, and yes I was sweaty and tired by the time we found a taxi to take us to our hotel (we had come from Ortisei to Verona (where we returned our car) and then caught the train to Bologna (where we escaped a very frightening near assault – I will post about that in another trip report about my experiences using Europe’s trains and planes) and onto Firenze. And yes I just wanted to find some air-conditioning! But as soon as we arrived, despite our hairy experience in Bologna, I felt calm. We found our way to the Hotel Cardinal, dropped our bags and took up the concierge’s offer of a complimentary prosecco (my new favourite vino bianco) on the rooftop bar, I was entranced. OK so you might say it was the breathtaking site of the Duomo that gave my heart away. But I do think I could tell from the moment I arrived that this city would be my friend.

Of course, then we decided we best go and explore for an hour or so before coming back to shower for dinner. As we made our short journey to the fabulous Duomo, the streets were bustling with tourists, all eager to soak their optic nerves with its domineering beauty. We stopped in to some leather stores, of course eager to see the offerings in this famed town, and wandered through to the Uffizi, before deciding to head back to the hotel and out to dinner at the restaurant recommended to us across the road from our Borgo Pinti address. Now, we know we paid too much for this dinner in a restaurant dominated by tourists (we could only hear American or Canadian accents among our Aussie ones, with the only Italians the staff), and the reason I say we paid too much is not because of the service or the food (both were divine), but because our favourite restaurants were always in the “local” corners. But it was absolutely wonderful and our waiter poured our wine with such ceremony that it was worth going just for this entertainment. We loved La Giostra, even if we were caught in an expensive tourist trap.

The next day, Sunday, we decided to check out the Uffizi and were pleasantly surprised that despite not being organised enough to pre-book and skip the line, by getting there half an hour before it opened, we didn’t have to wait for long at all. We did however skip breakfast in order to make it here so then paid way too much for a sandwich and not the best coffee in the gallery’s café! Oh well …

We loved the Uffizi, its amazing building and of course its works. The history continued to blow me away, coming from the rather young Australia, in terms of white settlement and thus buildings etc, in any case. The only downside of the gallery I have to point out, and perhaps Firenze in general, was the number of narcissistic tourists using selfie sticks to capture themselves in front of works as great as Botticelli’s. OK sure I get they want a record to show they were there, but really ...? I do try not to judge as I am sure my own selfies (not in front of artworks and never with a selfie stick as I personally find them annoying) could be described as narcissistic too, but it’s not yours, or my face that makes these artworks, or even landmarks, so spectacular. I prefer to let them speak for themselves, but that is just me I guess.

The rest of the day was spent just wandering and discovering, including heading up Giotto’s bell tower in the Piazza del Duomo. We went home to the hotel for a rest and then out again to dinner. This time we headed around the corner to a lower key restaurant, which was also lovely but I can’t for the life of me recall its name!

The next day turned out to be quite big. I started the day with a delightful run through the city, around the river, across the Ponte Vecchio, through to the Palazzo Pitti and into the gardens behind it. The city came alive between 7am and 8am and I was so grateful I was able to see it go from empty to bustling, with the bells sounding as I made my way back to the hotel.
After breakfast, we decided to turn left from our hotel, instead of right towards the Duomo. And we were so glad! Here we found the via del Croce. Coincidentally, just as we stopped in at a delightfully grungy coffee and cigarettes place, which becomes a bar in the evenings, helpful Fodorites such as annhig were steering me in this direction. I laughed when I read the post update just as we found the surrounding area! The coffee bar was so good that we had a second cup, before heading on our way. We called into many boutiques, and I bought a gorgeous gingham red and white dress with white bolero for my 12 month old niece from a beautiful children’s shop. We left my purchase there and said we would come back – for this and to make other purchases – once we had completed our walking, which included past the Fiume Arno and up to Michelangelo’s hill. We wandered back via the Palazzo Pitti and, finding the shops around this area shut for siesta, we opted for our own rest back at the hotel.

By 4pm we headed back out, made our purchases (some leather bags and wallets for myself and as gifts in a leather store near our hotel and some shoes for myself and some clothes for my son in the via del Croce area) before calling into a wine bar in this area. We only meant to have one drink, but several proseccos later for me and birras for my friend, we decided to stay put and order some food. It was a lovely bar/restaurant and we enjoyed our streetside vantage point, watching locals meander past. At some stage between 11pm and midnight we decided to head home as we had to get on the road the next day to Rome.
The best laid plans however … We had always been home too early for the wine bar next door to our hotel to open, but on this evening it was in full swing as we walked past. One drink, we said! More than two hours later we stumbled home … oops. In that time I had made fabulous conversation with the girl behind the bar, who was eager to talk about Australia, while I was eager to talk about Italy.

At some stage two lovely gentlemen joined the conversation. One was a sculptor and was every bit the cynical artist, revelling in telling me that he hated where he lived – which happened to be in Belgium not Italy! He was Italian through and through, and a passionate Firenze man. However, he said, there was ironically no work for this artist in this city of art. So he taught his craft at a Belgium university instead. His best friend, who worked in the disability sector, was a walking and talking encyclopaedia. What I learned from this fascinating pair about Firenze and Italy in two hours could not be replicated in any visit to any museum, or even in a book. The night goes down as one of my top evenings in six weeks filled with amazing nights. I will never ever forget it. Even if I did drink too much and was rather weary the next day! The things we do …

So that was it. Firenze in three nights and three days. We went back to our coffee place the next day, wandered for a little bit and then it was off to the train station to catch the train to Rome. Here, in Italy’s capital, more wonderful stories awaited us. But I will always be grateful for the surprise love I found in Firenze. Oh, and just a side note on the weather. It was still rather warm but only in the very low 30s, and we mostly had a lovely breeze. So we found that this, combined with taking a couple of hours to rest in the afternoons, made Firenze all the more wonderful. I was so glad I didn't let the weather stop me going!)

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