There’s so much beauty in Florence, it is such a visual treat. Architecture, museums, galleries, sculptures – the day and a half I had wasn’t anywhere near long enough.
After a stop for lunch in Pisa, our tour arrived in Florence by train late in the afternoon and after checking in to our hotel, we were taken for a walk around the city by our guide so we could get our bearings and each decide what we wanted to do the following day.
I’m not religious but I don’t think you need to be to appreciate the impressive, fascinating and intricate Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (meaning church of Saint Mary of the Flower). When you get up close to this UNESCO World Heritage Site there is so much detail on the outside – this photo doesn’t at all do it justice (or show its enormity).
I believe the cathedral is equally impressive inside, both structurally and artistically due to all the artworks, however due to its popularity and long waiting time, I stayed outside and marvelled at the façade.
With such a short amount of time I had two options: frantically race around trying to fit in as much as I could or kick back and soak up a couple of specific things. A rushed and stressful traveller I am not so I chose the latter.
My favourite area to spend time in was the Piazza della Signoria. It’s a massive piazza with a wonderful fountain of Neptune and a number of sculptures under the arches at Loggia dei Lanzi. This was perfect for me as I didn’t have time to visit any museums or galleries but I was still able to see some of Florence’s stunning artwork.
As I happened to be in Florence the day before Italy’s national day of celebration, the Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day), I was lucky see a team of local firefighters performed a practice run of abseiling down the face of the Palazzo Vecchio.
During this display of adventurous activity, I sat lazily in a restaurant enjoying lunch, watching firemen dangle on thin ropes while their team mates supervised from the windows above.
The white bean bruschetta was an entrée and much larger than I expected. It was a simple dish – thin toasted bread on a bed of lettuce, topped with cannellini beans, a sprinkle of parsley and olive oil. The waiter delivered it with a bottle of olive oil which I didn’t quite understand at first but after doing a little people watching, it seems that Italians love an additional DIY drizzle of oil on their dish.
Street art is always fascinating, and even more so in Florence. On a walk through the busy, tourist-filled streets and piazzas I came across a female artist, part of the way through a fantastic chalk version of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. The city seemed to be oozing with talent and an appreciation for art.
At a successful visit to a jam-packed second-hand store (hello handbag and black velvet jacket), the friendly owner suggested I go for dinner at a nearby eatery. Following his directions left and right along narrow back streets, hoping I wasn’t lost, I found the modest and almost full restaurant and stepped inside, requesting a table for one. Once seated I chatted with the waiter in my broken Italian and asked him to recommend vegetarian dishes. While I sipped on a carafe of crisp white wine, the bell above the door tinkled every few minutes with a potential customer asking for a table. As the waiter turned everyone who didn’t have a booking away, I realised how lucky I was to get a seat (one of the many benefits of dining alone).
A stereo in the kitchen played old Italian tunes, drowned out by an occasional outburst of passionate singing from the chef. The waiter had suggested I try the eggplant parmigiana and the roasted tomatoes. Naturally I expected to wait while the dishes were being cooked so it was a surprise when he brought the two plates out straight away, delightfully served at room temperature. The parmigiana was delicate with a bold flavour and the tomatoes were rich, both in taste and colour.
A little while later the chef visited the dining area, looking around the room to see if his guests were happy. When he turned to me I gave him a nod and a smile, he proudly winked back and then turned on his heel, returning to his musical kitchen.
Oh Florence, what a dreamy delight you are. I can’t wait to come back and spend more time with you.
Coming up: some of the beautiful, fresh produce I saw in Florence.