After the calm of Montepulciano, Florence was definitely an abrupt change. When we arrived, Matt and Brian dropped Thea and I off a few blocks from our Airbnb, then drove the rental car to a parking lot a mile or two away to the outskirts of the city, where it stayed for the next few days. (Driving and parking in Florence is a giant pain. Even in the residential areas, there are many restrictions. Luckily, Florence is extremely walkable.)
Our Airbnb was on Via Mafia, near Piazza di Santo Spirito located on the south side of the Arno River. Most of the popular sites are clustered together on the north side of the river, so the south side is a bit more mellow. On our first day, we got acquainted with our neighborhood. We stayed on the south side for meals, eating traditional Tuscan food like tomato and bread soup and Steak Florentine. Our neighborhood had a vino sfuso – where you can have wine filled by the jug, a photo booth, and an actual craft brewery. What more could one want?
The next morning, we headed straight for the Galleria dell’Accademia (It’s an extremely popular museum, to avoid waiting in line for hours you can make reservations, buy a Firenze Card, or get in line early when it opens.). You cannot go to Florence without paying a visit to Michelangelo’s David, the star of the Accademia.
If you’re into Renaissance art, I recommend a visit to the Uffizi Gallery too. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is there.
After the Accademia, Thea and I wanted to pick up supplies for a picnic at Mercado Centrale, where we had shopped almost daily for our meals when we were in school (Thea and I studied abroad here in Florence twenty years ago.). The market had changed over the years, we remembered fresh produce on the top floor and all the dry goods, meat, fish, and little shops on the main floor. Now the top floor is filled with places to eat, like a food court, but much classier.
Outside of the Mercado Centrale is the San Lorenzo street market. On prior visits to Florence, the market seemed to span over several blocks. It is now much more limited, and the merchandise is extremely repetitious: scarf, leather wallet, belt, scarf, leather wallet, belt. The vendors selling the goods were hardly aggressive – It’s not the lively market it once was. Years ago, Matt was hunting for the perfect brown leather jacket and one salesman in particular made it his mission to find the right one. He tracked us down many streets over to show us the jacket. Matt bought it, of course.
We took our picnic up to Piazzale Michelangelo, which has a gorgeous view of the city. Midday is rough as far as heat and crowds. It’s much, much better to go up there in the evening, buy a beer from a vendor, and watch the sunset.
After lunch we went to the Bargello (Museo Nazionale del Bargello). The Bargello used to be a police station and prison, but now is a lovely, quiet sculpture museum. The most famous piece here is probably Donatello’s David.
Late in the afternoon, we stopped by the Irish Pub over in the Piazza del Duomo. Thea and I stopped here for beers plenty of times in college since our apartment was so close, but she hadn’t ever made it to the balcony. It is the best spot in the square.
The next morning we took the Renaissance Walk, a walking tour by Rick Steves. The audio tours are awesome, and they are also written up in his travel guides.
We’ll interrupt our Renaissance Walk for some gelato. Also, we had made reservations to climb 463 stairs into the dome of the Duomo.
For dinner, we had reservations at Ristorante Il Latini. The restaurant serves hearty Tuscan food with the option of a family style menu. Thea and I ate here in college and had a wonderful experience. We must have forgotten how incredibly filling this delicious food is –
– Because after dinner we had to walk off our meal. And then walk even more. So we took a meandering route back to the Airbnb.
And that pretty much wraps up our visit to Florence. Next stop: Siena and Orvieto