Florence, to me, is the greatest city in the entire world. I took AP European History during my sophomore year in high school, and I fully credit my instructor for sparking my interest in travel. The section that we studied on the Italian Renaissance and the city-state Florence opened my eyes to a new world that intrigued me. The glamorization of the city had me extremely anxious to visit and see all of the history with my own eyes. A few days before my first trip there I even had a dream that I dined with Dante Allighieri, Lorenzo de Medici, Michaelangelo, and Niccolo Machiavelli…it was surreal to say the least. I think our visit this summer (my third to Florence) was the best so far; I feel like I’ve finally started to put the pieces together in connecting its history with my knowledge!
Right from the beginning of the trip I was most excited about two places: Paris and Florence. Before arriving this summer I had visited Florence twice before, and each time was a great experience, but unfortunately I didn’t feel like I spent enough time there on either visit. This time I was more than content with the duration that we planned out. By the time that we arrived in Florence, Maddy and I had been traveling for over six weeks and were pretty agitated about living out of a suitcase. But whatever discomfort I felt at the time, it was worth it to me if it meant I got to go back to Florence.
As soon as we arrived, we left our baggage (both literally and figuratively) in the hotel and were on our way to explore. First we went to the biggest attraction in the entire city, Il Duomo de Firenze, with the dome designed by the architectural and engineering genius of the Italian Renaissance, Filipo Brunelleschi. Every single time that I’ve seen I can’t help but to be in awe; it is an extremely imposing structure and then when you think that the construction was finished almost 600 years ago…it must’ve blown the minds of the citizens in the era. Right in front of the cathedral are the Gates of Paradise created by Michaelangelo, a captivating work that portrays many key figures of the Renaissance.
The next main attraction that we wanted to see was the Ponte Vecchio, the city’s most famous bridge. The current form of the bridge has been the same for nearly 700 years and is one of the most picturesque locations in the city. It can be awesome to use it as a backdrop or to actually go on it and use the river as the backdrop, but it gets extremely crowded so I suggest you either go before the crowd gets there or as it is dying in the evening. I was traveling with three women (both of our moms came and visited us for two weeks) so of course we spent an extra amount of time in the many jewelry stores featured on the bridge. It was worth the wait when I got gelato for my patience!
This was my first time venturing outside of the actual city and experiencing other parts of Tuscany. My favorite stop on our Walkabout tour was in San Gimignano, a medieval city that looks more like a fortress. It sits atop a hill in Chianti and has some of the greatest views of Tuscany that you could imagine. They are known for their small crafts and especially their leather, so make sure that you save a little bit of money for a leather accessory from here (this is where I got my iPad Mini case)! Oh and of course they have the greatest gelato in the world; yes the place that Maddy went crazy at. We also made stops in Siena and Pisa as Maddy wrote about in her review of our Walkabout tour.
Another must-do experience is to explore the city’s markets! Like I said before, the leather in the region is exquisite and if you barter and get a good deal, it is worth it. Tuscan leather is some of the best in the world, but if you don’t want leather then some other souvenirs you can buy are ancient plague masks (yes it’s a symbol of dark times but kids love them), woven pieces for women, and little replicas of Renaissance men. Once you feel that you’re all shopped out, make your way to the statue of the bronze boar. As the legend goes if you rub the nose of the Fontana del Porcellino you are guaranteed to return to Florence again in your lifetime and for added luck you put a coin into the jaw of the statue with the intent of letting it fall through the crack. So far these myths have proven to be true because I keep returning to Florence and I always feel lucky when I’m there.
Obviously food is a major part of the Italian experience; whether you’re a foreigner or a local, everyone loves good food. Florence is known as a center of the culinary arts, so it has some of the best food around Italy. There were three major times where we were spoiled with our meals: the first on our Walkabout tour where we binged on farm grown foods and wine, the second was our cooking class, and the third was the best restaurant in Florence known as the Yellow Bar. We’ve talked about the other two before, so I’ll talk about our favorite meal of the trip, which was at the Yellow Bar. It was honestly the best Italian food I have ever had before; I have visited Rome, Venice, Sorrento, Naples, Turin, and currently live in New York City, so I think I’m a decently credible source when it comes to Italian food.
Maddy and I, being the foodies that we are, ordered as much as we could get away with. It was a simple meal for the most part, but delicious of course. I ordered a pizza Margherita con Bufala and added prosciutto, Maddy ordered a plate of Gnocchi Gorgonzola Rucola, and a pizza Margherita to share! It was a great meal to say the least; the ingredients were fresh, the pizza oven was very carefully engineered to ensure the best pizza, and the gnocchi was a perfect ratio of gorgonzola to sauce. The key to every Italian dinner is to finish it off right with some delicious gelato, my personal favorites are Amarena or Melone. I encourage you to find the best flavor and get back to me on that.
Florence is an amazing city with so much culture, history, beauty, and delicious food. If you’ve never been before, make sure that you go at some point in your lifetime, because it is such an unforgettable place that everyone should have the chance to visit. It is my favorite city, and although I’ve visited times already, I still have every intention of returning!