(Editor’s Note: For those following along, our stops in Carcassone and Les Baux de Provence actually took place before we left Paris. Italy is the beginning of our ”hard travel” period of 3 months on the move every few days to a week. Just in case anyone is confused by the chronology. I know I am!)
It was finally time to say Au Revoir to Paris and Buongiorno to Italy! Hard to believe that we were already bidding farewell to our home away from home in the 2nd Arrondissement and heading out to begin three months of heavy traveling.
In 2005 we traveled to Italy to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We fell in love and vowed to return. Back then we started cooking up our plan of an extended stay in Europe and hoped that one day we could realize that dream. So it made sense that the next country where we would spend the most time would naturally be Italy. Craving La Dolce Vita, we have booked a month in Italia and the first stop is Florence.
After experiencing Florence for the first time in 2005 on an afternoon trip fighting the hordes of tourists on bus trips, we knew we needed to come back and spend a few days. With such a short stay here (and in most cities) we’ve taken to booking tours so we can try and capitalize on the time and soak up the local sites/ sights (which is it?). For Florence we booked a tour called ”Walking in the Footsteps of the Medici”. The Medici were the Godfathers of the Renaissance. By creating a positive and open society, Cosimo I was a patron of artists and architects like Donatello and Brunelleschi. Our tour started at Palazzo Vecchio and the epic Piazzo della Signoria with its many statues and most famously the replica of Michaelangelo’s David (the original has been moved indoors for safe keeping at the Accademia Gallery). Along the way our guide pointed out the many towers of Florence, with the most famous and perhaps the tallest here at the Palazzo Vecchio, but in fact there are lots around Florence of varying heights. She also pointed out the many bridges between the buildings that are common here and in other Tuscan towns, built for the nobility to walk from house to house without having to brave the dirty, smelly and plague ridden streets below. The concept of ”never burning a bridge” comes from these passages as warring families would burn bridges between their homes and towers when they fell out with each other. Pretty interesting.
Along our tour we did a speed visit to the Uffizi Gallery. While not as big as the Louvre or Musée D’Orsay, the Uffizi is sizeable and has many important works by the Italian masters. Most people come here to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus but my favourite was his Spring. We were happy for the guide who snuck us around line-ups and fast-tracked us through the boring parts. Lets face it, no matter how much of an art-lover you are all museums have boring parts!
We ended the tour at the Medici Chapels. Built as a Mausoleum and memorial to the Medici Dynasty, the family is all buried in these epic Chapels. Michaelangelo’s Sacristy with many unfinished works is worth the price of admission and the Chapel of the Princes is equally amazing. The Medici held much power here in Tuscany and in fact across Europe as preeminent bankers and within the Catholic Church with Princes, Queens and Popes counted in their number.
We were very lucky to connect with Monsieur’s cousin D, who hosted us at the Westin Excelsior Hotel’s incredible rooftop bar with a 360 degree view of the city. Florence is breathtaking and the vantage point from here is amazing. Its worth the €20+ price for cocktails just to be able to take in this view and see all the sites (seriously… sites or sights? Both work!) from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio and the Tuscan villas beyond.
D was our food guide, arranging for us to have dinner at Cantinetta Antinori. Inside the Villa of the Antinori wine family (a name that’s been in the wine business here in Tuscany since 1184), we had a great dinner in the courtyard. If you’re heading to Florence, make a reservation now! You won’t be disappointed. This is where our month long pasta eating contest started. There will be no Atkins diets here in Italy my friends!
This early June trip is coinciding with a heatwave and drought. While Italy is hot in the summer, we arrived to temperatures well over 30 degrees. This makes it a bit tough trying to get out and wander for sure. We tried to walk to the Pitti Palace (another Medici masterpiece) to enjoy the Boboli Gardens, but we quickly realized that our arrival at the gates of the Palace was nowhere near the entry to the Gardens. The thought of walking for another 20 minutes in the opposite direction of our hotel just to find shade was too daunting. So we called an Uber and headed back across the river to the air conditioning.
The Little Kid was very keen to see Galileo’s Finger at the Museo Galileo. The rest of the crowd wasn’t as interested, so Monsieur and I did not want to disappoint and off we went. You’ll be shocked to learn that there was no line up to enter this museum and we were able to breeze through in about 30 minutes. Lots of globes, lots of telescopes, some interesting models of the various baby birthing positions (“Euw GROSS!” said the Little) and finally Galileo’s finger. A bizarre relic to be sure, but how could we miss it?
Florence is truly an outdoor museum. Everything is breathtaking. The sounds of the bell ringing from the tower at Santa Maria della Fiore just makes me happy (as a matter of fact, I always get a little thrill when I hear the church bells here in Italy – they are so pretty).
Here in Florence we start the busiest part of our European tour. We’re on the move a lot (more on the logistics later) so we’re all feeling ready for a day or two off. Next stop: The Tuscan countryside!