Posted by: cgratton | February 9, 2009

Firenze, Mi Amore

This time last year I was about to head out to Florence for a long weekend, my first trip during my study abroad stint.  Italy, as I found, was my perfect place–a focus on enjoying the pleasurable things in life.  I still get tingles when I remember the gelato, of which I ate three times per day.  All this reminiscing is making me depressed when I look out my apartment window to a muddy, slushy parking lot.  But it is also allowing me to share my knowledge of one of my favorite cities in Europe.  Here are things you cannot miss:

La Piazza de Michelangelo. A quintessential, birds eye view of Florence.  Take a bus up (only ten minutes or so) because the hill is extremely steep.  But definitely walk back down, there are churches on the road back that are really charming and historic.  The view is hard to encompass in still photos, so here is a video that speaks for itself.

The Ponte Vecchio. The city of Florence is best explored by foot, and this is further evident through a stroll down this famous bridge.  A jewelry store mecca, the bridge is usually brimming with tourists, so expect crowds, but there are beautiful views of the Arno River that can’t be beaten.

View from the Ponte Vecchio

View from the Ponte Vecchio

San Lorenzo Market. It goes without saying that missing this market is missing out on a lot, as the market takes up a large chunk of space in the relatively small city.  This market was extremely impressive, with stall after stall of leather goods, silky scarves and ceramics. One tip: never take the first price they give you, always always always barter.  And, they usually give discounts if you buy more than one, so go in a few scarves with friends and save a ton!

Dont leave without getting some leather!

Don't leave without getting some leather!

There is also a huge food market (Mercato Centrale) that is worth a look just for the unbelievable fish section alone.  Also, some of the delis, like Perini Delicatessen, have free samples, so you can try some of the authentic tastes of Tuscany. This is a great and inexpensive spot for lunch, and a perfect representation of Tuscan food.

Go for free samples at Perini Deli

Go for free samples at Perini Deli

A small glimpse at a massive place

A small glimpse at a massive place

The Duomo. This massive building, formally called the  Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, was my favorite in Florence.  The gothic archetecture and amazingly intricate painting and sculptures is really hard to take in the first visit.  Because you are forced to look at it from such a close distance (tiny little alleys surround it in the tiny little piazza), it’s hard to get a full understanding of the entirety of the building.  But it helps to circle the Duomo fully, as every turn and different angle completely enhances the experience.  Also, because of its fragile detailing, some part of the building is always hidden under scaffolding.  Regardless, it is a sight to be seen more than once.

The front facade, the Dome is behind it

The front facade, the Dome is behind it

Dining Out. I had some of my best experiences dining out in Florence.  Usually, they tell you not to go anywhere near the Duomo to eat because its a touristy area and therefore overpriced.  But, like many restaurants in Europe, stopping even to tie your shoe in front of a restaurant triggers the waiters to swoop out in the blink of an eye and try their smooth skills of persuasion to get you to eat there.  Italians definitely have this shtick down to a science, as they shmoozed us over with compliments and promises all with a sexy accent.

Well, this was exactly what happened our first night at Le Botteghe di Donatello.  Perhaps they were entranced by our blonde hair (which, most Italian men are, as they seem to not understand it and think it’s extremely exotic) but after they coaxed us in, they pulled out all the stops.  Free appetizers, a complimentary bottle of Prosecco, a dessert sampler at the end that was also on the house.  The only catch was, we had to sing for our free items.  This was no problem for me, who got up on the mic and sang a rousing rendition of Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive.”  The other diners gave me a standing ovation at the end, and most of our meal was comped by the restaurant’s owner.  The food was amazing, as is all food in Italy. And somehow, they managed to get us in there the second night of our trip, too, and went even further, giving us an entirely complimentary meal after we closed down the restaurant with them and ate with the waiters!

Will sing for food

Will sing for food

Definitely satisfied my sweet tooth

Definitely satisfied my sweet tooth

There are obviously tons more things to do…like maybe see the Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery, visit the Uffizi gallery, or see more public works or art like the Nepune Fountain?  But these were some of the things in Florence that stood out to me most.  Whatever you end up doing in Florence, just make sure you’re eating gelato while doing it.

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