Florence is that unexpected love that I had brushed off and looked over only to completely fall head over heels in love with. Honestly, I did not know a lot about Florence. Everyone raved about it and told me it was a must stop. I was leaning towards Venice, and the canals, but was swayed by others rave reviews and decided to book two nights. Now I wish I could’ve stayed a whole month! Florence is such a perfect town between the quiet hillscapes of Tuscany and the bustling city of Rome. It’s full of life on Merchants street, while you can grab a relaxing sunset drink on Michelangelo’s hill, ending of course a pleasant walk home with the nightly Gelato- that I still dream about today.
Before taking a quick 2.5 hour train from Milan to Florence- I caught breakfast at Princi. It was hands down the best breakfast I’d had in Milan and recommend it to anyone who visits the city.
Taking the train in Europe is truly such a wonderful experience. Something about seeing the countryside through the low even tones of the train engine gives such a serendipitous picture that makes me fall in love with the view over and over again. It’s my favorite way to travel through Europe and I often choose that route over many others.
You learn quickly that Europe is not kind to suitcases- there’s rarely an elevator in your Airbnb, and cobblestone is an unforgiving pathway. All that strife is worth the views though, and I could’ve sat on my Airbnb’s patio for the rest of the day and been happy. But once I had lugged my (now broken) suitcase up five flights of stairs- I was off to find some carbs to replenish me after that medieval workout. I happened to find this quaint pastry shop on the corner, Vecchio Forno, and fully loaded up on tarts, croissants, and pastries and made my way to the square nearby to wait for my walking tour to start. The tour was the perfect choice not only because it was free- but it gave a great start to learning about the city!
Sitting in the square, eating pastries, listening to the musical background of the towns happenings was as picturesque as it sounds. Piazza di San Lorenzo is full of shops to wander into, restaurants to find a bite, and close to many of the historical monuments. It is the perfect meeting place of Florence.
I spent the afternoon wandering through the city, getting a quick overview of the history and the monuments, and making friends! Turns out one of the girls on the tour lived 15 minutes from me in Los Angeles. With all the traveling- I have found that it’s still a small world and you’re never that far from home.
After all that walking and learning- I had worked up an appetite and headed over to Trattoria Bordino, which is a decades-old, cavern like venue in a medieval building, known for Florentine steak & Tuscan wine. It is tucked away from the main streets, situated perfectly next to a church. I got there around 7pm- which apparently is the senior citizen discount time in Europe because they had just opened. I was able to enjoy a typical Florencian meal of bruschetta, truffle carbonara, and Steak Florentine. Ending the night with gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita. While I got the Mascarpone and Nutella combo- their unique flavors like Black Sesame and Blueberry fig are on my bucket list for next time.
The nest morning was abruptly started getting woken up by a call from the tour company asking if I was still coming on the tour of the Accademia Gallery. Whoops! Seemed like jet lag finally caught up with me and I had slept through my alarm! Thankfully, they were incredibly understanding and let me rebook for later that day. That made my day because otherwise I would’ve have to stand in line for HOURS to see these works of art- I highly recommend booking this tour to avoid that. Also you get an expert guide who really filled you in on the important works of art in this overwhelming museum.
Going through the history of Art in Florence- the guide took us from 12th Century to 18th seamlessly explaining the growth of education and techniques. Seeing Michelangelo’s David was stunning. I absolutely had no idea it was that ginormous. Being a musician myself- I loved seeing the old instruments and how different they were from current day forms.
After Michelangelo, we walked through Florence learning about Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, spotting some ancient graffiti, to head to the Uffizi Gallery to see DaVinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and other great artists all under one roof. While seeing these works of art was extraordinary, my favorite part was the Tribuna room. It was the office of Francesco I de’ Medici who wanted the most ornate room in the Gallery. The ceiling is covered in almost 6000 pearls set on a red background that was achieved by varnishing millions of red cochineals (a roly poly like insect).
After the tour, it was time for my favorite activity- shopping! Florence is known for their leather work, so I made it my mission to find the best products, and after going into literally every shop, I ended up at Scuola del Cuoio S.r.l. Scuola del Cuoio was founded after World War II through the collaborative efforts of the Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori and Casini families, Florentine leather artisans since the 1930’s. Their mission was to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade with which to earn a living. Ever since then, they have blossomed into an esteemed leather school that offer handcrafted bags, belts, jackets, and more on site.
Next, I headed off to Sileno Cheloni Firenze Maestro Profumiere, an internationally renowned master perfumer. This shop, that has a portfolio boasting clients such as Gucci, Harrods, Richard Ginori, is off the main path creates made-to-measure perfumes and unique olfactory experiences, such as Sensory Dinner and the Incense Ceremony. I was enchanted by their Venenum Collection, where Cheloni created “a tribute to the history, myth and art of Renato Bianco – Caterina de’ Medici’s perfumer- who poisoned and bewitched the Parisian nobility with his own potions.” I had to get the Eden Parfum which is a blend of Bergamot and Lime, Bamboo and Vetiver, Guaiac wood, Tonka bean and Sandalwood, that is a earthy citrus scent that I love using on my nights out.
After I had all my scent-es filled, I headed to Giulio Giannini e Figlio– an artisan workshop, founded In 1856, known worldwide for its hand-tooled Leather Book Bindings, and Hand Marbled Decorated Paper. Immediately walking into the store, You can tell how much work, patience, and craftsmanship goes into each item. They work in the back room where you can watch their process, or try it yourself in one of the classes they offer! They’re one of the few remaining shops in the world that make these papers by hand, so every sheet is special.
Last stop was Madova-a High-end, family-owned shop selling artisanal leather gloves in many styles & colors since 1919. The quality is incredible and price is very affordable considering the cashmere lining and craftsmanship of the leather. Their skills is evident when they’re able to guess the your size just by looking at your hands.
After dropping off my bags, I went to go grab a sunset drink at Piazzale Michelangelo. Walking there would’ve made me miss the view, so I used to app MeTaxi. Uber only exists in Rome, so this app allows a third party to call the taxi service for you and arrange a cab. It was so helpful and let me get there in time to relax and watch the sunset.
Concluded my evening catching dinner at Hosteria del Bricco which was right at the bottom of the Piazzale. It a small brother owned restaurant that transports you straight to an authentic Italian kitchen. The handwritten menus, to the friendly brotherly service- it was a delight to eat here. They give you an appetizer of five different type of olive tampanades with Florencian bread, which less sweet and a bit tougher than the Olive Garden version, but much more delectable. The tagliatelle with duck ragu was deliciously flavorful.
The night ended with gelato of course. I made a stop at Gelateria dei Neri, which was voted the best Gelato in the world. I have to agree with the esteemed judges because I still dream about this gelato today. I soaked up every last moment in the Florentine streets since I was headed to Rome the next morning.
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Next Stop- Rome!