A grand day out in Florence

Hello from Florence where I have had a fantastic day! We left Siena at 10 a.m. and got to the Florence airport by 11. I successfully got a shuttle to the main train station and then a taxi to my hotel. Could have gone the whole way in a taxi for about €4 more but let’s say I spent that money on gelato instead. The taxi ride was extraordinary: it felt like a spiral through smaller and smaller streets till we reached the hotel, which (a) is on a street barely one car wide, (b) is in a 600-year-old building, and (c) is down the street from where Michelangelo lived as a kid. My room is on the 5th floor and to no one’s surprise there is no elevator. Once again I’m glad to have packed light. A large suitcase would not even have fit up the stairs.

Michelangelo lived a few steps from my hotel.

I had a 2 p.m. reservation to climb the cupola of the Duomo, so plenty of time to walk around, look around, have coffee and a snack, get lost, get found, and run over to the Duomo museum office when I found out I was missing a piece of paper that I needed in order to get in. Note to future visitors: if you book the combined ticket and reserve your time to climb the cupola, you must present the time reservation and the ticket itself when you enter. But if, like me, you forget the ticket, you can go around the corner to the museum and they will re-print it for you. May you also be as lucky as I am and experience only a small rain shower while waiting in line, then blue sky when you get to the top of the dome 463 steps later. It is a strenuous climb but so worth it. Definitely the highlight of the Duomo, which is beautiful on the outside (similar style to Siena’s Duomo) but surprisingly stark on the inside except for the incredible fresco inside the cupola. The view from the top is an illustration of Renaissance city planning: it looks like an old engraved map brought to life, with buildings cheek by jowl and streets winding everywhere. If you’re able, I recommend making the climb. It will also make your Fitbit or Apple Watch happy. I felt utterly justified in having a panini and a gelato afterward!

Outside the Duomo–utterly impossible to fit into one picture.

Waiting to climb the cupola.

About halfway up the climb, a much-needed break and photo op.

The bell tower is also part of the Duomo. I could have climbed it too–another 200 steps!

I was there. And my front camera was dirty.

In the bottom foreground you can see the curve of the dome.

You can walk around and see 360 degrees of Florence spread out around you.

A little closer to getting it all in one shot!

The ceiling of the Baptistery–somehow the outside of it is not in any of my pictures.

My next stop was the San Lorenzo leather market—an assignment from a friend who loves Florence and gave me good advice on haggling to get the best price. “Take cash and make them take off 30%,” she said. Florence is a historical center for leather production—there’s a leatherworking school that I may try to visit tomorrow if I can—and there are leather shops everywhere as well as this large open-air market at Piazza San Lorenzo with stall after stall of bags, jackets, wallets, belts, etc. I walked through and looked for a little while and finally started picking out some inexpensive keyrings. The man tending the stall showed me a cool bag that could be worn as a shoulder bag or a backpack, so I said yes to that once we agreed on a price. It’s an interesting experience if you are not used to assertive salesmen or dickering over prices. I’ll just echo my friend’s advice: don’t pay the marked price on anything! I actually got about 45% off and I don’t think I drive a particularly hard bargain.

By the time I finished at San Lorenzo I had walked a lot and was getting tired, but I remembered I wanted to go to the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It’s a 600-year-old perfume shop near the main train station, and it’s worth going just to see the building and smell the wares. It’s so elaborate that it might be a little intimidating, but when I went in, it was thronging with tourists, including baby strollers and even a dog, so don’t hesitate to visit. The glass cases around the walls are full of the antique equipment that used to be used to make the products. It’s definitely a place where the old world meets the new, and in that sense it’s a microcosm of Florence itself.

Inside the Santa Maria Novella shop

At last I headed back to my hotel to drop off my purchases and accept their offer of a voucher for 10% off a meal at a nearby trattoria. Just hoping to stay awake through the meal, I arrived 10 minutes before they officially opened (fatally American—Italians eat late and I am incapable of doing so) and dispatched my dinner with such a quickness that the hotel receptionist was clearly surprised at how soon I came back. “Did you go to the trattoria?” he asked. “Did you eat? Was everything good?” I would like it noted for the record that this conversation took place in Italian and that the answer to all the questions was Si. I had a green salad, a bowl of ribollita, a little bit of white wine, and a gratuitous cappuccino. Ribollita (Tuscan bread soup) is delicious, filling, inexpensive, and vegetarian: you should try it.

Dinner: so Italian it hurts.

And so to bed soon although Florence is clearly still rockin’. It’s been a while since I have slept over a lively pedestrian street. Shades of Cité Universitaire and summers in Paris. Tomorrow, rain is predicted but I have a ticket for the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti so I plan to stay dry inside and overdose on fine art.

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