Thursday, December 20, 2012

Second Chances in Florence

When I came to Italy with my mom and sister on my high school Spring break 12 years ago, we visited Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. If I were to rank the cities back then, Florence would have come out dead last.

My sis and I in Florence, 2001. PS. I still have that leather jacket which I bought at the markets there.
It’s not all Florence’s fault. It was partly due to the fact that the trains went on strike the day we were supposed to travel from Rome to Florence, forcing us to rent a car. Most of my overboard anxious moments come when driving in a foreign city, and I get this little trait from my family. Put three of us in a car together driving around lost on the tiny one way streets of Florence and it was panic attack city. Not a great intro to the Tuscan capital.
As soon as we got settled into our hotel we had to rush off to see the Statue of David, which was pretty remarkable and redeemed Florence a bit in our eyes. But it was too little too late and the small town ended up being outshone by the other 3 Italian hubs we had on the itinerary.
Ever since that trip, I have swapped stories with many other friends who’d traveled through Italy and they all said the same thing: Florence was their favorite! Because of my prior lackluster experience there, I considered leaving it out of our trip completely, but I was intrigued by everyone else’s praise.
Did I originally miss some of the charm this city had to offer? Would it appeal more to my 29 year old self than it did to me at 17? Is it fair to skip over it when Jonathan has never been? For all of these reasons, I decided to spend 2 of our 8 days giving Florence a second chance.
Our hotel was ideally situated just 2 blocks from the Duomo and around the corner from the famous leather markets so we really couldn’t have asked for a better location. We got to Florence around noon and decided to spend our first afternoon shopping and exploring and save most of the touristy stuff for the next day.
For the first few hours of wandering around, I had a nagging feeling. It still wasn’t that great. I still didn’t get what the fuss was about. What was I missing?
Our friends Nary and Gerald who had visited the area a few months before had given us specific advice on Florence, so we decided to follow in their footsteps and try to see the charm through their eyes.
First we climbed up to Piazza Michelangelo for a panoramic view of the city. For one thing, it was great exercise. It actually reminded me of climbing Scolty Hill, just in the middle of an Italian town. The climb was absolutely worth it because the vantage point was seriously remarkable.
So remarkable that we returned for one last look on our final morning run in Tuscany.
Jon's Rocky stance after running the hill

For food, we focused on the San Spirito area, a square tucked away from the main tourist drag offering up cozy bars and restaurants. We had our best meal of the trip at Borgo Antico, and had fun window shopping for antiques and custom made shoes.
Nary also gave us tips on the best gelato which we happily enjoyed despite the dreadfully cold outside temperatures.
On our second day in Florence it was time to check off all the tourist boxes and make some leather purchases. First up was seeing the Statue of David. Even though it was December, we pre-booked tickets for the Galleria di Accademia. If you’re going anytime near a tourist season, I would recommend doing the same. Our hotel made our reservation for us, and we just picked up our tickets at will call.
Since we had booked the first appointment of the day, we had the statue all to ourselves for a good 5 minutes. It was a great experience, but unfortunately one that I couldn’t take pictures of. This was my second time to see Michaelangelo’s masterpiece and I was still just as impressed as I was 12 years ago. The details on the figure are remarkable, down to his toenails , kneecaps, and veins on his arms. And the scale is also stunning, as he is such a large and imposing figure in the display room.
source of photo
 After seeing David, next up was the famous Duomo. We decided to climb the Cupola tower for another stunning view of Florence. In order to do this we had to climb 463 steps. On the way, you get to tour a balcony inside the Duomo for up-close views of the frescoes and bird’s eye views of the cathedral floors.
Of course, my fear of heights was crippling me at this time, so I just hurried around the balcony and continued my ascent up to the top. When we got up to the tower, it was snowing!
And we had this view:
It was a magical moment, but unfortunately I was only brave enough to enjoy it for about 60 seconds. But that was long enough to snap a photo of my husband and vice versa before speeding back down to the next level. 

Jonathan stayed up top for another 5 minutes taking pictures and enjoying the view.
With the most appealing tourist attractions out of the way, we were free to go shopping. Florence is known for it’s leather goods so Jonathan was looking for some shoes while I wanted a small cross body bag. We were overstimulated with options, but eventually found just what we were looking for. And I secretly bought Jon a few more goodies that he won’t receive until Christmas morning.
We also hit the leather markets so that I could hunt down a white elephant gift for our girls Christmas party in Aberdeen. Again,  I was overstimulated with options but decided on a trifecta of scarves, which you can never have too much of in Scotland.
We headed back to San Spirito Square for dinner before packing up in preparation for our train ride to Venice the next morning.
Looking back, we really enjoyed our time in Florence, and are grateful that Nary and Gerald shared some helpful hints for scratching below the surface of this charming town. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on another worthwhile Italian city, quite possibly the most charming place on earth.
Stay tuned...


  1. Great take on your 2nd trip to Florence. It is a beautiful city and you did some amazing things The pictures are awesome as usual. Glad you liked it more this time around. Love you