Florence, Italy | December 16 to 17, 2017
Few cities in the world embody history, art, culture and politics like Florence. As the capital city of the Tuscany region, Florence offers exactly what you would imagine it to—stunning artwork in glorious museums, magnificent churches and cathedrals, delicious food, and a cultural experience second to none.
Many travelers arriving in Florence for the first time typically get there by train and come in via Florence's terminus station Firenze S.M.N. It's a grand station that sees nearly 60 million travelers each year. While there is a relatively large amount of petty crime, the station is a great starting point for a trip to Florence. Since it was my second time in Florence and I missed it the first time, I had to go straight to Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore). This stunning cathedral is well-known for its marvelous red dome and colorful facade.
One thing that blew me away was going inside to look at the interior of the dome. The colorful frescoes below are Giorgio Vasari's depiction of the Last Judgment (1572-1579). Vasari designed the frescoes and his student, Frederico Zuccari, did the bulk of the actual painting. Regardless, the interior is quite stunning.
After spending some time in the interior, I took a few hundred more steps up some dark and dingy staircases to the viewing deck at the top. This is no ordinary viewing deck. A stunning 360-degree view of the city left me breathless. I only had an hour until I had to be at the Uffizi, but I spent about 59 minutes—essentially leaving myself one minute to get to the Uffizi—so I could enjoy as much time as possible up there.
I went to the Uffizi gallery back in 2012 on a family trip to Italy, and I absolutely loved it. For years it was my favorite museum. Now, it moved down a few rankings on my list, but it still is one of the best in the world. With dozens upon dozens of rooms of captivating art, marble statues of all the Roman emperors, and world-class exhibitions, the Uffizi gallery is not to be missed.
While there is bizarre and degrading art everywhere at the Ufizzi, the one below struck me for some reason. Besides its degradation of little people back in the old days, there's something quite comical about it all.
After spending a few hours at the Uffizi gallery, I decided I would see Ponte Vecchio—the famous bridge that is filled with jewelry and touristy souvenir shops. Despite my lack of interest in the shops, seeing the old medieval bridge from the west, east, and above from the Uffizi, I wanted to see it up close. It's definitely worth seeing and the views looking west are incredible. Just don't buy anything or you'll be wasting quite a bit of money.
Besides enjoying some time people watching, I Ponte Vecchio for what it was literally intended—the get from one side to the other. There didn't appear to be much going on on the south side of the Arno river, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Not only are there several beautiful churches—the Chiesa di San Frediano in Cestello, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Carmine, and Basilica di Santo Spirito—there is also La Specola, the 18th-century natural history museum full of anatomical specimens, fossils, bones, and a lovely botanical garden. Also nearby is the Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) and Forte di Belvedere, two places I wish I had time to see.
Now my original purpose for heading south was to see Piazzale Michelangelo—the piazza with the viewing deck which offered a panoramic view of Florence. The view nearly knocked me on my ass it was so impressive. And since I love to get a view of any city, I was in heaven.
Just a little further up the hill lies the Abbazie di San Miniato al Monte, the church with the Romanesque facade built exactly a millennia ago. I didn't have time to go inside but from what I found on Google and TripAdvisor, the medieval interiors are remarkable. At the front of the church you can see a view of Florence similar to the one at Piazzale Michelangelo, but at a slightly higher elevation.
Before moving onto San Marino, I had to get my museum fix one last time. In my previous trip to Florence I didn't get the chance to see Michelangelo's statue of "David" at the Academy of Florence Art Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia di Firenze). The museum is full of tantalizing art, sculptures, and exhibits. Its most famous attraction is the aforementioned statue of "David". At 17 feet tall and over 12,000 pounds, the world-renowned statue was sculpted from a single block of white marble. A couple interesting things to note were the fact that in 1857, Queen Victoria was so repulsed by the nudity, she ordered a plaster fig leaf to cover up the replica at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Also, David's right hand is much bigger, which is thought to be a reference to the nickname of the biblical "David", meaning "strong of hand". One final fact was the need for forty men and four days to move the statue from Michelangelo's studio to the gallery.
- If you want to see the Uffizi Gallery and/or go to the top of the Duomo, I highly recommend making a reservation online. If you don't, the lines will be excruciatingly long, regardless of what time of year it is. If times are filling up online, try the earliest time in the morning, there will usually be something available.
- Lately, the military has had several armed army officers patrolling and guarding major landmarks—do NOT take pictures of them or they will be very unhappy with you.
- Find restaurants off the beaten path—the ones locals go to. There you'll find something besides just pasta with red sauce.