October 30th – November 1st, 2014.
We took a high-speed train from Rome to Florence, which took us something like 170 miles in 90 minutes. Not too shabby!
We arrived in Florence later in the evening, so we didn’t have time to do much besides have dinner and go to sleep. We ate at a restaurant our AirBnB host recommended, and we liked it so much that we went back the next night. They had a tiny little balcony upstairs that overlooked the dining room and was so small that is could only fit a single table. The first night, we got to sit up there. We felt a bit like VIPs perched so high above everyone else. One of our favorite memories of our trip is sitting on that little balcony, drinking our wine, nibbling on our food, and people-watching.
The second night we ate there we sat downstairs next to an American couple, and once they noticed our accents, we ended up chatting throughout the meal. They were best friends in high school, and after they graduated, they both moved away and married different people. She moved to Italy and settled there with her husband. Decades passed, and both of their marriages ended. When she went home to see her parents, they reconnected and began a relationship. They kept in touch even after she went back to Italy, and he had just flown over to spend some time with her. I’ll never forget the way they looked at each, like no one else in the room existed. They felt like the luckiest people on the planet to have found each other again after so many years. I think I might have teared up a bit, but whether it was due to the love story or the knowledge that this would be my last dish of cinghiale, I don’t know. I think it goes without saying that I had cinghiale both nights.
The next day we woke up early to catch the bus to Siena and only got back in time for dinner, so our last day in Florence was the only time we had to see the whole city. Luckily for us, the main historic bit of Florence doesn’t take too long to navigate. What it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty. The next morning, we walked to Palazzo Pitti, which was situated a block from our apartment. We sat outside at a cafe adjoining the palazzo, which offered great views of the residence. We sipped our sugar-laden espresso (a fool-proof way to make even the worst coffee palatable) and watched all of the people coming and going.
Fueled by all of that sugar and caffeine, we made our way to Ponte Sante Trinità to cross the river to the Uffizi. From that bridge, you have a great view of the famous Ponte Vecchio. I’m really not sure how to describe it: is it quirky, interesting, derelict, ugly, beautiful, or just mad? It is a bridge that looks like a Harry Potter set: the whole things looks like someone reached down and plucked at it until everything was slightly off-kilter. It would fit right in amongst the shops in Diagon Alley. Well, if there were a river in Diagon Alley. I guess the best word would be whimsical. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It isn’t trying to be imposing or impressive. It doesn’t fill you with awe with its massive proportions or stonework, but it does bring a smile to your face.
After crossing the bridge, we wandered around the Uffizi with its arched colonnade right along the river.
We continued into the streets, and kept turned down any we found interesting. That sort of freedom is what makes small cities so fun. You know you aren’t going to get lost or walk into a bad part of town. You can take any side street with impunity and feel confident that you will eventually end up somewhere interesting. We walked past imposing stone palazzi, Tuscan speciality shops, tiny art galleries, and secluded piazze.
Often when we go to new places, I get stuck on one architectural detail that I end up taking dozens of photos of, and to say that Stephen dislikes it would be an understatement. I have at least a hundred photos of boot scrapers at the entrances to London terraced houses. In Paris, it is all of the street lamps that get me. In Florence, my obsession was all of the great metal rings hanging from the palazzi. Presumably, they were once used to tie up horse reins. Stephen kept pulling me along, telling me that I didn’t need another picture of a ring since they all look the same. Point taken. I passed by dozens of rings until we got to Palazzo Strozzi, and my interest was rekindled. I obnoxiously pointed out that they actually weren’t all the same, thank you very much, so leave me and my rings alone.
We eventually turned a corner, and the Duomo loomed large in front of us. The Baptistry was under construction while we there, so the famous doors by Ghiberti were partly covered. That was a rather big disappointment, but we could see just from walking around the different buildings that work was needed. Some parts had obviously been cleaned and repaired, which allowed you to see what it must have looked like when new. I have never seen a more cheerful cathedral, with all of its pastel-colored marble. We wanted to climb Giotto’s bell tower, but we were unwilling to spend hours in line. We also wanted to go inside the Cathedral proper, but since it was All Saint’s Day, the cathedral was only open to those attending a service
We crossed the bridge again to have lunch at Il Panino del Chianti, which I highly recommend. Stephen had a panino and I had a schiacciata; both are sandwiches on two different types of bread. My sandwich was filled with finocchiona, which is a salami flavored with lots of fennel seeds. Stephen’s sandwich was delicious, but mine was divine. And I don’t think we paid more than 5€ for each!
After lunch we made the climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a great view over the city.
We ended the day by walking back to Ponte Sante Trinità so that we could watch the sun set behind Ponte Vecchio. The bridge was crowded with people who had the same idea, so we squeezed among them and watched the sky fade from red to gold. I couldn’t imagine a better way to end our Italian vacation.
But, then we saw this out of the window of the plane the next morning, and it was pretty great, too.