Author: Ruthie Pollard
“Florence is exactly how I thought it would be and nothing like it at all. It is absolutely magical, the cobblestones, the old buildings, and yet - it's gritty too. The city enchants you and then brings you right back down to reality. I’ve never been any place that I want to capture so much.” - Love & Gelato
This quote perfectly embodies my first impression of Florence. When I first stepped onto the streets of Florence it was like I had stepped back in time. The cobblestones, the roar of vespas, and the old buildings felt like something out of a fairytale. When we arrived at our apartment we were greeted by our AirBnB host who was standing in front of the apartment entrance. He effortlessly hoisted our luggage up three flight of stairs and lead us into a piece of history. The spacious apartment was full of vintage treasures and works of art. I opened the window of my room to the view of our quaint neighborhood surrounded by yellow buildings with green shutters. Just above the terracotta roofs you could see the hills of Tuscany in the distance. The locals were bustling on the street below me going about there daily business. In the back of the apartment, a kitchen window opened to look down on a small courtyard where you could see a painter busy at work for her art studio. I truly felt immersed in the culture.
We had maps and guide books but the best advice given to us was to just “get lost.” We did get lost on many occasions, but that is what makes for an adventure. Even with the jet lag we couldn’t wait to see the city. Within the first hour we had our first cappuccino at the coffee shop across the street, tried the gelato and went exploring through the streets. As we were walking, we noticed group of people heading up a hill. We followed up the street which lead to steep steps. When we reached the top, we turned around to see one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever beheld. We had arrived at the top of Plazza Michaelanglo, overlooking the city. The sun made the city glow as it set on the yellow houses. It was also our first glance at the magnificent Duomo, a domed structure that is the largest brick dome ever constructed. We also had our first view of the Arno River which runs through central Italy. The sky was turning shades of gold and pale pink. It was pure magic.
The following morning we decided to walk to the center of town to check out the shopping and of course have our fill of coffee and gelato. We walked across the street over the bridge and got our first up close look at the Ponte Vecchio a beautiful bridge on the Arno River that has been around since the middle ages. We got lost through some of the streets but finally made our way to the Plazza Della Signoria - a square in the center of town surrounded by arches and famous statues. As we continued walking, we saw the beautiful Firenze carousel and stopped to listen to some live music.
As we walked, I saw the tip of the Duomo and quickened my pace to see this building up close. I couldn't wait to see the building I'd seen in pictures months before my trip. When we rounded the corner, I looked up at the most breath taking piece of architecture I had ever seen. The dome rested on an intricately designed cathedral. We stopped in front of the beautiful Basilica of Santa Mariadel Fiore and ate some delicious panini’s. Later in the week, we climbed up 463 steps to the top of the Duomo and then the Bell Tower for stunning views of the city. When we reached the top of the bell tower, we were just in time to hear them loudly toll above us.
For some backround, Florence is known as the “Cradle of the Renaissance” - home to some of the most famous artwork in the world. Much of the city has been preserved since the 13th century. One of our “must see” places was the Galleria Dell Academia. After waiting over 45 minutes in line, we were able to see the world’s most famous statue “The David,” by Michelangelo. We were also excited to see the Uffizi Gallery, it was surreal to see the art work of Leonardo De Vinci, Michelangelo and Raffael up close.
We could have spent all our time in Florence but with only a week, we wanted to take advantage of the high speed trains. My first major bucket list item was to see Rome. We took off early in the morning to do Rome in a day. Rome was much different then Florence, it had a big city feel. In Rome, it was a mad rush to see the Colosseum and head to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City. For my next trip to Rome, I hope to see the Trevi Fountain and do some shopping in the fashion capitol of the world!
The night before we planned to head to Venice, we jumped online to buy tickets for the early morning train. Much to our dismay, the tickets were sold out as it was carnival time in the city. So the next morning we went to the train station and bought tickets to Pisa. Trains to Pisa run frequently so it was easy to get a ticket on the spot. It was a beautiful sunny day with a clear view of the leaning tower. We had to do the tourist thing and climb to the top, after a 1,000 tries we finely nailed our “I’m holding the tower up” pictures.
For our final full day in Italy we set out on one of the most anticipated parts of our journey, Tuscany. Anyone who has watched the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, knows there is an allure to the country side and its panoramic expanse. When we arrived in the small town of Camucia, we learned that taxi’s do not run from the train station on Sundays. In a local cafe - a man offered to take us up the hill town of Cortona. Under normal circumstance I wouldn’t take a ride from a stranger but…when in Rome. In Cortona, we hiked to the top of the hill where there was a beautiful church. After some delicious Tuscan Pizza, we walked around an open market full of merchants selling their wares. The streets were adorable and we shrieked with delight peering through side alleys that were windows to our country side view. We got to sit in the same places and walk the streets where the scenes from Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed. We know this because it was well documented with pictures on the walls, this movie is Cortona’s claim to fame. My dream was to end the night sipping wine and looking over the view. However, we forgot that most of the restaurants do not open for dinner until 7 p.m. I walked into a wine bar on the street to see if they had wine to-go. The store owner offered cups of wine but I insisted on fancy glasses. He went out back and opened a box of brand new glasses and let us buy three glasses full of wine for only five euros each. Where else would you find wine that delicious for so cheap? We took our wine and walked across the street to the benches over looking the country side at sunset. Perfect ending to a perfect day.
My journey to Florence will always have a special place in my heart. I have been blessed to travel to many beautiful places but if I could recommend one city to travel to that has “all the feels” it would be Florence, Italy.