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Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Monday, April 10, 2006

2 Days in Florence: Day 1

My friend Mark of HyperLiterature is going on a whirlwind tour of Europe with his wife, Leigh.  I promised a few suggestions, and I thought I would start with my favorite city, Florence.

First things first, the only guidebook worth buying for Florence is the Eyewitness Travel Guides: Italy. (Or alternately, you may buy the same for Florence and Rome separately, but for a short trip, the Italy one is more than sufficient for both).

Firenze is a city where one could spend an eternity, and still not have seen everything — so full of history, art, and ambience is the city, that one day my dream is to live there.

If, however, one has two days to visit it, these are the "must-do" items in my book:

Day 1.

Check into your hotel.  You may have a hotel booked already, but my favorite in Florence is the Hotel Roma, which is near the railway station, overlooking the church of Santa Maria Novella. A four-star hotel in a historical palazzo, it has courteous service and nice amenities, and was not back-breakingly expensive when I last visited.  If you ask nicely, they may even give you the key to go up to the rooftop, from which you can take great pictures of Florence rooftops.

Walk to the Duomo through the narrow streets and take time to admire its beautiful white, pink, and green marble, the gorgeous Baptistry doors by Ghiberti (called "Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo), and Giotto's tower, the Campanile.

Inside the Duomo, take note of Brunelleschi's dome, the first and greatest of its kind ever built, and take in the frescos by Vasari (author of the Lives of the Artists). If you have time, go to the top of the dome for great city views. It was here at the altar on Easter Sunday, 1478, that Lorenzo de Medici's brother, Giuliano, was murdered by the Pazzi conspirators during the service. Inside the cathedral is also Domenico di Michelino's painting "Dante Illuminating Florence with his Poem" (1465).

After the Duomo, go make a reservation for the evening at
my favorite Florentine restaurant, Sasso di Dante (Dante's Seat).  Legend has it that the restaurant was built on the spot where Dante used to sit on a tree stump, gazing at the construction of the cathedral, while writing his Divine Commedia. It is just south of the Duomo - if you are facing the front of the cathedral, walk on the right side of the cathedral, and look to your right at about half-way down the cathedral wall. It is moderately priced, and does not serve the less-than-good touristy fare of many of the other places, but classic Florentine cuisine.  Without a doubt, for appetizer, have the Florentine lasagne which come in a tiny hot iron skillet/pot.

    Sasso di Dante
    Piazza delle Pallottole 6/r (Duomo)
    Tel. 055 28 21 13
    (Closed on Thurday and Friday)

Come back to the front of the Duomo, and walk south down Via dei Calzaiuoli, past the church of Orsanmichele, and note the niche carvings on the side of the church, including Donatello's St. George and St. Mark and Verrocchio's Doubting Thomas.

Via dei Calzaiuoli ends at the Piazza della Signoria, where a replica of the original statue of Michelangelo's David stands. The Piazza is bordered by the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Uffizi itself is for Day 2, but you cantake a quick look-through the Vasari courtyard with Pinturicchio's Putto fountain at the Palazzo — I always pictured the room where Romeo and Juliet first meet during the dance to look just like this.


Walk through the Piazzale degli Uffizi noting the statues of great florentines set into the niches on the wall, including Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Macchiavelli.  Through the archway you reach the bank of the Arno river. This is a great spot for taking a photo of Ponte Vecchio. Walk to the right, towards Ponte Vecchio, stopping by the gelato stand (yum!) and the darling little paper goods store, where you can buy Florentine paper goods, including gorgeous watercolor miniatures on handmade paper, stamps and wax, and other writing and paper goods, for which Florence has been famous for centuries.



Cross the Ponte Vecchio, stopping by the open center part for a photo-op with your sweetheart. This is the only Florentine bridge to have survived World War II intact — the story goes, that when the Axis were pulling out, the soldiers who had the orders to blow up all the bridges crossing the Arno could not make themselves destroy this beautiful Medieval bridge. —Thank goodness.  This bridge, bordered on both sides by jewelry stores, from which the heroine in Puccini's aria "O Mio Babbino Caro" says she will drown herself if her father does not give her permission to marry her sweetheart. For me, this is the most beautiful and most romantic bridge in Italy.

Keep walking until you reach the Palazzo Pitti.  This was one of the Medici palaces, and houses an enormous number of the treasures in the Medici collections not at the Uffizi. The treasures include several Raphael paintings, e.g. Madonna della Seggiola or Madonna of the Chair (1515) and the Donna Velata (1516), Titian's Portrait of a Gentleman (1540), Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith, Caravaggio's Sleeping Cupid, and my favorite, Fra Filippo Lippi's Madonna col Bambino (c.1450).



Make sure to visit the Boboli Gardens at Palazzo Pitti and visit the cafe there — amazing city views while you drink the best hot chocolate in the world (and trust me, I have had hot chocolate all over, so am somewhat of an expert). [Optional: Buy a bakery item and on your way back down from the gardens, feed the birds by the fountains].

Now, get back to your hotel and get ready for dinner and an early night, because DAY 2, the Uffizi day, starts UNGODLY EARLY (no choice in the matter, I fear).

Click on map to see full size:


~A

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2 Comments:

Blogger Mark A. said...

Wow. Amazing post. Thank you so much for that. I'll certainly let you know how it goes.

April 11, 2006 9:55 PM  
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April 24, 2009 2:34 AM  

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