I have a well-tested theory that loving a city in the rain is proof that you really love it, kind of like loving people even when they don’t return your texts automatically. My experiences in Paris, New Orleans, and now, Firenze, all prove this to be true.
I knew I loved Firenze the minute I stepped off the train. The train station is still filled with signs in Italian – tabacchi, giornali, banca – instead of the italicized Helvetica translations on every sign in Rome. My Airbnb host gave me some recommendations, with her primary tip being to just walk around and discover. After my overwhelming experience in Rome, I have never received better advice. Her apartment was in the very cool design neighborhood, so I found myself peering into the workshops, catching glimpses of the life of furniture makers, painters, and jewelry makers. I did what I do best – got lost – up to Ponte Vecchio, where shops are built on the bridge.
I walked in awe of the artisanal atmosphere in Florence, stopping every 10 seconds to take a picture of graffiti or bicycles or new streets. Eventually I wound up at the San Lorenzo market, where vendors were on their game trying to pull “bella” into their stands to buy pink, green, yellow, and white leather bags. “Do you need a belt? How about a wallet?” I was living the scene in Aladdin where Jasmine goes to the market and has to dash past everyone trying to sell her dried beans. The rain had washed out some of the crowds, but those remaining blocked any “panoramic” (I use the term loosely) view of the market with their giant umbrellas. With no leather catching my eye, I hid from the rain in the indoor Mercato di San Lorenzo – where rows of tripe and olive oil were waiting for me.
An hour later I had exhausted my market energy and wandered over to the Duomo in the center of the city. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a massive cathedral with frescos and two very high sets of stairs (one for the tower, one the duomo) for ambitious travelers looking for a workout. I had climbed about a quarter of the way up one of them when I realized that I had climbed the tower instead of the Duomo as I had intended. I didn’t have the energy to climb two in one day – especially with a hiking tour booked for the following day – and enjoyed the views of the Duomo, waving at the people across the way who hadn’t made my mistake.
After pizza and a much-needed siesta, I started walking again, this time to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Eventually, I will learn that the best views require a considerable amount of climbing, but that hasn’t happened yet. On my way, I stumbled into an artists workshop, where an artist was finishing a watercolor, and bought a small painting before continuing my ascent to the piazzale. The views really are incredible – I’m sure even better on a sunny day or starry night. Plus, since I didn’t have time to see the real David, a replica wasn’t a bad alternative.
On my way back down, I stumbled upon another artist’s workshop, this time a really sweet woman who also sold prints for one of her friends – prints I had seen scattered across the cities taped to buildings. I walked in and the artist showed me her paintings before returning to her painting of a man on a bicycle. She was covered in paint and took the time to talk to me about her work and Florence and the neighborhood we were in. After buying a print of Botticelli’s Venus underwater, I found a massive cone of gelato for dinner and wandered around the neighborhood, soaking in the slick cobblestone streets and charming lines of bicycles and vespas.
The next morning, I left Firenze early for Cinque Terra – coming soon! – and returned that evening, opting to grab something quick from the grocery store for dinner. I had missed the window to reserve tickets for the Uffizi Gallery the next day, so I woke up early – too early – to see the museum before my train to Venice.
I made it into the museum within 10 minutes (a hint to everyone to wake up early and profitez!) and stood in awe of Botticelli and Titan (the Venetian) in real life. It reminded me a lot of Musee d’Orsay in Paris, just the right size and not too overwhelming. After the museum, I took one more spin around the city, making my way to the Boboli Gardens, where there is an incredible view of the city, and is definitely something that is probably prettier in the spring and summer when all the flowers have bloomed. Regardless, the statues and neatly trimmed hedges, paired with the panoramic view of the city, was the perfect send-off – even on a cloudy day. ♦