Firenze Travel Guide

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Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Raymond Longaray

  What a surprising and special place. Florence, or Firenze as say the Italians, I found to be the easiest city to navigate in Italy.  It's the only city I traveled to that's laid out on a grid system, so there are thoroughfares and through streets so you can actually find what your looking for. Quite unique in Italy.  What's also surprising amongst all this world renowned art and magnificence, is the inner city hustle that's evident through the streets of Florence.  It kinda reminds me of New York City, and it's definitely a city where things are happening.  Kinda gritty, kinda cool, kinda crowded, kinda urban, kinda bohemian.  It has a preponderance of art, culture, and history, and is also a major fashion destination with all "the designers" having establishments therein, and I'm not talkin' da Gap.  The people of Firenze dress to the teeth.  The baristas at my favorite coffee bar near the Uffizi gallery wore suits, and the ladies wore designer clothes.  Ain't no Starbucks either.  Women wore stilettos while pushing their Vespas around the cobblestone streets.  Fashion under adverse conditions ain't easy, and these folks take it seriously.   

Florence has the largest percentage of English speaking populace of any city I encountered in Italy.  A lot of that "easy to communicate" aspect probably has to do with the fact that there are a horde of foreign exchange students studying there.  Every college or university in America or Britain seems to have an exchange program in place.  I am using the term studying in the broadest of concepts, as partying may be a part of course curriculum. 

Michelangelo, DaVinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Donatello, how much culture and beauty can one person take?  Masterpieces seem to be around every corner along with a multitude of copies of Michelangelo's David.  The real one is in the Uffizi Gallery along with every famous artist or sculptor you ever heard of, and plenty you haven't.  I found David to be much larger than I expected, and well deserving of the 20 minutes of gawking time you'll spend walking around it dissecting Michelangelo's work from every angle.  Along with everyone else.  The Uffizi is a world class one of a kind museum, and can easily engulf your entire day of traveling.  You'll find that DaVinci's work is down the hall from Michelangelo's, just past Botticelli, past Raphael, and so on, and so on.  You just can't leave, and you just can't leave the Uffizi without being just a tad more cultured than when you entered.  You'll have to check your bag at the door, and photography is prohibited except in specified areas.  Don't worry as there is a souvenir shop at the exit of the museum where you can purchase any of the pictures you didn't take because you couldn't.

Mid city is the Doumo.  A 16th century cathedral featuring a phenomenal dome and tower that makes one marvel at the technological capability of builders of that time period.  You can make the climb up the stairs to the top of the dome for one of the best views of the valley in which Florence resides.  Bear in mind, the dome is even taller than it appears when you climb it, and it looks tall.  Best to mind your stair master time before your trip.  Adjacent to the cathedral, across the street in the baptismal building, carvings on the facility doors are worth are roll of film apiece.  Magnificent wood carvings and bronze castings adorn all of the entries.  The doors you can view without waiting in line, or fighting any crowds, as with much of Florence's art, they're just there. Just part of the city.

While art and culture are what the city touts its renowned for, fashion and shopping may be the city's true draw.  Street markets are intertwined through the city with everything from tourist trinkets, to fine silk, to some of the best quality leather deals around.  (Florence is world renowned for their leather goods).  Stores carrying like kind articles, many of which have stalls in the markets abound in the gridwork of Florence.  Florence is also renowned for it;s goldsmithing and jewelry of which can be found in excess on the famed Ponte Vechicco, (the much photographed two story bridge spanning the Arne River). 

The oldest pharmacy in Italy is in Florence, and is something to behold.  Built in the 15th century, adorned with frescoes and gilded columns, it still conducts business daily while selling herbs and medicines from centuries past.  Quite a tourist draw, and a regular stop for locals and those looking for natural cures.  The pharmacy also has a museum in the wing turning away from the street, presenting the history of the establishment through the centuries.  Next to the street markets of central Florence, is the public market building, which one has to see to believe.  Magnificent.  Fresh herbs and spices, cheeses, wine, Lemoncello, 20 year aged Balsamic vinegars, fresh meats and poultry, locally grown vegetables, and more tourists than most of the museums.  If your in to cooking, and want to drag anything authentic back in your bag, this is the place.  Right downtown, easy to find. 

As far as dining, the place has a dearth of eating and drinking establishments, all of which I think I would recommend.  I'm exaggerating of course, but everywhere I tried, from the Chiceti bars which serve sandwiches, pasta, and wine or liquor, to the dining houses in town, were all very good.  The Italians take their food and service seriously, and the end results reflect that aspect of their culture.  It is said that Americans go to eat on their way to their destination for the evening, but the Italian's destination is their meal.  That philosophy may reflect their resulting culinary successes, while we revel in a quarter pounder.   

Florence is a very wired city, and I found free Internet access at many of the coffee house/pizza establishments around the city center.  Some of the Chiceti bars also offer free Internet access as well with purchase of goods or services.  While everyone seems to be riding a Vespa scooter, everything I wanted or needed was within walking distance.  The surrounding Tuscan cities are all pretty much accessible by train, and the station is about three miles from the city center, and accessible by bus should you desire.


September 09, 2008 new by steve9631 (1 point)

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