Unfortunately, out of all the places we had visited so far, Florence had the seediest feel – immediately evident on arriving from the main station. As we were walking to our hotel, we heard some screaming and shouting, then two girls running – it seemed like they had been robbed? It’s also possible they had been fighting with each other though, as the people further up the street and closer to them didn’t seem to do anything about it.
We only had a brief stay in Florence, so other than this somewhat unsavoury introduction, we spend the second day madly running around trying to see as much as possible! It was one of our biggest days of walking, with a total by the end of the day of the equivalent of 46 flights of stairs climbed (both in steps and slopes)! We were exhausted, but it was a great day.
There were also buskers in several locations around the town, and they were completely excellent! Probably some of the best street music I’ve heard.
Palazzo Vecchio, the heart of old Florence, and long the seat of rule before being taken over by the Medici family and turned into a Palace. I appreciated the fact that much of the building is in fact still in use for the mayor and the towns administrative offices. Even though I like to be able to see the whole building, I’d already learned that this generally isn’t possible so it’s good that the whole edifice isn’t going to waste! We probably only had access to 1/3 of the building all up, and it didn’t take that long to move through. By the time we came out, there was a bit of a queue… so we felt relieved to have got in early, but that relief was short lived.
The queue at the Uffizi Gallery! My gosh. It stretched on forever. We were in for a wait of an hour and a half or more, until a scalper came past with a tour group badge stuck to his shirt, selling tickets for about 4 euros more than the official price. Either get there early, or pre-book, or both! I was uncomfortable about buying them but Dad said we might as well, so we skipped the longest line and were able to get in the pre-bookings queue. Thankfully the tickets were legit.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a huge art buff, but I did appreciate the wing featuring Caravaggio and those inspired by him. Also in the first part of the building, I enjoyed the frescoes of garden trellices and birds on the ceiling. I found them very relaxing and pretty, much at odds with the other ceiling decorations we’ve seen in various palaces and museums so far. If you do love art, however, you could probably get lost in here for days on end. It’s huge! And there is so much to see by truly historic artists everywhere you look. Out of all the medieval portraits, including those I later saw at the Louvre, I think my favourite was here; the portrait of Elanora of Toledo, whose dress is painted with such detail – down to seedpearls and fabric texture – that it honestly could rival a photograph.
I think I took more photos at the Museo Galileo than anywhere else, simply because of the array of fascinating devices and gadgets (not to mention globes, which as I’ve already stated, I really like for some reason). You could spend quite a bit of time here too, if you really read all the descriptions, and educate yourself quite a bit in the process! It’s a fascinating collection of the history of science, including some of the ways it went terribly wrong – the most astonishing of which was this enormous device designed to track the movement of heavenly bodies around the earth – a mission of course that was destined to fail. This contraption, by the way, seems to be at least 10 feet tall. It’s enormous, complex, and impressive.
There were also assorted astrolabes, telescopes, electric machines, and tools designed to demonstrate mathematical concepts – as well as a skeleton arm demonstrating that the human arm is a lever.
Palazzo Pitti – this is a palace on an absolutely mammoth s
cale. Unfortunately by the time we arrived there, several of the areas including the gardens were closed for the day. We just had time for a quick spin through the main building. This white themed ballroom was my favourite of all the ballrooms I’ve seen, because it was just so… clean and fresh and light. I wonder if they charge a hefty fee to hold your wedding there?
Since we’d paid for it, we also checked out the ‘modern art’ gallery. Initially reluctant, I was pleased to discover that by ‘modern’ what they meant was sort of anything post 1700s! I actually enjoyed seeing some art that was not purely religious, and took particular delight in 2 sculptures of fairies and the bust of a young woman who was just somehow quite delicate and enchanting, and struck me as very different to many of the other (more heavyset) portraits and busts. She looks shy, and demure, and somehow… vulnerable.
We emerged from Palazzo Pitti to find an eerie fog had settled over the city, making it impossible to see more than a couple of metres ahead, but lending a magnificent ambience to these old buildings!
The main cathedrals in Florence feature fascinating colour schemes of pink and green stone, which are also much more impressive in real life.
Of note (to me) was also the overhanging walkway at the top part of Palazzo Vecchio, as well as the tower – alarming due to seemingly being held together by some bolts and scaffolding! Not the safest feeling for someone who is scared of heights.
I read a story about one of the Medici women having the Ponte Vecchio bridge enclosed so she could cross the river from the Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi, and sure enough there is a fully enclosed walkway on one side of the bridge. It’s surprisingly subtle, actually, and on the Uffizi side we didn’t even notice it crossing over the road!
We arrived on Dec 26th, which turned out was St Stephens day. Not a lot was open, however the Florence central markets which was on my must-see list, is open 365 days a year from 8am till midnight! It may look closed at first glance but I assure you, the food hall upstairs is not, so don’t be deceived! You can enjoy a grazing meal of basically whatever your heart desires, from meats, cheeses, and cannoli, to panini and a drink or two of course. The place is huge, and even included one shop dedicated to fresh truffles.
Its a gourmet’s dream come true
We started with a 10euro plate featuring large slices of prosciutto, tomatoes and rocket, balsamic glaze and a creamy local cheese that had been warmed up so it was soft and gooey, along with some incredible dark bread chock full of walnut pieces and roasted garlic. The cheese was very mild and creamy with a slightly Camembert-ish flavour, but not as mushroomy. Everything of course tastes just as fresh as you can get. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best match with the previously delightful Prosecco which turned a little beerish tasting when mixed.
Aside from buying plates to have a sort of DIY buffet/picnic, you can also buy produce here – including gelato by the kg.
We later went after a woodfired pizza, which is made fresh right in front of you in about 10 minutes. There are so many choices and just doing one lap around the food hall is overwhelming enough, making the choice a real struggle. But it was an enjoyable experience and one I’d love to go back for again!
Behind the Uffizi gallery, there is also a little street which features a string of sandwich shops that literally have queues to rival the museums, winding out of their tiny cramped stores and down the street. Naturally, this piqued my interest, but the store with the longest line – well, I couldn’t bring myself to wait an hour for a sandwich, no matter how good, so we chose one of it’s competitors. The main feature of these little stores appears to be the roast pork rolls – and it was good. The pork was rolled and coated in a crust of herbs which infused their flavour through the succulent meat, but the bread was nothing special and I’m still not sure it was worth a half hour wait. Admittedly, the serves were very large for the price. We were able to share one of them between two people as a light lunch.
On the second night, I was looking to try the famous Florentine steak as I wasn’t terribly interested in the other local specialties, being stale bread and cabbage, or tripe… Many places seem to sell this steak by the kg, including one meat bar in the market. Finally we chose Pizzeria Tirabaralla, as it offered the steak and was close to the restaurant – despite my usual misconceptions about restaurants that display their food with photos for tourists. This was the first restaurant we’d been to in Italy that offered actual garlic bread as well as bruschetta – but sadly, it came out pretty disappointing and literally swimming in oil. The Florentine Steak, which I’d been unable to find a description of anywhere else, turned out to be a plain flame grilled tbone… I thought perhaps it might have a special seasoning, or other feature… it was nice, but nothing special. On top of this it was really cooked a bit too much for my liking which made it a little tough.
At our hotel, I also appreciated this unusual electric urn which had a removable kettle on the top and looked like an antique (but wasn’t).
Walking past a Salvatore Ferragamo store with its huge wooden doors, I suddenly realised it appeared to take over the entire building. A quick look on the map later revealed it as Palazzo Ferragamo. Did the brand originate here? Was it the name of an old noble family? A little more digging revealed that was not the case, but the brand had established it’s flagship store there and taken over the 13th century castle, turning it not just into a store but a museum… one that now houses a collection of 10,000 shoes. Guess I have a reason to go back to Florence!