Florence you Little Gem
“Ciao Bella!” the shop keeper trilled as I pinged open the door to a quaint little tea shop on the edge of The Boboli Gardens in the heat of the day.
I was visiting Florence with my Mum and my Auntie and I was trailing them around with me, forgetting that my legs were younger and longer than theirs. Several times I turned around to find that they were miles back, struggling to keep up with my compulsion to see every nook and cranny of the city.
We arrived from Florence train station like flustered hens, ‘Which way is the town centre?’, ‘I need to take off my cardigan’, ‘Just follow me!’. Our suitcases bumped along the cobbled streets as sweat poured down our backs as we eventually (it was hard to find) made it to our apartment on the top floor, DIRECTLY OPPOSITE the San Lorenzo market. We were greeted with an air-conditioned view of the rooftops of Firenze and collapsed in a heap for all of 10 minutes, before I was eager to start exploring.
The first evening had us pretty darn tired (Jane had just flown over from the U.S that day!) so we found a cute little spot just down the road for dinner. I managed to order everything in my rough Italian and soon we were tucking into prosciutto and melon, bruschetta della casa, lasagna and me a glass of vino rosso. That first evening out to dinner actually ended up being my favourite even though we were tired from our day of travelling. Florence sparked something in me and I came alive, thrilled with the energy and flavour this city evoked.
There are certainly no shortages of restaurants as you can imagine and you can’t really go wrong with Italian food, but it’s worth jumping online sometimes if you fancy something really great and don’t know the area. Jane found us an awesome place completely tucked away which we would never have walked past. Otherwise, I just enjoyed meandering around, seeing what took our fancy when we were hungry. Oh the life!
We were visiting in June, pretty much peak season and queues for museums were monstrous. The line for The David of Michelangelo at The Galleria dell’Academia alone seemed to stretch around the entire city. We were there to sight see but 5 hours standing in the hot sun? No, Grazie. No one wants to see a small stone willy that much…do they? Besides I was much more interested in people watching and wandering around getting to know Firenze.
I did however make it on my own to La Torre di Palazzo Vecchio and climbed the 223 steps leading up to the highest battlemented level which offered a gorgeous view of the city. Florence is incredibly beautiful with the tuscan hills rolling in the distance, its quaint roof top bars and elegant stone buildings paving the way to your next aperitif location.
We treated ourselves to a coffee and a pastry at the Duomo square whilst we were there. I think every Italian would scream at me for doing this because you pay such high prices and there is better coffee to be had in the side streets, but how often do you get to pass the time next to such a gorgeous building? I loved the hum-drum of it all too – street vendors wandering by selling things, bright yellow carrier bicycles cycling by and tourists staring in awe, aghast by the beauty of the piazza.
We of course made it to The Ponte Vecchio (as did the entire population of Tuscany it seemed at the time) and perused our way around, window shopping and looking at the views. The bridge crosses the Arno river at its most narrow point and is full of art dealers, jewellers and souvenir sellers. If you cross the bridge you can make it to The Boboli gardens as we did. There is a small entrance fee of course but it’s a beautiful place to take a picnic and hang out for a while if it’s not too hot, strolling through the well-kept, cherished gardens, past the water fountains and on to the highest point of the garden where you can see a nice view of the city.
Florence is entirely walkable but on our way back the two oldies (I think they will laugh) were flagging from the heat so we hailed a cab to take us to Gelateria Dei Neri (recommended to us by an Italian herself). Well, the most entertaining cab ride then ensued as the crazy young Italian driver proceeded to take us through the back streets of Firenze at peak hour. The palm of his hand never seemed to leave the horn as he whizzed past motorcycles and dazed tourists, cursing to himself and slamming on the brakes whenever an obstruction threatened to appear. Finally it seemed that we would have to get out and walk the rest of the way for there was a motorcycle blocking the way out to the street. A few f-bombs later and we were inching past the motorbike, him telling me to pull my wind-mirror in so he had more space. A whole crowd had formed to watch and other Italian shop keepers came over to investigate and swear a bit more as he mounted curbs and flailed his arms at tourists blocking his path. Somehow we managed to make it out of that tiny side street and he dropped us off outside like it was all in a day’s work. I then spent the next half an hour pondering on which gelato to get before settling on heavenly coconut and mango.
Honestly, most of our time was spent mooching around with no real plan in mind: shopping at the markets, eating dinner every night somewhere new, one of us popping down for breakfast each morning to come back with freshly baked pastries and fresh fruit and coffee to munch on whilst we got ready for the day. It feels like it’s a city you want to dress up for – everyday I would walk out of our little apartment’s front door in a flowing skirt, red lipstick and my hair done. Italians know how to dress well and for me it was a pleasure to partake in this aspect of city living.
Our fight was out of Pisa on the way back and we took the opportunity to visit the leaning tower. I thought Pisa would be full of things to see and do but turns out its a pretty small town with people only really visiting to take their pictures at the iconic tower.
In the end I think four days was enough in this pretty city…by the last day I was starting to yearn for the countryside, getting a little stifled by the oppressive heat of the concrete jungle. What a beautiful few days away though, full of new tastes and smells, a new culture and a new found desire for Italian gelato! Florence you little gem!