Italy

First Days in Florence: Churches, Palaces, and Gelato, oh my!

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling were are not in Kansas anymore”.

Florence is a beautiful, history-saturated maze, comprised of winding concrete, cobblestone, and centuries old edifices that make your jaw drop.

Thankfully on our first day we had a local, Gabrielle’s cousin, Stefania, to give us a tour or else we surely would have gotten lost or missed some of the hidden treasures along the way.

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Sweet Stefania explaining the city to Gabrielle

“Follow the yellow-brick cobble-stone road!” : My take on a journey through Florence

To get to Florence you just take a ten minute train ride from Sesto Fiorentino and arrive at Santa Maria Novella Train Station. The station is conveniently located in the middle of the maze, err I mean city, and as you walk outside and cross the street, (dodging several cars along the way), you find several different paths from which you can choose to start your journey.

Once you do, you’ll find yourself either looking: down, at centuries old cobble stones dotted with cigarette butts (it seems that everyone and their brother smokes here); up, at 10ish story high apartments with flower-rimmed balconies and trimmed window frames; left, at the parked fiats or skooters all in a row; or your instincts will invariably force you to turn right when either, your eye catches a glimpse of the newest Italian fashion from the shop window, or your nose senses the freshly baked pastries from the open doors of bakeries. (The first day I was weak and my nose somehow convinced my stomach that it needed a chocolate covered orange biscotti that was 6 euros… 6 EUROS! WHAT WAS I THINKING! Do not worry, since then I’ve gained more self control).

On your first day you’ll probably get lost trying to follow a map so if you just keep walking, at some point you’ll stumble upon some massive building, church, or museum of such magnitude that it’ll stop you in your tracks.

 Here are some of my favorite track-stopping sights so far: 

Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica

This square was the city’s first market place and later it turned into the ghetto area. The ghetto was swept away during the ‘risanamento’, or the re-planning of Italian cities after the country’s unification (1861). This is one of my favorite areas of the city so far. It feels so alive to me!

*** Did you know that Florence was temporarily the capital of Italy for five years in 1865 to 1871? Me either! But now we do 🙂

The Arno River

Sunset on the Arno River
The Arno River at Sunset

One stroll along this river at sunset and I almost felt myself turning into a romantic. But seriously, try gazing down that river, seeing the reflections of hotels and museums in the foreground, and the rolling hills and the background, and tell me worries don’t seem lighter and life doesn’t seem sweeter.

Il Duomo

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Brunelleschi’s Il Duomo

I’m currently reading a book called Brunelleschi’s Dome which talks about the construction of the dome in detail. It is quite the architectural feat and it’s worth the reading about if you have the time. And maybe it will inspire you to come visit here one day!

Santa Maria del Fiore

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Santa Maria del Fiore

This is the main church in Florence. Construction begun in 1296 in the gothic style and was not completed until Brunelleschi’s dome was finished in 1436. So to give you some chronological perspective, America was not even going to be discovered by Colombus for another 55 years. Mind blowing!

P.S. The structure is much bigger than this picture makes it seem!

Steps of Santa Maria del Fiore

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Steps to the Santa Maria del Fiore

As mind-boggling as this structure is for tourists, for locals it can be just another place to meet a friend or a prime people watching location. Watch out for the overweight pigeons though! I made the mistake of sharing my biscotti with one of them the first day and then they told all their friends and it instantly became a feeding frenzy. Gabrielle and I were lucky to make it out without finding wet presents in our hair.

Gelato

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Gelato that calls you by your first name from the window.

I can’t blame my shrinking pants on the dryer because we don’t have one! (Neither do most Italians.)

Palazzo Vecchio

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Palazzo Vecchio or “Old Palace”

In 1299, the commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace, worthy of the city’s growing importance. The tower at the top has two small cells, that, at different times, imprisoned Cosimo de’ Medici (the Elder) (1435) and Girolamo Savonarola (1498). The palace is now used as a museum and remains a symbol of the local government. I can’t wait to go for a tour!

In the front you may be able to spot a replica of Michelangelo’s David.

Piazza della Signoria

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Piazza della Signoria

(Left): Palazzo Vecchio, (Middle) Uffizi, (Left) I don’t know what it is called but there is a lot of marble statues 😉 And I always see exhausted tourists sitting on the steps inside. Lots of walking here in Florence!

Uffizi

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The Uffizi Gallery

I recently went to this gallery and will post pictures soon! Rumor has it that although many of the surrounding areas in Florence were destroyed during WWII, Hitler specifically ordered his men not to bomb the Ufizzi or Ponte Vecchio.

Overall, after being around Florence several days now, it’s not quite as overwhelming… what am I saying… yes it is! But it’s the good kind of overwhelming; there is just so much history to learn and beauty to see everywhere I turn!

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