My first taste of Florence was nearly five years ago, when I first visited and fell in love with Italy. I remember walking out of the Florence santa Maria Novella station and being absolutely stunned! I had never seen any city like what was spread out before me. I remember, the first thing I did, was get a coffee! I stepped into a little cafe, downed my one shot espresso with a side of croissant (which, I now find is actually called "brioche integrale"), like what I hoped was Italian attitude, and desperately wanting to fit in, and then getting ready to explore.
I felt alive. I walked without design but like a homing pigeon found myself gaping in complete awe at the Duomo. Oh! to this day, it remains one of my favorite sights to surprise myself into! Every time I see it, it fills my heart with space and a sense of uplifting, like being carried away by the skill of the thousands of artisans who sweated and slaved on each wondrous element of the building.
That trip was my own Eat-Pray-Love journey. For some fleeting seconds, I felt free. I felt full and happy.
Since that beautiful introduction to Italian life, I have been Florence two more times - twice in the last year. Even after four years, my first re-sighting of that stunning cathedral filled with a rush of memory, feelings, emotions. This time, I saw it in the splendor of a clear August Summer night. Ahhhh! I could not wait to go again, only a couple of months later, when I had officially moved to Italy. Under the excuse of a research trip, my friend and I, skipped happily into the city on a brisk and sunny Fall day.
We spent two fulfilling days in the city, staying in a crappy hotel (yes, it is expensive but who cares, we were hardly there!), filling our hearts and bellies with wonders of the city! These photos are from that trip in mid November last year.
I am certainly no expert in the city. Yet, from all the times I have been there I can say with certainty that the best way to enjoy the place and feel it is to simple wander, walk, lose yourself. Truly, you cannot really get very lost, because you turn and you stumble onto another cultural edifice or well known spot that you recognize. It is truly an absolute immersion.
Let me tell you all that I found while I went wandering - my first Italian aperitivo experience (woohoo! what a deal!), a gorgeous old leather store, beautiful hidden scarf shop, an underground papieries, and AVEDA salon (haha, yes!), Neptune (yes, him and his horses. He is gorgeous!), a private party that I could not crash, amazing food, tiny cafes and bakeries, amazing coffee places....... Are you sold?!
Even though the hotel we stayed at was less admirable than advertised and the reviews said; it's location was unbeatable. Right in the beating heart of the city, we walked by amazing local stores and cafes and then suddenly discovered one of my favorite cafe/restaurants for relaxed dining - La Menagerie. It isn't, I admit, of Florentine old spirit, looking more like a Brooklyn hipster joint. Perhaps, it was the sense of nostalgia or the shabby chic design in the place that was the original non-shabby culture chic that made it, in a corny way, appealing?! Nevertheless, it was great the first day for coffee, and, the second for brunch and aperitivo! Yes, it was a regular haunt.
The best food, though, in the city is hands down on the streets and hole in the wall places. Following the advice of friends, we tracked a couple of places to try. The Lampredotto cart by Il Porcellino is divine! For the non-squeamish, Lampredotto is a typical Florentine dish, made from the fourth and final stomach of a cow. And, it is cooked to tender and is so so so flavorful. Stop by the cart mid-day, get one of these and devour it in seconds standing by the cart. That's the way to go. You will probably want another, but, I would tell you to wait until you get to the next stop for more street eats...
In Florence, you can sight see for any range of budget and time. For free or very little, which, I think is the best, you can just walk by all the casual history generously dotting all the piazzas. Or, you can stand in line (even if you book your tickets) for entrance to the Uffizi. Note: If you are NOT a Renaissance lover, do yourself and wallet a favor and skip it. I found on the previous visit, to my detriment, that the Uffizi is no place for me as a sculpture and Impressionist lover and in the heat of August when patience can be worn thin all around. Only several gin and tonics in the museum cafe restored me for a quick tour of the gallery and much bemoaning to my best friend, who LOVES the place, because he is a ....... right! Renaissance lover. Borghese 1, Uffizi 0. That little thing aside...
And, then it is aperitivo time. In Italy, it is a beautiful time of the day. In the warmer and even colder months, people spill out onto the piazza, communing over glasses of Aperol spritz and an assortment of nibbles, that are always on the house! Ditta Artiginale is a great gin bar that also works as a coffee and breakfast place (as do all bars in Italy); this one though serves Third Wave coffees.
Finally, we stopped by All'Antico for a lot of banter and the best sandwich I have ever had in my life! It was an absolute pleasure to watch the barter of wit among the guys at the sandwicheria, bite into the juicy, well stuffed sandwiches made with fresh bread (for EUR 5!!!) and accompanied with a glass of awesome wine! It is cash only though. I would go back to Florence, just to eat there!
Indeed, it isn't about the food or the place. Truly, Florence is the one place I have felt so close to beauty and never felt overwhelmed by it. Rather, it has always sent my spirit soaring, filling me with hope and bringing smiles on my face. Rome may have the power of mind and the history of greatness but Florence has the grace that captures hearts and holds them true for lifetimes. I'll take the gutters of the Florentine streets to the ravishing Trevi fountain because even these smell of metaphorical roses.