Tag Archives: florence

Italy Travels: Florence Frolics Part II

Visiting Florence, Italy

I left off with a part I recap of our Italy travels in Florence here.

Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we?

Ponte Vecchio

Firenze Ponte Vecchio

Perhaps the most iconic Florentine destination – the Ponte Vecchio. This covered bridge is lined with gold jewelry shops. I was thinking it would be more like a market with vendors, but the Ponte Vecchio is lined with tried-and-true small upscale jewelry shops. And at night they all close up shop with beautiful ornate wooden doors.

Visiting Florence, Italy

The top portion of the bridge is not open to the public. It was actually created as a private walkway for the Medici family to walk from one building to another because, heaven forbid, they walk outside.

Another fun fact, the Ponte Vecchio used to be where all the butchers were. You can only imagine where all the animal entrails went… when the city of Florence decided to clean up the Arno River the butchers were kicked out and the gold jewelers were in.

Duomo/Baptistry

Florence is famous for it’s Duomo. We decided the right word to describe this place is “impressive”. Calling it “beautiful” doesn’t exactly feel right – the intricate white, pink and green stone with gold filigree isn’t exactly my cup of tea but the Duomo is definitely a work of art and shouldn’t be missed.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Directly across from the main entrance to the Dumon is the Baptistry, which was smaller than I pictured, but featured a copy of the famous bronze doors. (The originals are inside the Duomo museum.)

The dome inside the Duomo was my favorite part. Brunelleschi, the designer, modeled it after the Pantheon’s dome. Apparently he told his sister that, although he could not make a better dome, he would make one that was more beautiful!

Beautiful it certainly is.

Visiting Florence, Italy

The tall tower you see next to the Duomo is the bell tower, or the Campanile. You can climb the Duomo dome or the bell tower for a small fee – we ended up doing neither since we enjoyed the views from the Piazzale Michelangelo so much.

Next to the Duomo we found our go-to cappuccino shop – 3 euro for two cappuccino? Yes please! While Florence is not extremely crowded, this particular square is where you will constantly find hoards of tourists. If the line to see inside the Duomo is long, just wait 20 minutes and try again. The crowds ebb and flow, so enjoy a cuppa while you are waiting.

Visiting Florence, Italy

San Lorenzo Market

Ahhh the fine Italian markets… of Indian men… selling South American fake leather goods. Haha!

Regardless, the San Lorenzo market is a fun place to shop/haggle/look for an afternoon.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Most of the stalls have the same items (although they adamantly refuse to admit that!) and the market is dominated by leather goods – purses, belts, etc.

Among all of those stalls though, there are definitely a few winners! Here you can find silk neckties and Murano glass jewelry.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Haggling is definitely the name the game at this market, and if your eyes linger for too long on an item they will run you down trying to sell it to you. Just stand your ground and be prepared to walk away – usually that’s how you get the best price.

Mercato Centrale

The central market is full of produce, meats, cheeses, breads and flowers and is next to the San Lorenzo markets in a large building with a glass ceiling. Even if you plan to purchase nothing, walking around the market is a must!

Visiting Florence, Italy

You’ll see beautiful fresh vegetables, munch on free samples of cheese and… see lots of weird things too.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Like massive fish, chickens, and brain-like foods.

We went to the market one day to get foods for our lunch – it was delicious. Just make your way around the market and you’ll have a big meal right away. Just make sure you have lots of small change!

If you have a bit more time to linger, there are free tasting sessions of olive oil, vinegar or wine at some stalls as well!

Food in Florence

Apparently Florentine gelato is the best of the best. And you won’t hear any contradictions from me. We tried a number of places during our days in Florence, but quickly found our favorite Italian gelateria – Santa Trinita Gelateria just past the Ponte Vecchio.

Visiting Florence, ItalyIt’s where I discovered by deep, unabiding love for grapefruit gelato – also known as pompelo rosa. The prices were good, the gelato was fresh, and the staff friendly.

We tried several different restaurants in Florence – appertifs at Bianco, a fixed price meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near our hotel, and looked to our trusty Rick Steves book for recommendations. Which led us to Trattoria Lo Strocatto. It was delicious food and great atmosphere for a quiet meal. Our waiter wasn’t the most pleasant we’ve ever had, but we’re chalking it up to the language barrier.

Sleeping in Florence:

I think I’ve mentioned before that this trip was entirely made possible by the fact that we were up to our ears in Starwoods points – which allowed us to book free hotel rooms for nearly our entire vacation. So you might notice this hotel is quite a bit fancier that what you’ll usually find recommended around these parts. Well, we decided to spend the bulk of our points in Florence and stayed at the beautiful Excelsior Hotel right on the Arno River.

Visiting Florence, Italy

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The hotel was beautiful and our hotel room was like stepping back in time – in the best way. Why yes, in a 15 foot tall canopy bed. Just call me King George.

The Excelsior also has a beautiful rooftop restaurant and bar. If you are looking for somewhere swanky to drink some insanely overpriced cocktails with aloof waitstaff – this is the place. Our drinks were a complimentary upgrade, otherwise this was not really our scene. Besides the fact that our two drinks would have cost us a weeks worth of gelato(!!!). But the vibe was cool, there was live music and it’s definitely a place you go to be seen. Also, the view is one of the best in Florence.

Visiting Florence, Italy

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Our last night in Florence was after our Italy trip, so we stayed in another hotel right by the train station – Hotel Joli. As much as our previous hotel room was luxurious, this hotel room was NOT. It was definitely hovering around the quality-level of a hostel – the rooms were definitely sparse and a little icky. That being said, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and the free breakfast was actually pretty good. And the location is perfect – very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station.

Overall, Florence was everything that I wanted it to be. The city is beautiful and easy to manage. You can walk from one side of the city within 20 minutes, so there’s no need to worry about buses, trains or cabs.

And being so close to Cinque Terre, Siena and Tuscany, it would be easy to spend your entire vacation in this one area of Italy.

Next up – our two days in the lush Tuscan hillside!

Italy Travels: Florence Frolics Part I

Visiting Florence, Italy

I’m not one for bucket lists, but visiting Italy is definitely one of the few items on my life “wish list”. I had always pictured myself studying abroad while I was in school, and that would be my way to get there. But one thing led to another and I couldn’t carve out the time to do so. (One of my few regrets.) Not only did I imagine myself visiting Italy someday, I specifically envisioned myself in Florence.

Throughout my trip research and planning, most people and books recommended spending 2 days to see all that Florence had to offer. But I went with my gut and decided to dedicate 4 days of our trip to this beautiful Renaissance city – and I’m so glad I did.

Visiting Florence, Italy

If Rome was like New York City, Florence was like Boston. And I love Boston.

Florence, or Firenze, is smaller, quieter and (I think) more beautiful. It’s definitely a “must” for art-lovers, and while you will certainly still see some group tours passing through, it’s nowhere near the level of crowds we encountered in Rome.

Piazzale Michelangelo

A trip to Florence is incomplete without a walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo. This is a quick 20 minute walk from the heart of the city. We ended up doing this walk every day we were in Florence. The 180 degree views of the city from this point are lovely. You’ll find peddlers, food stands and live musicians singing American pop cover songs from the 1990s – but we mostly just came for the views. There is also a (weathered) copy of the David statue at the top – there are 3 Davids in Florence.

Visiting Florence, Italy

There are several ways to get to Piazzale Michelangelo, and I’d recommend following the signs for the Rose Garden. It was in full bloom while we were there and I happily spent some time enjoying the smells and many different colors of rosebushes.

Visiting Florence, Italy

Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery is one of the main draws in Florence for art-lovers. This world-famous musuem is packed to the brim with amazing, historical art. The Botticelli’s were my favorite – no surprise there as they are one of the museum’s main draws.

Uffizi Florencevia SmithsonianMag

If you wish to visit the Uffizi you will definitely need to purchase your tickets online several weeks in advance. We used our trusty Rick Steve’s free audio tour, but if you follow the rooms in numerical order you won’t miss anything important. The Uffizi has a massive renovation going on right now, but we were still able to see most of the highlights. We spent about 4 hours going through the musuem, and it just happened to fall on our only rainy morning in Florence.

Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza Signoria

Visiting Florence, Italy

Directly next to the Uffizi Gallery sits the Palazzo Vecchio (old palace of the Medici family) and Piazza Signoria.

The courtyard to Palazzo Vecchio is free to enter and you can get a taste of the grandeur surrounding the wealth of the family who funded the Renaissance art period. Outside of the Palazzo Vecchio is a copy of the David statue, where the original state stood until they brought it inside to protect it.

Florentine piazzas are not nearly as spirited as Roman ones, but it’s still a very cool place to visit. There is a free outdoor sculpture museum in Piazza Signoria that you don’t want to miss. The Rape of the Sabine Women is only one of the many famous statues you can ponder – free of charge!

Visiting Florence, Italy

David / Accademia

We almost skipped seeing the real David statue at the Accademia – and I’m so glad that we decided to go. The David statue is person is truly magnificent. Looking up at the massive statue is truly an ethereal experience. The room was custom built for the David statue, and the unfinished works by Michelangelo in the hall leading up to David are nearly as compelling as his finished sculptures.

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The Accademia is small, the David statue being the only real draw, which is why we almost skipped it. We walked by the museum a few times, but the line was very long. I would recommend buying your tickets online in advance, or, like we did, get to the museum at the very end of the day and you will be able to get in pretty quickly. Again, we used our Rick Steve’s free audio tours throughout the Accademia.

I’ll be back later this week with more on Florence!

Have you been to Florence? Is there ONE place you’ve always wanted to visit more than anywhere else?

Ciao Italia

2 weeks in Italy vacation  Essa è viva! She is alive!

I’m current riding the simultaneous waves of post-vacation euphoria, jet lag stupor, and grapefruit gelato withdrawal. In a word, our trip to Italy was dreamy.

Caffe, espresso, americano, cappucino, latte, and caffe granita con panna. We tried them all.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

Chocolate, strawberry, lemon, nutella, melon, grapefruit, mandarin, passion fruit, hazelnut, chocolate orange, raspberry, caramel, caffe… gelato that is. We tried all those too.

Friends, there was much rejoicing to be had in Italia. I’m not sure if I can yet articulate how much I enjoyed this vacation.

There was art in glorious abundance.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

The lands were in full bloom and the weather was beautiful – Italy in May is quite the showstopper.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

We split our trip between the big cities (Rome and Florence):

2 weeks in Italy vacation

And the bucolic countryside (Cinque Terre and Chianti, Tuscany).

I’m quite convinced the only reason my clothes still fit is that we walked at least 10 miles a day.

We even managed to squeeze in a Mediterranean evening swim.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

In the weeks to come I will further detail our days in Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre and Tuscany. I also plan to share my packing strategy for those of you looking to backpack for your next vacation – I have received a number of requests for that information!

2 weeks in Italy vacation

Overall, a few things I learned about traveling in Italy:

On eating in restaurants: You have to pay for drinking water in restaurants (about 2 euro per person). Yes, I’m used to free water and it feels lame. The sooner you get over it, the more you’ll enjoy your meals.

Nearly every restaurant has a “coperto”, or cover charge for sitting. Check it out before you sit down. But Italians don’t really tip, so consider this the 20% extra you’re already accustomed to putting down and it will seem less annoying.

Make a dinner reservation in the afternoon. Most places don’t serve dinner before 7pm at all and are closed between 5pm and 7pm. If you don’t make a reservation, try to show up as close to 7pm as possible.

And some of the best meals are from the market. : )

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On the language barrier (or lack there of)

I don’t know any Italian. I learned a few key words (“thank you”, “two, please”, “how much?” etc.) and got by just fine. The cities are full of people who speak perfectly good English. The countryside is less so, but we managed to do just fine getting by!

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On travel

Fellow Bostonians can fly direct to Roma through Alitalia. Or, like us, you can save $1000 by flying AerLingus and taking a measly 2 hour layover in Dublin. Totally worth it.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On what to wear
 
If you’re touring through one of the many hundreds of beautiful Italian churches, dress with respect. Typically tourists with exposed shoulders or knees are asked to cover up. (Although I did see a few of those mulling around).

I came across a lot of traveling tips that said don’t wear baseball caps or sneakers. I’m not sure why, because I saw loads of men wearing both. Maybe it’s to look less like a tourist, which was pointless for us. We’re as American-looking as Apple Pie, and were easy identified as Americans everywhere we went.

2 weeks in Italy vacation

On bathrooms

If you are in the vicinity of a restroom, use it. They are few and far between.

On vanity

The only part of me that didn’t love Italy was my hair. I have naturally poufy/messy hair as it is, but the water there had my hair in tangles. I was already traveling without hairdryer or a real brush, and the water there didn’t do me any favors.

It’s good to be back! Ciao!

Seeking Italy (!!) Travel Advice

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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Ahhhh. Italia.

Land of art, food and romance.

And food. And art. And romance. And George Clooney.

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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I have always wanted to go to Italy.

And this spring, we are going!

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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I started brushing up on some Italian phrases.

And by brushing up, I mean I just downloaded a translator app on my phone.

And I type random phrases into it while I’m lying in bed.

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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I may or may not be getting ahead of myself.

But I’m already debating over which flavor of gelato to try first.

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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I’m looking to you guys for some help.

You guys are so smart and resourceful. No really, it’s true.

Traveling to Italy - DesignLively
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Have you been to Italy?

Right now, Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast are on the itinerary.

I may be persuaded to consider other locations as well.

I’d love to hear about what you loved to see/eat/visit!

And you know me, budget-friendly tips are always welcome too!