I had the memorable pleasure of exploring Florence (Firenze), Italy in March 2007. We flew from Toronto to Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Milan, Italy, arriving on a Sunday morning.
By early afternoon we had navigated our rental car to Pisa, in Tuscany. While there we just had to see the famous tower, and of course, sample authentic pizza in Pisa. After a few hours there we drove to our hotel in Florence, on the Oltrarno side of the Arno river, away from the touristy downtown core.
The next day we drove to nearby Siena, found breakfast and an unforgettable morning of touring around the stone streets, savouring the pace of life there. Laundry hung from window sills in the sun, and palm trees dotted the lush vegetation.
In the evening we walked from our hotel to a nearby ristorante called La Piazzetta, wonderful place, charming, cozy, hip, everything you might expect from an eatery in fashionable Europe.
We had an entertaining (and english-speaking) server who helped us decipher the menu and order a beautiful sampling of local dishes. The pici pasta was unique, Chianti better than any I had tasted at home, and dessert was a surprise, two selections made by our server. He seemed to know just what we would like and capped off the meal perfectly. If you are in Florence and want a quiet but fun place to eat delicious authentic Italian food, go to La Piazzetta.
The third day I spent walking around the city, taking in the culture. Surrounded by medieval architecture and ancient structures, I could almost hear the pounding hooves of Medici horses conquering and creating. In reality, the sounds I heard were of residents going about their daily business, shopping in markets, working at their trades, riding around on their colourful Vespas.
I was fascinated by the adaptation of the old buildings into new purpose, restaurants and shops filled every available space – I found one incredibly lovely paper shop that was literally the size of a closet.
Famous Ponte Vecchio is still my favourite, built in 1345, it is the lone bridge of it's kind in Florence that survived WWII. Beautifully preserved if rather primitively expanded, it is full of glittering jewel merchants window displays.
The next day I spent at the Uffizi Gallery, a breathtaking, indescribable, highlight of the trip. In the afternoon I found the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels). After a fascinating tour of the interior of the chapels, including an incredibly close look at Michelangelo's marble sculptures 'Night/Day' and 'Dawn/Dusk' as well as some early - incomplete - sketches preserved on the walls, I dazedly wandered through the ancient jewels and treasures displayed on the lower levels.
On our last day in Firenze I set out on another hike, had a few errands and another cashmere pashmina to buy, then up to Piazzale Michelangelo over-looking the city. The weather was perfect for walking, sunny and warmer than March here, but not blistering hot like summer in Tuscany. I walked past Fort Belvedere, along the road where Galileo lived for a time, and found the monks chanting at San Miniato al Monte, up on the hill above the medieval city.
At the end of the week we left Florence to spend a day in Verona before heading back to Milan to fly home. As we drove north to Verona we saw incredible orchards and vineyards, unique (and new) architecture as a contrast to the historic vistas of the week. We had lunch at a sunny caffe in Verona centre, then toured on foot the Arena and several tourist stops including the famed balcony of Giulietta Capuleti.
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