Our fourth day in Italy was a huge breath of fresh air, because we got out of hot and crazy Rome and spent the entire day in Florence. Spoiler Alert: I LOVED FLORENCE.
Also, there are a lot of photos. When I pulled photos from my camera, the day we were in Florence had by far the most photos taken — about 350 prior to culling and editing. The two next-highest photo-count days were only in the 220s (Acropolis day and Colosseum day). I think the really high number of photos taken relative to the rest of the trip is telling: not only did I really love Florence, but it’s just a very pretty city. Hopefully this post captures some of that.
We had already bought tickets for the high-speed train the day before, so we just walked the two blocks from our hotel to the train station to catch the 7:00 AM train from Rome to Florence — it would only take us 90 minutes to get there. Easy. I dozed through a lot of the ride up, but I did catch the occasional view out the window of rolling fields and bales of hay. Before I knew it, we were in Florence.
The first thing we saw on leaving the train station was Florence’s famed cathedral — surrounded already at 8:30 on a Sunday morning with other tourists taking photos.
I kind of love it when I manage to catch people who are posing for cameras other than mine — like the little girl with arms wide and the older couple on the left side of the frame.
CW and I wandered the vicinity a bit, checking out the square, and found our way to a little pasticceria for a cappuccino.
I have not yet convinced my husband that we need a cappuccino machine here at home, but don’t worry; I am working on it. Soon.
It looked like marzipan was popular in Florence, but I will let the Tuscans keep that shit because NO THANK YOU.
The display was charming, though, was it not?
Among the many things that charmed me in Florence, bicycles were near the top of the list. It’s hard not to fall in love with a city that has such an easy-going bicycle culture. I couldn’t help but imagine myself there, tooling along the streets with some fresh produce from the market or maybe a bottle of prosecco in my bike basket.
Some shop and gallery owners decided to make the most of the city’s love for bicycles and use them in their curbside displays, like this art/print shop:
Other bikes were just hanging out, chillin’, leaned up against a wall here or there.
Some bicycles were actually being used as intended.
We slowly made our way through the streets, heading down toward the bank of the Arno river. It wasn’t pretty or scenic at all. Shameful, really.
We crossed the famous Ponte Vecchio, which I had heard housed a lot of shops. It turned out that they were all gold and gem shops, which seemed kinds of strange to me — but it may have explained the newly engaged couple I spotted later on in the day, taking a smartphone pic of the bride-to-be’s hand held up with a diamond ring in the foreground and the pretty bridge in the background. Awww.
On the other side of the bridge, we wound our way through a shopping area and I spotted a handmade paper shop called Il Papiro and promptly demanded to go in. (I am very fond of paper and book-related crafts, as you may know.) It was a teeny-tiny shop filled with hand-bound books covered in beautiful stamped or marbled papers, which are all made right in the shop. As I was browsing, my husband wandered his way into a back room where the marbling station was set up.
The woman who was working there offered to give us a demonstration and let us take photos. She dotted the gelatin with oil-based pain in different colors, then marbled it by streaking it through with a wide metal comb. Carefully laying the paper down on the surface created this lovely marble effect:
We wound up buying the piece of paper as well as a couple of other small items; we just loved the whole thing.
And that’s another aspect of Florence that I just really enjoyed: I knew it was an art town, but I didn’t really imagine how that would play out. It’s not just the birthplace of the Renaissance, but it’s also a city where artists are actively creating and contributing to an art culture right now. In addition to the paper shop, I saw groups of photographers (a club or class?) practicing together, a small studio in a neighborhood we walked through (above), and plenty of other galleries and shops.
Even the front doors and windows of the houses we passed seemed to be thoughtful aesthetic statements. Going up this long hill (in search of an outlook we never really arrived at), we saw countless doors, windows, mailboxes, doorbells, and shutters that were pretty enough for a photo.
Eventually we found our way back across the Arno, stopping on a different bridge to try to get a good photo of the Ponte Vecchio. Well. Not like you can get a BAD picture of it, though, can you?
It was getting to be time for lunch. We followed the “stroll around aimlessly” method of looking for a restaurant and passed by a little place with a tiny outdoor seating area that had only about three tables. A couple of women were sitting out there for lunch, and the place looked peaceful and nice. We initially passed by and went down another block, but then CW decided he wanted to turn back. Good decision. We were about to have the hands-down BEST meal of the trip at Aroma.
Coming back toward the restaurant, we spotted the front door, which was closed, with a sign on it asking us to ring the bell to be let in. Well then. Certainly a different approach than that of the restaurants where an overzealous maître d’ tries to reel in unsuspecting tourists.
The restaurant is very small — it only seats about 30 people or so — and there were only a handful of other guests there. We sat on the patio and started perusing the menu (seafood) and the serious wine list. (No five-Euro house wine here.) While we were looking, the waitress* brought us each a glass of prosecco and a tiny amuse bouche. Things were off to a damned good start already. Eventually we decided on a couple of starters (salmon carpaccio and squid with stuffed zucchini flowers) and a bottle of wine. While we waited for our food, our waitress came back out with a “present from the chef,” which turned out to be a very delicate vegetable samosa. We’d already had two dishes before the things we ordered had even showed up. That was kind of the way the whole meal went — we chose some things we wanted, and then the restaurant just brought out more for us, making what could have been a quick and simple lunch into a whole multi-course experience. After the prosecco and amuse bouche, the present from the chef, the cold salmon, and the hot squid, she brought us espressos and tiny pies. TINY PIES.
Honestly, it was one of the top meals of my life. Amazing.
*After later looking at their website, I see that the woman who helped us is not just a waitress but is also the maître d’ and sommelier — and one of only three employes the restaurant has. She definitely knew what she was doing.
Our post-lunch plans involved seeing some art. Along the way, we also stopped to see some art.
Don’t get too excited — this isn’t the original David; rather it’s a copy that sits in the Piazza della Signoria. We weren’t going to make it into the gallery where the real David lives (it’s in the Accademia), so we were happy to get the chance to look at its copy instead. In this particular piazza, there are copies of loads of famous sculptures, and people just hanging out with them like, Hey, man, I’m just hanging out with this sculpture and having a snack, NBD.
We didn’t stop for long, though. We had other art plans.
In the Renaissance City, we had to make a stop at the Uffizzi Gallery, which houses all sorts of medieval and renaissance paintings, as well as a lot of (Roman copies of) ancient Greek sculpture. We’d already seen a lot of marble sculptures, so our priority in browsing the gallery was seeing paintings. Among all the religious art, I found myself most drawn to the Annunciation paintings.
The above painting, by Alessio Baldovinetti, was the first one I saw and I was instantly drawn to the image of Mary and the angel — a rare religious image in that it centers on women (with no depiction of Jesus or any other men). I saw and photographed a lot of Annuciation paintings, but here are just a few:
(Leonardo Da Vinci)
This one by Mathias Stomer was a favorite — I loved the naturalistic setting, so different from the grandiose or fantastic ones above. Mary, sans halo, is quietly reading by candle light and the angel is all like, “HELLO, pay ATTENTION, lady!” and Mary is all, “WHO ME?! WHAT NOW??” I just liked it.
The most famous painting in the Uffizzi is probably Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, which I stood in front of for about 10 minutes waiting for people to move so I could take an unobstructed photo.
This is the chief peril of taking only a 35mm lens: in order to get the entire painting in the frame, I had to step back from it about 15 feet or so, leaving plenty of room for other photographers/viewers to step in front of me. I took dozens of photos of each painting, most of them with a head or elbow or shoulder (or three) in the way.
I also took a lot of photos of people looking at art. Above is the Boticelli room (see Venus in the background?)
The Sleeping Ariadne below, a Roman copy of the Greek original, was another favorite. She looks so relaxed.
I also saw the head of the original Ariadne, which, I believe, is all that remains:
I photographed people looking at sculptures:
I don’t know why, but that image really appeals to me now. It just is so very much like what walking in those galleries is. You are looking at art, but you are also looking at everyone else looking at art.
We spent hours in the Uffizzi — it seemed to go on forever. By the time we were done, it was time for a restorative beverage, which we eventually found. It also probably should have been time for dinner, but neither of us was particularly hungry after our amazing lunch, so we opted not to try to find a place for dinner (which would have inevitably been a letdown after Aroma, anyway).
Our last stop in town, then, turned out to be the rooftop bar at Hotel Baglioni. It was a recommendation from my friend B., who had just visited Florence earlier in the summer — and we do love a good rooftop bar. The hotel is right near the train station, so we figured it might be the perfect stop before we had to catch the train back to Rome for the night. It was.
The view wasn’t too shabby:
That’s the famous cathedral you see above, and below — a rainbow.
A FUCKING RAINBOW.
AND THEN SUNSET.
I mean. Florence knows how to get it done.
All in all, it was a pretty magical day. I found myself wishing we’d gotten a hotel in Florence for the night so we could stay there for one more day rather than returning to Rome, but our train tickets were booked and our hotel room awaited us, so off we went. Till we meet again, Firenze.
More of my many, many photos of Florence are on flickr. And if you need to catch up on any of the previous daily posts, you can check out Italy’s day one, two, and three, and follow these links for Greece, days one, two, three, four, and five.