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Published: June 25th 2013
I had been sitting in Pino’s enjoying my wonderful pasta for 3.50 (euros) when I read that Robert and Siena were racing to the Palazzo while avoiding the authorities in order to figure out the mystery that awaited them in the Hall of Five Hundred. I had to get to the Palazzo Vecchio quick because I only had one hour before my reservation at the Uffizi. This would be my last chance to see it so I raced over and had to tour it in about 40 minutes. The Hall itself was quite impressive but then I also stumbled up the Hall of Geographical Maps. I love geography and was captivated by the maps painted on leather that represented regions of the world in the 1500’s. It’s funny but one in particular caught my eye as I noticed a map of Armenia and was struck by its former size. Much to my surprise that night while reading Inferno(Dan Brown) it was that exact map that, when pulled off the wall, opened up to a secret passageway that assisted in Robert and Siena’s escape.
So, this was part of the script for my short trip. I had been wanting
to get back to Florence given that my first visit was very short and I had just started reading Dan Brown’s Inferno so it was the perfect timing for a long weekend. It was hot during my visit but with clear skies and the typical stream of tourists through the middle of the old city. When in the center it sometimes feels almost like a large contingent of Americans have been uprooted and placed in an Italian city. I stayed at the Hotel Romagna that was affordable by Florence standards ($80/night), in a great location near the Duomo, and with friendly staff at the desk.
I arrived late the first night but still got out for a nice gelato at Gelateria La Carraia. The next morning I got out for a nice run at Cascine Park, just up the Arno River. Here there is a nice soft and flat surface ideal for running and saving your legs from the cobblestones that dominate the old town. Then, it was off to see the Boboli Gardens, a place I had not visited, but one that shaped a great early scramble in Inferno so I had to check
it out. Located just behind the Pitti Palace, the gardens themselves are impressive and the hills would have made for a tiring experience running from drone helicopters and swat teams as in the book. The large “tub” next to the Egyptian obelisk at the forefront of the gardens makes for an interesting introduction to the gardens. I was disappointed that the entrance of the Buontalenti Grotto was closed off preventing me from seeing the side door that supposedly led to the Vechio Corridor. Even if you can’t enter it is an interesting to peer in through the gates and see the unique façade. The place is like a mix between a cave and sculpture garden where you might expect to see bats flying out at you at any second.
For great views of the city a hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo and then continue on to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte. You will get two different perspectives overlooking the city. There is a platform just under Piazzale Michelangelo that is a great location to watch the sunset over the city. San Miniato was built between the 11th
centuries and is really beautiful inside. When you enter
take a look at the unique ceiling. On my last visit to Florence I didn’t get a chance to go inside Santa Croce so I made sure to do that on this visit and wasn’t disappointed. And a visit to Florence wouldn’t be complete without seeing the statue of Dante Alighieri that welcomes you at then entrance. Santa Croce originally catered to the common Florentine but soon became a symbol of the city and then a burial place for some of its most well-known citizens including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. Dante has a monument there but was buried in Ravenna after being exiled from the city.
After having to race through the Uffizi in one hour on my first visit I returned for a more leisurely visit this time. The crowds in the museum were thick making me wish at times that I was there in the off-season. The highlight of the museum for me was seeing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera paintings along with the multitude of sculptures. You will also be treated to a couple of Da Vinci’s paintings and also Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo. I also took my first visit
to see the “real” David at the Accademia Gallery. I have heard and read about others’ first glimpse of the sculpture only a couple turns after entering the museum and it is truly a memory that will stick with you. I arrived early at the time of the first couple admission slots and I would highly recommend that you do the same if possible. Also, I paid the extra four euros to have a reserved time (this can be done at the Uffizi too). By the time I left there were hordes of visitors in the hall with David making it difficult to even walk though. I will concur with others that the relatively higher admission price for this gallery is strictly to see David. I didn’t find the rest of the gallery to be as inspiring as others. The Bargello, on the other hand, is not very expensive but if there can be an underrated museum in Florence this might be it as it sits in the shadows of the Uffizi and Accademia Gallery. Probably most impressive is the Donatello room where you can see a number of his sculptures including his version of David. Also, on display are
sculptures by Michelangelo and work by Brunelleschi.
Any visit to Florence also includes many crossings and time spent in and around both the Piazza della Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio. Signoria is an outdoor sculpture display like no other I’ve seen in the world. While passing through on this trip I was able to witness a very “regal” parade that was actually for soccer and a concert in symphony concert in front of the Palazzo Vecchio at night. If you are wandering around Signoria admiring the sculptures see if you can find the small rudimentary portrait in the side of the Palazzo Vecchio done by Michelangelo. Most people don’t even have a clue that it is there. The Ponte Vecchio is great to see at different times of the day particularly as the sun is setting and casting its fiery colors onto its western side. This is a nice opportunity for pictures and also grabbing a gelato while wandering around.
The other hot spot in the city is obviously the Duomo. Upon first seeing it again on this trip I felt like I was seeing something that wasn’t even real. The unique coloration and patterns on the churches
in Florence really make them stand out. I wasn’t able to go into the Duomo on this trip but it is definitely something you should try to do. And the view from the top of Giotto’s Campanile next to the Duomo is amazing. It is worth the climb on the narrow steps leading to the top. Another attraction that is featured in the Inferno that I would have liked to have seen was the Battistero di San Giovanni next to the Duomo but I guess this is a reason to return.
Last but definitely not least, eating in Florence is a pleasure. Thanks to Liz my big find this trip was Pino’s on Via Giuseppe Verde 36. You can get a plateful of yummy pasta or a delicious panini for 3.50 (euros). It is the type of place you could eat at everyday – and I think I would if I were living in Florence. It is a bit off the main tourist beat so you get a lot locals mixed in with some visitors. Just wait your turn in line either on the left for panini’s or on the right for pasta. I don’t have any
other specific suggestions for places but I didn’t have a bad meal on my visit. And, of course, mixing a couple of gelatos and/or granitas during the day is mandatory.
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