I cannot write about Florence without thinking about the 10-hour solo adventure I once had in this beautiful and magical city during the fall in 2014 (I also realized I should write about that in a separate entry – soon!).
I had visited my aunt and uncle in Rome before going to the US to attend a wedding of one of my best friends, and I had decided to take a day trip to explore the city. Let’s just say that it was love at first sight, and I let my feet do all the decision making for that trip. I guess when your time is limited in a place, you get to tick off more things in your bucket list because of a supposed deadline. I was happy to report that of all the things I wanted to see, it was only the Boboli Gardens I missed. While I was content on how I brought back great experiences from that trip, I had promised myself I would go back to Firenze to savor it more slowly; to take breathers in between the wonders I stumbled upon.
Lucky for me, Firenze was our first stop in our Italian holiday.
Fast forward to May of 2017 when we found ourselves in a quaint and homey apartment on Via San Niccolo on the other side of the ever- bustling Ponte Vecchio. It was on the topmost floor of an apartment building with green shutters and a wine shop at the first floor (perfect!). I know we were in Italy, but it felt like a scene straight out of the Beauty and the Beast in France, with cobblestone paths and people calling out from their windows. This served as our home for the next few days as we explored both sides of the Arno river. It was where we had our breakfast (with fresh bread and cheese from a local bakery) and where I learned how to use a moka pot to make espresso. Fun stuff!
We had five days to explore and enjoy the magical city, so we were a little more relaxed with our list of things to do: 1) an Uffizi visit for Niccolo, 2) mass at the Duomo, 3) a tour of Casa di Dante, 4) a stroll along the leather market, 5) a binge session at mercato centrale, 6) sunset aperitivo at Ponte Vecchio, 7) a sunset hike up to Piazzale Michelangelo, and 8) the search for the best Florentine steak.
Because Firenze is one to never bore its visitors, we were treated to an exhilarating experience on the very first afternoon strolling around the city – an exhibit at an old church featuring Gustav Klimt. It was a virtual reality exhibit which used various types of media to showcase Klimt’s expertise in art and storytelling. The first part of the exhibit used VR goggles to allow you to go “inside” a number of Klimt’s masterpieces – as if you were right in the middle of the scene he had painted. The second part was simply breathtaking – the curators used the church walls “to flash” Klimt’s pieces to the beat of classical music. Everywhere you turned – front, back, top, bottom, left to right – you could consume the majesty of the artist’s work.
Gigantic screens were mounted on each side of the church where elements of the artist’s masterpiece wove in and out of sight. While some elements were magnified on the screens, other pieces of the puzzle danced along the church walls, which were adorned with religious statues and inscriptions. The music evoked some other form of magic into the whole experience; and as I watched from the altar I saw a haunting scene of color, light, sound and artistry. I was awestruck.
Unfortunately, Mom tripped on a loose cobblestone right after the show, and we had to take it easy since then. But what was good was that we were able to slow down our pace. We had time to truly enjoy the sights and the flavors of the city while Mom could take rests in between.
The next day, my siblings and I walked all over to take in the city’s energy. We found our way to the great Duomo, the Cattedrale di Sante Maria di Fiore famous for its intricately designed exteriors. What I love the most about Florence is its ability to surprise you as you turn into different streets. The city conceals the glory of the Duomo because of its narrow and busy pathways up until you turn a corner and you see the giant church in all its majesty. It truly is one of the greatest sights one can ever see and I can never imagine anyone tiring of this scene of white, coral and green marble woven into the church’s exterior. We were fortunate to have heard mass in the cathedral. And while it is so beautifully decorated on the outside, its interiors were very bare (except for the Duomo of course), leading you to focus solely on the crucifix in the middle.
The trip to mercato centrale was a feast for the senses. The smell of spices and cured meat, the pop of color in every corner of the room, and the aroma of chingale (wild boar) cooking were pure bliss! The leather market outside was as busy as ever with merchants selling jackets, bags, belts, shoes, books, journals and little trinkets to remember the Tuscan region. On this busy street is also one of the Firenze’s best kept secrets – Foccacine Bondi, a little shop selling the most amazing sandwiches paired with the best Chianti. The kitchen is manned by a duo who draws in the crowd, always leaving Bondi with a long line outside. We were lucky to have gotten a table right near the counter where we got to see them in action.
The great Dante Alighieri’s story has always fascinated me, and when I first visited the city, I went through the little streets of Florence to trace his steps and the places he would frequent before his exile. The trip back to Casa di Dante was as interesting as the first, especially sharing the stories with my family. It always amazes me how the works and the life of a single person could span centuries and continue to influence history, art, literature and culture. Dante’s influence can be seen all over the city, and his story continues to draw in crowds to learn more about the Florence (and the Lady Beatrice) he loved so much.
And at last – the must-visit to the Uffizi. After spending more than three hours going through the Uffizi the first time, I had promised myself that it would probably be awhile before I would go back. But since it was Niccolo’s first trip, I went with him and experienced the grand museum the second time around. While the sculptures lining up the galleries were in the same spot, and the masters Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Caravaggio still mesmerized onlookers, my favorite part of the visit was seeing Niccolo in awe of the art he saw around. He carefully looked at every piece and went through each of the corridors with as much enthusiasm as the last. It was a treat to have experienced this with him, and shared the stories (and theories!) behind the art as we weaved our way out of the museum. It was like looking at the same scene using different lens.
I think we enjoyed coming home to a quiet yet charming side of Firenze after being around so many people throughout the day. While we were able to find the best Florentine steak in town (thank you, Trattoria Bordino!), our best meals were had at home and cooked with love by Mom and Cara. Breakfast was always the best with Florentine eggs, freshly baked bread, milk, butter and local cheese, which were heavenly.
Despite having five days to explore and take in as much of Florence as we could, I still felt that there was more to be done and had in this city — as if there were more streets and secrets to be discovered. It’s one of those places you leave a piece of your heart in; where your imagination can run wild and where your feet never tire traversing its cobbled streets.