This is my last morning in Florence. I wake up, pull back the curtains, watch the traffic flow on the street outside. My B&B right now is in the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno River), which has given me a chance to explore beyond the usual tourist bounds of central Florence. One thing I’ve noticed is that almost everyone who lives in Florence is originally from Florence, the opposite of melting pots like New York, London, Berlin or Barcelona.
I’ve found that the restaurants are better, on average, in the Oltrarno. I’ve met locals, enjoyed the slower pace, and only once felt uncomfortably stared at during lunch. I’ve also found myself overwhelmed by the age and artwork of Florence.
I love the history of the city. It was once the most influential place on Earth, where Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo and Michelangelo helped the world move past the Black Death period and forward to what came next. I wish I could have seen Florence then.
In the past few days, I visited Donatello’s tomb and learned about the Medicis. I saw Michelangelo’s David statue in person, and it is categorically different than most other sculpture. It has its own life, apart from the crowds of tourists who throng the Accademia Gallery. I can only encourage you to see it in person if the opportunity arises.
Here are some other highlights from the past few days.
The Firenze Card
Final assessment: Totally worth it. For maximum enjoyment and minimum burn-out, activate it around 1pm on a Tuesday so that it expires around 1pm on Friday. This will allow you to avoid weekend crowds and Mondays, when many museums in Florence are closed. I skipped the lines everywhere I went and saw the major museums in about three hours a day, along with everything else I wanted to do (hint: eating, wandering). My favorites were as follows:
Uffizi: Great art and a sense of history.
Gallerie dell’Accademia: Michelangelo’s David.
Pal Davanzati: After the Uffizi and the Accademia gallery, this was my favorite museum in Florence. It’s a small palace once occupied by a wealthy family and meticulously preserved, down to the authentic drawings on the walls. Apparently, writing and drawing on the walls was a thing in Renaissance Florence (the Palazzo Vecchio also has drawings on the back of a fireplace there).
The Duomo: The first medieval cathedral not to give me the shivers but instead to have an actually inspiring vibe. I also climbed the stairs to the cupola, a serious workout but worth it for the experience, especially the part where I edged around the giant dome, separated from space by a glass barrier.
Dante House: I was just walking down a street and saw this museum, so I went in and enjoyed it more than expected. Some great story-telling in the exhibits.
I must admit that I didn’t enjoy the Pitti Palace all that much — I think I had art overload — although the Boboli Gardens were nice. Note that they are populated by bees during October (I was hoping they’d be gone by now, but it’s still in the high 70s every day).
Trattoria Da Sergio: A meat-eater’s restaurant to the core. I treated myself to potato-filled ravioli with a sausage ragu. This was my best meal in Florence, bar none. I tried to return yesterday, but it’s closed on Mondays.
Perche No!: Great cioccolata gelato. Reasonably good mascarpone gelato. Perhaps my fault for ordering them together, allowing the cioccolata to overwhelm the mascarpone.
Grana Market: The owner made me a custom sandwich with ricotta, provolone and pecorino cheeses on a baguette. It cost about 3.50 euros and was amazingly delicious. I ate it at a wooden picnic-table in the back of the store.
Il Cantuccio di San Lorenzo: This bakery specializes in the biscotti, which was superb. The non-biscotti thing I got was just okay; focus on the biscotti.
La Via del Te: Yep, I found a tea house in the Oltrarno. The food is okay, but the tea is spectacular. I tried Oriental Beauty tea for the first time in many years, and it was as good as I remember. I stayed for a second pot of tea recommended by the staff, which was also great.
Bakeries along Via Pisana and Borgo San Frediano: Generally good and much better than bakeries in central Florence. Try whatever catches your eye. There is even an organic bakery. One thing that is hard to find is a bakery/cafe with good Wi-Fi and tables inside that invite lingering. I looked all week for a place like this, finally settling for a place that was half-bar, half-cafe. (Edit: I found one today near the Santa Maria Novella train station.)
The Cinque Terre
I took a day trip to the Cinque Terre, a group of five small villages clustered along terraced cliffs by the Mediterranean Sea. It was a slow day, a nice break from the inland noise of Florence. Many of the paths between the villages are closed due to damage in a storm three years ago, but I’d love to return when they reopen to hike between and behind villages, through vineyards and rocks and waystops. For now, the trip I took was perfect, with boat and train rides among the villages and leisurely walks along the beach in Monterosso del Mare.
I’m heading to Tuscany today to spend some time on a farm. My goal is to remove distractions as easily as I added them in Florence. I’ll miss Florence, but at the same time I feel like I’ve seen most of the things I came here to see, and am ready for the next stop.
Tips for train travelers: At the Santa Maria Novella train station in central Florence, you need a ticket from a small machine in the biglietteria (ticketing) room before you do anything, even ask for information. Once you have this ticket, your number will appear on the overhead screens for you to buy a ticket or ask for information. The information window is window 19, and there is often a line at this window.
Also, if you’re going a short distance from Florence, you can go with your ticket to the Tabacchi (tobacco/convenience store) in the same room and get a “kilometric” ticket with only a short wait. It will allow you to travel a short distance to your destination without needing to reserve a specific train number/time.