Catching Up with Florence—in Less than a Day

Since we had recently spent a few days in Florence and its museums, we limited our time (probably too much) to the equivalent of one day, spread across our first and last days in Tuscany. This, unfortunately, required that we skip museums such as the Uffizi, Pitti Palace and Academia for this trip. There, is, however, still plenty to see and do in the city.

We began the first part (six hours from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM) of our whirlwind day revisiting some of our favorite spots and, of course, stopping for lunch. Since we had recently visited the Uffizi, Pitti Palace, Academia, our favorite of the major Florence museums, we decided to pass on these for shorter stops at three sites that are incredible in their own rights:

  • The Duomo, where we did an audio tour, learning the history of the cathedral, focusing particularly on Brunelleschi’s amazing dome, the murals that adorned it and the decorations on the marble floor. We then decided to get a birds-eye view of both the Duomo and the entire Florence area by taking the 460-step climb to the top of the dome. Although we didn’t see the support ribbing between thinner and outer domes that we expected, the view from just below the dome provides an amazing view of the cathedral’s mosaic floor, something that just can’t be appreciated from ground level. Then, upon climbing the remaining steps to the top of the dome, we were rewarded by a sublime 360-degree of Florence, not to speak of the streets which had become such nemeses during our drives out of and into the city.

Florence-Duomo, Campenile-nite-gFlorence-Duomo detail-niteFlorence-Duomo dome inside detailFlorence-Duomo view from dome-g (2)

  • The Baptistery, with its bronze east doors (which are copied from the same originals as are the copies in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral). Since we live a half mile from these doors and view them often, we didn’t spend much time with those of the Baptistery. We spent our time inside, where we marveled at the beautiful golden mosaic dome.

Florence-Bapistry domeFlorence-Bapistry dome interior

  • Santa Croce Church, with its alter and tombs of Renaissance Florence’s rich and famous. Although those of Galileo and Michelangelo were the highlights, others included Ghiberti Andy Machiavelli. Just the plain rich paid other famous artists to design crypts for them. But as impressive as some of the crypts are, the most impressive sight is the Pazzi Chapel, with its subtle, but vividly expressive murals and plaster work. The church’s Museo dell’Opera also had some interesting paintings, murals and artifacts.

Florence-church-gFlorence-Santa Croce altarFlorence-Santa Croce tomb (3)Florence-Santa Croce chapel mural.g

Our biggest disappointment, after reconciling ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do our favorite museums, was our inability to work the timing for entry into Bargello, another museum that closes at the unfortunately early time of 12:30.

But while some of Florence’s sites have to be entered to be appreciated, the city also has a huge number of sites that can be appreciated by looking at them from the outside. Some of our favorites are:

  • Signoria Plaza,anchored by the old town hall and home to a public sculpture gallery consisting off about a dozen original sculptures, many representing historical events.

Florence-town hall-SignoriaFlorence-Signoria fountain (2)Florence-Piazza della Signoria scupture-HerculesFlorence-Signoria David sculptureFlorence-Signoria sculpture

  • The design and green, white and pink marble mosaics of the entire Piazza del Duomo, with the massive and beautiful Duomo, the tall Campanile and Baptistery, particularly with its Ghiberti-designed eastern doors.

Florence-Duomo-from below Florence-CampanileFlorence-Bapistry doors

  • The Ponte Vecchio with its wall-to-wall jewelry shops and goldsmiths,the workshops jutting off the back of the bridge and the private corridor over the bridge through which the Medici’s could walk, in private, among their palaces on both sides of the river.

Florence Ponte Vecchio-gFlorence-Ponte Vechio

And then there is just the joy of walking around this lovely city, with it’s beautiful buildings, narrow alleys, courtyards of former palazzi and the architectural and sculptural details that you just happen to notice when you look up or turn a corner.

Florence-street-gFlorence-bldg detailFlorence-courtyard-gFlorence-arches.gFlorence-fountainFlorence-bldg detailFlorence-motorbikes

And don’t forget all the interesting stores,  the antique stores, the leather goods stores, jewelry stores and even the shoe stores which show shoes that appear guaranteed to result in a sprained (or worse) ankle.

Florence-alligator jacket-shoesFlorence-Ponte Vechio shops Florence leather shoes

Our biggest disappointment–missing the Bargello museum’s Renaissance sculpture collection. While we planned and made time to visit the museum, we never imaged that it closed for the day at 12:30 PM.

Food and Lodging

We arrived at our hotel, the lovely Hotel David, at 10:00 PM. Since the hotel is a mile out of the center of the city, dining options were limited. In fact, only one nearby restaurant was still open: Trattoria Gigi.

Restaurants

Borzo San Jacapo. This was, by far, the most luxurious restaurant of this trip to Florence. But as has been the case in previous trips, we just didn’t feel that the best Florence restaurants measured up to those "in the Tuscan provinces," much less other European culinary cities. We did enjoy the a use bouche, a couscous with fish and shrimp. The lobster tortellini with coconut and chervil bisque was okay, but w both found ourselves avoiding the bisque in favor of the tortellini. The same was generally true of the crusted sea drum (which was very good by itself) with the less satisfying pepper cream. This being said, the restaurant is lovely and we were very pleased with the service of both our server and the sommelier. Speaking of the sommelier, we asked for descriptions of three 2007 Chianti Classico Riservas. They were very helpful and very accurate for the one we selected, from Villa Cerna.

Trattoria Gigi. We were happy that it was. While we began our visit on a bad note–the restaurant was out of the first wine we selected (a Vino Noble Montepulciano) as well as the appetizer (fried fresh porcini mushrooms), our entrees were both quite good. This time, Joyce ended up with the best dish: a ravioli of fish with mussels and shrimps in tomato sauce. My lightly fried rabbit was a bit dry, although the fried zucchini and potatoes were very good. Our second choice of wine, a 2008 Il Gigio Chianti Classico Riserva, was somewhat acidic and not particularly well integrated. The trattoria, however, had a pleasant homey atmosphere and the s service was very friendly.

Mastro Ciliegia. The lunch restaurant our hotel recommended was closed, so we ventured across the street. Good decision. Since we just finished the harrowing and frustrating task of driving from Cinque Terra to Florence (which was no problem) to the city center Hertz location to which we had to return the car (a typically infuriating Florence driving experience), we desperately needed wine (2005 Lodolaio Nuova Vino Nobile Montepulciano Riserva). And since we were planning an early dinner, we had a relatively light, but very nice lunch (prosciutto and melon and a ham, Grana cheese, porcini and truffle pizza). Very pleasant.

Osteria Natalino. This was mixed bag. We both enjoyed the ricotta-filled ravioli with truffles. The veal chop Milanese turned out to be a rather heavily battered (but not overly fried) veal scallop. Our real problem was with the server, who continually seemed to be trying to spend more money on things we didn’t. Request or want,

Hotel

Hotel David Florence, it is a gracious building with lovely common areas, good service and spacious, well-appointed and very comfortable rooms with 15-foot ceilings, herringbone hardwood floors, oriental rug and gracious four-post bed. The bathroom, in particular, is modern, with lovely tile, LED lights and all the conveniences, including a waterfall shower head with 289 (17×17) holes. Although we weren’t able to take advantage of all the hotel’s amenities, it does offer free breakfast, WiFi, juices and sodas from the in-room refrigerator and happy hours. It also offers a nice selection of attractively priced honor bar wines that you can buy by the bottle. Our only problem is that it is located a mile outside of the city center.

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