I is for Italy, specifically Florence.
I often tell people that Italy is actually several countries. No, not politically, but gastronomically. After all, what better way to get to know a place than through its food? In the north, Italy is Alpine. There are thick, warming stew-like sauces and heavy, hearty meals. In the south, the seafood of the Mediterranean and Adriatic are the food specialties and the sauces are light and cooling for those hot summer nights. And in between, there are the cuisines of Naples and Rome and Tuscany just to name a few. Wherever you go in Italy, read up on the local specialties before you get there so you know what to look for and really enjoy.
I had never been to Tuscany, despite living in Italy for almost three years in my 20s, so when “I” popped up on my plan, it was easy to go somewhere that was familiar enough to be easy, but new enough to be exciting and fun.
Florence seemed like a fun choice. There’s Michelangelo’s “David,” the Ponte Vecchio, and leather goods. What’s not to like? I poked around on the internet and found a wonderful little hotel just two blocks from the main square and its stunning cathedral. In typical European fashion, the heart of Florence and most of the things a first-time visitor would want to see are in easy walking distance of the main square.
A little research turned up a hint about visiting the cathedral. It turns out to get to the top of the cathedral dome OR the bell tower involves climbing hundreds of stairs. Only the heartiest of tourists would consider making their way up both and I am not among them. The hint was this: climb to the top of the bell tower. From there you get almost an identical view of the city AND a view of the gorgeous dome.
The climb was worth it. The view was perfectly enhanced by a brightly lit blue sky. It’s easy to see why Renaissance artists were such romantics.
From the cathedral, a stroll towards the Ponte Vecchio meant a stroll down a classically narrow Florentine street lined with shops selling souvenirs, leather goods, pastries and just about anything else you can imagine. I couldn’t resist the leather and slipped in one shop to find a pair of beautifully crafted gloves. When I asked about a pair in the window with a cutout pattern on the cuff, the sales clerk had me place my elbow on a cushion on the counter top with my hand up. She looked at it, reached behind her and grabbed a box from the wall of glove boxes and, after opening the box and unwrapping the buttery soft gloves from their tissue paper cocoon, slid the left glove right onto my hand – a PERFECT fit! Beaming with my purchase in hand, I continued toward the gold and silver shops that line one of Italy’s most famous bridges.
confess, I am not a huge jewelry lover, but the shops on the Ponte Vecchio are well-appointed and lit to enhance the sparkling, shimmering pieces of gold and silver filigree that Florence’s jewelers are known for. I walked up one side of the bridge and down the other while window shopping and wondering if a 24 or 18 karat gold pendant and earring set would get more wear than a sterling silver set. I have many friends who would argue I shouldn’t choose, but opt for both. In the end, I chose silver, an ornately crafted set of Florence’s fleur de lis symbol would be the perfect souvenir.
I spent the rest of the day window shopping and sightseeing my way through the heart of Florence, feeling ever-more Italian. The sights and smells of Italy always draw me in. By the end of the day I was ready to dive into a plate of fresh, Florentine specialties … and I was not disappointed! Steak smothered in spinach, fresh tomatoes and soft, scrumptious mozzarella, OH … the choices! I felt lucky knowing I had two more dinners here.
I spent the following days exploring the art and architecture of Florence, the nooks and crannies of the city, the huge market on the square and (again thanks to a little research) a stroll across the river and up the hill to the Piazza Michelangelo. The guidebook said it had the best view of Florence and that proved to be absolutely true. I went, as suggested, at sunset. Simply and utterly amazing!
As is the case with most of my vacations, the week ended far too soon and I found myself headed for the airport and homeward bound. The good thing is, now that I know about Florence, I will go back.