Ahh, Florence...Florence is where dreams come true. Seriously! Ever since studying abroad there I have dreamed of going back, and voila! Dream come true.
Our hotel was situated right on the river, directly across from the Ponte Vecchio, Florence's most famous bridge. While our hotel in Siena was all about historic elegance, Hotel Continentale in Florence was all about modern luxury. The hotel is part of the Lungarno Collection, a group of hotels owned by the Ferragamo Group, and I happened to be traveling with a Salvatore Ferragamo enthusiast. Coincidence? Definitely not.
After checking in, it was time to explore! We wandered down the street to Piazza della Signoria, enjoyed lunch al fresco with a nice side of vino rosso, and headed on over to the Uffizi Gallery. For an art history nerd, such as myself, this place is heaven. For the husband of an art history nerd, such as Kyle, this place isn't so bad either. We made our way through the da Vinci's and Botticelli's to find my personal favorite - Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. After geeking out for a bit, I decided it was time for Kyle to experience the magic of the San Lorenzo Market.
We made our way past the Duomo to San Lorenzo and the shopping commenced. When in Florence, you must buy leather (its a rule, I swear) and the best place to do it at is the market. Bonus: if you like a bit of good natured haggling, this is the place for you. All in all, I left the city a couple purses and one fabulous leather jacket richer. Mission accomplished.
Alas, the shopping had to end, and so we headed back to the hotel to enjoy our room's balcony overlooking the Arno River, before heading up to our hotel's rooftop bar for a pre-dinner drink, or as the Italians say, an aperitif. Dinner that night left something to be desired so we decided the best course of action was to check out another rooftop bar, this time at the Westin Excelsior. Between La Terrazza at our own hotel and the Westin Excelsior, we had now found the two best rooftops in Florence.
On day two in Florence, we woke up early and after grabbing a cappuccino and a croissant, we headed to the Galleria dell'Accademia. In addition to many of his unfinished sculptures, the Accademia houses Michelangelo's David, a must see. Even if you don't like art, you will appreciate the David. It, quite simply, takes your breath away.
We then headed to Florence's main Duomo, The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore to climb Brunelleschi's Dome. Though its quite a hike up many, many stairs through a very narrow, hot stair case, the view was worth it! From the top of the dome you have a 360 degree view of Florence and the hills of Tuscany.
*Tip: When going to Florence, Rome, Milan or Timbuktu do your research and figure out how to NOT spend your whole vacation standing in line! For us, I pre-purchased a Firenze Card that was literally worth its weight in gold. We walked right into every single site we wanted to see without wasting hours of our precious vacation waiting in line. In the case of the Duomo in particular, we bypassed a line of people who had probably been standing there since dawn.
After our morning hike, I visited the Palazzo Vecchio, which is where da Vinci's lost Battle of Anghiari is rumored to be hidden under a wall (nerd alert!). For lunch, we headed across the river to Gusta Pizza, said to be the best pizza in Florence. It did not disappoint!
We spent our afternoon wandering around, window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio, visiting the Ferragamo flagship store and museum (yes, it exists), going back to the market to browse and finally relaxing with an aperitif at the hotel bar. For dinner, we walked along the river to Lungarno Bistrot for what was probably the best meal of our entire trip. I'm still dreaming about that tiramisu!
Sunday morning we put on our running shoes and did some more exploring, running past the building I used to live in and through side streets and back alleys until we made it back to the river and eventually our hotel. A rainstorm hit that afternoon so we sought shelter at a cafe outside the Pitti Palace before exploring some of the art galleries and surrounding neighborhood. That day, it just so happened to be Mona Lisa's birthday so the entire neighborhood was out celebrating in the squares and in parades along the streets. I do love a good birthday party.
My favorite church in Florence is San Miniato al Monte, which sits on one of the highest points in the city. The view is unbeatable and the church itself is actually very quiet and calming in a city where churches are the main tourist attractions. This one actually feels like a church. We climbed and climbed, took in the view and caught our breath inside the church before heading off into the sunset (and I mean that literally).
When in Florence, it is an absolute must to watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo, which is just a short walk from San Miniato. So, that is exactly how we decided to spend our last night in this amazing city. Cheers to you, Florence! I'll be back.