I saw a lot of buildings in Florence…
… and still managed to miss one spot on my To See list.
All I was really after in Florence was the Duomo. The afternoon I arrived, my best friend and her husband who had flown in from New York met me in front of my hotel, and went with me on the five-minute walk between Room Mate Isabella and the church.
I had done a lot of research about the building prior to my trip and tried to learn as much as I could about Brunelleschi's dome and what it took to get it built. FYI, I also watched all of I Medici (the TV series) because while it is historically inaccurate and a bit oddly cast, i still think it counted. No matter how prepared I was, how many Florence Instagram accounts I'd followed, nothing could have prepared me for the sight of the pink and green marble and the sheer massiveness of the Duomo in person.
It was impossible to absorb the church's scale and detail in just one go. I was lucky enough to have a hotel just a short walk away—which meant I was able to circle the Duomo's perimeter many, many times. There are tourists all around the church, all trying to get the same perfect shot. Lucky that the building is as big as it is; everyone can basically score at least one good angle from somewhere. Some buskers set up just as the sun sets here, and I'd had a couple of afternoons hearing "Beauty and the Beast" play while walking around the church. LOL I drank the Kool-aid, all of it!
While in line to get into the church, we stood, mouths agape at all the details on the Duomo's facade. I don't know if my friends and I were too busy catching up or were just satiated by all the visual stimulation from the pink and green on the outside, but by the time we got into the church, we were kind of disappointed. The interiors of the Duomo just couldn't live up to its exterior. That said, the dome's ceiling was perfection (but if you've seen the Sistine Chapel et al, well…). I guess anyone could forgive the plain walls (LOL) since the exterior really is hard to top.
Sidebar: We did venture to Siena the day after my first time at the Duomo. That Siena church just shot our standards through the freaking roof.
Ponte Vecchio was another big landmark that had a lot of hype attached to it. There was a big ad for all the shops located on the bridge in the baggage claim at the airport, and I'd heard about it so many times that I knew it was a must-see. I walked past the bridge a lot, just as I did the Duomo. It makes me wonder how people who live in Florence feel about being surrounded by such hugely historical things—how quickly do you become desensitized to them, you know? On my first night, we walked past the Ponte Vecchio twice on our way to and from dinner. Each time, I had to stop and take a photo. This is the view of the bridge from one of the rooms in the Uffizi Gallery. SO BEAUTIFUL.
One thing I quickly picked up on after spending a few hours in Florence was how close everything is to each other. We could walk to every single one of the spots on our map and not lose our breath. I didn't, however, go on a hike up a hill to get what's purported to be the best view of the city, so, I had a generally flat walking experience. My pregnant friend made it halfway up the hike though (good for her).
On the flight from Dubai to Paris, I saw "Lost in Florence" on the plane. This statue figured quite prominently in the movie so it was cool, seeing it live and at the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio. Through a tour I had taken a couple of days later, I learned that this wasn't actually the original.
It's magical to see the Piazza della Signoria at night, with all the statues lit up. There is a lot going on here, and again, I was lucky enough to have walked by this area day and night to see the square come alive. It's kind of insane to be in this place and have it dawn on you just how many people have walked the same steps and streets before—Medicis and non-Medicis.
Another building I saw a lot—less prominent than the Duomo but just as ubiquitous—was Santa Maria Novella. My friends' hotel was a short distance from here (and hey, I only noticed the campanile construction in the background while looking at this picture). We were in Florence the same time Theresa May was around and there was a protest going on over here with a ton of British press doing coverage.
The church shares the same name as the nearby train station, which I failed to take a photo of because it looks nondescript at first glance. But there is a really sentimental and nostalgic 1950s vibe going on at Santa Maria Novella. It's almost like you shift into black and white 1950s Italy once you roll in with your trolley and wait to board your train.
Another place that shares the Santa Maria Novella name is the 17th century perfumery just a few minutes away from the church and train station. Officina Profuma Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (quite a mouthful, eh?) is grand and lovely and is probably like walking into Potions class at Hogwarts. My friend and I loved getting a whiff of all the fragrances and inspecting all the displays. We might have walked out a little high from all the perfume, because we got hit by a bad case of the giggles, soliciting a couple of resting bitch faces from the store attendants (they had good reason). We ended up getting ourselves some incense, which we promised to light together at the same time (she in New York and me in Manila). I would have taken more photos but I was kind of embarrassed at the amount of ogling I did at the store.
If you love your Caravaggios and Boticellis and all manner of Renaissance art, then a tour of the Uffizi Gallery is a must. I got an Accademia + Uffizi Gallery skip the line tour, and my €69 was well worth it (if you ever see the line wrapping around both the Accademia and the Uffizi, you will know exactly what I mean).
The tour was split up into three with the Accademia (where you see the David) in the morning, a short break for lunch, then the Uffizi in the afternoon. The David was so much larger than I thought it would be. Our tour guide went into depth about Michelangelo and how young he was when he created this sculpture. We looked at it from all angles, talked about weights and counterweights, musculature and story (how did I not know that the David was the David from David and Goliath?). I love the light that filters through this room—it makes the whole approach to the statue so much more magical.
In the afternoon, I got to the Uffizi earlier than our group's designated meeting time. One of my favorite things about being here was sitting and watching the sketch artists do their thing. This artist entertained an entire group of high school kids by making caricatures for them. I wonder how long he's had this gig.
If you're not into art, then a simple stroll down this portico will be enough. All the iconic figures of the Renaissance have their own private niches in this building, which originally housed the offices for Florence's head honchos in the 1500s.
One of the pleasant surprises was this courtyard we accidentally walked into, which housed a photo exhibit. I forget where it was exactly or what the name of the building was but it had the name Medici somewhere up there too (as expected).
With so many places to see in Florence (including a tour of Tuscany and one day spent in Venice), I couldn't squeeze in a tour of the Palazzo Vecchio, which I now, really regret. The building is inextricably linked to the Medicis, who, like I said, were the object of my Richard Madden-fueled obsession. Between wanting to see the David and all the art, and all the other parts of Tuscany, there just wasn't enough time. My friend's husband relayed all they learned on their tour to me (he, bless him, was in the middle of watching Medici while we were in Italy so I had someone to nerd out with). On my first afternoon in Florence, he pointed out how this bridge connected the Medici's palace to the offices at the Uffizi. I took this photo at the precise moment he told me about that!
I don't know if I'm ever going back to Florence since I did see most of what I wanted to see. But if I ever get really lucky and find myself back there, this is the first spot I'm going to visit. I'm still not sure if I would do the hike up the hill (must I?), but I do know that I'm going to make another 20 to 50 turns around the Duomo again—just because.