Travel Journal: Italy – Part 3, Florence Activities

Travel Tuesdays continue!

Yes, I know that Florence is technically in Tuscany, but it’s definitely a city vs. the small towns you think of when you imagine the Tuscan countryside.  For that reason, I’ve separated it in my Travel Journal.  Just like the Tuscany recap, I’m dividing Florence posts into activities and food.  (Feel free to check out the Tuscany activity post here and the food post here)

Night of July 5th

We woke up in Panzano, packed up, and walked ourselves to the nearby bus stop.  While our B&B in Panzano didn’t have a pool, it was so close to the center of town and, therefore, the bus stop – a major perk when you’re lugging two weeks worth of stuff.  The bus ride to Florence was cheap and easy enough.  An hour and a half later we arrived in the center of Florence and took a very quick cab to our hotel.

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Our home for 3 nights

Day one was spent hitting up museums.  We got Firenzecards which cost 72 euros, are valid for 72 hours, and work at 72 museums. We started by going to the Uffizi gallery, which is large and impressive but not so large that it feels unmanageable.

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I was happy just to be looking at the ornate frames in this gallery

We then crossed the Ponte Vecchio so we could check out the Pitti Palace/Boboli Gardens.

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Pitti Palace was probably my favorite of all the major sights – just really interesting.  It’s insane to realize that people lived in such opulence.  I would love to time travel…just for a bit.

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Can you believe people lived here?!

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While it’s easy to get distracted by all the gold and jewels on the Ponte Vecchio, be sure to check out Signum before crossing the bridge if cute stationery is your thing.  This store had lots of old school calligraphy tools and notebooks. They’ve also got some good ornaments and Pinocchios (the Pinocchio story is big in Florence).  It’s a good place for a non-cheesy souvenir, especially if you’re into writing.

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On the way back over the bridge, I stopped at Madova, a leather glove store that’s been around since 1919 and makes gorgeous cashmere lined gloves for 60 euros.  It’s right by the base of the bridge and definitely worth a stop.

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We were drenched with sweat at this point so we headed back to the hotel to shower and change for supper, after which we enjoyed a bottle of prosecco in bed – isn’t that one of those amazingly luxurious hotel experiences?!

Night of July 6th

On day 2 we slept in and got to the Mercado Centrale area around 11:30.  We stopped in Sabani, a leather store, to peek around and kill time before lunch.  Leather is such a big deal in Florence and my glove shopping experience the previous day only gave me a little taste – I had to see more.

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After lunch, we went back to the shop where I bought an adorable bag and then headed to the Riccardi/Medici Palace around the corner.  This one isn’t as crazy ridiculous as the Pitti Palace – just a nice little [still massive] city flat.

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Gardens at the Riccardi/Medici Palace

After that, we headed to the Academia Gallery for Florence’s main event, The David.  Seeing it in person was actually pretty cool.  I thought it would be anticlimactic like the Mona Lisa, but It’s an impressive statue.

The rest of our day was spent wandering around and checking out a couple of shops.  The best one was I Mosaici di Lastrucci, a workshop that specializes in “conmesso fiorentino”, which is a type of intricate mosaic stonework. Only a few people can do this type of thing and it was beautiful.  We next saw other artisans at work at the Scuola del Cuoio.  This is where you go for superior quality leather.  It also has a cool backstory, as it’s attached to a monastery and was started to teach a trade to WWII orphans.

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Artisans at work

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Can you believe these are mosaics?!

After that: shower/dinner/bed.

Night of July 7th

On our final day in Florence we attempted to get up early and see the duomo.  Unfortunately, the line was still crazy long so we went to the museum to learn about the duomo and then went into the adjoining battiseria, where we could see the Gates of Paradise.  After that, we had no plan and wanted to simply amble along.  We crossed the Ponte Vecchio again because we knew it would be a nice, scenic walk and found our way to a random lunch spot.  After lunch we wandered around the side streets, in and out of cute boutiques and antique shops.

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The best stop of the day was at the shop and studio of silversmith Donato Zaccaro (12–14 Rosso Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti; 39–055–212243). This guy became an apprentice when he was 15 and is now an expert at restoring and re-creating religious paraphernalia for what [barely] remains of Italy’s Jewish population. It is not a Jewish store by any means – he makes tons of other items too – but he’s pretty much the only guy that makes this stuff in the whole country.  I have no idea why he does it since he’s Catholic, but he was so adorable.  He could not believe we were a Catholic and a Jew who got married (he goes “it work?!”) and was really cute about it.  He spoke very little English but seemed to like us and took us to the back to show us the latest projects in his workshop.  It’s rare to find a quality tradesman like that nowadays so we picked up a beautifully crafted menorah that can be flipped over to become candlesticks.  I can’t wait to pull it out for holidays.

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We had given up on the Duomo because the line was so ridiculously long but decided to give it one more try since it was our last day.  Turns out, at 4:30 PM the wait was only about 30 minutes.  I have to say, though, after seeing the duomo in Siena, I was underwhelmed by this one.  It was massive and the carvings on the outside were quite impressive (I enjoyed learning about them in the adjacent museum which had no line, fyi), but the inside left something to be desired.

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We went back to the hotel, changed for dinner and hit the town.  We wanted to make our last night count so we made sure to hit up a fun bar afterwards.

Florence Details:

  • Accommodations: We stayed at the Hotel Pierre, which was centrally located and very nice.  This was definitely the largest hotel we stayed in, and it was lovely.
  • Tips:
    • Buy leather: Madova is a must.  Head to the Scuola for superior quality and Sabani for more affordable options.  You can also find leather on just about any street corner.  Just be wary of legitimacy when it comes to random shops.  If you smell it and it smells like chemicals, it’s not the best quality…but it’s still leather from Florence, which is cool.
    • Other Shopping:
      • Mario Luca Giusti has really fun and colorful crystal stuff (goblets, pitchers, etc.) for a price that is way lower than you’d imagine. Kicking myself that I didn’t buy anything.
      • Great window shopping in the area around Piazza della Repubblica on streets like Via dè Tornabuoni, in case you wanted to pick up some Gucci or Miu Miu while you’re in Florence. I guess this is not as impressive if you live in NYC and see Madison Ave. all the time, but if you’re not an New York City dweller, this is fun to see.
      • The only shopping place on my list we didn’t make it to was Flo Concept Store, which features rising designers and artisans who use high quality materials. It’s a “socially-responsible cooperative boutique” (meaning, they try to support individuals from underprivileged backgrounds).
    • Go across the river: it has a totally different vibe.  Restaurants are more chill (and tasty), shops are cuter, and there’s the Pitti Palace.  Start by walking down Sdrucciolo de’Pitti (right across from the palace) and then just wander up and down little alleys as you spot shops and gelato.
    • If you plan to go to a bunch of museums, get the Firenzecard.  There’s no need to buy it in advance – it’s sold in the ticket lines of all major museums.  It gives you priority access so you can cut the line at the Uffizi and the Accademia, which was huge. If you’re not going to go to a ton of museums, still buy your tickets in advance to skip the lines. It’s not possible to wait outside in that heat for an hour and a half!  Note: Firenzecard does not work at the duomo and that line is suuuuper long. That said, we went on our last day a little after 4 pm and it was much shorter. Also, while it’s gorgeous on the outside, the Florence duomo is not nearly as impressive on the inside. I was more interested by the battiseria, the octagonal shaped building next to it that features the Gates of Paradise.
    • You can take kayaks out on the river.   We didn’t do this, but it seems like a cool way to see the city and we would have done it if we had one more day.
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Passing through the main square during the day…
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…and then passing by again at night