I fantasize about living in Florence(Firenze) in the 15th century Renaissance period in Italy. I try to imagine walking, observing and absorbing the explosion of Renaissance from a roof top and a street corner. What lofty reverie to witness the brilliant hands of Michelangelo sculpting and Leonardo da Vinci painting timeless masterpieces. How would you watch a genius at work? How do you take it all in?
For better or worse, we do not live in the 16th century. We live half a millennium later in 21st century; yet the work of the Renaissance artists with their timeless dominance endures today in present day Florence. You have only to walk towards Piazza della Signora to feel the layers of decades and centuries past melt instantly; you might as well be in 15th century Renaissance. Florence has persevered history more beautifully than many other equally magnificent cities in this world and for that reason alone, visiting Florence is imperative.
My aunt had lived, studied and worked in Florence for 5 years and since the ancient cities of Europe hardly change, she equipped me with the best of her experience and memories from years past and I took every ounce of her advice to heart. In fact, while in Florence, I recounted the story, “my aunt lived here in Florence for 5 years, you know….” to every Italian crossing my path, from the hotel concierge to the gelato store staff and everyone in between. The pride for my aunt aside, it was the only palpable connection I could make with my Florentine fellow men and women and I am one who needs such connections, however much in passing, in order to complete the circle of love for a new place.
In so far as love is concerned, Florence is supremely easy to fall in love with. It takes very little time and even less effort. This write-up is not about helping you fall in love with this Tuscan jewel; that much is inevitable. This post will appeal more to your sense of intellect than to your heart on why you must visit Florence.
Traveling changes your mind and expands your horizons! If you like to see the other travel stories here, check my On the Road category.
If I could go back to Florence, I would again indulge in these things in a heartbeat. Sometimes, you are willing to repeat an experience in life, knowing full well that nothing ever feels quite the same as first time. No matter, you are still biting at the chance to do it again, because even at a fraction of the original sentiment, you consider it an experience well worth sharing and imparting to those around you. With that in mind, these are my top 10 reasons which in no capacity and no language can be overemphasized in your reasoning to visit Florence.
~ The Italian Sun ~
The May sunshine was showing itself boldly and proudly in the streets of Florence when we had first arrived. Basking in this sun as we walked through the city was particularly rejuvenating. With all its history and culture, London pales in comparison when it comes to the bright sunny weather and I have yet to see Paris outside the freezing winters. It used to be that I hardly cared about the weather; so long as I traveled, I was happy. Then I started experiencing exotic locales with gorgeous weather, and in Florence, I fell in love not just with the city but with the Italian sun shining in it.
Perhaps the best gratification to complete the experience from the gorgeous sun is delighting in an Italian gelato!
~ The Gelato ~
Every culture’s menu offers a delicacy to the world. I am not certain what the accepted Italian delicacy is; I know only that I accept none other than the mouth-watering, delectable, frozen food of the Gods, the Italian Gelato, and neither should you. The gelato around the world is fine; the gelato in Rome delicious and savory, but for the one in Florence, I lack the right words. Even with its colorful displays of heavenly tastes beneath the shining clean glass, only your palate can understand and do the Firenze gelato justice. The gelato makes for the best breakfast, lunch, or dinner (these are confessions of a strict health nut who never eats regular ice cream!).
The best and most classic Italian flavor is the Limone. One scoop is never enough. You will be willing to walk it off for miles and kilometers and regrets are yet to be reported from over-consumption of gelato in Florence. With no shortage of gelateries and with almost all of them serving the best delights in frozen form, you will be in for a rainbow of delicacies at every corner.
If I could marry the gelato off to its most perfect match in this world, it would be none other than the Italian espresso. In Firenze, of course.
~ The Espresso ~
Years ago, we bought an espresso machine at home. It was right after our trip to New Zealand and Australia. In hindsight, we were complete fools to think that we can replicate the exact taste of the mysteriously heavenly cup of Long Black from down under anywhere in our hometown but boy did we try! The same is true with the Italian Espresso, or the more exclusive version you drink in Florence. Perhaps I could be persuaded to say that the Florence espresso is far above the cup in Auckland, but both are supreme and I wish someone forced me on the opportunity to try them again on location!
The Italians drink their espresso straight up, like a shot of alcohol, often at a literal espresso bar. While my husband tried this version and fit right in with his fellow Italian friends, we preferred to sit down to our cup and savor every sip – and once you drink espresso the Florentine style, you might just decide to follow suit.
~ Il Duomo and Brunelleschi’s Dome ~
Hotel Calzaiuoli holds an extra special place in our heart. They were superb in every aspect including the short walking distance from the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, peace-inducing Il Duomo. Yet it is the view from our room that stays with me clear as yesterday; the Il Duomo in all its grandeur to the left of our window, rising high above the dilapidated brick Italian roof tops brimmed with old plants, drying laundry and antennae or satellite dishes.
The Il Duomo is an incredible architecture feat. Brunelleschi completed the dome without use of scaffolding in 1463. It is also the very dome that Michelangelo studied in preparations for St. Peter’s Basilica a few years later. In awe of this gorgeous dome right outside our window, we had to take in the view from it so we climbed the 463 steps to the top, every single one worth doing the first time and a dozen more if we had the chance. All of Florence lays before you at the very top and the best time is right before dusk when the city shines with that exquisite ray of Italian sun before darkness sets in.
~ The Piazza della Signora ~
I first felt as though I were walking in the 15th century Renaissance Firenze when we approached Pizza della Signora. The cobble-stone courtyard lives and breathes history (and tourists, but can you blame them?). The non-original David stands erect and tall (before or after the battle with Goliath, you decide!). The Fontana di Nettuno, the fountain to the middle of the Piazza, houses several statues with Neptune, the Greek God of water and the sea, standing the tallest of them all. In the Loggia (dei Lanzi), the Roman emperors and other Greek Gods, are frozen in time for all eternity and humanity. My all-time favorite, for no comprehensible reason at all, is the extremely horrific Rape of the Sabine Women. This terrible scene carved in stone brilliantly by Giambologna stirs an unusual layer of anger inside me; it is naturally a tribute to real talent that can so well move the senses.
~ Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Academia ~
You must go to the Galleria dell’Academia along with every other tourist. You must be as predictable in this aspect of your trip as every guidebook and travel adviser suggests. I have always preferred paintings to sculptures but all those preferences render meaningless when you discuss the art of the leading minds of the Renaissance. David was Michelangelo’s supreme achievement. No picture or video or TV documentary can prepare you for it. Seeing the real David in the quiet center of the gallery in Florence is a must. It is these moments that make up your experience of Florence; they create marbles of treasured memories in your mind and this beauty and this human achievement will come to your rescue in unexpected times and places later in life. The possibilities which Michelangelo saw in marble can be summed up best in his own words, “I carved until I saw the angel and set it free.”
If the soul of the Italian Renaissance were split in half, Michelangelo would fill one half and my most beloved artist of all time, Leonard da Vinci, the other half.
~ Leonardo’s Paintings at the Uffizi Galleries ~
When we lived in Iran, our dining room had a large replica of the Last Supper. It may not have been that large; I may have just been very small. I used to sprint from the other end of the house to its side and stare at this painting by da Vinci.
The original Last Supper is in Milan but the artist lived and produced so much during his time in Florence and the Uffizi protects those unsurpassed works. In the room dedicated almost entirely to Leonardo da Vinci, you shall not tire of staring at what the paint brush accomplished at the command of his exquisite hands. A weakening in your knees and a grip at your heart, these are not even all of the sensations you will come to know in the presence of such achievement.
From his beautiful angel on the left on his teacher Verrocchio’s “Baptism of Christ” to the stunning “Annunciation” and the unfinished drawing of “Adoration of the Magi“, if you do not see these in person and pause to take them in, you will not see Florence in its true color and you will not know the Renaissance which was born in this city.
~ Crossing the Ponte Vecchio and seeing the River Arno ~
Florence, a river runs through it. The River Arno. The terrible floods of November 1966 behind them, and the city rebuilt and recovered, the Arno has been behaving well since. It is impossible to imagine it flooding; it seems to be utterly calm and quiet during both day and night. The Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) is packed with jewelry shops and a few eateries. We savored the strolls across the bridge after delicious Italian meals and when we looked at the Arno from a distance, we wondered at the fast and insane pace of life back home. While I could never slow down to this degree, for a time being, it filled me up with serenity.
~ The Italian Food and Evening Musicians ~
I decided not to have gelato every single evening for dinner after all so we dined on the scrumptious Italian food instead. Let me first state that neither of us were Italian food lovers before Italy. The vast difference between the poor substitute misnomer of Italian food in America or other parts of the world becomes painfully clear to you with your first mouthful. If you survive the shock, you will be in food paradise during your entire stay.
We worked hard to go off the beaten path to locate best restaurants and cafes but were equally happy most of the time with other popular choices. The espresso which follows traditional Italian dinner is a nice finish. The meal portions are just right and the salt never abused. After dinner, we would walk back towards Piazza della Signora, passing multitudes of musicians and artists at work with a small crowd about them. Listening to music in the loggia at night in Florence. Life seems perfect in moments.
~ The Magnificent Classical Music Concerts at Orsanmichele ~
A classical music lover I married and our travels are incomplete unless we see a classical music concert at an ancient church in our destination European city. In this case, we were in Florence and the Orsanmichele church, built in 1400, was the venue of choice. The 12-piece orchestra with backdrop of ancient statues, soft church lighting, and excellent acoustics, put on an evening of breathtaking music. These concerts are often free or extremely cheap but we support the musicians of the world whenever we can. Creating music is a gift, listening to classical music with talented musician a joy and being in Florence for it all, and particularly in this church in the heart of the city, a memory to savor and cherish.
Go to Florence before it is too late in your life. If you think it too far in distance, think again. The moon would be far; planet earth is awfully small and Italy is but a hop or two. If you think it too expensive, think of it as an investment for expanding your horizons and delighting your soul. If you think you do not have time, steal and borrow from other aspects of your life and pay back later. Whatever you have to do, go to Florence and let it take you back to the days of the Italian Renaissance.
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If you have been to Florence, share your impressions and if you have never been, tell me if you are now inspired to go or if I shall have to work harder to persuade you. I am game either way!