Flying by the seat of our pants, we popped into Termini Station in Rome and bought the earliest roundtrip train tickets to Florence. The trip was approximately an hour and thirty minutes (each way), $47 (each way), and absolutely worth it. The train was comfortable and the scenery was top notch as we sped through the Italian countryside.
When we arrived, with no plans at all, we crossed the street from the train station to the visitor’s center to attain a map of the new city. There was a helpful woman at the desk and upon request she outlined a great walking path to see some major attractions and suggested a lunch spot. So with her route and wandering off here and there towards whatever caught the eye we derived a very memorable day.
First stop was lunch at Trattoria il Contadino [Via Palazzuolo, 69, 50123 Firenze, Italy]. I always check yelp and carefully weigh my options for every meal out abroad, so walking into a restaurant blind is a rare occurrence. Luckily, this was a great recommendation. A cozy little spot on a quiet block, with my favorite Florence combo of yellow building/green shutter above.
The menu is very affordable and has a price fixed option. For 9 euro you can get a main, a side, ½ liter of water, and wine. My friend and I did a bit of sharing. We got the roasted chicken which was so succulent, the pesto gnocchi – one of my favorite pastas of the trip!, with sides of greens and beans.
After a great lunch, we had the energy to get walking. We got our first dose of incredible architecture at Piazza Santa Maria Novella.
Walking into the Piazza del Duomo we realized we hadn’t seen anything yet. I was actually floored at the sight of the Florence Cathedral.
It is surely the most intricate and beautiful building I have ever seen thus far. We circled the massive structure oogling at every curled column,fresco, odd angle, different building materials, and the prettiest color combinations while listening to the violin music in the streets. It’s a magical building to say the least.
Thinking the day couldn’t get any better, we walked on down to Piazza della Signoria where strange and mystical sights await. Peeking between the walls of the alleyway was oddly shaped Palazzo Vecchio, the unique town hall. There were statues galore, both attractive and terrifying. What captivated my very heart was the gilded man riding the giant turtle in the center of the square.
We made it down to the Arno River and admired the various bridges and mountain views. Crossing to the other side, now to roam with an unmarked route on the map. Then we stumbled upon a tall tower and a path leading up. To where? Piazzale Michelangelo – possibly the best view in the entire city.
Wow. Continuing on we meandered way up high and discovered a pretty amazing little medieval basilica. And it was quiet too. San Miniato al Monte [Via delle Porte Sante, 34, 50125 Firenze, Italy] was founded in 1018 and boasts a phenomenal view of the city as well.
Even though we had just taken in so many titanic sights, there was something about the Giardino Delle Rose [Viale Giuseppe Poggi, 2, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy] that sanctioned another slice of my heart. Sure the roses are gorgeous and the views are striking.
I loved the interesting sculptures scattered about.
There seemed to be so much more going on here in this special little garden. People were laying out on blankets, drinking, reading books, falling in love, and, um, scaring the ever-living-pants off of us. Here we met one of the most absurd characters of the trip, a young man holding a deranged looking puppet who followed us around making guttural noises.
It was nightmarishly fantastic and unforgettable. Moving on, though, ever since lunch I had been on the prowl for a dessert. Not a gelato or a pastry from any old tourist trap, but a real Florence treat. We were meandering the back roads slightly in the direction of our last attraction before it was time to board the train and there it was. In the middle of nowhere, a quiet artisanal bakery. Honestly, I felt like the luckiest duck on the planet entering Panificio La Favola [Via Romana, 77/red, 50125 Firenze, Italy]. Everything looked delectable, but I asked the woman behind the counter which dessert meant Florence most to her, and she pointed me towards the tortino nonna. It came in a few flavors, but of course I picked chocolate.
It was soft, but had body and didn’t fall apart. It was sweet, but not overwhelming. Hints of lemon, and just the right amount of chocolate filled the center. It was as perfect as the entire day in Florence had been. So our day almost done, we saved one of the top tourist destinations for last! Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone bridge. It is special because it still has shops spanning the walkway, as was common in the past.
It was super crowded and the shops all seemed pretty generic, but something had to be less than perfect in the city or I would have had to find a way to live there. So without a speck of planning we managed to have the most extraordinary day in a thrilling city. I am completely enchanted with Florence and would love nothing more than to return again some day.