If anyone asks “where’s your favorite city in Italy?” I can never give a straight up answer. And how can you? Rome is, well, ROME, Bologna is a young, vibrant and colorful university city which I loved, Naples and its surroundings opened my eyes to some of the best holiday spots in the country, Pompeii with its history, Venice, Alba, Turin, Milan, Verona… But when it comes to choosing one of the most beautiful Italian cities, I have to say Florence makes the top three. And while I was browsing and organizing some old photos, I realized I never posted those from the city of the Renaissance, art and architecture, Venus and numerous art masters, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo. So here we go.
I already wrote about the famous sandwich place in the middle of the city and I would recommend it all over again. It’s not a restaurant so you can’t sit down or enjoy your meal, but for a quick bite, it’s the perfect place: good food, marvelous wine, people watching, quick, affordable and fun. If you’re in Europe, especially Italy, and want to really experience the daily meals of the locals, be prepared to eat while standing up. It’s nothing strange or “less fancy,” it’s just more convenient, fast and, of course, cheaper.
The beloved Disney character Pinocchio is in fact Italian. I had no idea. He’s a character from the children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian writer Carlo Collodi, where he was created by a woodcarver named Geppetto who lived near Florence. Hence the million kinds of souvenirs related to the character, including dolls, key chains, mugs, pencils and toys. The original Pinocchio was quite a snob and for a good reason. Collodi wanted the story to serve as a warning and, like many other original fairy tales, ended as a tragedy (I won’t ruin it, but the wooden character eventually faces a deadly execution.) But when Walt Disney was developing the story, he decided to make the character a bit more likable and eventually came up with the naive yet innocent and sweet character we know today.
Il Duomo di Firenze may be one of the most iconic buildings and cathedrals in Italy. It was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi and he did one hell of a job. The details are ridiculous. I recall I wasn’t feeling so good the day we were traveling the area and so I didn’t get to walk up the towers but oh boy, if you can, please do. For more info on the cathedral, I would recommend here (the official site) and here (anything Florence, from hotels, food tours and shopping).
On a more recent note, there’s been news that McDonald’s will move in next to the cathedral and that people were signing a Facebook petition against it (more than 16,000 have signed) and I’m not quite sure what/how to think about it. In the case of Milan, there are plenty of commercial, designer shops and fast food chains and I never felt that it was disturbing or going against cultural and historical integrity. A tricky decision. The final word on Florence and McDonald’s will be made this summer.
Like I said, it wasn’t too cold, but I was clearly not in the greatest condition, hence the thick coat and huge muffler around my neck. At least I smiled. A little.
The Florentine t-bone is indeed a must to try in Florence, but if you don’t like steak or beef or anything meaty and heavy, feel free to skip it. I do my best to try famous food wherever I go, but to be honest, sometimes you just need what you feel like. I wasn’t so happy with the Florentine we had, which was partially our fault because we were there during the holidays and didn’t get to do so much research as to find the best place. (Florentine t-bones are mostly taken from the Chianina, an Italian breed of cattle, which is the largest and one of the oldest kind in the world, and the tallest and heaviest breed in cattle). Try the ribollita, which is also a traditional Florentine dish. It’s a soup made with leftover bread and inexpensive vegetables such as carrots, onions and cannellini beans. It was known to be a peasant dish (hence the leftover bread and veggies) and also originates from the Italian word “ribollire,” which means “to reboil.” A rather hearty dish perfect for the winter or as an appetizer.
I get a bit skeptical when I read articles like “the 50 best restaurants in Paris” because most of the time, it’s a great way to attract readers with the headline and come on, the 50 best? It’s very difficult for those 50 places to be equally good and it would be foolish to believe so. Although I do believe the power of true journalism, it’s hard to deny the fact that there are so many other social media where you can get better, useful information. In my case, Instagram. Use the hashtag or search section, and you’ll find something you’re looking for. But if you’re still in the blog-reading mood, this blog is all you need for Florence.
- Some personal favorites and must sees include the Uffizi Gallery (book your tickets online!), San Miniato al Monte (you may have to check if they are open to the public when you are visiting), gelato at Il Gelato Vivoli (although most Italian places offer great selections, just check if it looks homemade. Most of the time, if the flavors are handwritten, they’re probably homemade. If they’re cut out from a box, walk away.), the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the Ferragamo museum, the Mall for some outlet shopping and Galleria dell’Accademia (Michelangelo’s David!).
- If you have the time and willingness, try out a food tour or better yet, take an excursion outside Florence. You’re in Tuscany: time to enjoy the wine, food and the view.
- For more info on Florence, visit their official site, but for more, visit Girl in Florence where you can spend the entire day planning on what to do in the city.
- National Geographic (some info a wee bit outdated, but still better than other travel news websites)
All photos by rachelsanghee. December, 2011.