[This is part 2 of our Italy vacation, here’s part 1 if you missed it.]
Traveling from Naples to Florence on train was a breeze after our first experience and we couldn’t wait to enjoy the beautiful city of Florence. Our cousin, Elio, absolutely fell in love with this city and it was his favorite place to stay while he studied abroad and he knew it would be a perfect fit for us. Elio you hit the nail on the head for this city, it was near perfection for us. Florence aka Firenze, lies in the capital city of Italian region of Tuscany…it was like being in the heart of the Renaissance era, Italian flags waving high and proud from the nearby buildings, and the young and older crowds out and about, too.
As soon as Eric and I navigated ourselves outside the train station - we were enamored with Firenze. The city street scene was playful, full of the young and old roaming the streets, street vendors everywhere, and overall a much cleaner and happier sight compared to Naples. A young couple quickly approached us as we were looking at our map trying to orient ourselves, and gave us directions to the nearest TI (tourist information where they give you free maps), the cheapest place to buy groceries, and wished us safe travels. We didn’t even ask for help, but it solidified that Firenze was definitely a people-friendly city.
We quickly found Hotel Palazzuolo located in Santa Maria Novella district, and freshened up a bit in our dual bathroom/shower. It wasn’t the most comfortable accommodation but it was ideal proximity to the main train station. We dropped off our backpacks and decided to explore the city for a little bit, find something to eat for lunch, make reservations for dinner at Trattoria Za-Za and make ticket reservations for the Uffizi Gallery & Accademia to avoid waiting in the long lines. Walking to the Central Market, we came across the street vendors, and I kept waiting for Jersey Shore to pop up around the corner. I knew they were here filming somewhere, but luckily and thankfully our paths never did cross.
Eric walked by a sandwich shop and knew by the smell of it that’s where we had to eat lunch. It was that easy, the smell of the wood-burning oven, the melted mozzarella cheese, and fresh ingredients had lured us in. It was a cute Subway version of Italian freshly made sandwiches with a decent price of 3 to 4 euros. We discovered the best sandwich ever.
Prosciutto, mozzarella, tomatoes on focaccia…it practically melts in your mouth with every bite, oozing with melted ooey mozzarella.
Dinner at Trattoria Za-Za was insanely busy, and thankfully we had made reservations for dinner when we had walked by our lunch stroll. I had ordered Fettuccine pasta with the creamy truffle sauce and Eric ordered the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The fettuccine pasta had tiny bits of truffle were out of this world. Imagine the creamiest classic alfredo sauce jazzed up with truffles (the magic mushroom in Italy). It seriously makes everything WOW and KA-BOW. Eric’s dinner of bistecca alla fiorentina was comparable to a porterhouse steak with a touch of salt and pepper and some herbs. It was a juicy large steak that you only buy the kilograms here, but definitely something he can prepare for us back at home.
My favorite pastime while we were in Italy were our daily strolls. It really gave us time to explore the city, walk hand and hand and be amazed by the magnificent buildings and statues. Our main goal on Saturday night was to do the Renaissance walk and see the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio. We came across the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Vecchio while walking through Piazza della Repubblica. Nearby in the free courtyard there is a fake statue of David where the original used to stand before it was placed in the Accademia Gallery. The real statue of David cannot be photographed, too.
Pitti Palace is across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and is a great place to visit on Sundays because most of the other venues are closed. (Sundays is a great day to take a side trip to another city like Pisa, Siena or anywhere in the wine country, too.) The Pitti Palace is home to the second-best collection of paintings in town, the Palatine Gallery and is one of the largest palaces you can visit in Florence. They offer beautiful views of the city if you decide to walk throughout the large maze of Boboli gardens.
Climbing the Duomo’s dome is ultimate Renaissance work-out, only 463 steps, but you get one of the most fantastic views of the city. Go in the morning or later in the day when it’s cooler, it will take at least 30 minutes to get up to the top.
After you climb the Duomo, find a nice shady area for lunch. Enjoy a plate of spaghetti with Bolognese or Caprese Pizza.
Wine tasting was one of top things to do in Italy since Eric and I love wine tasting in Napa Valley in California. We took a wine tour in Chianti that was booked through our hotel and also visited Greve to do some local shopping.
Florence was a city we got lost walking around, and quickly found ourselves whenever we saw the cross-streets. Luckily, the street signs were more visible to read than the signs in Naples. I loved coming across the farmers markets selling their vegetables and fruits. I hope my garden of tomatoes looks similar to these beauties.
Fragola aka strawberries, taste better here, too. They don’t have the tartness and are completely ripe everytime. Even the tinier baby version of fragola was just as tasty.
We found lots of great eats in Florence but for our last meal we picked somewhere near the Uffizi gallery and found Trattoria Gabriello. Eric enjoyed a plate of rigatoni al cinghiale (wild boar) and I loved my risotto with zucchini and scamorza. For dessert, we split the creamiest panna cotta with a drizzle of caramel and Italian cookies.
The other main attractions in Firenze is the Uffizi Gallery & Accademia which can be seen on the same day. Do the Uffizi Gallery early in the morning – it will take you at least 2 hours to walk around and see the paintings. I only knew of the famous Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus. The Accademia, the statue of David, is the only main attraction there and that can take less than an hour. Making reservations is key to avoiding the long lines.
There’s nothing like the city of Firenze. It’s a wonderful city where you want to get lost and see beautiful Renaissance sights, eat amazing food, shop to your delights or sit around in the park and talk until the days end.
Day 3: Arrived in Florence, Hotel Palazzuolo, Via Palazzuolo 71 - Florence
Lunch at Bonde in Mercato Centrale. Dinner at Trattoria Za-Za: Piazza del Mercato, Centrale, 26/R
Day 4: Pitti Palace; Dinner at Reginella – Hydra: Via del Canto dei Nelli 38r, Florence
Day 5: Duomo’s Dome, Wine tasting in Chianti, & visited Greve
Day 6: Uffizi & Accademia Gallery, Dinner at Trattoria Gabriello ,Via della Condotta, 54-r
50122 - Firenze
Day 7: Depart Florence to Orvieto
Part 3 to follow soon!