Italia Tre: Firenze

Been neglecting this blog of late, so thought I’d do a bit of catching up. Plus, it gives me something to do on a wet bank holiday! Nothing I like better than sorting through, editing and categorising photos. And, actually, when it’s been a while since a trip, I also enjoy the research that is inevitably required to jog my memory. You wouldn’t think that would be needed for a long-weekend in Florence, taken as recently as last autumn…but my brain cells are clearly not what they used to be!

IMG_0793What certainly took no recollecting was the amazing sandwich shop All’Antico Vinaio, just around the corner from our Air BnB apartment on Via dei Neri. The queues for panini can be a little ridiculous, but – wow – those full-to-bursting lunch snacks are definitely worth the wait. Tip: you may want to share one between two. The shop is only a stone’s throw from Piazza della Signoria, one of the main squares in the city and a popular meeting point for local Florentines. Amongst the numerous statues and sculpture in the square, you’ll find a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the four cardinal virtues (Fortitude, Temperance, Justice and Prudence) by Agnolo Gaddi in Loggia dei Lanzi, Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa, and the more modern giant bronze turtle by Jan Fabre. As well as being a perfect place to hang out eating focaccia, the piazza has sights to explore, foremost among them Palazzo Vecchio – the fortified structure with it’s much-photographed clock tower. Definitely worth a visit for the frescoes, ceilings and views. A hop-skip-and-a-jump and you’re at the Uffizi Gallery, filled with treasures from the Medici family and priceless works of fine art. I’ve got to admit, the Uffizi doesn’t feature at the top of my personal ranking of the world’s best galleries – it’s too busy and features too many works by ninja turtles for my liking. But, having said that, I could have stood looking at Boccaccino’s Zingarella for a long time…far superior to the Mona Lisa (imho).

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Another day saw us concentrating on the numerous sights in Piazza del Duomo, home of Florence’s gothic cathedral. The enormous Santa Maria del Fiore stands tall over the city, with its magnificent renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. We, of course, climbed to the top of the cupola – what self-respecting tourist wouldn’t? And you have to get up close to fully appreciate Vasari’s disturbing fresco of the Last Judgement on the inside the dome. It’s a really exceptional building and – another tip – if you buy a timed ticket for the dome, you get to jump the queue. The combined pass will also get you into the museum, Giotto’s Tower, and the sublime Baptistery of St. John. The octagonal baptistery was built over the ruins of a roman temple dedicated to Mars and dates back to the 4th century A.D. The ceiling inside is breathtaking, but it is the enormous gold doors with their intricate reliefs of the Passion, including Ghiberti’s famous Gates of Paradise, that people flock to see. You know how much I like a good door! And whilst we’re on the topic of religious buildings, I would also recommend visiting the Basilica de Santa Croce and the wonderful San Miniato al Monte with its green and white marble, dark crypt and beautiful 12th century mosaic.

IMG_41551After all this sightseeing, you’ll want to head to Piazzale Michelangelo for a stunning sunset view over the city. Yes, it’s full of tourists and overpriced cafes. But there’s a reason for that…the view really doesn’t disappoint! And now seems to be a good time to talk food. Don’t eat up at the viewpoint, when there are so many amazing places in the city. We really enjoyed Mercato Centrale, with its numerous food stalls and restaurants. The truffle pappardelle and wild boar tagliatelle are both delicious local staples. We also ate one night in a lovely seafood restaurant, Fishing Lab Alle Murate on Via del Proconsolo. But you can’t go to Florence without trying Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the to-die-for rare T-Bone steak from the local chianina cattle. We had ours at Le Fonticine on Via Nazionale, a superb family run restaurant dating back to 1939. Which made a pretty good setting for my dad’s 60th birthday treat. However, whilst I usually make a point of trying all local delicacies and am not usually squeamish when it comes to food, I drew the line at lampredotto (tripe). No. No, thank-you kindly.

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I will finally mention the other side of the Arno river, where the impressive Pitti Palace can be found. The vast renaissance palazzo, a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, is certainly worth a visit. There was also a Karl Lagerfeld exhibition on when we visited, which was an added bonus. However, unless you’re in the mood for a hike around pretty barren terrain, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Boboli Gardens. We may have been unlucky – maybe all the gardeners and fountain mechanics had just come back from an extended strike. But otherwise: could-try-harder.

All-in-all, though, a wonderful weekend of culture, food and sunshine. Definitely ticked all the boxes.

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