Thursday, November 10, 2011

Day 55: Florence (Nov 10)

Left Rome about 9:45 for Florence (we wanted to leave around 8:15 but we got stuck in rush hour traffic on the bus going to the metro station), got in around 11 (it’s a 95 minute train ride, they leave on the :15 and :45), and since our hotel was on the way between the train station and the stuff to see, we checked in and dropped our stuff off. We were out and ready to go by noon. We stayed at the Hotel Europa, which is one of Rick’s recommended places (but our rates were much lower since it was off-season).
First off, since you’ll be going to both of the museums (the Uffizi and the Accademia) that are going to have huge lines, you’ll need to make reservations as far in advance as you reasonably can. Otherwise you’ll be standing outside for literally hours. We were lucky, we had checked online when we were in Rome and we were told that in mid-November there are no lines and so we didn’t need to make reservations. There were maybe a combined 10 people in front of us in line at both museums and inside it wasn’t crowded. I expect it to be much different in June.

Essentially, we had one afternoon to see whatever we could. The museums were the first priority, and anything else was secondary. The Accademia and Uffizi are both open until 18:50 (last entrance 18:00), the Duomo until 17:00.  Since it was only noon when we set out, we figured (correctly) that we could see both, but just in case there was a problem, we decided to do the Uffizi first since there’s more there (it’s the greatest collection of Italian art in the world), while the Accademia pretty much “only” has David and some other Michelangelo sculptures. The Uffizi took us about 2-1/2 hours and the Accademia took us about 1 hour, so as long as you have reservations and don’t have to stand in line, they’re both easily doable in one afternoon.

Our hotel was a 15-minute walk from the Uffizi. Rick Steves has an audio guide covering the walk from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio (the direction we were going) but we didn’t want to take too long, figuring everything’s in walking distance so we could catch it later. Walked down the main street Calzaiuoli to the Piazza Signoria right outside the museum. We spent around 2-1/2 hours. They’re very strict about taking pictures, so if you really want to shoot some photos use your cell phone held down out of sight. The only place photos are allowed is halfway through when you’re in the hall of statues and you can take pictures out the windows of the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio (but not really of the statues themselves). The terrace at the end of the tour has nice views of the Duomo and the Piaza della Signoria below (photos allowed since you’re outside). The exit puts you a half block from the river, so we went over to check out the view.

Because we were good on time, I decided to detour to the Church of Santa Croce a few blocks east. The 14th century church is impressive on its own, but inside it’s got the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, Dante, and Machiavelli. There’s a statue of Dante Alighieri out front too. We only spent a half hour inside.

Within a half hour of leaving the church, we were at the Accademia (we took another main road, Proconsolo, up behind the back of the Duomo). There’s really not much to see there after David, some “mildly interesting pre-Renaissance paintings” and that’s about it. But yeah, the statue of David is very impressive. Again, no photos allowed inside (there are docents watching) but if you have someone block their view of you, you can sneak some as long as you don’t have a flash. The other fascinating thing there are Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures. He said that all he was doing was chipping away what wasn’t the statue, and you can see the works in progress. I saw a couple other of his unfinished works at the Louvre. But from the time we passed the Duomo going north to the Accademia, to going inside and seeing the sculptures, to coming back to tour the Duomo, that was only 1 hr 20 minutes total. You might spend an hour inside the museum.

I would have liked to have seen the Medici Chapels and go to some of the markets (like the San Lorenzo leather market and/or the Mercato Centrale) but there wasn’t time with just one afternoon dominated by the museums. On the way back south, we more or less followed Rick’s Renaissance Walk ideas. We went inside the impressive Duomo, but declined to spend the 8 euros to climb up to the top of the dome (463 steps). Michelangelo was inspired by the dome of the Duomo here when he was designing St Peter’s in Rome. We meandered past the Piazza Repubblica towards the Ponte Vecchio, which is right outside the Uffizi, and got there just in time to see sunset over the river. We stayed there for over an hour, checking out the vendor stalls and soaking it all in. We left around 7, passed the Piazza Repubblica which had some sort of circus/merry-go-round thing going on, and went back to the hotel since we weren’t hungry for dinner yet. My cousin, who had spent a semester here while in college, had some restaurant recommendations, and we went with ZaZa (which we were later told was the kind of place that you’d take your parents to when they came to visit; it was also just a block from the hotel) for a late dinner. After the mandatory gelato – I had gelato for dessert every single night in Italy, and sometimes also during the day – we called it a night.

Comments from my cousin who spent a semester in Florence:
  • I would recommend climbing to the top of the Duomo so you can see the whole city. 
  • Go to the Pitti Palace and spend time in the Boboli Gardens there.  [Rick says the palace has the 2nd best collection of paintings in town, and the palace is impressive itself.]
  • If you want any leather goods, belts, wallet, jacket the leather market in Florence is the best and you can bargain with the owners. 
  • For eating dinner, I would recommend Il Gato (best balsamic i've had), La Giostra, Tratoria Sostanza, ZaZa, Acqua al Due, or Tre Ponches (3 benches). 
  • You should also check out the huge food market there, it’s like an indoor farmers market everyday with 2 floors of fresh food. It was amazing.
My recommendation for you: Florence is easily do-able in one day, as long as the crowds aren’t bad. I’m sure there are lots of other things to do if you’re there for two days (like maybe wait in line for one museum one day and the other on the next). I had originally planned between zero and two days here at various points before leaving the US, and one day turned out to be just right for me.

Here are the photos from today.

(Originally posted 5/13/14 at 8:45pm, Houston)

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