Una Giornata a Firenze

The week before Easter, Christina and I spent a day in Florence revisiting all of my favorite places. Florence was the first Italian city I lived in, in the summer of 2009, so it will always have a special place in my heart. I’d been planning to spend a whole week there at some point this spring, but the plan kept not coming together, so we decided to just take a day.

We arrived in the morning, after planning out the entire day via google maps and museum websites. Our first stop was Santa Maria Novella, the church that gives the train station its name. Christina started out in art history, so she really wanted to see the church and its famous art pieces. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside, but here’s one of the facade:

Beautiful, no?

From there, we took a detour to my old apartment, which I felt a nostalgic need to see. Much of the trip, unfortunately for Christina, was driven by a need to see my favorite places. We also went to the mercato centrale, Florence’s main food market. My roommates and I were rather obsessed with the dried fruit vendors there, who sell whole bags of it by weight. It’s all delicious!

My building. My apartment was the one right above the Filipino embassy.

Is it possible for markets to be beautiful?

This market is so big, they even have cheddar cheese! Granted, it’s really expensive, but that is my first glimpse of it since arriving in Italy.

After buying a fourteen euro bag of dried fruit, I decided staying at the market was too dangerous, so we left the central building to see the street vendors. The vendors in Florence are very good salespeople – they’re well known for commenting to passing shoppers and do very well to propagate the “Ciao, bella!” commonly attributed to tourists in Italy. Their wares, however, are nice, and it’s easy to find the leather and silk Florence is famous for.

Christina enjoying the market.

I loved these shirts. My favorite is the second from the bottom: “Tuscan to the bone.”

Just some of the vast wallet selection.

Christina and I both were on the lookout for souvenirs, both for ourselves and for friends back home. Leather goods are very Italian, transport quite well, and come in all shapes and colors. While we weren’t as successful shopping for friends, we each managed to find new leather purses. I’m in love.
After our shopping interlude, we stopped by the Duomo to scope out its vastness. Christina read an essay by a scholar from NYU who claimed that the positioning of the Duomo and its Baptistry was set so that you couldn’t help but see how large it is because you’re forced to stand so close and look up at it. I can easily believe the idea – it’s quite the imposing sight.

I’ve always loved the Duomo. All those colors and patterns are mimicked in other Italian churches, but never so well.

Ogling done, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens. We’d wanted to see the Uffizi, but the lines were really long, so despite the rain we decided to spend some time outside. The Boboli Gardens are one of the prettiest places in Florence. When I think Italy, I always think Tuscan countryside.

The Ponte Vecchio’s dazzling view of that landscape, nice and rainy. And the Ponte Vecchio’s most famous residents: the jewelry.

The Boboli Gardens are famous for that Tuscan country view, and the gardens themselves are gorgeous too. Even in a drizzle, it was well worth the visit, and thanks to the museum pass Fulbright provided us, I was able to go in for free.

I LOVE this view of the city from the entrance to the garden. In fact, my sister and I took this photo in 2009 for that view. …Along with this one of my parents. It was sunnier that day. Boboli follows the pattern of French gardens, with careful manicuring and lots of design. And here’s that famous landscape.

Eventually the sun came out. Can you see it? The garden is populated by cats in addition to tourists and flowers, and Christina and this little guy totally fell in love. This is the grotto near the exit of the gardens. It’s covered entirely with coral now, which makes it blend into the garden while at the same time being separate.

Then, since the sun was in the sky, we took a walk around the city. We were able to see the palazzo vecchio, the leather market, the piazza della repubblica, and the area around Dante’s house. We tried to see Santa Croce, which was closed by the time we arrived, but the piazza was still open and we were able to grab a glass of wine before going to dinner.

This is Florence’s version of the Neptune statue, standing outside the Palazzo Vecchio. This is the porcellino, the boar that sits outside the leather market. For luck, you can rub his nose, and then place a coin in his mouth. If the coin falls into the grate below the sculpture, you’ll be lucky in life. (Mine went in, by the way.) This archway leads into the piazza della repubblica, with its carousel.

Finally, we made it to my favorite restaurant in Florence for dinner, Acqua al 2. I discovered this place with my roommates (actually, I think one of them heard about it first and we all went), and it was incredible. Acqua al 2 is famous for a blueberry steak, served only medium rare and with a sauce made of berries and wine. It’s wonderfully yummy and none too expensive, and they’ve just opened a new location in D.C. I’m quite excited.

This is the steak. I know it looks purple, but it’s actually really really good. And here’s the dessert sampler we got. Incredible. Chocolate cake, blueberry pie, cheesecake, and tiramisu.

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