With a name like Florence

The last of my vacation recaps to Italy, ending on Florence, the manageable city.

The DomeMan, I’m glad this is the last I have to write about my trip to Italy. It was hard enough being there, and then I didn’t have to put captions on pictures or come up with puns for post titles. And what do you do with Florence? “Uffizi Does It?” “Medici Balls?” “Major Duomo?” All terrible.

So the city may have a dull name (apparently “Florence” is closer to the original Latin than “Firenze” is, so the English name is more accurate, at least according to the tour guide) but it makes up for it on charm and looks. They know they’ve got the best Cathedral, and they’re kind of smug about it: instead of putting it away from all the cool stuff and building a wall around it, they’ve got it sprawled out all over the square, visible from everywhere in town, rubbing it in everybody’s face.

It’s halfway between Rome and Venice by train and in spirit: it’s more manageable and navigable than Rome, and a good bit less touristy than Venice. And like Siena, it’s got a theme going on: everything’s either David- or Medici-related. I can comprehend this place, you think. You can really understand how kids on their “life experience” European junket after college would feel like staying.

Coolest thing about the city: the Piazza della Signoria. It’s not all that pretty, to be honest, but the place is just lousy with statues. Instead of roping everything off in a crowded museum, you can get up and walk around the pieces and see them from every angle. Even climb up and break off an arm, or chop off a toe if you feel like it.

It’s a great city, just about everybody’s been there at least once, and those who haven’t been yet should make plans to go. Here’s my helpful travel tips:

  • Spend three days. I spent two in Florence and two in Siena, and wish I’d spent an extra in Florence just to wander around.
  • Take a tour. I took the ArtViva “Florence in One Day” tour (spread out over two days) and would recommend it very highly. The tour groups are very small, mine were friendly, and it was nice having people to chat with a few hours. (And since they’re just day tours, if you don’t like your group, you only have to put up with them for an hour or two). The guides are native English speakers and were all entertaining and knew their stuff.
  • The tour guides also gave great restaurant recommendations. Both places I tried were the best restaurants I went to on the whole vacation. (Good food, but great, friendly service).
  • Even if you don’t take a tour, do what the ArtViva guides do: keep it simple. Instead of trying to hit every major site in the city or every work of art in the galleries, they picked a few of their favorites and gave detail on those, describing the connections between them. I’d been trying to make sure I saw everything I could in Rome and Siena, and being exhaustive was exhausting.
  • Make sure you go downstairs in the Uffizi gallery, to see Caravaggio’s Medusa. It’s rad. Also, much harder to miss is Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, also rad: I’d seen plenty of pictures, but it’s much more impressive in person.
  • Be aware that prosciutto isn’t necessarily the same thing as prosciutto di Parma. I had to put up with several unremarkable ham sandwiches until I managed to find any of the good stuff.
  • There’s obviously a ton of hype around Michelangelo’s David; it’s a symbol of the city, and it’s the one thing that many tourists are there to see. What’s unique about the statue is that it actually lives up to the hype: your first sight of it at the end of the hall is pretty amazing.
  • The best views of the city are from Piazzale Michelangelo, across the river at the top of about a thousand steps. I took about a billion pictures, as is every tourist’s responsibility.

The last of my pictures are up on flickr, including miscellaneous shots from around the city, shots of the Cathedral interior and exterior, and views of the city from Piazzale Michelangelo.