After our time in Rome, we took the train up to Florence, admiring the countryside as we whizzed by. I immediately knew I loved the atmosphere of Florence better than Rome when I stepped out of the station. Florence has a sophisticated small-town presence while still being a bigger city. The streets weren’t overrun by tourists (unless you were by the cathedral), the warm toned buildings were sheathed in shuttered windows and blooming flower boxes, and you were enveloped in the authenticity of Italian living.
For lunch we stopped at this little trattoria called Sabatino, one of the last places Anthony Bourdain ate at. It was abuzz with locals ordering multiple dishes and waiters zipping around. We ordered house wine and beer in stilted Italian, along with simple but freshly made pasta dishes. My tagliatelle with meat sauce was becoming a favorite of mine during this trip.
We arrived at our next stop with bellies full and ready for some sight-seeing. The Boboli Gardens bring you back in time, when ladies and gentleman took strolls through mazes of greenery to see and be seen. It was regal and highly-manicured, which is beautiful, but my favorite part was the wild flower garden. Bursting with color and variety, it was a snippet of what the Italian countryside must feel like.
As we strolled through town, we happened upon a pottery shop, which caught Ryan’s interest. Though Italy has many places that sell traditional ceramics, this was the first place we saw that sold contemporary pottery. Chatting with the artist, I discovered she was a blend of my vintage style and Ryan’s passion for pottery.
We walked towards the center of town and discovered the glitzy shopping area, filled with designer stores. We kept tabs on the stores we wanted to visit later and headed back for a break at our airbnb. Sipping on wine and enjoying some snacks from the local grocery, we enjoyed some time on the patio.
For dinner, we went for something a little different and ate at Brew Dog. This urban pub has delicious burgers, homemade fries, a great selection of beer and edgy decor. It’s great if you are looking for something to break up eating Italian for every meal (nothing wrong with that though, since I could eat Italian everyday of my life).
The next day we had a lie-in before heading over to Mercato Centrale, which is a great place for local food shopping and for grabbing lunch. The ground level is the food market, filled with cheeses, hanging pasta , olive oil and spices, while the second level are small eateries with counter service and long tables scattered through the room. Our group separated to each find something interesting to eat and met back up to dive in. My parents tried a vegetarian food counter while the rest of us had fresh pasta and pizza. My gnocchi was filled with cheese, covered in cheese, and had more cheese to sprinkle on top. It was a small portion but it makes you full very fast!
We decided on a stroll to the city center, zigzagging through the warm stone facades filled with local shops and chic apartments. We ended up at the Piazza della Signoria, a free open air museum of statuary. It’s a great alternative if you are burnt out on extensive touring or want a little Italian art viewing for free. We also stumbled upon the Basilica Di Santa Croce, beautiful with its geometric facade and pleasant to view without the normal crowd of tourists.
Though I don’t recall the name of the shop, we found a store selling interesting trinkets, perfect for purchasing mementos. It wasn’t quite the usual touristy items, filled instead with colorful waxes and seals, beautiful stationary, leather-bound journals, vintage-style postcards and 3-D paper scenes. It felt like an old-world shop, which I adored, and the prices were reasonable.
As we made our way back towards the Airbnb for an afternoon break, we stopped by Pointe Vecchio, the bizarre medieval bridge covered in shops. It was quite crowded with people and mostly comprised of jewelry shops, so we enjoyed some sorbetto and were on our way quickly.
For dinner we chose an authentic risorante near our airbnb, which we found with a little help from Yelp.
**Tip: There are different levels of Italian eating**
- An osteria is a wine bar with simple meals, no menu and sometimes without tables (standing room only).
- Trattorias are casual, neighborhood restaurants that serve local food at good prices. Great for a fast meal.
- Ristorantes are full service restaurants, more upscale, and can sometimes involved several courses. However, the quality of food is not necessarily better, it’s just more expensive and has a bigger menu. Make sure to check restaurant reviews if you are unsure about a place.
We ended our night with a bus ride up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo. It has great panoramic views of Florence, especially at sunset, which is great for a photo-op. However, it’s extremely crowded with tourists. Per recommendation from the blogger History in High Heels, we made our way slightly down the hill to San Miniato. It has the same gorgeous views of the city, except there are significantly less people, and you can enjoy the medieval church and convent from your viewing point.
On our last day in Florence, we headed over to the famous Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The exterior of this gargantuan cathedral is hands down, the most stunning architectural marvel I’ve seen thus far. Covered in green, red and white marble, intricate geometric designs and statuary, it is a feast for the eyes. We unfortunately made the mistake of not buying tickets in advance to view the Dome, Baptistry and Bell Tower, but we were able to view the interior of the Cathedral (for free!).
Lunch was quick and casual at a small trattoria, the family-owned restaurant bustling with no-nonsense sisters serving locals and tourists their simple, but delicious meals. Bellies sated, we headed over to the shopping area for a little retail-therapy. We found some great leather purses, stylish Italian shoes, and some gifts to bring back home to family. The gem was finding this small men’s clothing store owned by the seamstress herself, who kept thrusting shirts at Ryan to try. After some shooing away to my mother (don’t get too close to her sewing machine!), some modeling from Ryan and a few hilarious misunderstandings, we ended up with a great printed button-down for Ryan and another chic shirt to bring home to my brother.
That evening, on our way to dinner, we were walking by the Piazza della Signoria once again. We discovered that an orchestra was practicing for an outdoor concert, free entertainment! Nestled in between the statues, the orchestra practiced several pieces reminiscent to music heard in a Starwars battle or a dramatic scene in Harry Potter; majestic, fun, and quite witty.
Dinner was had at a quirky Irish pub, with standard pub fare, plenty of beer options, and a few rounds of connect-four among the group. We ended our night with some more sorbetto, because you can never have enough! Our time in Florence had come to an end, but Venice awaited…