Finding the Flair of Florence
A visit to Florence holds so much promise: as the hotbed of the Renaissance, it is filled with historical and artistic landmarks; as the heart of Tuscany, it offers some of the best cuisine of the region; and, if shopping is your pleasure, Florence is filled with some true finds, from local artisanry to haute couture. Thought it is a relatively small Italian city, Florence can be overwhelming for first time visitors, so the following offers some helpful tips per fare una bella figura in Firenze! One cannot visit Florence without taking in at least a bit of its rich Renaissance heritage (it is the home of Michelangelo’s David, after all). A new Renaissance treasure seemingly waits around every corner, from architectural landmarks to important museums, such as the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Museo Bargello. Of course, just as Florence is packed with such treasures, it is accordingly also packed with tourists, so be prepared for some queues. You can save yourself some time and take advantage of those museums that let you book tickets ahead (the Uffizi is one), or you can seek out museums that have extended hours and take in a visit while others have moved on to their aperitivo. Once you’ve had your fill of history, it will be time to fill your belly with some of Florence’s amazing food offerings. A good Florentine meal will begin with an array of antipasti, which might include Tuscan-made cheeses, such as pecorino or caprino, and cured meat, or crostini with different toppings. Most restaurants will offer a delicious assortment of primi (typically pasta dishes) and secondi (main courses) accompanied by contorni (you must have your vegetables!), but there are several stand-out Florentine dishes you should go out of your way to try. One is the traditional, thick stew known as ribollita, made from a blend of local vegetables and then thickened with day-old bread. If you cannot find ribollita on the menu, a close cousin is pappa al pomodoro, a lighter soup that also incorporates stale bread into a delicious blend of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and basil. For those seeking a substantial meal, look for the bistecca alla fiorentina: a massive porterhouse steak grilled to medium rare perfection. Of course lighter meals are easy to locate: panini are ubiquitous in café coolers, and a freshly harvested picnic of cheeses, meats and bread from the local market, along with a bottle of Tuscany’s own Chianti, makes for a delightful picnic from a perch on the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the Arno River and the city. Of course you’ll need some mementos from your visit, and here Florence disappoints neither. The Mercato San Lorenzo, lining the streets around the Church of San Lorenzo, buzzes all day long with the hum of market stalls and merchants. If you are an expert haggler you can walk away with some amazing deals on vero cuoio (real leather), goods for which Florence is known. You can also stroll the historic Ponte Vecchio, which offers a blend of smaller souvenirs and more expensive jewelry and goldsmithing. For the traveler seeking high-end items, a stop along the Via Tornabuoni is a must: lined with many designer shops, such as Prada, Gucci, Burberry, and Céline, this avenue offers a one-stop designer fix. If you are considering a visit to Florence, here are some closing thoughts to keep in mind: compared to cities such as Rome or Naples, Florence is much smaller and quieter. It is possible to walk the entire city, and the prevalence of foreigners in the city means that most people you meet will speak at least some English. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to speak Italian, as this is the best way to see the true city. Florence is also easily accessible by train, which makes it an easy destination from other Italian cities. This can be a cost-saving key: if you are debating, for example, flying into Rome versus Florence, you will find you’ll most likely save some money by choosing the Rome connection and then training to Florence (plus, the train ride affords you a great preview of the Italian countryside). This easy train access also allows for some fantastic day trips out of Florence. A journey to the heart of the Chianti wine region, for example, for an afternoon of wine tasting, is possible with a brief 45-minute train ride. Check back for more articles on travels in Florence and across Italy!
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