Italian Vacation: Florence

When I told people I was going to Italy, I was surprised by how many of them said, “So you’re going to Florence, right?” Honestly, Florence hadn’t even been on my radar, which shows just how ignorant I was when it comes to Italy. Florence, for those of you who (like me) don’t know, is the center of art in Italy, more or less. It was the birthplace of the Renaissance, so yeah: pretty important. We decided to stay there for three nights, though we didn’t get in until late on our first day (9:30pm). (Pro-tip: getting a bus in Florence is a pain in the rear, or at least it was for us, possibly because we came into a train station that wasn’t the main one. We ended up getting taxis, which were very reasonably priced. It just took an hour to figure out that was the way to go.)

We stayed right downtown, perhaps a block from the Duomo. It was B&B Le Stanz, and the rooms were nice, spacious, and well air-conditioned. (Too well air-conditioned, according to Daniela.) Being so central to the city was great in terms of getting around places. All the old sites were within walking distance.

Three days was probably a bit tight for a good stay in Florence (go figure), but at the same time, I think it was about right for a stay with family members ranging from 9 to much older than 9. The younger kids can only do so much when it comes to museums, after all. Here’s a rundown of what we did and what we ate:

  • We started things off by going to the Accademia Gallery, home of the David and other Michelangelo statues. Seeing it in person really was stunning, and my kids were big fans of the musical instrument collection the museum had as well (including a Stradivarius violin and cello. Bonus!) We got tickets ahead of time, and we got them for as soon as the place opened, which was definitely a good move. We walked in, and there was hardly anyone there, giving us time to walk around the David at leisure and see everything with no crowds. A half hour later, the place was busy, and when we left an hour after that, it was packed. Way too many people. It’s not an enormous museum, which is also nice. Easy to see in a few hours.
  • From there we went and got “smoothie bowls” at the Shake Cafe at the Via del Corso location. These were thick smoothies with toppings you could add, and they were so tasty, we went back for breakfast the next day. Highly recommended if you’re looking to switch things up from the same thing all the time.
  • We toured the cathedral and baptistry, which were . . . different. From the outside the Duomo in Florence is just stunning, in green, pink, and white stone, it looked impressively unique. But once we got inside, the interior was disappointingly generic. I had somehow expected the interior would match the exterior. It didn’t. The baptistry was interesting, as it had once been used for baptisms by immersion until, according to the story, a child almost drowned getting baptized, so they shifted to the current baptism by sprinkling water.
  • Outside the Duomo, there are a ton of street artists. Daniela had a great time checking each one out and asking them about their techniques, and she bought a painting to take home. It’s also a great spot to be at night, as there’s a lot of musicians around (and being a block or so from it made that very appealing.)
  • We got sandwiches at L’Girone de Ghiotti. There were vegetarian options, but I had salami the first time and (since everyone liked them) spicy pepperoni the next time we went.
  • The Basilica of Santa Croce was incredible. It’s the burial site for many famous Italians, from Michelangelo (with the memorial carved by Donatello) to Galileo. I really enjoyed walking up and down it, reading about the people there.
  • In the evening, we caught some of the sunset at the Ponte Vecchio. It’s an old bridge with a bunch of shops on it. From afar, it looks great and is picturesque. When you’re actually on the bridge, it feels like you’re on a crowded street, and you can only see the river from the middle. Good for pictures, but that was about it.
  • The next day, we started by going to the Pitti Palace first thing. Again, great to beat the crowds. (Actually, this is something we did often there. Head out early to see things, and then come back to the hotel in the afternoon, because it was dang hot. Then we’d head out again in the evening when things cooled off a smidge.) The palace was very impressive, with some great views of the city, and a cool ancient map collection. When we came out, a police band was giving a concert in the square by the palace. Totally unplanned, but a great coincidence. They were very good. I have no idea when they usually play there.
  • Some of us headed to the Galileo Museum. This another small-ish museum, but it had a lot of cool exhibits, including Galileo’s telescope and (bizarrely) his middle finger. There are exhibits on how science has developed over the years in different fields. It was a very popular museum for the kids.
  • In the biggest tragedy of the trip, we had tickets then to go to the Uffizi Gallery, one of the best art museums in the world. When we got there, it was completely shut down. Apparently the museum workers had decided to go on strike “until 3:15.” I have no idea how such specific strikes work, but it meant that we no longer had time to see the museum. Not cool. I suppose I’ll have to come back late. (Though to be fair, some of the kids were Far From Crushed about missing out on the museum.)
  • We finished the day off by getting kebabs. You can never have too much kebab. That’s a fact.

It was a fun leg of the trip, and I’m very glad we went.


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