With the whirlwind of Rome in the rear-view mirror of our bullet-train, we were off to Florence. Florence is where Allie studied abroad and for the entirety of our relationship, I’d heard about how marvelous Florence was. Allie had many times recounted the story of how she cried when her mom came to visit and bring her home. Naturally I thought she was exaggerating and being ridiculous- I could not have been more wrong.
Florence is spectacular. Its charm and beauty only rivaled by its rich history. It is quintessential “Old Europe”. It is clean, easily walkable, and peppered with historic piazzas, palaces, and churches. It seems like there are hole-in-the-wall trattorias that ooze character around every corner, inviting hungry travelers in for a delectable bowl of homemade pasta, or a giant Florentine-style steak. Oh, and there’s shopping, lots of shopping and not just for their famous leather.
We arrived in Florence around midday and a short cab ride later were at our hotel. The room wasn’t ready so we dropped off our bags and set off walking. Compared to Rome’s frenzied pace, Florence was a welcome reprieve. Our hotel was right across the street from a beautiful old church, and a stone’s throw high-end shopping (seriously next door to Hermes) and the Piazza del Duomo. Florence in early October was much cooler than Rome, and that day was cold and dreary. We spent about an hour walking up and down the streets, admiring the stunning Duomo, and peeking into high-end shops before having a quick lunch with some red wine. After only a couple of hours I felt I could spend the rest of my life there- if anything the dreariness of the day only added to the romanticism of the city. After lunch the clouds started to break up and we did some shopping, and by we I mean Allie, and by shopping I mean gushed over a ridiculously priced Louis Vuitton scarf, put it back, got a drink, then went back to buy it- because nothing says Italy like a French scarf.
That night we didn’t have dinner reservations so we again relied on the hotel concierge. I don’t remember the first place she suggested, but they were booked, so we ended up going with her second option, one of the aforementioned “hole in the wall” places called Trattoria Gargani.
Off the beaten path, and a little hard to find, but well worth it. Our food in Rome was great, but this was the first truly outstanding meal of the trip, and the ambiance was perfect. Allie had homemade pasta while I had a veal steak the size of my head, we both split a bottle of my new favorite red wine, montepulciano.
Another travel tip- if you don’t have an international data plan, use the off-line feature of Google Maps with the hotel wi-fi- it will download the entire region and let you use the app without using data so it will work long after you’ve lost the wi-fi signal! While this was a great discovery I still recommend studying the city maps the hotels will provide and making sure to familiarize yourself with the streets and directions as to not get lost.
That night we made our big mistake of the trip- while having a nightcap of limoncello, the schmoozy bartender asked if we had dinner reservations for the next night- since we didn’t and we were two drunk American tourists “sure!” we said, when he recommended his friends restaurant, even better, he’d make the reservations for us!
This was a mistake, it only occurred to us the next day how easy it would be for literally anyone to send tourist business anywhere with assurances of greatness. Despite realizing the err in our ways we both felt it would be too awkward to face the same bartender having cancelled our dinner reservations (or worse, not showed up). In retrospect, we should’ve said screw it and cancelled but our politeness got the better of us. The meal, and restaurant the second night was the only real disappointment of the trip; next time we’ll be wiser drunks!
That next day Allie took me to Santa Croce, the final resting place of Michelangelo, Dante, and Galileo, and lesser known than some of the other attractions. We got there first thing in the morning and it was great as there was hardly anyone there. We were able to appreciate and reflect on the beauty and history of the old church in a way we couldn’t do in the Vatican; at times we found ourselves completely alone in various church rooms or the courtyard. It was a peaceful way to spend a beautiful morning.
We spent the rest of the day strolling through town, stopping to see Allie’s apartment from when she studied abroad. We crossed the river for the first time and walked along its high embankment for a while. We crossed back over via the Ponte Vecchio, a well known bridge lined with high-end jewelry shops. I drooled over Rolex’s and Audemars as we crossed, but Allie wouldn’t let me go into any of the shops. We had these tremendous sandwiches for lunch at a place called All’antico Vinaio, recommended to us by another Instagram person – they were incredible, though Allie had some issues with hers and some pigeons.
For our final day in Florence, we had booked a tour of the Pitti Palace, and the attached Boboli Gardens. It was a beautiful day, and strolling through the gardens it was easy to imagine being a part of the Florentine Aristocracy centuries ago. The Gardens were expansive and featured stunning views of Florence and the Duomo. The Palace, as you’d expect, was filled with priceless art, featuring a large collection of Rafael’s. The tour was extremely informative, our guide being an art-expert and native Florentine. We learned about the trials and tribulations of the famed Medici family- there’s a Netflix series about the Medici which our tour-guide said was fairly accurate, with the glaring exception being the actors were “too handsome”.
After the palace we made the long trek back to our hotel on the other side of town, and over to the leather market. Florence is famous for its leather and Allie and I both indulged and bought new leather jackets from a small shop called Massimo Leather. The owner had a startling familiarity with the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and when we told him where we were from quickly started rattling off other nearby towns; we found this odd but didn’t think too much more of it. New coats in tow, we explored the local food market, a giant indoor marketplace with hundreds of local vendors and artisans selling meats, cheeses, liquors and groceries- I had commented it was much better than our local Mariano’s and stand by that comment. It was around this time when I really started wondering why we didn’t just move to Florence and start life anew.
We finished the day by making another long trek to the Piazzale Michelangelo, as we were advised to watch the sunset there for the best views of Florence. As it turns out, virtually every tourist gets that recommendation because it was packed. Fortunately, there’s a small hotel and restaurant with a terrace above the touristy steps, and it was surprisingly not busy- well worth the cost of drinks for a comfortable seat and unbeatable view. We shared a bottle of white wine and chatted as we watched the sun set on Florence. As we sat there, reflecting on the day I came to the realization that it had truly been a perfect day in every way. With the exception of our wedding day and maybe a few other momentous occasions, quite possibly one of the best days of my life- were I to do it over, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently.
A wonderful day like that deserves a wonderful meal to cap it off, and we found it at La Giostra (Allie’s favorite restaurant in the world). Another nondescript trattoria off the beaten path, La Giostra has somehow become a go-to spot for celebrities and it’s walls are adorned with photos of the owner and countless American movie-stars, athletes, and musicians. The food was outstanding; we shared a complimentary plate of hors d’oeuvres, and for our main courses Allie had a ravioli stuffed with with flower of a zucchini while I had a filet. Allie had been raving about this place since virtually the first time we met and I can see why. We took our time walking back to the hotel, stopping to admire the massive Duomo up close, and take pictures. It was our last night in Florence, and we wanted to savor every moment.
As previously mentioned, Allie had, many times, told me the story of the time her mom came to Italy at the end of her study abroad to vacation with her, and ultimately bring her home. She told me she cried when she was forced to leave Florence. To be honest I had always thought this was one of the silliest things I had ever heard- a college girl about to go on a free tour of Italy after having spent six weeks “studying” abroad. However, after just three days in Florence, I can say now that I get it. The city is spectacular. Florence has stuck with me unlike any other city I’ve been to; it’s beauty, splendor, and culture are intoxicating.
That night Allie and I made a promise to return to Florence in nine-years for our ten-year anniversary. Only eight years and six months to go.
Side note from Allie – we made a few additional stops that didn’t make it into Kyle’s post that are worth mentioning! At the top of the Westin, there is a rooftop bar called Excelsior with amazing views of the city. This is worth making a stop and having a drink. We went mid afternoon and it wasn’t too crowded. We also stopped at a Mozzarella bar called Obica for a snack and OMG was there mozzarella delicious! and so many choices!!!
De La Ville, Florence – traditional hotel with an ‘old luxury’ feel, great location, easy walking distance to some of Florence’s top attractions
Trattoria Gargani – I loved everything about this restaurant. Well off the beaten path but well worth it. Outstanding food and service served in an eclectic ambiance.
La Giostra – Amazing restaurant. Great ambiance, spectacular food, and a chance you’ll run into a celebrity. Can make reservations online in advance
All’antico Vinaio – Delicious sandwiches for a quick lunch
Context Tour – We toured the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens