This is Part 2 of my Italian journey that fills the soul, and my memories of Florence!
From Florence to Rome:
When I travel to Florence from Rome, I can’t contain my excitement because this is where my soul truly gets soothed and replenished. When you live in New York City, you need a place like Florence, Italy.
I always make the trip by train and book travel while there is still daylight so that there is enough light outside to watch the passing scenery. The countryside is verdant no matter when I see it. This is, after all, Tuscany with the foliage and grape vines melding different shades of green and brown together.
The hills are dotted with old villas, farms, olive groves and small vineyards. Tiny towns appear on hilltops, only to disappear in seconds. The hills rise and fall seemingly in rhythm with the train. It is mesmerizing.
Porter, Where Art Thou?
Finding a porter to help with luggage is always a tricky business in Florence. There seem to be many and then none when you need one. OMG Florence!!!!
it’s a glorious, wondrous town. Invariably my taxi has to avoid closed off piazzas and streets until we wind up in front of the Hotel Savoy.
Like Coming Home…
I love the Savoy hotel, though it is pricey. It sits to one side of the Piazza della Repubblica which is lined with its small restaurants with various colored canopies. Sometimes, on a Saturday night, songs erupt from one of these “ristorantes,” full-bodied, almost operatic.
It always feels like coming home. Every time I arrive, this familiar embrace of Florence wafts over me, greeting me, welcoming me. The last time I was there I had a wonderful room. It faced the piazza and when I opened the wooden shutters I found a full moon shining back at me. It was heavenly!
And, then, like every time, I feel Florence envelop me and permeate my senses.
If I am alone, or even if not, I always walk the small distance to my favorite ristorante called Paoli, near the Piazza Della Signoria with the splendid Palazzo Vecchio. The ristorante is narrow and small tables line up against the right and left walls. The edifice that is now Paoli dates back to the 14th -century.
If you look up you can see the 18th-century frescoed arches that crisscross overhead. It’s amazing.
Paoli is where I first ordered asparagus prepared with butter and parmesan cheese melted over it. I have tried this dish all over Florence, but no place makes it better and I often make it at home. The last time I was there I asked what the house specialty was and ordered the gnochetti with shrimp in a tomato, basil, chili and white wine reduction. It was incredible!
Gelato Te Amo:
Here, as in Rome I have a favorite Gelatoria. This is where I first tried chestnut gelato. It had thick, succulent pieces of chestnut buried in the creamy tasting gelato.
On some visits I have been lucky to be there on a Sunday night, when the street that runs behind the Hotel Savoy becomes studded with all manner of fortune tellers and street performers. The fortune tellers often set up some sort of flame on their tables and with that create an eerie, ghostly overlay to the wide street.
When I was there with my stepdaughter, we found a forbidding-looking fortune teller who spoke English and oddly he knew that we were not related by blood, though we look alike, and he predicted my stepdaughter would marry and it wouldn’t last.
He was right.
The one thing I love and also hate about Florence is the one-day strikes. They can happen any time and effectively shut down the trains, the electricity in the hotels, or the museums. The last time I was there and asked about going to the Uffizi Gallery, I was told it was closed that day.
The Accademia, where the astounding statue of David stands in his naked splendor, was also closed. There was a strike! But strikes also give you an excuse to wander and if ever there was a place to wander, it’s Florence.
The Bapistry and The Duomo:
I usually head over to the Duomo. If you go you have to stop and take in the Baptistery of Saint John that stands across from the Duomo in the Piazza del Duomo. It has eight sides and features an intricate set of bronze doors with exquisitely carved relief sculptures.
These are excellent copies, which were created after the disastrous flood of 1966 which loosened one panel that floated away into the waters of the overflowing Arno River. There are doors to the south created by Pisano and to the north and east created by Ghiberti. The doors were dubbed by Michelangelo as the Gates of Paradise.
The wonder that I always feel in Florence is what I describe as feeding my soul. It washes over me as if for the first time every time I am there. It is history, old yet alive and powerful; like viewing the world through a fantastical kaleidoscope; each click of the lens revealing a new amazement.
I head from the Baptistery to the Duomo with its colossal terra cotta colored dome that always identifies the panorama of Florence. The entire scope of work to create this wondrous church had taken centuries beginning in 1296. It is all so unimaginable when you live in a country as new as America.
The first time I set foot in the Duomo at the age of 19 I remember standing there and closing my eyes, letting the expanse of history flood my senses. I have often tried to imagine the Florence of the 1500’s, when this extraordinary church still had not been completed.
How had the people looked? What were their clothes like?
imagine that they were relatively short, because in places like the Medici Chapel I have to duck slightly to go under archways and I am five foot six inches tall. If you look up above the main doors of the Duomo you can see the enormous famous clock face with frescoes of four prophets. Everywhere you turn there is something astonishing to see.
As you move further into the church there are breathtaking stained glass windows depicting saints from the old and new testaments. It is no wonder I am always drawn to this place. The extraordinary amount of artistic brilliance that had been birthed from the womb of Florence is almost too much to comprehend.
Sometimes I wish I could, just for a day, walk among the former citizens of Florence; the streets crowded, I imagine with markets, vendors and animals. Poorly dressed people, separated from the rich upper class decked out in silk and satin with gold embroidery
fter spending time in the Duomo, I almost always stop at a ristorante in the Piazza Della Repubblica and order a plate of fresh mozzarella surrounded by slices of rich, plump tomatoes. It is the perfect lunch when accompanied by large slices of fresh, crusty bread.
From having made this trip often, I follow a path in my head and after lunch invariably head towards the open air market, the Mercato Nuovo. I love this hectic market crammed with everything from leather purses and embroidered tablecloths to flowery silk scarves and handbags.
Everywhere you look, draped over the sides of the stalls, hanging from the ceiling, on poles and in drawers, are hundreds of things that I want to cram into my luggage and here, I do spend some money. The leather goods are especially appealing and I buy gifts for my friends ….and for me!
I have a favorite sight in this market as well, Il Porcellino, or “the little pig.” It is actually a giant bronze sculpture of a boar. I love to rub his snout as it is supposed to bring good luck, especially if one places a coin in his mouth and makes a wish.
Basilica of Santa Croce:
Each time I am in Florence I find something new and on the trip with my ex-husband we stumbled upon the Basilica of Santa Croce by accident. From numerous trips I had taken to Florence, I had somehow managed to miss this one basilica. From the moment we had entered through the heavy wood doors we knew we were in a profound and astounding place.
Like a magnet, your eyes are drawn to the floor where it appears that you are walking on gravestones and indeed, that’s exactly what they are. The floor is quite literally a cemetery.
Majesty of Michelangelo:
But, what takes your breath away is the enormous tomb, sitting on several platforms, erected for the remains of Michelangelo. An ornate sarcophagus holds his remains, but it almost pales in comparison to the three sculpted figures that seemed to have been placed in a protective fashion around it.
The tomb soars upwards to two angels who watch over the grave. Immediately after digesting the majesty of the tomb of Michelangelo you come upon the tomb of Dante Alighieri, whose masterwork, The Inferno, had electrified and terrified me when I read it in college.
No matter in which direction you look there is so much to take in and history comes brilliantly alive. These are the graves of the historical figures we studied in school. It is a very powerful experience.
Whenever I am in this remarkable Basilica, I gaze in awe at the small figure of the Virgin Mary with a halo of tiny lights around her head on the other side of the chapel. Not being at all religious, she nevertheless touches me deeply.
I also make an obligatory stop in front of the tomb of Galileo and the burial sites of Machiavelli and the composer, Rossini. This small little slice of Italy had been home to such remarkable beings.
To say that Florence moves me is an understatement and I am sure many people don’t experience it in the same way, but, if ever you are longing for a place to calm your soul, Florence is number one on my list and definitely on my “bucket list” for trip number nine!
Editor’s Note: If you came across this feature without reading Part 1, read it now.