On our way to Florence, we encountered a picturesque landscape. Tuscany is an incredible blend of vineyards, olive trees, and sunflower fields stretched out on a hilly landscape. Thanks to the arrival of foreigners – mainly wealthy Brits and Americans – abandoned barns have been brought back to life, and converted to retiree homes.
In recent years, Tuscany has enjoyed great media attention also thanks to books such as Under the Tuscan Sun. As a direct consequence, property prices have shot up tremendously. Today, foreigners who cannot afford Tuscany are moving to Puglia, another fantastic and up and coming Italian region.
We arrived in Florence mid morning. The influence of the Renaissance artists on the city’s architecture is immediately clear. The city has not changed much from the time Leonardo Da Vinci walked these streets – now you can find a Zara and a Benetton shop as well.
Shapes of the buildings are irregular, making you wonder how they were built in the first place. The roads are narrow and some streets have a different name for each side – even my Google map had to work extra time to get us to the finish line. I found it easier to walk along the river Arno, which cuts the city in half.
As we entered the city centre, we encountered a beautiful piece of architecture: the Ponte Vecchio. It is an arched bridge which crosses the Arno river.
Initially, butchers used to occupy its shops; today it has become home to the Florentine jewelers. During World War II, Florence was severely damaged by the Germans. Most bridges were blown up, but not the Ponte Vecchio. Allegedly Hitler declared it too beautiful to be destroyed.
According to the UNESCO, a third of the world’s art treasures reside in Florence. The world’s largest collection of Renaissance art – collected by the De Medici Family – is kept in the Uffizi Museum. This was going to be our next stop.
We visited Florence during low season; I suggest you all do that. I have visited the city several times, but I have never enjoyed it like this time. We entered the Uffizi without queuing; I didn’t think that was possible. That building makes you want to love human kind. I hope if we get an alien invasion they land in the Uffizi. If they do we may get a shot at survival.
Every angle of the building and its ceilings are adorned with frescoes, majestic paintings and masterpiece sculptures. There is so much, that even the audio guide cannot cover them all. Among the masterpieces to see is Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”, the attention to detail is astonishing.
As we exited the Uffizi, we heard a roar coming from Piazza della Signoria – the city’s main square. A crowd of people was waiting impatiently, and a big screen had been installed on the side of the square. Unsure of what was happening, my wife and I found – very luckily – a space in the front row.
Whilst waiting, an old lady next to me cried out “Sua Santita’ sta per arrivare” (His Holiness is coming). We arrived in Florence the same day as the Pope.
Few minutes later, the Pope mobile was less than a meter away from us. I don’t know if this is a divine sign – unfortunately I am only a Christian by birth – but this is the second year the Pope and myself are in the same city. A few months ago, he visited New York. He gave a mass at the Madison Square Garden and a parade in Central Park. For the tickets you had to take part in a raffle. Guess who won those tickets: me. My wife still believes God was trying to talk to me. After all His ways are infinite.
Palazzo Vecchio is right in front of the square. This palace represents the history of Florence and a political hub – still today. It was built in the 14th century as a fortress palace. Its façade is still as it used to be. The palace has a tower, which used to be a prison. It can be visited, all you have to do is climb 463 steps – a bit of exercise is essential after all the eating you do in Italy.
From little holes in the tower’s walls, you can see the wooden roofs of the Florentine houses and the Duomo. It is breathtaking. Michelangelo’s statue of the David sits right outside the Palazzo Vecchio. I used to think that was the original version. My reputation was tarnished when my wife, held a tourist guide – like a badge – right in front of my face. The David is now sitting at the Accademia, and off we went.
The David is a statue by Michelangelo. It is 14 feet and 3 inches high. The statue represents the Biblical hero David. Watching the masterpiece from up close is a real experience. It is hypnotic. Keep an eye on the right hand of the statue. It is disproportionately large compared to the body, because in the Middle Ages David was commonly said to be of “manu fortis” (strong hands).
After a long cultural morning, it was now time to immerge into our favorite culture – the culinary art.
Thanks to Francesco – our Roman friend – we ended up at a little restaurant in the heart of Florence: il Konnubio. The inside is very rustic. The welcome is friendly. The wooden tables are in line with the Renaissance themes of the whole city.
In Florence, like in the whole of Tuscany the choice of wines is infinite. The quality of their wine is above divine. You just have to choose. For the meal our choice was a Nobile di Montepulciano. Full bodied perfect for the lunch that was awaiting us.
My main course was Ravioli Nudi (Naked ravioli), filled with spinach, eggs, grated Parmesan, flour and nutmeg. It was tossed in butter with a leaf of sage. A simple dish yet with so much flavor. We ended up with my usual choice: the tiramisu. What a lunch, filling and refined.
After lunch we continued walking around the city. Its roads are more special than in any other city. Rome may have created roads, but Florence was the first city in Europe to pave them in 1339.
A doll hanging from a shop window caught my wife’s eyes. It was Pinocchio, the wooden boy whose nose grew as he lied. How many times as a child my mum used to warn me about lying. What a catastrophe it would have been if I showed up at school with a long nose. Pinocchio was invented in Florence by Carlo Lorenzi between 1881 and 1883 and he still lives in the heart of all the children of my generation.
We ended our trip at the Four Season restaurant: Il Palagio. What a great place to spend an evening.
We started with an Aperol Spritz and some olives. In the main room, a musician was playing the piano. The room had been prepared very meticulously. We were then moved to the dining room. The restaurant is a Michelin Star, so the food rather than being simply food is an art for your taste buds. Their pasta Cacio and Pepe with red prawns and marinated squid is out of this world. We celebrated my wife’s birthday with a final cake and a candle.
Florence is the city that gave birth to Dante Alighieri, the author of the Divine Comedy – the words of his masterpiece the Inferno are still alive in my mind. It is the birth place of Amerigo Vespucci, one of the first explorers to land in America. Then of course the great Leonardo Da Vinci, was home schooled in Florence – he lacked a formal education in Greek and Latin. Florence was also the home of the Italian language.
Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca were the first ones to write in the Italian language. This marked the beginning of the end of Latin, Europe’s common language. In recent years, the city has been the birth place of artists who have made Italy important in the world. Names such as Gucci and Cavalli are from Florence.
This city played a big role in the development of civilization as a whole. It was here where the Middle Ages ended and gave birth to the Renaissance.
Florence is a beautiful city, after visiting it you will overdose on culture. People are accommodating, food is sublime and the wine is at its best.
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When you go:
Konnubio, Firenze, Italy
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