Florence is truly an engrossing place. One of our guidebooks called it not so much a city as a storage facility for the Renaissance, and after a few days here it appears this statement is on the mark. As a city it’s relatively small, but it’s literally awash in historical treasures. In fact, there are so many remarkable and famous palaces, cathedrals, and monuments that it’s easy to become blasé about what you’re seeing.
For instance, the Santa Croce Basilica has the crypts of Michelangelo, Galileo, Dante, and even Marconi (the inventor of radio). For us the keys to avoid being overwhelmed are to prioritize, don’t do too much, and take the time to appreciate what we do see.
In addition to the landmarks mentioned above, Florence even has a famous historic bridge. The 400 year-old Ponte Vecchio Bridge spans the Arno River. This ancient bridge with shops hanging over both sides, was once the home to butchers and leather tanners, which have been replaced in modern times with, what else, gold and silver smiths.
However, not everything in Florence is old. As some of you fashionistas may know, Italy is world famous for its fashion and clothing industry. There are a couple of high-end shopping streets lined with chic shops representing all the famous fashion brands. Of course there’s Ferragamo, Gucci, and Armani, but also Tiffany’s, Hermes, and Prada, just to name a few.
Window shopping is great fun here. I was admiring some very attractive clothes in a Zegna store window, and even though I knew they would be expensive, I was still amazed at the prices. The overcoat was $4100, the suit coat $2100, pants $850, shirt $440, and nice black shoes for $500! Oh and I forgot the tie, which was downright cheap…only $175. Yep, that’s about $8200 for a suit. Maybe this works for George Clooney, but I will keep my credit card in my wallet.
And Florence seems almost designed for tourists. Its small size means everything can be reached on foot, which is very convenient. You’ll notice, however, I didn’t say easily reached. The streets in Florence were set up using a 15th Century logic, and most are paved with uneven flagstones or cobblestones. With no obvious master plan, streets were added as needed, which means some are long, some are short. They begin and then end at a piazza or another street, change directions and names, then shoot off in a totally different direction. Bikes, mopeds, cars, and large buses hurtle down the narrow streets with total indifference to pedestrians.
Navigating can be frustrating, and requires our full attention to avoid becoming roadkill. But given all this, one of our favorite things is just wandering the streets. When possible, we choose a different route each time and don’t mind getting a little lost. With sturdy walking shoes, a decent map, and good map-reading skills, we end up at our destination and have fun in the process. Wandering aimlessly in Florence is always rewarding.
Florence has a lot to offer, and travelers that come anywhere close should stop. There’s really nowhere else quite like it.