ASHLI + DEBS TAKE FLORENCE
*full write up on Venice w/ suggestions and itineraries coming soon!
When people think of Florence, they think of art, the Renaissance, the longstanding history of this quaint town, and for good reason! Florence is the home to the Duomo (an unbelievably beautiful cathedral), the Uffizi gallery which holds pieces from Botticelli and da Vinci, and the Accademia which proudly displays the world famous David statue of Michelangelo. A city with world renowned architecture, art, history and of course charm, Florence was the city I was least excited for and surprisingly the city I loved the most. I may not return to Venice and if I return to Rome, I would have to do so many things we didn’t have time for the first time, but I will continually live over and over the exact trip we had in Florence and I can’t wait to go back and love on this city again.
THE COUNTRY LIFE
Being located basically in the countryside, Florence is known for it’s rural surroundings and what they can tap into nearby. It went through a phase where it lost all of it’s wealth because…well I don’t remember…but they weren’t sent the nicest foods, so they made do with what they had – i.e. local crops and livestock. Now due to that, Florence is the go-to for steak (known as Florentine Steak), bean soup, chianti wine, and leather bags/jackets/etc, you name it. Definitely the place to invest in a nice leather coat or wallet or original handbag if you want a genuine Italian piece that isn’t $2500 from Gucci or Prada. OH and for those pasta lovers (or as I like to call them, humans), this is the city to enjoy some meat sauces/ragu’s/bolognese dishes. THE BEST I’ve had!!! And now I’m salivating.
TOO LONG DIDN’T READ:
I would quite literally move to Florence if ever given the chance…
<<Please refer to my page about general Italy travel tips ** COMING SOON ** regarding currency, language, converters, etc. because I won’t be outlining these below. I also outline our general trip itinerary if you need to reference that!>>
OK SO let me start out by saying that we took the 11am train from Venice to Florence which took about an hour and a half, totally affordable, beautiful scenic view, and actually impressive food on board for great prices!! Even better were the assigned seats so you knew that no matter what, you had a seat and didn’t have to elbow any children in the jaw to sit down. I mean…what?
We got into Florence with a bit of a mist in the air but thankfully I had my waterproof smock to cover my outfit and keep me warm and dry until we got to our Airbnb. WHICH BY THE WAY EVERYBODY SHOULD STAY AT – PERFECT location. PERFECT hosts. GORGEOUS space. AND THEY LEFT US LITTLE BOTTLES OF WINE omg I wanted to move in. Our neighborhood was heaven – it was the coolest little non-touristy area of Florence called Santa Maria Novella which, after some digging, found out that this was actually one of the best parts of Florence to be! Um, score? We were super close to the train station (maybe a 10ish minute walk), right by the city center, close to the Ponte Vecchio – basically we couldn’t have been in a better spot. Not to mention some of the best restaurants in all of Florence were on our block OH and that Botticelli used to live on our block too! IM SORRY BUT THAT’S SO CRAZY.
Our first day of Florence, despite the on and off misty “rain”, was one planned to be an outdoors one and we hit the ground runnin. We walked over the Ponte Vecchio – a famous bridge with gold/jewelry shops lining the sides with beautiful jewels and gold and views on either side of the bridge of the amazing landscape of Venice.
After the bridge, there’s a walkway not far that you follow and arrive at Pitti Palace, which was home to the Medici family in the 1500s. If you haven’t read about the Medici family, their rule and their influence, it’s fascinating actually (for you history buffs). Think the Kardashians but double the amount of people, 10x the money and actual political control. This family RULED hard for CENTURIES (like, they ruled so hard that they had 4 family members become popes, they were the wealthiest family in all of EUROPE at one point, they had family members marry into royalty all over Europe, etc) and ended up losing everything including their rein, dynasty, etc … as well as their palace.
Today the Pitti Palace (or Palazzo Pitti) houses some of the original paintings, gowns, furniture, etc. that the Medici family owned and is known as one of the largest museums of treasures in the world. With all that wealth, you can imagine the china, the decadent furnishings, the closets that this family has and to know that it’s all in this massive estate is unbelievable. It was unfortunately closed the day we went but thankfully, the Boboli Gardens out back were open that we got to visit. And…wow…thank goodness it was misty and chilly or I would have found a way to live in those gardens forever! So beautiful and worth seeing!!!! The grounds are stunning and to think this was a family’s backyard makes me overwhelmingly jealous…
After finding out it was just a quick walk over the bridge (on a map it looks FAR!), we walked back over and went to check out the famed Duomo…and oh….my….god. This cathedral is…beyond. After coming from St Marks in Venice, I thought nothing could top it until I saw this building – it was MASSIVE. INSANELY OVERWHELMINGLY MASSIVE. …just like the line to get in…so okay! We saw it and we noted that we will return to the Duomo on a different morning early enough to snag a good spot in line and enter in to see the beauty that is. That night, we took the advice of the locals to find a handwritten Italian menu for a restaurant that is filled with Italians and OH my gosh did we luck out!! We stumbled upon Osteria Belle Donne and, in my opinion, was the best meal of the trip. Details on my food recommendations coming soon.
The next day was one I had been counting down until for WEEEEEKS before leaving. My amazing and wonderful sister + brother in law (I still don’t understand how “in law” titles work so idk if that’s grammatically correct”) bought us an excursion to wine country Tuscany to explore some vineyards in the Chianti region as part of our birthday present and omg this day was HEAVEN. Besides the manic 10 minutes we had trying to find the meeting place for the tour at the bus stop, we had quite the easy time and boarded a bus of another 20 or so English speaking Americans and went on our merry way. And WHOA. I truly honestly don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a beautiful landscape than the Tuscan countryside…insane, honestly. We tried so hard to take pictures for you guys but it’s so much more to stand there and see the expansive landscape and take it in, it truly doesn’t do it justice, but hope it helps.
We visited a smaller region in Chianti and learned about what truly makes a “CHIANTI” which basically means it has to come from this region (to know it’s a certified good one, the label on the front should clearly say D.O.C.G.!!! Just so you know 😊) and sampled some different olive oils. Never in my life have I wanted to drink a glass of oil, but I was tempted. I DIDN’T THOUGH I just wanted to with every cell of my body.
Next we went to the Santa Margherita vineyard and UMMMM THIS IS LIKE ONE OF MY FAVORITE WINES SO I KIND OF HAD A PANIC MOMENT OF EXCITEMENT. They had such a beautiful expansive and massive facility, I was truly impressed! Also, I couldn’t believe it but they never heard the Drake song where he says “we got Santa Margherita by the liter” – but now they have, yes everyone who works there, and I really feel as though I’ve left my mark on this world in a really special way. I’ve done my job.
Anyway, I’ve visited wineries, beautiful wineries, but to do so with my momma in Tuscany where Chianti is from and also to see where one of my favorite wines is created ??? Absolute heaven. Best birthday present by far. That night once we got back around 7pm, we headed to the square near our apartment that had outdoor dining (and heaters!! It gets cold at night in April!) and had an okay meal at Trattoria al Trebbio. I say okay because it’s not like either of us were floored with our food and they completely forgot about my order. RUDE. Whatever it happens.
BEWARE. MY ABSOLUTE HANDS DOWN FAVORITE MOMENT OF THE TRIP IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER SO BRACE YOURSELVES.
THE BEST THING happened though – and not the Limoncello they brought as an apology which I definitely loved. The waiter mayyyyy have been flirting with me a little bit and invited me to come out with his friends to a little pub around the corner. I thought – no way! I’m with my mom! So we headed back, my mom fell asleep almost immediately and I was wide awake and decided…ya know what? I’m going to that pub to find the hot waiter who made out with my face when we took a picture. Evidence:
So I woke up Debs, told her I was leaving, and headed out to find this group of friends and my future husband who lives in Florence. BUT I COULDN’T FIND THIS FREAKIN PUB. So I’m just walkin around like a loser in the streets of Florence, still WIDE awake and though – whatever, I’ll just go in this bar, it looks nice and it says “piano bar” so that could be fun?
I walked in and the place is EMPTY except for 3 QUITE older gentleman (2 of which clearly worked there and a man at the bar) in this absolutely beautiful modern place. Navy walls, beautiful mirrored columns, silver bar, glass chandeliers, I felt like I was in a new-age art deco moment…on top of the fact that these three men completely stopped what they were doing when I walked in, making me totally deer-in-headlights. “Ummmmm are you guys open??” all three of them went to work making me a little spot at the bar and the oldest of them Mario spoke very good English for being an Italian. Turns out his wife is from New York City, the older gentleman patron at the bar was from TULSA OKLAHOMA and working in Florence for a bit, and the other man was a bartender. Mario basically opened this bar for fun when he retired and was HYSTERICAL, we became fast friends. He has no idea if the bar even makes money, but he loves to have it and people in the area love it too. We even found out that he lives 2 doors down from where we were staying so we were neighbors! It was fate. I loved him and I stayed for hours talking to these older men about life and growing up and love and travel and … you name it. To be honest, so much better than a bunch of dumb 25 year olds with beers in a pub. This experience was much more special and Louis now my best friend k bye.
On our last day, we had every intention of visiting the Duomo early in the morning to get in line and get in on time, but we needed to sleep in and thought we might be able to stop in on our way to see David at Galleria d’Accademia (since it was on the way from our place) where we had tickets for around noon. Sadly, we found that the line was MASSIVE even pretty early in the morning (like 930ish!) so big note here that you should definitely plan to get there around 8am to forego a line. Since we lost our shot at the Duomo, we decided to drown our sorrows with a massive calzone at 10am (we may have ordered tiramisu also but decided last minute to not…) cause WHY NOT. Let me just say, getting tickets to the David statue was so smart, we literally just walked right in while other people all had to wait in forever long lines in the misty rain and chilly temps. IF I CAN STRESS ANYTHING ABOUT OUR TRIP: BUYING ALL OF OUR TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME SAVED US HOURS UPON HOURS UPON HOURS JUST DO IT I BEG YOU. K I’m done. Seeing David was AMAZING and omgggg I thought it was going to be the lamest thing ever. Why are people so obsessed with a statue? There are plenty in the world? Why is this one so special? Well not only is this carved out of such a difficult-to-use marble that it had been discarded by 4 other artists who wanted nothing to do with it, but it’s also beautifully and perfectly done, in regards to proportion and just a general study of the body. I mean, there are like veins and muscles tensed up and all of this done with MARBLE. It’s pretty incredible!
After David, we basically had the rest of the day to get lost in Florence! We meandered all around the city getting lost and googling different Wikipedia pages about where we were, what it meant, what the importance was of that place, etc. It fascinated me, well us, that we were just walkin around eatin gelato where emporers and famous people of centuries ago also had been. It’s strange to think that someday someone will look back and study our time like what we do is totally archaeic while we think the life we have is so technological and advanced. They may have felt the same and they didn’t even have iPhones! idiots. Im kidding clearly.
We decided against the Uffizi gallery, mainly because we were DYING to go to the Piazzelle Michelangelo and we were ready for some pizza and vino and a caprese salad. But also, because you truly need to dedicate a full day to this gallery and neither of us were being pulled heart and soul into it so we moved on. The Piazelle Michelangelo is basically this cliff that overlooks Florence and Momma Debs was not particularly pumped about the trek upward because of the steep stairs and I was being a downer because of the rain. So we stopped in a tiny little café with an Italian man playing American pop music from the 90s who gave us FULL glasses of wine for 3 euros a pop, and we just sat at one of his 2 tables in his teeny tiny spot and had some drinks while we rejuvenated.
Once the rain stopped, and a couple glasses deep, we mustered up the courage to make moves up the hill. It wasn’t horrible I swear but Debs was not a fan of my idea to basically work out for 30 minutes before we see this view. I kept reminding her though “THERE IS WINE AT THE TOP. MOVE YOUR ASS WOMAN” and if you know me, you know that I actually did probably say those words lol my mom gave me a lot of “Eff you’s” and warned me of all the ways she felt she was going to die while marching up the steep stairs BUT THEY WERENT THAT BAD GUYS I just come from a family of overdramatic people. Oh and also – the view was magnifico. Like stunning. Overwhelmingly beautiful. To be able to see such an expansive view of city and architecture and rolling hills, etc from this height was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Even if you were in Florence for one day, I would suggest you go – that’s how beautiful it was!!
The best part – well 1 of 2 best parts – was that there was a restaurant at the top of this cliff! My initial thought was, “man this place is going to be unbelieeeeeevably expensive to capitalize on all the people who desperately need to eat and don’t want to head back down to do so” but it was legitimately the same prices as in town!! Totally affordable, outdoor dining, incredible food with a view you won’t ever forget. You MUST eat at the top if you go, because you will never have such an affordable mean in you life with a view like that along with it.
After dinner, I convinced (aka annoyingly begged and poked and prodded) Momma Debs into going back to Gilo with me so that I could introduce her to Mario and my new Florence friends. I walked in and they immediately gave me huge hugs, and remembered EVERYHTING I told them about my mom – her name, that we have the same birthday in a couple days, that shes from St Louis but lives in Raleigh – I couldn’t believe it!! We had another bowl of pasta because #yolo and chatted with them for hours … again. We are now family to the Gilo restaurant in Florence so if you ever go back and meet my friend Mario, tell him you know me because I wish I could visit him all the time. (to put a face with a name, he looked kind of like Charlie’s grandpa from the original Willy Wonka movie…just don’t tell him that…)
The next day we left for Rome! At 6am no less so we definitely didn’t have any morning stories I could share with you. Florence was our favorite city and we really should’ve stayed one more day, but… I guess now we know right? ON TO ROME AND OUR BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONNSSSSS!!! Not to mention one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in my entire life….you ready?