As we left Rome with a heavy heart, we didn’t know the magical wonder that awaited us in Florence. We took a 90-minute train ride to get there, and I have to say I am in love with the idea of train hopping through Europe. I know it isn’t quite the glamorous experience from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, however it’s still such a romantic notion to revisit railway travel and live as if globalization and terrorism hadn’t left the world unsafe and ripe for exploration.
As we arrived, I didn’t know what to expect of Florence, especially when compared with Rome. However, it exceeded my wildest dreams. Florence is a down-to-earth Italian city. If Rome is the youngest child- brash, hedonistic, too gaudy for its own good- Florence is the second eldest- easygoing and fun but just a shade darker, a little more serious. Florence is more world-weary, more experienced, and thus more mysterious and sexy. I thoroughly enjoyed Florence because I felt like I could actually live there. It was more reserved than Rome and it had a better nightlife. I need to visit again.
Florence, or in Italian the beautiful Firenze, has its own rich history apart from Rome. While Rome is known for its part in unifying all of Italy under the Republic and Empire, Florentine history is characterized by its time as a city-state. The action begins with the Medici family. The Medicis essentially controlled the city from behind the scenes, using their patronage and status as official Pope bankers to influence and buy off senators, as Florence was technically a democracy. After the Siege of Florence, the Medicis became official dukes (a rarity considering they did not come from noble blood), and from there the Medicis ruled for two centuries, with monuments and museums to display their power and grandeur. The greatest reason that art flourished during the Renaissance is because of rich patrons like the Medicis. They, personally, had three reasons for donating: (a) art was a status symbol, (b) it was a very public symbol of their generosity and wealth, and (c) it was an ‘indulgence’ of sorts, a way of buying their way into Heaven to atone for their sin of being bankers. All of their wealth and patronage paid off in their lasting legacy, the Uffizi Gallery.
The Uffizi used to be the offices of the Medicis. They devoted part of it, the galleria, or in Italian ‘long hall,’ to their art, which is where the word ‘gallery’ comes from. Thus, the Uffizi became the first art museum in the world. The museum follows the course of art history by bringing you first through Middle Ages art for comparison and then to the bulk of the museum, Renaissance art. The biggest difference between the two is that Middle Ages art was made almost strictly for churches and did not employ perspective. Renaissance art thus became more realistic, and it is still used as an artistic benchmark to this day. The museum features a few famous artists like Botticelli, some of Leonardo da Vinci’s pieces, and Rafael. It is beautiful, and even if you don’t hire a tour guide like we did, you will still recognize many pieces and learn a lot.
After the Uffizi we went to the highest rated pizzeria in Florence. I have to admit I prefer deep dish, or at least a puffier crust. However, it was still to die for. Italians do know their pizza.
After that, it was more chill. My brothers and dad wanted to go back and nap, so my mother and I hit the town, and we just wandered. Wandering is an art: you have to let your heart lead you, not your mind. The best way to improve your wandering is to not think about it, because once you think about it you can no longer see the small interactions, you can no longer listen to the incomprehensible yet beautiful, lilting Italian, you can no longer feel the city’s pulse. Wandering has no timeline and no itinerary; it’s a chance to give your mind and heart a break. Even if we just walked along our street and surveyed the street vendors’ wares, we experienced the city in a way we never would have on a walking tour or a schedule. It was wonderful.
The next day was a long one. We traveled through the beautiful Tuscan countryside and visited the tourist’s obligatory Leaning Tower of Pisa. The driver was the classic Italian driver, and I felt violently sick for most of the trip. Oh well. We got a few cool pictures out of it.
Afterwards we went on two wine tours, and they were really fun. On the first one we had wonderful wine and wonderful food, including the lightest cheesecake I have ever eaten in my life. NYC was put to shame. On the second one, we had pure balsamic vinegar composed of two ingredients: grape juice and white vinegar. I absolutely despise vinegar, to the point that I gag if I can smell it across the room. Even if it’s one ingredient among many, I can usually taste it, and I’ll refuse to eat it. However, this was really good vinegar. His vinegar takes 30+ years to ferment, and it was absolutely divine. That evening we met up with our family friends from before for dinner, and after that I hit the town with my fabulous roommate this upcoming year, Eliana, and her friend Corina, who were both in Italy for a summer opera workshop. Just like eating sushi in Rome, I felt weird going to an Irish pub in Florence; however, it was a really fun time and we met students from Tulsa and San Francisco. I wish we had more time together, however I had an early tour the next day so I had to bid them adieu until September. I count down the days.
Our final day in Florence was another long one and we went on a relatively uninspiring tour to see The David and Il Duomo. The tour guide was born and raised in Italy, and she spoke good but slightly broken English, and even beyond that she did not keep our attention as our other tour guides had. I didn’t learn much from her. However, I have some really cool pictures!
The final unintentional attraction was a bronze pig hidden away next to a market. We’d passed by the market many times before, however we hadn’t noticed it until said tour guide made it a meeting spot on a gelato stop. This pig has a story. It’s said that if you rub the nose of the pig and slide a coin down its tongue into the grate below that you’re destined to return to Florence. Many went before me with varying returns on investment. On my turn, I put the coin deep in its throat and slid it down its mouth, bouncing a few times before entering the providential drain. I am now fated to return to the wonderful Firenze, and while I have a lot more of the world to see, I can’t wait to fulfill this prophecy.