Florence was Fabulous and the "Big D" ... Divine

Planning is an essential part of slow traveling. Spending months at a time living out of a backpack, patience it requires and the forethought to see the unseen; be ready for sudden changes in itineraries and not what...

Planning our day trip to Florence was both exhilarating and exhausting. Not usually one to plan, I carefully laid out a walking path to go from one train station to another, cramming as much as possible in between. Immediately, I realized there was no way we were going to see this plan through. I could spend an entire day just at the Uffizi Museum. Our only time constraint was the previously purchased ticket to see the Big D! (at 13:45) 

Soo... When I finally stripped down the itinerary to the basics, it hit me. I saw the path, the way, the utilization of precious time and energy, almost a force......

My apologies, I just couldn't help myself. Truth is, the trip was planned, I saw something powerful in it and poof.. Yoda appears. I'm not even a Star Wars fan. Bear with me and let's see what happens..... 

How things are practically perfect when Jim is in charge of planning baffles me. Our train was even canceled and somehow we still got there earlier than planned. Florence was absolutely fabulous and the "Big D" divine. Before I share how absolutely perfect this day was, you may notice the bruise on my face, the bandages on my hands and elbow in some pictures below. I wish I had a great story that involved me doing something heroic, or cool but truth is it was an “Alisa, you know better moment!” Let’s go back a few days….. 

We were on our way home from the store when we got caught in a thunderstorm with a massive downpour and torrential winds. We decided to run and at one point Jim said let's wait it out under this awning, Nope, I didn't want to get struck by lightning so we kept running. Granted we should know better, neither of us were wearing proper running shoes, but it felt good moving like this and with the cool weather it was rather refreshing. We were both acting like we were in our 20's running a marathon and making record times. I was only carrying a few items with one being a glass jar of garlic powder.

Next thing I know, I wasn't carrying anything!  The sound of the glass jar hitting the ground made Jim turn around to find me kissing Mr. Asphalt. I was sure he'd knocked out my front teeth. My face was numb along with my whole left side, but I didn't freak out until I saw the blood dripping down my arm...then it was all over.  I refused to move until Jim got to me, being quite a bit farther ahead of me, it seemed like forever before he was there to rescue me from complete panic. Immediately he started looking me over to make sure nothing was broken and that I still had all my teeth. I refused to look at any spot where blood was coming from and just kept asking, between sobs, how bad is it? He calmly replied let's get you home and cleaned up. He wanted to carry me and I would have agreed, but the attempt to lift my arm caused more pain, instead I just wobbled using him as a crutch.

Thankfully Jim is calm, not afraid of blood, knows some basic first aid and is very creative when it comes to bandages. (We really need to re supply our first aid kit).  He took amazing care of me, gently cleaning and picking small pieces of gravel out of my wounds, the leaves and bugs out of my hair, I had a ladybug in my hair.... that’s good luck right? After I was all cleaned up, he made me an elixir of something for the pain, iced my body with frozen veggies and fixed my broken glasses. Once I was all settled and I knew I was going to survive we were finally able to laugh about it…could have been the vodka…it still hurt like hell.

Back to the perfect day…….

Getting from Ferrara to Florence  (73.95 euros)
At 6:00 am we woke to Metallica's Carpe Diem Baby, part of Jim's plan. We walked a few blocks to catch the bus (4.00 euros) to the train station. Already the day was starting off better than our previous outing. 

We boarded the train for Firenze Santa Maria Novella station, with a 20 minute change in Bologna. Bologna is a large station with 19 platforms and felt very safe. Everywhere we looked there were polizia. We were scheduled to leave from platform 1. Ten minutes before departure the monitor showed that our train was canceled. Here we go! We made our way back inside the station to find two Trenitalia offices. Not knowing which line to wait in, the main one or the one that says, "last minute." I stood in one and Jim in the other. Jim was helped first. He motions for me to hurry, the agent said we need to go to Platform 19 and catch the high speed train heading to Salerno and get off in Florence. Great all is good right....oh and it leaves in four minutes. WTF! This was going to involve some running, which I swore I wouldn't do again. I don’t know how we made it, but we did!

We hopped on the train and found open seats, which we almost immediately got kicked out of by a passenger that actually had a ticket. The train was packed with passengers who looked settled for a long train ride. As the train started to take off, we found two open seats and Jim looked at me and said, I sure hope I heard her right! UGH! I opened up maps to look up Salerno, which I found is 9 hours away. I said a silent prayer that it stopped in Florence. Luckily I took screenshots of our tickets to Florence, which no longer showed up in the app. I held my breath as I saw the conductor making his way down the aisle. He approached the two guys across from us and I heard one of them say Firenze and he nodded in approval…phew, we were good.

We arrived in Florence at a different train station than planned, but earlier than expected, so we had time to get back on track…..win for team Cummings.  

Mercato di Sant' Ambrogio (8.50 euros)

Our first stop was a local market that has been serving Florentines since 1873. Jim adds little things like eating to his plans. Outside there were many stands filled with veggies, fruits, breads and meats. Inside the market was filled with locals buying fresh cuts of meats, fish and pastas. People were standing around visiting and enjoying coffee and homemade yummies of goodness. 

We settled on a small stand named Chicco Di Grano, having no idea what anything was, we just pointed to items that looked mouth watering. We ordered three of something that resembled onion rings, two items that looked like deep fried meatballs, one item that looked like fish or chicken and our very first cannoli. I watched as she stuffed that cannoli with the most delicious looking cream. Since there were no chairs and most people just stood and ate, we found a small table behind one of the stalls and stood to hopefully enjoy our goodies. 

We started with the onion rings, which were just that, but somehow everything tastes better in Italy. Then on to the meatballs, which were not meatballs, but something so delicious we later had to ask. They were deep fried eggplant filled with spinach and cuscus. The other item was just chicken, which was okay. The cannoli…now I don’t have anything to compare it to, but my first bite told my mind I would never again eat a better cannoli, which I am happy to accept the challenge to try. The cream had zests of lemon and orange and it was absolutely the most delicious thing I ever put in my mouth. 

When we were done we grabbed some water and started the trek to the Piazzale Michelangelo.

Piazzale Michelangelo (Free)

The Piazzale Michelangelo is a 19th century piazza with a bronze replica of the David and it offers a beautiful panoramic view of Florence. It was designed by the architect Giuseppe Poggi as part of the major renovations to the city walls in 1869. He created the square as a monument for the celebration of Michelangelo. There are beautiful arch waterfalls to distract you while you make the steep climb up and thankfully it was a cooler day than we’ve been used to. The high watchtower, the Porta San Niccolò, once formed a gate in the defensive walls of Florence, was under construction and unfortunately couldn’t be climbed…or fortunately for me.

Piazza della Signoria (Free)

We spent time walking around Piazza della Signoria which has been the center of political life and historical events in Florence since the 14th century. The Bonfire of the Vanities happened here, which consisted of the burning of many items such as books and paintings, that the Dominican friar Girolamo considered to be sinful. Here is where Savonarola was accused of heresy and burned at the stake. In front of the Neptune fountain there is a marble plaque placed in remembrance.  

Neptune fountain

There is yet another replica of David that was created by Michelangelo in front of Palazzo Vecchio symbolizing the power of the Florentine Republic. (This is where the original statue used to be).

The statue of Hercules and Cacus by Bandinelli in 1534 symbolizes the physical power of the family.

Hercules and Cacus 

And the beautiful Loggia dei Lanzi, a small open-air gallery with many statues, one of Perseus with the head of Medusa, by Benvenuto Cellini in 1554 which served as a warning to those who opposed the Medici family, where the severed head of Medusa represented the republic.

Piazza della Repubblica (Free)

Piazza della Repubblica has been one of the main squares in Florence since Roman times. During that time it was filled with bathhouses and temples. Many years later the function of the square changed. It then became a marketplace and in 1600 it became the Jewish ghetto filled with tabernacles and churches. When Florence was the Capital of Italy in the 19th century it was modernized. Today it is filled with street artists and vendors. There are still some historic cafés of Florence that overlook the square, which were meeting points for many artists and writers of the past. 

Galleria dell'Accademia (34 Euros)

We booked tickets to see the “Big D” eleven days before our visit and I am sure glad we did, it was sold out a day later. The line for people buying their tickets that day was long and moved slowly. We heard one lady say that they stood in line for two hours. We had a reservation time for 13:45. The entrance was well labeled. There was a blue line for people purchasing tickets the day of, the green line was for groups and the red line was for reservations. The reservation was emailed to us but we didn’t have an actual ticket. We asked more than one person who said, when the sign says 13:45 you get in the red line. About 13:40, the sign flipped and they called for the 13:45 tickets. At 13:44 we entered the Galleria. Once through the metal detector there is a ticket office to the left where you show your reservation and they give you an actual ticket and then let you in. 

The main floor held the most famous of all, Michelangelo’s David. In 1501, Michelangelo received permission from the Opera del Duomo to work on a block of marble that was abandoned in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Florence. A 26 year old Michelangelo worked on this 16.9 foot statue from 1502-1504. Standing there, I thought to myself, I’ve never seen such a beautiful sight.  

We took a seat behind the statue and marveled at the breathtaking view and the words from Giorgio Vasari echoed in my head, “...the statue so far surpasses both in beauty and technique, ancient and modern statuary that one needn’t bother seeing other works in sculpture.”

The Gallery had two floors featuring work from artists such as Luigi Pampaloni, Lorenzo Bartolini, Silvestro dei Gherarducci and many others.

Jim originally planned for us to eat at the sandwich restaurant, All’ Antico Vinaio. It became famous when the son wanted to venture out and eventually the restaurant made its way to social media and became viral like many places all throughout Italy. There are four in Florence right next to each other and one outside the Galleria dell'Accademia all with long lines, a restaurant in Moscow, New York and Los Angeles. We decided social media sometimes has a way of making things better than they are...so we decided to skip the lines and go with something different and I am sure glad we did. 

I’ Girone De Ghiotti (13.00 Euros)

On a little side street Jim found this amazing sandwich restaurant where we split a Suicida Sandwich;  porchetta, sun dried tomatoes, spicy sauce and arugola on the best thinly sliced crunchiest focaccia bread. I can’t imagine another sandwich shop in Florence being better. We found a small place upstairs to sit and enjoy some beers and this masterpiece created by these three guys.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Giotto's Campanile (Bell Tower), the Baptistery of San Giovanni, and Brunelleschi’s Dome (Free)

Santa Maria del Fiore is one of the largest churches in the world, with the first stone being laid on September 8, 1296. The church was consecrated at the completion of the dome, on March 25, 1436.  The cathedral is 502 feet in length, 295 feet wide and 295 feet high from the floor to base of the dome. 

The dome was built between 1420 and 1436, but planned since the 1300’s. It is still the largest masonry vault in the world. A structure of stone and brick with an external diameter of 179.79 feet and interior diameter of 149 feet. It consists of two domes: one internal and the other external.

The Baptistery of San Giovanni stands immediately in front of the cathedral and was consecrated in 1059. Since the Middle Ages and until recently, it was believed that the structure had originated as a pagan temple dedicated to the god Mars, then during the Christianity era it was converted to a church.

The majestic bell tower of the Cathedral, “Giotto’s Bell Tower” has a square base of about 49 feet on each side and is 277 feet above the ground to the horizontal crown. 

It is possible to buy tickets to Brunelleschi's Dome (463 steps), Giotto’s Bell Tower (412 steps) along with the Cathedral and Baptistery for 30 euros per person. I would highly recommend purchasing tickets online because the line for the Duomo went on for at least a quarter of a mile. It was one of the most mesmerizing churches to walk around and see....the marble and contrasting colors, along with the architectural design is absolutely beautiful.

The line for tickets

Fortezza da Basso (Free)

This 16th century fortress is close to the train station, but unfortunately they were doing construction work so we were unable to go in. We walked around it and stopped at Strozzi-Fallaci park for a beer and a stroll while waiting for the train back to Ferrara. It is not some place I suggest being after dark.

We were not able to do everything in one day and had to prioritize what we wanted to see and do for our day in Florence. We are contemplating a future trip sometime during the Spring to tour the Cathedral and the Uffizi gallery. Florence was filled with people like Verona, but somehow it didn’t seem overcrowded. 

We both loved everything about Florence. It was absolutely amazing and I would highly suggest making it a stop if you find yourself in Italy, but give yourself at least four days to see it all. Who knows we still have time and might find ourselves back here…it’s that beautiful. 

Jim gets five stars for his planning for our day in Florence. The weather was perfect, no rain…no sweating… well a little, the food was delicious and the company was excellent. Our train back to Ferrara was delayed, so we missed the bus. But on a good note we were still able to catch the last bus home from the train station…on a bad note, it was the stinkiest ride I’ve ever had. 

We arrived home at 21:30, exhausted, but thankful for a perfect “trip” that left no bruises, just sore feet. 

Mercato di Sant' Ambrogio

Piazzale Michelangelo

Porta San Niccolò 

Piazza della Repubblica

Always breaking the rules!

Galleria dell'Accademia


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