Trip Report Index:
2. Transit Notes
3. Hotel Review: Bagni di Pisa Palace & Spa
4. Visiting Pisa
5. Visiting Lucca
6. Hotel Review: Westin Excelsior, Florence
7. Room Service Review: Westin Excelsior, Florence
8. Day in Florence
9. Hotel Review: Hotel Laurin, Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy
10. Day in Santa Margherita/Portofino area
11. Hotel Review: Park Hyatt Milan
12. Day in Milan
13. Room Service Review: Park Hyatt Milan
All set for a day of sightseeing in beautiful Florence, I threw open the windows and found…rain. Not just a light mist, but big, fat drops. I asked innocently at the concierge desk if that meant Michelangelo’s David would have a smaller line that day, and he said yes, perhaps. Foolishly, I hadn’t done any research ahead of time so I marched merrily down the street with umbrella in hand.
The fresh smell of quiet rain and the thin crowds made it a perfect day to take in the sights.
The Piazza del Duomo wasn’t busy, but the inside of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (also known as Il Duomo di Firenze) was. In combination with the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile, it makes up part of a UNESCO World Heritage site which is naturally a big draw for tourists.
The 147 foot wide dome is painted with a representation of The Last Judgement. The incredible painting was started in 1568 by the artist Giorgio Vasari, and finished in 1579 by another artist, Federico Zuccari.
Notice anything unusual about the clock? It tells traditional Italian time in a 24 format which ends at sunset, using a single hand. The clock was made in the 1400’s and is one of the few that still works today.
Once I got to the Galleria dell’ Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, a long line of ticket holders was wrapped all the way around the corner, and a big sign at the Accademia office said that there were NO tickets available until the following week. There was a standby line, but that one was even longer. Rookie mistake! I decided to see the replica in Piazza della Signoria instead, which also has a free outside museum of sorts, with more than a dozen statues.
Word to the wise – book your tickets for the Galleria in advance. Here’s a link to the official website. Online bookings require a credit card, for 6.5 EUR per adult plus a 4 EUR one time booking fee. You can also call +39 055 294883 to make a phone booking, which does not require pre-payment and sometimes has better availability if you cannot find your chosen time slot online. Both methods give you a reservation number attached to your name, with time slot. Show up 15 minutes in advance and there is no need to stop at the main ticket office, because you can pick up your tickets at the Reserved time slot ticket window (farthest away from the Duomo). If you forget your reservation number or don’t show up in time, you forfeit.
I made my way over to the Piazza della Signoria. No line and no fee! Plus, I had heard rumors that you aren’t allowed to take photos of the original David.
The fountain of Neptune is in the same plaza. For anyone visiting soon, the fountain was under construction when I visited and may still be going on.
There was so much to enjoy in the Piazza it seemed a great time to have a bite to eat at a cafe while looking on at Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall), and the Loggia dei Lanzi, the open aired sculpture gallery with the famous Medici Lions. It was a lovely Piazza.
Our waiter seated us immediately at a prime corner table right in the front.
It wasn’t too busy, so we could enjoy a leisurely meal and conversation while listening to the pitter-patter of rain hitting the tarp overhead.
We began with a couple glasses of Prosecco, which came with complimentary starters.
A tray of warm fresh bread and rolls was gently added to the table.
Hot and tasty spaghetti al pomodoro came next, perfect for a chilly day.
I could have lingered there all day, but there was still much to be seen.
No trip to Florence would be complete without walking across the picturesque Ponte di Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It used to be lined with butcher shops and fishmongers, and is the only Florentine bridge that was spared during World War II. Now its colorful shops sell high end baubles and jewelry along the waterfront.
It was fun to window shop, even though the cobblestone bridge was bustling with tourists.
Afterwards, I walked through quaint side streets.
I came upon the Salvatore Ferragamo headquarters, museum, and flagship store at the Palazzo Spini Feroni. Salvatore opened his first shoe shop in 1928, and it flourished after WWII. The museum houses over 10,000 model shoes, and is dedicated to Salvatore’s life and work.
For dinner in the evening, I had the hotel concierge make a reservation at Il Latini. There are just two seatings per night, one at 7:30pm and the other at 9pm. At 7:15pm we passed by trattorias filled with chattering people, on our way to the restaurant. Turning a corner I found myself in front of the restaurant with about 75 other people all hoping to get in. It was like a rock concert, with the crowd all shouting and pushing forward at once, hoping to gain entrance. I held up my reservation paper until the door manager waved us in. Seated immediately at a shared tabled with other couples, the air was abuzz with excitement.
A waiter appeared, gave a quick introduction, gestured for us to help ourselves to some table wine and fresh bread, and we were off! No need for a menu, you just eat as quickly as you can, since new dishes are constantly placed in front of you. Cheese! Cured marbled meat. Chilled cantaloupe!
It’s fun, and the noise level is high as people are laughing and talking and trying to finish their plates. Even before we were done with the first round, more plates were piled up. Liver pate! Salad! Ravioli!
Traditional Bistecca alla Fiorentina! Roasted potatoes, sautéed spinach.
Then finally things slowed down a bit, with some after-dinner drinks, homemade biscotti cookies, and a large shared dessert platter. The experience was really fun, and I’d highly recommended a dinner at this restaurant. The cost is 45 EUR per person, and reservations are strongly suggested. Have you been to this restaurant, and if so, did you enjoy it as much as I did?
Walking back to the hotel after the meal, the statues and buildings appeared even more magnificent. The rain had cleared up, and the town glowed in the light reflected off the streets and water.
The next morning, the Westin Excelsior (our hotel in Florence) got extremely busy all of a sudden. Turns out the wedding party for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s big soiree that evening was staying there too. Photographers lined the street, giggling girls waited behind a rope for hours, and no one was allowed entry to the hotel unless they were a registered guest.
I wanted to go somewhere quieter, so I canceled the last night at the hotel (free to do so until 6pm the day of) and decided to take a drive along the coast instead. With no set hotel for the night, I was on my way to another adventure!