Okay, I know I am late on posting my trip to Italy. So far, I've shared my first week in Italy along the Amalfi Coast, now begins the second leg of the journey in Firenze (Florence for Americans).
Mike and I traveled to Florence from Naples via high speed train. This is an economical and quick way to maneuver around Italy. We spent a little more money for first class seats, which after the cramped coach air flight, was well worth the cost. The train offered a complimentary light snack and drink, along with electronic devices charging ports. The seats were large, leather, and pillowy. They also reclined without hitting the person behind you in the knees. Oh, how I wished our flight was this comfy! Florence is about 330 miles north of Naples and took about 1.5 hrs on the Le Frecce high speed train. There are three main types of trains: Premier High Speed (super fast), High Speed (fast), and National Network (slower). By choosing one of the first two trains you can shave at least 30-60 minutes off your trip, but you will pay for that convenience.
After arriving to Florence's train station, we had to simply walk across the street to Grand Hotel Baglioni. The hotel is located in the heart of Florence, 1-2 minutes from the Congress Centre, shopping, and restaurants; only 15 minutes from Ponte Vecchio, Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Boboli Gardens. The whole time in Florence we walked to our destinations.
One thing we quickly noticed is that the food is a little heavier in Florence than on the Amalfi Coast. Instead of fresh seafood, soft mozzarella cheese, and light tomato sauces, we noshed on salami's, hard cheeses, and steaks. We found a charming, small restaurant, 'La Cantinetta: Osteria con Cucina' (http://www.lacantinettafirenze.com). The owner and staff were so personable and the food was outstanding, we ate there two days in a row! Be forewarned, in Italy when the menu lists an antipasti plate for 2 people it really means it serves 4-6. I guess they figure everyone walks so much the extra calories won't matter.
Florence is steeped in the rich history of Renaissance artists. Evidence of Machiavelli, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Donatello, and da Vinci are around every turn. Be aware that most museums and some churches are closed on Monday's (we didn't know that and missed out on seeing the Duomo). Also, you'll be savvy to purchase advanced tickets for museums to avoid long lines. I deeply regret not seeing inside the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) which is topped by Brunelleschi's dome. The dome was the largest built at it's time and continues to be an architectural marvel by being the largest brick dome in all of the world! After reading "Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture" by Ross King I know I will have to go back to climb the dome.
On our first full day in Florence we had a private guide, a local resident, who was quite humorous, thankfully so, especially when we were caught in a downpour. She pointed out all the major sites and told us of her favorite gelateria "Perche, No" (translates to "why not") where her grandfather took her as a child. It was the best gelato in Florence! She also guided us through The Accademia which houses Michelangelo's David. I couldn't imagine how captivating this statue would be to me. Pictures do not do this masterpiece justice. At 17 ft tall, this David seems more like Goliath. His eyes are pensive and have a directed gaze at his intended target. Michelangelo somehow transformed the Carrara marble into flesh; veins, ligaments, and muscles so life-like, David could have stepped down from his podium at any moment. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in this museum, but you will find a replica of David standing in his original location in the front of Palazzo Vecchio. The original David was taken away from this outdoor location and reinstalled at the Accademia as an act of preservation.
We traveled to the Tuscan countryside on Monday, touring two wineries. Italy suffered a drought that summer, just like in the US. The vineyards looked dry, but the rolling hills retained their beauty. The winery suggested to not purchase 2012 wines from the Chianti region due to the scorching weather.
I really loved my time in Florence; shoe shopping, tastings at the 'Mercato Centrale', strolling the streets, admiring the artwork, people watching at the cafe with a cappuccino. I was in awe to see the still ever present legacy of genius' from 500 years ago in Florence's architecture, sculptures, and paintings. I know you've heard me say this before, but I can't wait to go back to Italy!