Leaving behind the Siena, I arrived in Florence in the midafternoon. Having been there on the previous trip, the whole place felt very familiar and I easily navigated to the area near the duomo, where my hostel was located. Whenever I arrive at a new place I normally spend some time getting a lot of mundane things done so that I can dedicate the rest of my time to sightseeing or whatever else I have planned. Florence was the same but in this case after I had checked in and unpacked I didn’t start my sightseeing time by visiting a museum or church or monument. No, the first order of business was to walk down to the south side of the Arno River and confirm if my favorite gelato shop was still open. A man has to have priorities. I got there and was delighted to find that it was still open for business. For those that don’t know, Florence is the motherland of gelato. There are shops everywhere and the quality is arguably the best you’ll find anywhere. The particular shop that I love, called La Carraia, was my favorite gelato shop on my previous trip and it still holds that title. I came back to this place over and over again, even though it’s kind of out of the way from the main historic part of the city. Anyways, with the most important business taken care of, I walked over to the Piazza Michelangelo viewpoint which has a great view of the city and I got photos while it was still daylight. I remember that place because there’s a bronze replica of the David statue there, standing in the middle of a parking lot. The day ended and I was able to get some blogging done after dinner. And I got more gelato.
The first full day in Florence was spent doing a sightseeing blitz, similar to what I normally do in cities like Paris. With the duomo so close to my hostel, it was the natural first objective and I got in line for climbing the dome a few minutes before it opened. The last time I was in Florence I had skipped climbing the dome because it normally has a long, slow moving line and the view from the bell tower is just as good with a shorter line, but the city had made entry into the duomo-related sights covered by a single combo-ticket, (with no individual ticket sales) so I felt like I had to do it to justify the purchase. Getting in line early in the day proved to be the right call, as when the dome opened a lot of people in front of me got to enter right away, meaning the wait for my entry wasn’t very long. Climbing up the church to the dome gets a bit cramped but you do get to up close with the church’s architecture and better appreciate what was, at the time of construction, an incredible feat or design and engineering. The views from the top of the dome are good, but because of how popular the dome is, it gets very crowded up there. I came down from the dome and walked over to a few nearby places, since the main part of the duomo itself wasn’t open yet. I paid a visit to the unfinished San Lorenzo church (it’s unfinished in that it never got a facade) and then checked out the stalls outside the Mercato Centrale covered market. Bags, belts, jackets, hats, etc – all the typical stuff. The Mercato Centrale is itself an indoor food market and food court, similar to the indoor markets you find in places like Madrid. When I was done browsing I returned to the now open duomo. The interior of the duomo isn’t as impressive as one would think from looking at the outside. Most of the art is housed in the duomo museum, so what you’re looking at is mostly empty space. Directly underneath the duomo, and accessed by a stairwell inside the duomo, is Santa Restorata, an archaeological excavation of the of the older and medieval churches that the duomo is built on top of. Stepping out of the duomo, I next went into the adjacent baptistery, whose ceiling is covered in mosaics that remind me of the ones in the Basilica San Marco in Venice. As I learned, that’s no coincidence – Florence hired artists from Venice to do the ceiling. While great to look at, admiring the ceiling will leave your neck hurting from constantly looking up. I then went over to the small Orsan-Michele church and then visited the Bargello Museum, which is sort of like the Accademia Museum in that it is mostly dedicated to sculpture but it’s nowhere nearly as crowded as the Accademia. Speaking of which, it was getting close to my reserved entry time for the Accademia, but I realized it had been a few hours since I had last had gelato, so I fixed that problem before heading over. I got to the Accademia with some time to spare, so I checked out the nearby Piazza S.S. Annunziata for a few minutes and then came back. While you don’t need a reservation to get into the Accademia, it is generally advised to have one. Otherwise, you’re looking at a 1 to 2 hour wait to get in. The Accademia Museum has a number of things in it, but the main reason people come is to see Michelangelo’s famous David statue. While it is true that there’s other great stuff in there besides David, I think we all know that if the Accademia didn’t have David, then it wouldn’t get nearly as many visitors. The last time I was at the Accademia there was a no-photo policy, but since then it had been lifted, so I could freely grab snapshots and not have to be sneaky. I’ve always thought the layout of the Accademia was weird in that you get to David pretty quickly. On one hand you get to see the main attraction early on, but on the other hand, after you’ve seen David, everything else seems second-rate by comparison. After I finished at the Accademia I walked down to Florence’s other leading museum, the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi is probably the best collection of Renaissance artwork anywhere, and like the Accademia it’s best to reserve an entry time so that you don’t waste an hour or two standing in line. I spent just under two hours inside the Uffizi, and would have stayed a little longer but I needed to get over to the duomo bell tower before the sun got too low in the sky. I climbed the bell tower, which is just slightly lower than the viewing area of the duomo dome, but personally I think the view from the tower is better, as you can see the dome itself. It’s also not as crowded as the dome, so you normally don’t have to wait long to get in. The sun went down a short while after I came down from the tower and I returned to the hostel for dinner. Later that night I went back to Piazza Michelangelo to check out the view of Florence at night. I also got more gelato. Actually, it should go without saying that I got gelato many more times than I’ve mentioned, but I figured it’s probably better to not have every other sentence being about me getting gelato, so just assume as you’re reading this that I got more gelato every few hours.
The next day I slept in a little. Rain was forecasted for the day, which was part of the reason I had gone full-speed the day before. I was over at the Piazza di Santa Maria Novella around 11:00am when the rain finally started. Fortunately for me, I was going to spend much of the day over in the town of Lucca, where it was not raining. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to Lucca from Florence. There’s not too much to do there, but the town’s claim to fame is its old city walls, which it never took down. Being Renaissance-style walls, they are shorter than medieval walls but much wider (this was in response to the development of cannons). Lucca turned its walls into a ring path and park that surrounds the historic core of the city, and I walked the entire length. The comparative peace and quiet of Lucca was a nice break from the crowds and noise of Florence, and after finished the loop on the walls I came down and did a self-guided walk through the old town. I passed by the San Martino Cathedral and through Piazza San Michele, and continued through the town until I finished over at Piazza dell Anfiteatro, which was originally a Roman amphitheater but is now an elliptical-shaped plaza. Other than entering a few churches and getting gelato I can’t say I did too much in Lucca, but I still enjoyed my time. I had been feeling tired from staying up late working on the blog the previous two nights, so a less intense day was in order. Around the later afternoon I got on a train back to Florence and finished up the day there.
The following morning it occurred to me that it had been nearly a month since I had left America. It didn’t feel like it had been a month, but the calendar doesn’t lie. I had a few hours in the morning before leaving Florence for my next destination, so I walked all the way out to the San Miniato church, which is just beyond Piazza Michelangelo. There I did a little reading after checking out the church and I also took in one final viewing of Florence from the viewpoint. I came down and walked around the south side of the Arno River and paid a final visit to La Carraia for my final gelato stop in Florence. I then went back to the hostel and got my backpack and went over to the train station. The city of Padova awaited me.