A quick two hour train trip from Rome made Florence so easy to visit and we timed it in the evening so as to make the most of our time. But sadly didn't get to see much of the wonderful Tuscan countryside.
We'd both been here before and I'd been spellbound, but trying to bring David to what I thought was the most romantic city in the world was easier said than done thirty years ago. This time it was a different ball game.
Florence is renowned for being full of tourists, and both other times it was, but I can't recommend highly enough travelling at this time of the year if you want to slow down and really enjoy a place without having to jostle with thousands of others wanting to do the same thing. Rug up with a warm scarf, coat and hat and slow down and enjoy the moment!!
As we hoped off the train we were greeted by the delightful Roberto, the owner of our Airbnb, who couldn't have been nicer and more helpful. Just the little things like taking time to meet us at the train station made such a difference. As we wandered down the cobbled streets chatting with Roberto, the thud our small undersized wheels of our cabin bags roaring in protest, it set the tone for a pretty special couple of days.
The tiny appartment was right in the midst of everything, a door between two Asian restaurants would you believe. Although we did notice a larger proportion of Asians in the city as a number of the leather factories are maned by them.
Up a couple of flights of an old dark stone stairwell we discovered one of the smallest but best appointed and equipped appartments you could ask for and at a great price. We soon dropped everything and headed out to get our bearings and enjoy some of the sites. It was a lovely crisp clear night and like all European cities there seems to be ongoing action late into the night as they dine so much later than us and just seem to relax and enjoy life into the wee small hours, no matter what day of the week it is!!
Florence is a small, almost intimate city of less than 400,000 people, but known as one of Europes great art cities. The beautiful centre is classified as a World Heritage site but really it's more like an open air Musesum with its palaces, church's, monuments, museums and sculptures etc.
The city was ruled by the Medici family between the 14th and 16th century and it was during this time that Florence was transformed into the centre of Renaissance and became one of the most important city's in Europe. Lorenzo de Medici became probably the greatest patron of the city by attracting wonderful contemporary artists, architects and writers like Leonardo de Vinci and Michelango commissioning various works from them.
During the second world war Florence was occupied by the Germans and much of the city was damaged by bombs. As they retreated bombing all bridges except the Ponto Vecciho thankfully, because the felt it too beautiful to destroy!!
There is so much exquisite art and architecture to see you can wanderer around open mouthed for days. First off must be the city's most iconic landmark Duomo cathedral, seen as one of Italy's top three, the others being Pisa's Leaning Tower and Rome's Colosseum. As you enter the central square the first thing that strikes you is the pink, white and green colours of the marble along with the magnificent red tiled dome. Originally begun in 1296 it took 150 years to complete and the Dome is known as one of the finest masterpieces of the Renaissance.
Florence was also home to the likes of Guicco Guicci, who almost a century ago started with a small leather shop here in Florence. The San Lorenzo outdoor market has to be one of the best in the world, thats if you like beautiful leather work, and manged to distract us for hours. How I wish my suitcases were bigger and I'd come more prepared - never come here again without ample room in the suitcase!!!!
Also in the Lorenzo square was the newly renovated Central Market. Such wonderful Tuscan delicacies on the ground floor and then upstairs some very smart eateries, you could hardly call it a food hall. The Italians certainly have the style and flair to make everything look good!!
We sorted out a walking tour to give us an overview of the city through the eyes of a local but for the first time ever had to walk away five minutes into it. A nice young Italian but sadly boring!!!!
We caught the bus up to the Piazza Michelangelo Square to get the stunning views of the city especially the Duomo and down the River Arno, also a reminder that we are in Tuscany and the wonderful countryside around us.
Wandered over the famous Ponte Vecciho bridge, lined with with masses of exquisite gold and silver shops.
A glorious couple of days just enjoying this special city with all it's history and art but also the quirky shops, the little cafe's and restaurants tucked away down the tiny cobbled streets. Or the high end luxury brand shops where you can empty your wallet in seconds. But it was the friendliness of the people, and a special family run bar/restaurant that delighted us a memorable homemade meal of veal, herbs and olives, great coffee and lots of laughter and local atmosphere.