Florence, birth place of the Renaissance and where great artistic genius like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were born and flourished is smaller than Rome but extremely rich in its art and culture. Florence was wealthy and you see signs of the Medici family that dominated Florence everywhere.
Hotel Alessandra where we had another family room was in a great location in the city center right next to Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famed old bridge. The room was spacious and bath modern but the furnishing were run down and the elevator was the scariest and tiniest ever and you had to climb 2 flights of stairs just to get to the scary elevator. But great location, helpful staff and good breakfast with made to order cappuccino, eggs etc made it worthwhile.
As soon as we checked in, we asked the staff about reservations for the next day to the Accademia which is home to Michelangelo’s “David”. They got back to us soon saying that in June, the Accademia was open later than usual and would only close at 9 pm instead of 6.30 pm. We had them reserve tickets for us for the same evening for 7 pm and paid an additional reservation fee which is worth it to skip long ticket lines.
At the Accademia, “David” is breathtaking and huge – it is a sculpture but Michelangelo has breathed life into marble in such a way that you can see veins and biceps and the look of innocence in the boy David’s face. Absolutely worth visiting this museum just for David and we were so glad for the unexpected later hours. I had heard of nightmare crowds in front of David but the evening we visited it was wonderful and peaceful. Not many folks probably knew of the later hours so the museum was quite empty and had very few other people. The Accademia also had other sculpture by Bartolini. Dinner was light with panini sandwiches from a self-service café Mokarico/Bottegone opposite the Duomo (or the Cathedral in Florence).
The next morning, we visited the Palazzo Pitti – the royal residences of the Medici’s. It has an impressive collection of art in grand and opulent interiors. We purchased tickets 1 and 2 so we had access to the Royal Apartments, Palatine Gallery and Boboli Gardens. This palace complex is huge and has many areas so you have to choose which ones to visit. We walked the gardens first in the cool of the morning and it was refreshing. Then we entered the palace and it was just one palatial room after another with floor to ceiling artwork and masterpiece paintings including several by Raphael and Titian. The ceilings, the walls and rooms were all elaborately decorated. It was 1.45 pm by the time we were done with Palazzo Pitti.
For our late lunch, we visited Hostaria il Desco – a small but excellent local restaurant on the street next to our hotel. The servers did not speak english so we had to point on the menu. A glass of the house wine was 1 Euro here and the food delicious.
After a little rest we visited the Duomo in the evening. Another great Florentine – Brunelleschi’s greatest achievement is the engineering of the largest masonry dome in the world – the dome of the Florence Duomo which is now a landmark.
As we were standing in the short line to get into the Duomo, the guards were stopping ladies wearing shorts and revealing outfits. Some of the churches had tutus that you could borrow to cover up. But I feel tourists should keep in mind that these are places of worship and give due respect by dressing appropriately. We opted to just see the church and not buy tickets to climb to the top as I had heard how claustrophobic and narrow that staircase is to the top. Light rain after the Duomo visit caused us to shelter in the café once more where we had cappuccino. We did some souvenir shopping and later for dinner we just bought some sandwiches to go from a food stand – it was inexpensive, tasty and enough for us after our heavy lunch.
Florence is a good place for shopping for leather bags and souvenirs. In Italy we noticed that the souvenir and selfie-stick sellers were mostly South Asian and primarily Bangladeshis. There was a small boutique called Floreiza from where the girls bought a few cute items. We did not have time to visit Mercato the huge food market.
The next day our train to Venice was only in the evening at 5.30, so we had time but we chose to skip the Uffizi gallery – yes really. It is one of the world’s best museums and home to Renaissance masterpiece paintings but at this point we were feeling the art overdose and did not think we would do justice and appreciate any more. We instead bought a bus pass valid for 90 minutes at a tobacco shop and took a long multiple bus journey to Piazzale Michelangelo to see the views of the city from a hill on top. We should have probably taken a cab but the bus rides gave us more of the local feel. We also visited the Medici Chapels.
We had checked out in the morning so we did not have to rush back and the hotel stored our boxes for us. Lunch was at Palazzo Tempi on via dei bardi with good food and reasonable prices.
After lunch we went back to the hotel to pick up luggage and they even had a nice guest bathroom available for our use. Staff ordered a cab for us to be dropped at Firenze’s Santa Maria Novella train station. Our high speed train ride to Venice on the Frecciargento was just 2 hours and we would reach at 7.35 pm but I was a bit worried since we needed to check in before 8.30 pm at our hotel in Venice where they had staff available only till 8.30 pm in the night.