Florence, Italy

July 25-28:

We have arrived in our final country of the trip! Italy is country number 10! Technically we are laying-over one night in one more country before heading home, but this is our last country to fully explore.

This is my second time in Italy. In 2011, my all-girls high school choir (Capital City Girls Choir in Raleigh) took a big trip to Italy where we performed a couple concerts. We toured Florence, Rome, Sansepolcro, and Assisi. It was a wonderful experience in high school, but I am so glad to be back as an adult! This was Graham’s first time in Italy and it was so fun to see it fresh through his eyes.

The view from our Airbnb window

We had a wonderful Airbnb in Florence with a very kind host (Mario and his son Dario). The host’s son picked us up from the train station platform with a hand-drawn sign reading “Bargeron” the night we got in. We had a great conversation with him while he drove through the city streets towards our “home” for the next few days.

The Duomo – Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is the centerpiece of Florence. It towers over all the other buildings in the city with its gothic style architecture, the first of its kind after the long Dark Ages in the 1500s. The original designs for the cathedral had a dome, but no one knew how to construct one so they left that part of the cathedral unfinished and covered. The city then announced an architectural contest. Brunelleschi won the contest and came up with the innovative idea to put two domes on top of each other to help with the weight distribution. It was a huge architectural achievement for the Renaissance period, particularly imagining how this was built as the world was just beginning to exit the Dark Ages.

The Duomo looming above as we walked towards it

It is free to visit the cathedral, but due to covid, they regulate how many people can enter at once. We grabbed some nearby gelato and stood in line for about 20 minutes. You also have to pass through a metal detector and walk past the wardrobe police. They do not allow any bare shoulders, shorts, or too short skirts/dresses. The street vendors take full advantage of this fact and walk up and down the line waiting outside with scarves to sell.

The cathedral (in front of the duomo)
The duomo behind the cathedral

The inside is just as breathtaking as the outside. The inside of the magnificent dome is painted to represent the last judgement.

Looking up at the giant duomo
A 24 hour clock inside the cathedral!
The Gates of Paradise. Located just across from the Duomo. It is the main gate to the Baptistery of Florence – these doors were also built just after the Dark Ages and are seen as a major achievement in 3D art!

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio is a popular arched bridge over the river. The bridge is lined with jewelry shops on both sides with only the very center opened up to walk. We learned that the bridge used to have butchers and farmers in the stores, but the smell got too bad and a decree was made in 1595 that only allowed jewelers to occupy the space. That is still the case today!

Graham and I loved looking over into the Arno River and just people watching. The sidewalks were bustling with tourists and there were a few children rowing up and down the river.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio

Accademia Gallery – Michelangelo’s David

One of our highlights in Florence was visiting the Accademia Museum and seeing Michelangelo’s David sculpture. I remember coming here in high school with my choir group on a tour, but it was so nice to come back as an adult with a new appreciation for artwork. With our trusty Rick Steves book in hand, we walked to each sculpture eager to read the commentary.

Along the first hallway, you have some of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” work with David at the very end of the hall. These were Graham’s favorite! Michelangelo believed he was simply revealing the figures trapped in the marble – chiseling away at what was not the figure. There is a debate about these figures in the first hall. Are they actually unfinished and forgotten or did Michelangelo purposefully leave them that way? They were said to be originally sculpted for the tomb of Pope Julies 2, but the project fell through. Art scholars have named these statues “the prisoners” as though seem to be stuck in the marble and in the process of being set free. You can almost feel the claustrophobia of the figures inside the rock as they’re wrestling to get out.

These sculptures are probably some of my absolute favorites of Michelangelo as well. The raw stone around the figure gives you a sense of the art process going from a block of marble to detailed masterpiece. Michelangelo always worked freehand, starting from the front and working his way to the back. You could still see his chisel-marks!

Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”
Michelangelo’s “prisoners”

The main event of the museum is of course, the 14-foot tall David. Originally commissioned for the Duomo, Michelangelo was given a huge piece of marble that other sculptors in the area thought was just too tall and flawed to be useful. At 26 years old in 1501, Michelangelo took the unwanted slab of marble and created the iconic and breathtaking David. Some scholars debate whether the sculpture depicts David about to fight Goliath or if it is after as he stands in victory.

It’s hard not to sit here (knowing how young he was when he completed it) and look at this masterpiece and wonder what in the world have I done with my life?!

It was so cool reading about the statue as we stood there. One of the things we read was that Michelangelo studied the human body more than some doctors/surgeons at the time. For example, on his right forearm, there’s a tiny muscle/ligament that you can see rippling out of the marble that is only activated when your hand and fingers are positioned exactly how David’s are in the statue. Amazing!

Michelangelo’s David
Michelangelo’s David

Food in Florence

Of course, now that we are in Italy, we must enjoy ALL the Italian food and desserts!

Gelato is one of my absolute favorite desserts! I always get mint and coffee flavors. Graham usually gets pistachio (which I initially thought would be gross, but my eyes have recently been opened).

We have also found one of our new favorite drinks – lemon soda! We always keep our airbnb fridge stocked with them, stopping at local grocery stores to refuel when we’re running low. Hopefully we will find them in the states when we return.

Gelato! Lizzie’s favorite!
Gelato from Perche no!
Sandwiches for lunch with cheese and salami at Fratellini.
Restaurant Trattoria
Roasted tomatoes at Restaurant Trattoria
Homemade spaghetti (homemade noodles + sauce!) at Restaurant Trattoria. It was spicy!
Tuscan pork chop and potatoes at Restaurant Trattoria
Our new favorite drink – lemon soda! Basically just carbonated lemonade, with a tiny bit of lemon pulp.
Panzanella – Popular Tuscan cold salad with soaked stale bread, onions, and tomatoes. Once you get past the soggy bread texture, its not so bad!
Homemade tortellini

Sights Around Florence

Piazzale Michelangelo – overlooking the city of Florence
Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria – a free outdoor space to walk around and enjoy old Florence sculptures
Nighttime view of Arno river
Street vendors

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