“Now arriving at Firenze Santa Maria Novella railway station,” a voice in choppy English boomed over the loudspeaker of my train car. I could literally feel my heart skip a beat- wow, I was actually in Florence, Italy. This was too good to be true and a moment I had dreamed of my entire life. As I stepped onto the crowded platform, I was immediately swallowed into the hustle and bustle of the station and all around me I could hear rapid Italian firing off. Alex instantaneously locked eyes with me in the crowd and consumed me in the biggest bear hug. I couldn’t wait to be spending my long Thanksgiving weekend in Florence eating and exploring my way through this gorgeous city on the second part of my Italy adventure, and to top things off, on a 4-day date. Alex, who is also a junior at St. Thomas, is studying abroad for the semester in the small town of Montespertoli, right outside of Florence where his program is held in a castle at a winery estate. After spending three months abroad, Alex has become quite skilled in Italian and I have to admit, thee BEST tour guide in all of Europe.
Florence (Firenze in Italian) is a stunning city tucked right into the Tuscan wine making region of Italy referred to as Chianti. Famous for the food, masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture, and of course, wineries, I instantly fell in love with Firenze and the vibrant, yet laid-back culture. I just wanted to take in the whole city and let each and every picturesque sight engrain in my mind permanently capturing this beautiful image.
Often referred to as “Eataly,” the Italians really do know their food, and I can honestly say, Alex and I ate our way through Florence and had gelato too many times to count. My first meal in Firenze, and actually my Thanksgiving meal, was at Il Mercato Centrale which is the Central Market of Florence. Nestled right behind the leather market and shopping hub of the city in an old historic building, the impressive structure underwent a massive renovation two years ago and now offers an extensive variety of authentic Tuscan cuisine. The bottom level of the market sells local ingredients including butcher meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, olive oils and cheeses. On the upper two levels, the open atmosphere houses 12 individual stalls each selling unique Italian specialties ranging from pastas, pizzas, cheese, Chianti wine, baked goods, gelato, chocolate and much more. With so many delicious options offered, each section feeds into a large seating area for visitors coming together to enjoy outstanding food and drink, good company and the Italian lifestyle. Walking through a foodie paradise, I was faced with the tough decision of deciding what to eat each time I ventured through the market. Another perk of traveling with your best friend and boyfriend is food is always better when shared because you get to try more of everything. After multiple trips to the Central Market I experienced the gnocchi, Arancino, a homemade vegan burger and margarita pizza. Gnocchi pasta is incredible and can best be described as a potato noodle served with a delectable tomato sauce and fresh cheese shredded over the top resulting in the entire dish melting in your mouth. Alex could hardly wait for me to try a traditional dish known as Arancino, which is essentially a large ball of yumminess stuffed with rice and ham coated in bread crumbs and then deep fried. My favorite thing I ate in Italy was by far the margherita pizza. I honestly would eat this pizza for every meal, it was seriously that good, with fresh ingredients and handmade dough cooked perfectly in a wood fired pizza oven and then served with with locally produced olive oil drizzled over the top.
Let’s talk about all the LEATHER! As many of you may know, Florence is also famous for the leather markets which are outdoor markets lined with different stalls selling a huge assortment of leather goods. The leather market is pretty intense and not for the weak hearted- all of the goods are beautiful, however as a bartering war zone, the feisty men running the booths mean business and know every trick in the book to scam gullible tourists into paying premium prices. Don’t worry, I was not your typical gullible tourist and actually did my research beforehand, so I knew what I should be paying and stood firm on my ground during the negotiation process. I am completely obsessed with my butterscotch colored leather handbag and black fur lined leather driving gloves which were both early birthday presents from my sweet boyfriend who spoils me all too much.
One thing I particularly loved about Firenze was the stunning architecture framing the city with every corner you turn. The buildings are all painted warm earthy tones and blend right into the side landscape. Large open piazzas are scattered throughout the city and Alex and I could often be found at Piazza Della Signoria or strolling alongside the Arno enjoying chocolate mint and Nutella gelato while soaking up the sunshine and each other’s company. Piazzale Michelangelo over looks the entire city offering an impressive panoramic glimpse of Florence and is the perfect place to watch sunset over the city. Crossing back over Ponte Vecchio bridge into the main area of Florence over the Arno, this Medieval stone arch bridge is lined with shops and live music, perfectly depicting this image stright out of a fairytale.
Seeing the statue of David was completely surreal. He is HUGE and absolutely breathtaking. Located in the Academia and weighing over 12,000 pounds, the statue dates back to 1501 when Michelangelo was commissioned to take on the daunting challenge of carving this enormous block of abandon marble. After consultation with da Vinci, the impressive statue was completed in 1504 and commentates David’s defeat over Goliath with the help of God and relying on intellect rather than brute strength. David’s eyes look towards Rome and he is the symbol of civic pride for the Florence republic. Comprised of all too realistic details and encompassed of tense muscles in his arms, thighs and calves, David’s veins budge from his hands symbolizing his stance in preparation for battle against Goliath. There a longstanding debate between scholars whether or not this depiction of David represents him before or after the defeat, but I personally believed there are striking details hinted in the tense statue and expression which lead the viewer to be convinced it is prior to his defeat. I was utterly blown away by the statue of David and I could stand in from of him for hours just soaking up the dominating presence and taking in the impressive work of Michelangelo.
The Duomo is a stunning piece of architecture work and the lifetime masterpiece of Filippo Brunelleschi. Known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo is the main church of Florence and impressively statues over all of the city and is truly unlike any other building or cathedral I have ever seen in my life. With a 48-hour access pass, Alex and I gained entry to the actual Duomo itself, the Bell Tower, the Baptistery, the Crypt, the museum and attended mass inside the Duomo. Climbing over 1,000 steps in total, and resulting in me being extremely out of breath, every step to the top of the Bell Tower and Duomo was worth the view. At the top of each, Alex and I marveled over the top of Firenze and from this bird’s eye perspective, were blown away by the beauty of the city and gained an extraordinary glimpse of the layout of the capital city of the Tuscan region.
I firmly believe food and drinks are essential components of a travel experience. Usually a long line indicates something is incredible, and especially when it comes to food, waiting in that line is completely up to your personal judgement. In this case, standing in the enormous and winding line outside of Vinaio sandwich shop was no exception. With fresh thin cut prosciutto, an entire ball of mozzarella cheese sliced over the stop, black truffle sauce spread over the warm homemade bread and rocket overflowing from the sides, this may have been the best sandwich of my entire life. The Italian culture is centered around spending time with close friends and loved ones, and the people of Italy are not afraid to linger over a meal or drinks for hours. My trip consisted of being fueled by shots of expresso throughout the day so I could stay up and fully grasp the Italian culture by going out for Aperitivo at night. I LOVE the concept of Aperitivo, and Alex and I partook in this cultural tradition of grabbing drinks and appetizers from 7-9p.m. multiple times throughout our trip. Aperitivo is celebrated by buying a drink and then unlocking unlimited access to the appetizers changed out regularly over the course of two hours. At night Alex and I would then see where the night took us and would either get drinks or gelato and then venture though the displays of Christmas lights or alongside the lit up Arno and Ponte Vecchio bridge.
As you probably know by now, I am a huge fan of the arts, but never in my life did I ever think I would be standing in front of the tombs of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo (and that is just naming a few). In the Basilica Santa Croce, these impressive figures of the renaissance lay to rest and I was in complete awe as I made my way through their tombs. Coming to life right in front of my eyes, I could almost see how these important figures shaped Florence, the country of Italy, and even the world as we know it today.
On Sunday morning, I stepped one foot onto the streets of Firenze and immediately felt as if I were actually running in the Florence marathon. The race had completely overtaken the city as determined runners made their way though the streets cheered on by eager fans. I was immediately engrossed in the contagious atmosphere, although sadly my time in Firenze was quickly diminishing. As Alex and I made our way to the airport I was filled with an immense amount of gratitude. We just had the best weekend of our lives in Florence, Italy, and while celebrating Thanksgiving in another country is very different than that in America, it reminds you there is a whole other world out there just waiting for you. Florence truly did steal a piece of my heart and I’m so incredibly blessed to have experienced such an amazing city with my best friend and boyfriend right by my side. I would do it again in a heartbeat, ciao Firenze!