Sunny skies, short lines, cool weather- what more does one need or want, to experience the magic and beauty of Florence, Italy?
Kevin and I have now been to Florence in the summer, over a Thanksgiving week, and in the winter. If you can come in the winter and are willing to chance some colder, possibly overcast days, you will definitely be rewarded with smaller crowds, shorter lines, and maybe even beautiful blue skies and cool (not cold) weather. Our vote is that you consider a trip to Florence in February!
The fast train trip from Milan to Florence is 90 minutes, giving us time to study up on our itinerary and make plans for the days ahead. Our Airbnb was centrally located near the Straw Market, just up the road from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, so we trumbled our luggage through the streets from the train station to town, dropped our bags off, and headed out to see the sights.
First on the agenda was a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. I never tire of seeing Michelangelo’s work. His David and the Pieta in Rome are to me evidence of God’s gift to Michelangelo of a talent and an artistic vision that mark him as one of the greatest sculptors of all time. Michelangelo said that he merely carved away the excess stone from the sculpture that was already inside of the marble, as if the rendering were there all along and he simply shaved away the excess to reveal what the stone was destined to become. The David sculpture was created from a block of marble that had been rejected by many other sculptors in Florence, and in fact had been left outside as a rejected piece before Michelangelo chose it to make his masterpiece.
The Accademia was built to house Michelangelo’s David, but there are other pieces of Michelangelo’s work (and of others) in the museum that are worth viewing. We particularly liked the Hall of Prisoners, which contains a number of large sculptures showing male nudes begun by Michelangelo for a project for the tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere.
The Prisoner statues were intended for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (Michelangelo received the commission to carve these before he began the Sistine Chapel) and the plan was to create more than 40 figures. Michelangelo spent months in the Carrara white marble quarries to personally select the brightest marble he could find for the sculptures. The Pope ordered him to put aside the tomb project in 1506 due to a shortage of money, so what you see at the Accademia are various statues in different stages of completion. It’s fascinating to see the chip marks from Michelangelo’s own hands on the incomplete statues. Michelangelo worked free-handed- he supposedly did not block out or draw onto the marble what he planned to carve away- as I said above, he believed the block of marble itself would reveal what it was to be through his carving and his mastery. Just let that soak in as you gaze at David and as you see Michelangelo’s other works, including my other favorite, the Pieta in Rome.
Next we visited the Uffizi Galleries, again with blissfully low crowds as we went from room to room, enjoying the sculptures and paintings of many famous artists. It was terrific. The woman in the painting below is from the Sforza family- they were the wealthy family based in Milan- her husband is in the red hat. And then you see painted on the sides of buildings throughout Florence famous figures with snorkeling masks on. Graffiti with historic significance- the best kind!
We enjoyed dinner at a restaurant suggested by one of Kevin’s teacher friends who spends all of her free time in Florence. It is called Il Latini and we decided to order two of the “Family Style” 60 Euro dinners. The waiter kindly allowed us to order two dinners for the three of us, a wise move that let us actually eat most of what was put in front of us, rather than wasting food. We had multiple dishes of classic regional cuisine, along with Tuscan wine. A sampling of what we ate included the following:
- salami and Tuscan ham
- crostini with chicken liver pate’, sausage and black cabbage and caprese
- vegetable and bread soup
- tomato and bread soup
- penne with meat sauce
- florentine steak (fabulous!!)
- mixed side dishes
- homemade cake, biscottini and Vinsanto wine
- water, ‘wine at will’, coffee and digestives (limoncello)
Lord help us. We staggered back home, slept off the big meal, and hit the next day running by taking a day trip to Lucca (described in another blog, titled “Northern Italy in a Week!”). As we reached the Florence train station after our terrific day in Lucca, we grabbed a taxi and raced up the hills to Michelangelo’s Piazza, where you can look down and see the wonder of Florence and the Arno River. We made it just as the sun was setting. It was a little chilly, but there was no time to return to our Airbnb for jackets, so we toughed it out and were rewarded with beautiful views. How lucky are we?
The following day after Lucca, we toured the Florence Duomo, the Baptistry, the Leather School (a must see!), and I happily bowed out as Kevin and Bethallyn toured the science museum that contains some of Gallileo’s first telescopes, as well as a few of his appendages that have been preserved for who knows what reason (Italians love their relics!). We did some shopping, buying beautiful soft gloves and leather goods, as well as some jewelry, and called it a day.
There are many other museums and sights to see in Florence, but I don’t think we could have squeezed one more thing into our days there. Consider a winter trip to Florence and we don’t think you will be disappointed. The reduced crowds and pleasantly cool temperature were terrific!