TRAVEL GUIDE: FLORENCE
One of the places that I was simultaneously nervous and excited to see again was Florence. I studied abroad there 9 years ago and hadn't been back since. I guess it was like meeting up with an ex. Are you going to still have chemistry? Is he really as gorgeous as you remember him? The answer...yes and yes.
Florence was our second Italian stop after our wonderful 3 days in Cortona. We took an easy local train ride through Tuscany to arrive in Florence. The train station was located within (a very sweaty) walking distance of our hotel. When we were there, they were having a heat wave. Why is it that every place I go to is having a heat wave right when I am there? Seriously, it happens all-of-the-time.
The city still sparkled to me. Sure, we didn't stay out until 4 in the morning at a club and drink wine on the bridge at dusk like we used to, but regardless, we had an amazing time. The city had changed and modernized. The street that I had lived on was almost unrecognizable with new shops and restaurants but I still found that worn old door that I called home for four months.
Here are our favorites in Florence. Next week is Paris and the last installment of this European trip series. I'm going to be sad to see it go!
WHERE WE STAYED
Hotel Rapallo - This hotel was a Trip Advisor find. Hotels in Florence are not cheap. I think it is because larger cities seems to have endless options but Florence is a small, mostly tourism-driven city. This hotel was very nice and seemed newly remodeled. Really all we cared about at that point was how low we could turn down the air conditioning. Just kidding, the cleanliness and the decor of the place was very nice. It was on the outskirts of town so it would take us 10-15 minutes to walk anywhere in the center of town but we didn't mind. We just ended up taking a cab to dinner a few of the nights.
Note: these are not my photos, just some from the website. I sadly didn't take any.
WHERE WE VISITED
Since we had done a lot of the "touristy" things in previous trips to Florence, we really took the time to go back to the places we loved and avoid the crowds. One of the oddest things in Florence is that you can step off of the main street which is filled, shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists and be completely alone one block over. So take this piece of advice, step off of the main routes and go find the little alleyways.
Palazzo Pitti - This is my favorite museum in Florence and one favorite places in Europe. It is small enough to be manageable but houses an incredible amount of artwork, sculptures, jewels, costume and pottery. All of my favorite things. Plus, when you are done with the palace, you can wander the Boboli gardens out back to see beautiful statues, wonderful views of Florence, a porcelain museum and an orangerie. It's like a palace version of a scavenger hunt. We went unfortunately on a Monday so the apartments were closed but we got to see everything else. My favorite was the jewelry collection (obviously) and the incredible frescoed ceilings. For 7 euros it is by far the best deal in all of Florence.
Medici Palace - After the stunning Palazzo Pitti it's a little hard to follow-up with any other palace. This one is more centrally located in the city. It's a quick stop and probably won't take more than an hour to tour. The stunning rooms and chandeliers are worth the trip inside.
Mercado Centrale Florence - One of the things that changed the most since my days studying abroad was that the foodie-bug has definitely bit the city. What was once a traditional market, the entire top of it now is filled with a Eatly-type food emporium where you can get any kind of food with truffles, a beer, cheese boards, sandwiches, pastas and on and on. The even actually have an Eatly if you are missing home. We spent our time wandering the market downstairs, where I used to order pasta and chicken with a few feathers still on it. Still the polish of upstairs hasn't affected this historic Florentine staple. Just a word to the wise, don't touch the fruit or veggies unless you are going to buy them. There is nothing they hate more and love to yell at tourists about.
WHERE WE ATE
Amanda and I had our best meals in Florence. It was all thanks to a blog I found called Girl in Florence. Georgette is a girl after my own heart. Each of her recommendations were spot on. We actually ended up making a Google map of the stores (more on that later) and restaurants she recommended and followed it around like a treasure map. Most of the places below were based on her recommendations.
Braciere Malatesta - This meal was so dreamy. We were in the back patio under so many beautiful trees with string lights. The food was affordable and so Florentine. That prosciutto below is some of the best I've had. The waitstaff was super friendly and, although I noticed quite a few Americans, the food seemed very authentic.
Restaurante La Bocca di Leone - This one is in sort of a weird place but they totally hit it out of the park with a very truffle-focused menu. We had truffles with our buratta, truffles with our pasta, truffles with our dessert. Ok, I'm just kidding on that last one. I can't believe for 15 euros you can get buratta with fresh truffles. It truly is a Florence miracle. Don't let the boring picture below deter you, I was too busy eating truffles to take more than a few pics.
Osteria Buongustai - It turns out that not taking pictures and just eating delicious food was a theme throughout my Florentine adventures. I only have one sad picture of the tiramisu that finished our amazing meal here. This restaurant was another suggestion from Girl in Florence. This very cozy little osteria in the center of town got packed while we were there. You just find a little section of bench and get cozy with your neighbors. The three servers don't provide much in the way of friendly service but it doesn't matter because the food is just-that-good.
Vivoli Gelato - One of the unofficial rules of Florence, especially during a heat-wave is that you have to order gelato at every given chance. This gelateria was recommended to us by Phil from the show I'll Have What Phil is Having. Haven't heard of it? Do yourself a favor and go on to Netflix and binge watch it right now. It is the best travel show I've watched since Anthony Bourdain.
La Menagere - This is foodie-culture at its finest in Florence. The industrial, classical space of La Menagere includes a restaurant, coffee shop, florist shop and bar with light snacks. It was our favorite of the modern, Florentine places we ate. The night we ate there the power actually was down for 45 minutes at the beginning of the meal. When it is 95 degrees at 8pm and there is no air conditioning you resort to sitting on your napkin to prevent slipping off the chair. They were very nice and brought us champagne and gazpacho until the power turned back on. The meal was very delicious and we came back the next day to buy a few souvenirs.
WHERE WE SHOPPED
How about where didn't we shop? We really started shopping big when we came to Florence. How can you not with all of the beautiful things? Again, Girl in Florence really was our guide with must-stop places. These two places were hands-down the best.
Aqua Flor - This space is truly special. It feels like you have stepped outside into another time when perfumes were custom mixed to suit their specific clients. We spent a long time browsing the scents and debating what to buy. I ended up with a bottle of MM Scented water which is their tribute to Marilyn Monroe with notes of rose, jasmine, Florentine iris and sandalwood.
Mario Luca Guisti - We almost didn't stop in because everything looked so fancy and expensive. But the trick was on us because the entire store is acrylic, simulated crystal. Which means, when your clumsy friend drops their cocktail, your glass is going to stay in one piece. I'll admit that I wanted to buy everything. We actually went back here two times because it was such a great place. Acrylic cups are actually the perfect thing to travel with since they are virtually unbreakable. And if you aren't able to travel to Florence anytime soon, it looks like you can buy a limited selection on Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales here in the States.
Wasn't Florence amazing? It's actually sometimes nice to not be a student anymore and be able to go out to nice dinners and buy a few souvenirs here and there. Florence will always hold a special place in my heart because of those amazing four months that I lived there. It was very fun to go back years later and experience it in a different way.
Ok then...next week we are going to Paris (and sipping some champs) for the last installment of this trip guide.