Journey to Italy – A One-of-a-Kind Experience in Florence

As I’m sure you can imagine, two days in Florence, Italy (or Firenze in Italian) just isn’t enough time to experience even a few of the major highlights in this beautiful city. However, we did our best to enjoy our time there and drink in some of the Renaissance architecture, art, and culture that it’s famous for while not packing too much into our schedule. Enjoying a little of “la dolce vita” was one of our goals for this trip. After all, that is the authentic Italian way of life.

Inspired Design at Our Airbnb

The Airbnb we chose was excellent. It was just a few minutes’ walk from the Piazza del Duomo. Even though we were close to the hustle and bustle of major tourist attractions, it was very quiet.

looking over a balcony into a small courtyard with many green plants
The View from Our Airbnb

The building’s elevator was an experience. I estimate that it had about one square metre of floor space. (That’s about three feet by three feet if you prefer imperial measurements). Our host warned us that we could take the stairs if we were afraid of small spaces. However, I loved that elevator. It had gorgeous wood walls, a gate, and two sets of glass doors for entry and exit on the various floors.

The condo’s décor was incredibly inspiring. With its painted white beams, eclectic mix of furniture, gorgeous tile backsplash, stone shower and curated art, it was a true Italian experience. Here is the link to the Airbnb again so you can see some of these elements. They could inspire your next renovation.

A One-of-a-Kind Dining Experience in Florence

I’m sure you’ve heard stories from people who say that sometimes the best experiences abroad are unplanned. Well, here’s a short story about our first night dining out in Florence.

Because we were tired from our day of travel from Venice, which started quite early, I searched Google Maps to find a restaurant close by. Fortunately, I found Francesco Vini, which was a 2-minute walk from our accommodation. The menu looked delicious (although I think anything to do with Italian food is delicious), and the building itself looked fascinating, so I booked a reservation for 7:00 p.m. Typically, it is the earliest time available anywhere in Italy.

If you truly want to enjoy your evening meal, here is my advice: take a nap in the afternoon because you will eat late and stay for a while. One of the best things about dining in Italy is that they don’t rush you through the meal, as often happens in North America. However, it was not peak tourist season, so that could change if customers were lined up out the door.

Anyway, back to my story. Even though the restaurant was close by, it was tricky to find. All the streets look similar, so we had trouble orienting ourselves. Thank heavens for cell phones with maps! As we leave our condo, we turn the way the map tells us and walk down the street toward a small square. Naturally, I’m holding my phone in front of me like a typical lost tourist. Then we hear someone shout, “Jane!” We looked around and thought it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t. We saw an Italian man smiling and waving at us, motioning to enter his restaurant.

It was the first sign of a fantastic evening. It took me a few minutes to figure out how the restauranteur recognized me. Then I realized it was because I used Gmail to book the reservation, and it had a photo of me on my profile. Who knew that feature would come in handy?

We had two incredible servers that night. They were such a blast, and we stayed until the restaurant closed. We chatted with the owner and thanked the chef as he left for the night. But our evening was not yet over! We were invited to view the cellar to learn about the true history of the amazing building we were in. How cool is that?

They gave us a brief history lesson about the building and how a whole new block of buildings was constructed on top of the circular ruins that dated back to 24 BC. Trying to wrap our heads around 2000 years of history right there in that very space was fascinating.

extremely old crumbling stone steps on display in wine cellar
The Cellar at Francesco Vini with original steps from 24 BCE.

We descended the stone steps into the space below the restaurant, which they used as their wine cellar. Almost instantly, my eyes filled with tears of joy. It’s hard to explain what happened. The age of the building was so overwhelming that my emotions just poured out. It is an experience I will always remember.

Marble Tile at the Duomo

One tourist attraction I really wanted to visit was the Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore). Also known as the Duomo, this iconic cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with its distinctive dome (the largest ever built) designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. The cathedral, constructed from 1296 to 1436, is truly an amazing site.

One important tip I got from studying Rick Steves’ Europe website before our trip was to purchase a pass in advance. It gives you access to the entrance at the side of the cathedral. Otherwise, you will wait in a lineup for literally hours and hours. Even though we purchased a pass in advance, there was still a line, but we only waited about 15 minutes. If you’re planning a European vacation, it’s worth visiting Rick Steves’ website before and during your trip.

large stone cathedral in Florence against blue sky with many people in front
The Duomo

I was completely obsessed with the tile detailing in the Duomo—no wonder it took 140 years to build! It inspired me to incorporate a smaller version of the amazing floor detail into a future design project. The trick will be to find a master tiler who’s interested in the job. If you look at it closely, it’s absolutely incredible.

large multi-coloured slabs of marble creates a in unique flooring pattern
The Marble Floor at the Duomo

In addition, there are glorious floor mosaics in the crypt of the Florence Cathedral. This archaeological site, excavated in the 1960s, reveals layers of history, including the remains of the ancient Basilica of Santa Reparata, the original church on the site before the current cathedral was built.

mosaic tile floor with unique pattern
Mosaics at The Santa Reparata

 

The Last Night

On our last night in Florence, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio bridge to the other side of the Arno River. We found a traditional Italian restaurant with checked red and white tablecloths. We ate a delicious meal, enjoyed dessert from a nearby gelato shop, and strolled along the river. That was when we wished we had another few days to explore Florence.

historic building in Florence
One of many historic buildings along the Arno River

 

Arrivederci, Florence! Or better yet, until next time.

Read more articles in the My Journey to Italy series.

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