We arrived by train in Florence and navigated the throngs of tourists toward our AirBnb, a unit requiring climbing several flights of wooden stairs with steep rises. Its exterior doorway opened onto a sidewalk maybe 6” wide before a curbed one-way street where Italian men liked to exceed 40 mph, meaning I greeted each morning in Florence with a “Wait at the bottom of the stairs!” any time a child wanted to lead the way out of the apartment.
We started our time in Florence with the Uffizi Gallery, and it was full of beautiful paintings, sculptures, history, art, and culture. It was also crowded and hot as Hell. We gave it a hurried visit, stopping at the really famous pieces, and then went outside to cool off in the considerably different weather outside.
After the art, we saw a carousel–specifically, the Carosello de Piazza della Repubblica–and continued our tradition of riding carousels any time we visit a new city. It was fun, and it quashed our frustration with the crowds, weather, and being severely disoriented. There’s something about going in circles on feathered horses that calms the soul.
After the carousel, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace and its Boboli Gardens, which was our favorite aspect of the tour, except it started raining even harder, and half of us had to pee, so my son and I sneaked off the path and urinated on the Italian palace’s manicured gardens, which felt criminal and exhilarating at the same time.
When I first noticed the long line waiting outside the domed cathedral Florence is famous for, I felt rather smug, as I knew we had a timed ticket for 6pm, and I’d be damned if we had to stand in such a horrific line, especially in the rain!
When we arrived at 6pm at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the line of people with timed tickets was as long as it was stationary, and the rain was as cold as it was sideways, striking our faces as we stood outside this Italian church wondering if climbing to the top of the domed roof would be worth the effort.
It was worth the cold and the wait. I loved climbing up winding steps, circling the inside of the church, and gazing at the paintings on the ceiling before ascending even more steps into the cupola and onto the roof, which offered views of the city below us through freezing winds and rain. We didn’t stay on the roof for long, but we had to wait for the other members of our group to climb the ladder onto the rooftop before we could climb back down, which meant staying up there longer than we wanted. I have never been happier to be in a windowless, dank brick-walled hallway than I was after our turn came to get off the roof and out of the weather. We descended the Duomo, returned to our apartment to dry off and change, and went to our reserved dinner planned months before.
Dinner was at 9pm at a place we learned about on Somebody Feed Phil–Caffe Cibreo. The meal was long and luxurious, and even though it made for a very late night, it was a late night I’m glad we spent in the way we did. The service was impeccable and the food outstanding.
The next morning, we arrived early at the Gallery of the Academy, and a line of people who had not pre-arranged and pre-paid wound down the sidewalk for blocks as we walked up. Entering the building, we followed the main hallway toward its end, caught sight of Leonardo de Vinci’s “David” and stopped to marvel at the marble. I guess I assumed seeing David in textbooks and on Instagram would make seeing it in person not all that awe-inspiring, but I thought wrong. We just stood and stared at its enormous perfection for at least 10 minutes.
The rest of the facility has some cool old stuff to look at, but after you see David, there’s little reason to spend much additional time there.
We grabbed our suitcases from the apartment and boarded a van headed into the Tuscany countryside. The winding road took us through green pastures, rolling hills, and sprawling estates surrounded by vineyards. It also upset the tender tummy of our youngest, who added Italy to her list of prestigious places (Maui! Japan! Scotland!) she’s vomited on vacation.
We pulled up to a large house owned by a former lawyer, turned vineyard owner and server of truffles. We met our guide, a small dog who loved to bound through the wooded area nearby and find buried truffles. After locating several small ones, we had a meal of pasta, wine, and the very truffles our new friend had enthusiastically sniffed out for us.
We visited several olive oil producers and tried various types of olive oils with various types of vinegar, sipping cups of olive oil like one might try a sample of wine at a tasting, but not as intoxicating. We even bought some bottles to take home with us. After several stops, I was beginning to understand why our first host quit practicing law to make his living from olives, wine, truffles, and tourism. We realized we had not scheduled enough days in Tuscany and would have to return!
That evening, we took the night train to Rome, where our adventure would continue …