When you think of Florence, Italy, I’m sure a few of the first things that come to mind are the incredible food, the amazing wine, and the most stunning art and architecture that you could ever imagine. The “David” sculpture by Michelangelo, “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, and the terra-cotta-tiled Duomo engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi are must-sees. Of course the Duomo of the Florence Cathedral is more of a hard-not-see piece on that list. In fact when I think of Florence (or Firenze in Italian), I always imagine it’s distinguished skyline with the stunning Duomo and Gothic bell tower surrounded by the red roofs of the city and enveloped by the Tuscan hillside. I studied art and art history in college so I became very familiar with Florence and the photos of this skyline but to see it with your own eyes is undeniably breathtaking.
In all honesty, we didn’t choose Florence or Italy for our honeymoon for any specific reason. On Valentine’s Day of this year, just two months before we married in Costa Rica, Adam received one of his daily emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights but this one was different. This email had outrageous deals to many European cities leaving from a number of US cities, one of which was our small town of Wilmington, North Carolina. And when I say outrageous, I’m talking $500 round-trip from Wilmington to Florence. There were no extra baggage fees, no cheap-o airlines, and no insane seven-stop flight that makes you question how much of a deal it really was. We talked about it for five minutes and chose Italy because, well, it’s ITALY.
We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in August and immediately hit the streets. There are a few things to note about Italy in August. First, we wouldn’t recommend visiting during that time if you don’t have to. The weather is hot and humid, sure, but it wasn’t any different than Wilmington. In fact I would say it was probably cooler there. What you want to stay away from is the over-whelming number of tourists in the city during this time. Europeans are known to take their holidays during the month of August. For Italians, especially, the height of the summer is August 15th when they celebrate Ferragosto which coincides with the Assumption of Mary.
In years past, cities were all but shut down in August as Italians would close up shop and head to the beach. Thankfully, that’s not the case any longer. Of course there were a few restaurants on our list that were closed but there are so many incredible places to eat that we never felt as though we weren’t having an authentic Italian experience.
And speaking of incredible food and experiences, the San Lorenzo Market was the first place we went when we arrived. Seriously, we dropped our bags at the Airbnb, changed clothes, and made a bee line for the market. I knew more places would be closed the next day for Ferragosto and I wanted to make sure we had the essentials to nibble on by the Arno River. You know, cheese and bread mostly. It was a bit overwhelming at first as there are so many options and everything is beautifully displayed. We ate made-from-scratch pasta with a bottle of Rosé and bought our Buffalo mozzarella, fresh baked bread, and another bottle (or two) of vino on the way out. It was the perfect beginning to our Italian holiday.
After a good night’s sleep and a lazy, espresso filled morning we took to the streets once again. We never really planned out our daily adventures. It was more of an “I’d like to see this at some point” and we would stroll in that general direction taking in all the things between point A and point B. That morning the Piazzale Michelangelo was our destination by way of the Piazza del Duomo, the Basilica de Santa Croce, and a pre-lunch gelato. Hey, wine and gelato are acceptable all day, every day in Italy. That’s what we told ourselves anyway.
Here’s a little secret about the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s amazing but there’s an even better view just up the hill from San Miniato al Monte, or Palace of Bishops. And there was practically no one there. Our guess is that either most people don’t know about it OR they don’t want to trek further up the hill after the hike to the Piazzale Michelangelo. There are buses available if you need a breather because it’s completely worth it.
I really only have one regret from our first trip to Italy and it’s that I wish we would have visited more museums. Here’s the thing though, in August lines to get into museums, even if you bought your ticket in advance, are mercilessly long. The line for the Duomo wrapped around the Duomo. No thank you. We decided that we’d rather spend our time doing, seeing, eating, and drinking. We are already making plans to return during a cooler, off-season month for all the things we didn’t get a chance to do or chose not to at that time. We did, however, make sure to see Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture at the Accademia Gallery. As you turn the corner into the Hall of Prisoners, you are immediately taken by David, in all his glory and perfect light, at the other end of the room. Once you begin noticing the other humans around you, most staring, open mouthed at the statue, some crying (seriously), all snapping photos, all in awe, you realize they’ve all been taken prisoner by Michelangelo and his masterpiece. Clearly the Hall of Prisoners was aptly named.
A little-known, fun fact about that “perfect light” that envelopes David is that it was not a happy accident. When the sculpture was transferred here from the Piazza della Signoria in 1873, the architect Emilio de Fabris constructed a special tribune with a large skylight to shelter it that wasn’t completed until 1882. That was exactly 100 years before I was born. Time flies when you’re living your best life in the best light.
We walked so much during our time in Florence that we did not mind indulging in a gelato, or two, a day. My absolute favorite spot was the Gelateria della Passera. It’s a bit hidden away but totally worth the treasure hunt. Adam was often more adventurous with his flavors, choosing a different one each time. I, on the other hand, predictably chose lemon. Every. Time. And I had absolutely no regrets with that decision. The Gelateria Santa Trinita was another great spot we found. The photo above was taken there and yes, it was as fresh as it looks. This was where my eyes were bigger than my belly as I bought the largest waffle cone with two scoops of lemon gelato. Two scoops is not just two scoops here. They are proportionately sized to the container or vehicle in which you choose to carry them. It took me a few hours to recover from that sweet treat. Still, totally worth it.
When Adam and I travel, we often come home with a lot of photos of us individually. Someone’s got to take the photo and you can’t just hand a film camera to a fellow tourist and expect to get what you want. Which would be just a solid, in-focus photo of us together, haha. So we get creative, finding mirrored walls or the perfect reflection in a store window. So here’s the perfect portrait of me and my husband with a camera blocking his sweet face. Nailed it!
On our last day in Italy we strolled about the neighborhood around Santo Spirito. This little area was hands down our favorite area of Florence. There are really great restaurants for long lunches or a glass of vino or Aperol Spritz before dinner. It’s in this neighborhood where you can find Florence’s first speakeasy, Rasputin. Adam loves a good speakeasy so we were more than thrilled when we found the entrance after walking up and down the street searching for it. Between the delicious cocktails and candlelit, prohibition era ambiance it’s a must-do in Florence night life.
Near the end of the day we found ourselves at the Bardini Villa and Gardens which we would highly recommend over the Boboli Gardens if you are pressed for time or don’t want to deal with the tourists and long lines. We practically had the gardens to ourselves that afternoon with the exception of the sleepiest kitty we found napping on a wall. But seriously, there was no one here and it was gorgeous. I promise we did not edit any people out in the photos of us below.
When Adam and I were planning our honeymoon we decided quickly that we didn’t want to travel the entire time. We wanted to stay in a couple of places and soak it all in. We wanted to visit as though we would be back and not feel the pressures of having to see everything. So that is exactly what we did. If we visit again that would be amazing but there is a great big world out there to experience and we aren’t counting anything out.
If you are planning a trip to Florence or Tuscany check out Georgette Jupe’s Instagram @girlinflorence. We found most of our favorite spots from following her and seeing Florence from a local’s perspective. And keep an eye out for my next post, Italian Honeymoon, Part II: Cinque Terre.