You arrive in a new city and your heart starts to beat differently. An overwhelming sense of calm washes over you and you just know you were meant to be in this place. You see things you've never seen before, but they look so familiar. Has this ever happened to you before? Every so often this happens in certain moments, but to have deja vu for an entire place?
In Italy this happened to me. I felt so home - like I could stay there forever and be perfectly content. Everything about Italy seemed familiar - the laid-back life, the smells, the dolce vita. Even communicating with people in broken Italian seemed effortless. I haven't been back, so I'm not sure if it was a "perfect moment in a perfect time with the perfect people" thing or if it was something more. Living in Tuscany for 6 weeks was an absolute dream and it just felt...right. I still honestly believe that the only reason I came home was because I missed the people and not the US. Here we are, 7 years later, and I miss Italy more than ever.
Florence was the closest big city to our Tuscan town of Castiglion Fiorentino. We had the chance to visit here a lot during our 6 week study abroad as it was only an hour train ride away. If I had to pick my favorite place in all of Italy, I would have to go with Florence. If you are planning a trip here, here are a few of my "Must Do's":
San Lorenzo Market - In between the train station (Santa Maria Novella) and the famous Duomo of Florence, this sprawling market is a must. Pick up your leather goods, souvenir t-shirts, any type of scarf imaginable, or a slew of silk ties for a couple of euro a piece. It's more than okay to haggle here...I was able to get my leather purse for less than 1/2 price! Spend a few hours wandering around the stalls.
The Accademia - Go here to see the famous statue, the David, by Michelango. It is super impressive just how tall this statue is. There are also other works here by Michaelango and important pieces by Botticelli and Giotto.
Climb the Duomo - It's 463 steps to the top, but you couldn't ask for a better view of Florence and the Arno valley. You also get an up close and personal look at the paintings inside of the dome itself.
Piazzale Michaengelo - I would make the hike up here for a drink at the end of your day. The sunset views are great from here, but the restaurants are a little expensive. It might be best to grab a glass of bubbly and a few antipasti to enjoy instead of a full meal.
Day Trip (or more) to Tuscany - Like I said, Florence was only 1 hour by train. Cortona was one stop past Castiglion Fiorentino and Arrezo was one stop before. Both of these are good places to experience a perfect day under the Tuscan sun. If you can, go to an agriturismo and sample cheese, olive oil and wine and take a peek in a some of the old churches.
There are many more things to do in Florence. You can walk along the Ponte Vecchio and look at jewelry, explore the Medici Chapels, visit the Uffizi Gallery and Bargello Museums and eat lots of pasta and gelato (of course). There is a "Firenze Pass" that works at many museums and for public transportation which would definitely be the way to go! I would love to make a trip back here in the next few years so I can show Jason - we'll see if that works out!
Note: We're going to keep doing this "Take Me Back" series so we can remember some of our favorite places we're traveled before Southwest Airlines came in the picture. Expect some posts about Hawaii and maybe a few more from Italy!