I strongly believe, that outside of Florence, there is no other city in the world where every great “father of” has lived, studied, created and thrived. Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance, modern science, and where the moons of Jupiter were found and calculated. This is the Florence of our textbooks and the Florence of today. Though I had seen many pictures and studied much of the art, I half expected to walk a few well-preserved streets and then pop out into a modern poorly kept city. I was very wrong and so overjoyed to be so.
So much of today’s tourism is a farce. Specific points of interest kept well, appeasing tourists and then the residents live in subpar environments. This did not appear to be the case in Florence. Each and every street was as stunning as the next. Around every corner, it seemed, was this year’s award-winning “best neighborhood in the world.” The world’s best gelato and granite are claimed but only achieved by few. Luckily, all the gelato is superb with a view of this fabulous city.
Hidden Treasures of a Touristic City
Anytime you travel to a high tourism city, you risk getting lost in the crowds of people, overpaying for water and feeling like a sheep being led to slaughter. The tourist traps are real, very real unless you know where to go. Having the knowledge a good friend who lives and works in Florence, I was able to see a part of the city that I otherwise would not have discovered. Therefore, my top three things to see are so different than what any trip advisor or travel sight would mention.
- Ospedale degli Innocenti: This beautiful orphanage was home to Florence’s abandoned children for over 400 years. Though the idea of putting an orphanage on your must-see list may seem strange, the building is beautiful and sits in the middle of a picturesque piazza in the heart of Florence. You can spend an entire day there if you try. The museum de Innocenti offers more insight into the orphanage’s history. There is also a rooftop terrace with the most spectacular view of the Duomo.
- Occasionally, you will stumble upon musician playing for pocket change near the main attractions. These are not just people trying to make a buck, most of them are music students and their work is gorgeous. Grab a snack or pack a lunch like we did and sit and enjoy. The ambiance they create amongst the buildings is worth sitting and enjoying.
- Michelangelo’s Graffiti: Tucked behind a statue on a corner of a building in Piazza della Signoria is a small carving that myth claims was done by Michel Angelo. When Michel Angelo returned to Florence in 1499 to begin work on ‘David,’ it is said that he witnessed a man being led through the streets to be publically executed and was so taken by the man’s face that he carved it into the stone wall where he stood. No proof that the piece is in fact done by Michel Angelo has ever been found, but it is a very unique thing to see in the city. You can, easily, visualize what Michel Angelo may have seen that day from his hiding place among the buildings.
- The Galileo Galilei Museum of Science. Significantly less frequented, but just as enchanting as the Uffizi and Accademia. The Galileo Museum is a combination of collections from the beginning of Florencian scientific discovery. If you are a fan of Galileo or the Medici family then this museum is a must see. The Medici family funded and commissioned constant scientific research during their rule. Also on display are Galileo’s instruments used to discover the moons of Jupiter and the planet Venus. To be in the presence of such simple, world-changing objects is an honor you shouldn’t ignore.
Hidden Food Treasures
The food treasures in Florence are quite endless, but two places really blew my mind. The first place was Ara, a beautiful, tucked away Sicilian bakery that makes their fresh strawberry granade (slushies) every morning. Devine. They are a local favorite and typically get passed over by tourists as they are not loud and in your face like the other vendors. When you leave the Accademia museum take an immediate left and there is Ara.
The second place, Ristorante Accademia. A full menu of all things wonderful. Personally, I ordered the truffle pasta, but I imagine that the entire menu is perfection. Sitting right in the heart of San Marco Piazza, you really can’t miss it. I paired my pasta with exceptional company and lots of white wine. The experience was enhanced tenfold.
The Value of a Local Friend
it’s immeasurable. There really aren’t words, but I’ll try. We stopped in Florence to see an old friend. His knowledge of the city, the back streets, the history was immense and I am so grateful for that. He was able to turn an otherwise stressful, big city stop into something magical. We got to see the Florence of the people. The open spaces. The best there was to be had. Our visit to Florence also coincided with my birthday and our oldest’s birthday. My dear friend had a cake ordered for Lux, legos wrapped and a restaurant experience of a lifetime for me. He made it special. Truly unforgettable and now he will have to deal with us again because our first visit was so fantastic!
I would never discourage anyone from traveling to cities where you have no connections. There is too much to be seen to wait to have friends to visit in each and every one. BUT, having someone who lives there showing you around will give you the best views and knowledge of a city. If you are just getting started on your traveling adventures, going to a city where you know someone is a good idea. They don’t have to be your best friend, but a nice lunch or even just an emergency contact is always comforting. Sometimes, you visit a city and it leaves you thinking “ok, I’ve been there and seen that and I don’t ever need to do it again.” Florence is not that city. You will want to go back time and time again. I know I do.