Walking around Florence Italy last summer, the night before I returned to the U.S., I spent my final afternoon soaking up my surroundings. I consider Florence to be a magical place and a delight to the senses of any lover of art, music and history. It is the perfect blend of ancient and modern; renaissance by all definitions. Florence, established by Julius Caesar in 59BC, was built as a settlement for his veteran soldiers. It remains the capital of all of Tuscany.
I sat on the front steps of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore watching the tourists and locals pass through the piazza, some preparing to tour the cathedral and its elegant dome. The Duomo, 600 years after its completion, is still the largest dome built in brick and mortar in the world. The temperature this day in July was perfect. The ancient church bells rang out announcing the top of each hour.
The magnificently constructed Baptistery, dating back to 1059, was undergoing renovation at the time of my visit. Tourists were forced to peek through partitions to see the white and dark green marble with its zebra like patterns. Flanking the exterior walls are three sets of ornate bronze double doors, the east doors dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo.
There is so much I would soon miss about this city, namely the food, the people, the shopping and the history. It took me four years to return to Florence since my last visit. Reality tells me that I will not be back again soon.
One thing that stood out to me this visit was David – Michelangelo’s David to be exact. He was everywhere. Not only are there trinkets and souvenirs of David all over town, it was hard to not run into multiple statues of him. The first time I visited Florence I was not aware of this. While lost and driving along Viale Michelangelo I came upon Piazzale Michelangelo (Michelangelo Square), a scenic park high in the hills that overlooks Florence from the South Bank of the Arno River. In addition to the best views in Florence, this park has a bronze cast of the David statue that looks out over all of Florence. Later in that same trip, I witnessed the real David when I toured the Accademia. The original David statue mesmerized me with its great attention to detail, thanks to the brilliant Michelangelo who hand selected the marble from a quarry in Carrara, a town in northern Tuscany high up in the Apuan Alps.
If you happen to stroll through the historic centre of Florence and pause in front of Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence, you can’t miss yet another replica of Michelangelo’s David statue alongside the front entrance door of the palazzo. This is the location where the original David was displayed from the time of its initial unveiling in 1504 until 1873 when it was moved to its current location in the Accademia Gallery. The current replicated David, dated 1910 is so ancient looking some visitors may believe it to be the original.
I strolled slowly this evening along the Arno River, past the infamous Ponte Vecchio Bridge, using no maps to guide me. I wanted to remember every moment of this trip. I picked a street, turned right and started walking through neighborhoods off the tourist track. I truly enjoy this and didn’t mind if I got lost. Wandering allows me to discover markets, meet locals, visit cafes, stores and gelato shops that many tourists don’t often discover. A few evenings earlier, I found a little place called Arnold’s run by a father and his teen son that served up hamburgers and french fries. Their menu items had titles like “The Fonz” and “Richie’s Special” as well as limoncello shots. Can’t beat that combination! I also stumbled upon the best gelato in Florence, handmade by the little shop’s owner. It was a treat to sample fresh cantaloupe gelato made with the juice of Tuscan cantaloupes. Actually, the shop owner showed us the machine and process he uses to make the gelato daily. So memorable!
As I walked about the evening before I left Italy I came upon a clearing a dozen or so blocks off Lungarno Amerigo Vespucci. An inviting restaurant appeared with cozy outdoor seating. The streetlights and candlelight cast a warm glow on the pavement of this quiet little neighborhood. The host ushered us to a table but then switched our seats to another table after a man at another table (picture Vito Corleone in The Godfather) gestured to him to do so.
This restaurant had a robust and generous menu full of intriguing selections. The waiter, an attractive Italian man, helped translate the menu a bit for me until I settled on one of the best selections I encountered during my entire trip: gnocchi in strawberry cream sauce with giant prawns. This dinner was amazing. However, I soon found that the giant prawns, (large shrimp like crustaceans), had their shells intact and for the life of me I could not remove them. I hastened the waiter over and explained my dilemma. Without pause, the waiter took my fork and knife and popped the prawns out of the shells, cut them up and returned my utensils. This was slightly embarrassing but truly appreciated.
From here the evening became quite entertaining. A band of lively local men descended on this place and started arguing and banging on the tables with the older man (the godfather) I mentioned earlier. They kept glancing over at our table in a somewhat nervous yet friendly manner. One even smiled and waved at me. The waiter came over and assisted us for departure with his eyes locked upon the band of boisterous men. I had a strong feeling that business was going to be conducted soon and a part of me did not want to leave. I had a feeling the evening was just getting started.
Such a beautiful day, so memorable an evening, such interesting residents and a locale that echoes the ages – these are the best ways to describe this beautiful Florentine summer evening last July.
The next morning on our way to the airport the taxi driver spoke to my husband in Italian. He complimented my husband’s Italian dialect and remarked that it was so good we surely must be from France. When we shared that we were from the great state of Michigan, he commented that many students from the State of Michigan descend upon Florence each summer. This came as no surprise to me as I was aware of a study abroad program in Florence for University of Michigan students.
Why does this country speak to me? Why do I feel like I could move anywhere in Italia and instantly feel at home? I don’t understand this feeling but I am always left with an undeniable longing to return. I shall return to Italy again. Perhaps next time I will visit areas in the South of Italy and explore the Amalfi Coast and the Blue Grotto, Pompeii and perhaps Naples and Sicily as well. Ciao David! Farewell for now Italia. I will return.