One of the most striking things about Italy is just how different each city was. They all had their own distinct personality with only language and currency being the common thread. While Rome had a certain grandeur and shine to it, Florence was a little more humble and special in it's own way. Much smaller in size and nestled firmly in the Tuscan region of the country, Florence felt more like a large town and we quickly felt very comfortable navigating around its windy streets.
The most impressive thing that we saw, arguable throughout the entirety of our trip, was The Duomo. We hadn't specifically planned when we'd see it but we just sort of happened on it during our first walk on the day we arrived. We rounded the corner and there it was, totally catching us by surprise, standing tall with its ornately detailed emerald marble exterior and brick red dome, it can only be described as breathtaking. It's much larger than I imagined it to be and is smack in the middle of this open space in the center of the city surrounded by restaurants and shops. We were so enamored by The Duomo that we even had dinner right next to it, where we enjoyed a lengthy meal consisting of various courses and dined on the most incredibly flavorful Florentine Steak, cooked simply with Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper and served very rare.
Aside from the Duomo, one of my favorite parts of the city was the area around the Ponte Vecchio (which literally means "Old Bridge"). The bridge itself is quite unique as it hosts numerous shops (mainly of the jewelry and souvenir variety) and when the stores are closed, they are neatly packaged up in what almost looks like treasure chest boxes lined up. The area surrounding the bridge is out of a European fairy tale with colorful clapboard shutters adorning charming and historic buildings and you can see far into the Tuscan countryside when you cross the bridge. Rumor has it that the bridge was one of the only ones in Florence that was not destroyed during World War II, mainly because Hitler also fell subject to the bridge's beauty and spared it, but heavily bombed everything else right around it, just to make his point.
|The view from Ponte Vecchio|
|Ponte Vecchio shops all closed up|
The food of Florence was slightly better then Rome in that it felt a little more homey and had that "Italian grandmother in the kitchen" sort of feel to it. It was also a little cheaper as well. We ate well in Florence, enjoying standard Italian classics like Gnocchi, made delicately and coated with thin layer of bright red marinara sauce. This Tuscan city was also home to one of my favorite dishes that I had- a simple square of Lasagna. Carefully stacked and lightly layered with several pasta sheets, cheese, Bechamel and dotted with bits of ground beef, it was topped with snowy Parmesan and a tangy tomato sauce that balanced the richness of the meats and cheese. The thing that made this dish really memorable was the fact that it changed the way I thought about lasagna - instead of being about the meats and cheeses, it was really about the pasta. Fresh layers were delightfully crispy on the sides and bottom and the fillings though very present in flavor, didn't overshadow the pasta, but instead, complimented it. It was outstanding to put it mildly.
|One of the best things I ate on our trip - Lasagna|
Florence also introduced us to characteristic European markets with numerous butcher shops and bakeries that just felt like they've been there hundreds of years, and they probably have. As a whole, we had to work a little harder to communicate here, which we liked as we fumbled around on some broken Italian. At one point we popped into a salumi shop and asked a grumpy butcher to shave us off a couple of slices of Prosciutto di Parma and cut us a wedge of cheese that we took back to our hotel along with some crusty bakery bread and a bottle of wine. The prosciutto was unlike any I've ever had before and it just melted on my tongue releasing its intense meaty, salty flavor. While in Florence, we had the worst weather, drizzly and overcast, but despite that, it was hard not get a crush. While I didn't fall head over heels for it like I did for Rome, the more relaxed vibe and old world charm left us happy, content (and full!) after our couple days stay.