- Day One – Paris via London
- Day Two – Versailles and the Latin Quarter
- Day Three – Four Corners, Four Views of Paris
- Day Four – Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento
- Day Five – Sorrento
- Day Six – Rome
- Day Seven – Vatican City, Rome and Trastevere
- Day Eight – Pisa and Florence
It’s hard to believe there are only two cities left to talk about from our European adventure, but I’ve really been enjoying the reminiscing and hope you are finding it interesting, too!
On our second to last day of vacation, we woke up at the Hotel Globus in Florence and headed downstairs for our final complimentary breakfast of the trip.
The selection at this hotel wasn’t as large as the others in Italy, but it was no less delicious. I decided to have a Nutella-topped croissant with a side of sliced ham and cheese…
…plus one more cappuccino for good measure.
After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel but left our bags at the front desk to begin our full day of Florentine exploration. Our first stop? The Accademia Gallery, home to the infamous and impressive David. Everyone who recommended seeing David prior to our trip promised that we would be amazed by just how massive the sculpture is in person, and they were right! Once we entered the museum, we turned a corner and our eyes were immediately drawn to the end of the hall where this 17-foot tall Michelangelo masterpiece is housed.
David is a true symbol of the Renaissance. Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt him for the Duomo in 1501. Originally the statue was supposed to stand on the roof of the giant red dome of the cathedral, but ultimately it was decided that he would be placed at the entrance of the town hall (Palazzo Vecchio, which we visited later). He stood there for 350 years, during which time he sustained weather damage and also a broken arm during a riot in 1527. In 1873, the original statue was replaced with a copy and moved to this museum for preservation.
Seeing David in person really makes it clear just how much talent and work goes into sculpting. Combined with the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s, I’d say Michelangelo deserves all the praise and respect he’s given and then some! We had a chance to thank his bronze portrait bust.
We also viewed several of his unfinished works. It was cool to see the figures emerging from the stone, but not quite completed. Several of them were called “the prisoners.” There was the “awakening prisoner” who looks to be stretching…
…and the “young prisoner” who buries his face in his arm.
There was also an unfinished sculpture of St. Matthew…
…and the “bearded prisoner,” who is the most finished of them all.
We also saw the unfinished Palestrina Pietà, which was originally thought to be done by Michelangelo but has since been considered a creation from his followers. All of the sculptures were by far the highlights of our time at the gallery.
Following our morning trip to the museum, we headed back to the Duomo for a daytime visit.
I know I said this before, but I truly can’t get over how beautiful the exteriors are!
We decided to climb the 414 steps of Giotto’s Campanile instead of the dome because we’d heard that you could get the same views with a lot less crowds in the stairwells. For someone a little squeamish over heights and small spaces, this ended up being great.
Plus, by climbing the bell tower we had an actual view of the dome from high up!
The red roofs of Florence were positively breathtaking, even as it began to rain.
Once we were back on ground level, we decided to venture inside the cathedral. Our Rick Steves podcast had mentioned it was nothing too exciting, and I have to admit it was pretty bare compared to the other churches we’d seen.
Still, the Duomo is one of my all-time favorite sites from our trip, inside and out.
We continued our Renaissance tour with a walk down the pedestrian-only Via dei Calzaiuoli, Florence’s main street for oh, at least a few thousand years. It connects the religious center – Duomo – with the political center - Piazza della Signoria and the Palazzo Vecchio.
The latter was the city hall – in the 1400s it was where the city council met, but it later became the Medici’s personal palace. You can see the replica of David guarding the door in the picture above, which is where the original once stood. A bench tossed out of the window of the palace during the riot in 1527 is what caused his arm to break.
In the courtyard of the palace are statues and ornately decorated walls and columns.
To the right of the Palazzo Vecchio is an area called the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is full of statues.
And to the left of the Palazzo Vecchio is a Fountain of Neptune sculpted by Bartolomeo Ammannati.
We continued our walk until we had reached the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio. This old bridge is lined with shops and has been around since Roman times. The stores used to be inhabited by traders and merchants but are now completely upscale with expensive gold and silver boutiques.
But what we found most interesting about the Ponte Vecchio is that it was the only bridge spared during World War II and the German retreat in 1944. While the rest of the bridges were completely destroyed, the commander decided to leave the Ponte Vecchio impassable but intact.
The waiter immediately brought us a basket of bread and olives, which were very tasty.
We decided to live it up and order one final house wine – this time in a carafe made for two.
Bobby ordered a prosciutto e funghi pizza that consisted of tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham and mushrooms. He shared one of his pieces with me and it was awesome.
I decided to branch out with a calzoni, which turned out to be massive!
But again, so delicious. My filling was essentially the same as Bobby’s pizza, but it was cool to try out the puffy calzone crust. It was definitely different from what I’ve had in the U.S.
We needed all the fuel we could get for the hike to Piazzale Michelangelo, another must-do on our list in Florence. The walk begins with a slight uphill followed by a set of seemingly endless stairs.
The view from the top made it all worth it. Hello, Duomo! Hello, Ponte and Palazzo Vecchio!
Hello, Italian countryside meets city. It was absolutely gorgeous.
We could have spent the rest of the day gazing from Piazzale Michelangelo but it was getting late and our flight to Barcelona was leaving in a few hours. We decided to head back across the bridge and grab one last bite of Italian gelato, this time from well-recommended Vivoli.
The options were numerous, but I decided to stick with dark chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut.
We enjoyed our gelato al fresco before making our way back to the Hotel Globus and our beloved Fiat. After stuffing our bags back into the trunk, it was time for one last drive – hallelujah!
Of course, that task proved easier said than done. The hotel concierge was super helpful and said it would be “simple,” which we immediately took to mean “challenging” given our previous history. As it turns out, getting to the airport itself was a breeze – but finding the rental car return was a lot harder. Thanks to some guesswork and a bit of luck, we picked the right turn (in more ways than one) at a fork in the road, saving us a trip back into the city. The full relief we felt after putting the Fiat in park for the final time cannot be described in words. Arrivederci!
Italy, we love you, but we will likely take trains and planes on our next trip.
Soon enough, we had boarded our Vueling flight and were headed west across the Mediterranean. It was bittersweet to land in Barcelona, but we couldn’t wait to see what this bustling city had in store.