I loved everything about this place!! The food, the views, the art, the history! Ahh Firenze! Known as Florence to the English its geographic location alone is prime real estate with mountains surrounding the entire city, visible on the horizon from every angle. Between such wonders as the Arno River and the Duomo I found myself in a city as rich in its natural beauty as its man-made Renaissance fixtures! The best part is that this journey of breathtaking sights started before I even arrived at the train station.. cus Italy does it like that! The two and a half hour train ride from Cesena to Fienza was nothing short of awe inspiring nature in all of its glory. The train seemed to creep through the snow covered Apennine Mountains which shot up to the heavens around the little locomotive trail. Here and there in the vast landscape there would be a random brick house protruding from nowhere along the mountain side. The scenes transitioned slowly into quaint country villages with rolling emerald plains until we reached the outskirts of Firenze. The sky was light blue and painted with picturesque fluffy white clouds in the distance of these movie worthy views. The fantastical whimsy of the ride to Firenze echoed the free-flowing adventure within me, barely understanding that this was the tip of the iceberg of my experience.
I started my journey from the Santa Maria Novella train station. My goal was to reach the U.S. Consulate where my Couch Surfing host Riccardo worked so I could drop my backpacking pack off and spend a few hours roaming the city a little bit lighter :) So map in hand I worked my way into the heart of Firenze. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, let alone what to expect.. and it felt great. Being semi-lost in a gorgeous foreign place feels like a mix of panic and euphoric wonder. With a sea of fellow starry-eyed map holders surrounding me I turned a corner and was swallowed by it: the mammoth beauty that is Firenze. I’m not even sure what I stumbled upon looking back. There are so many wide open grand Piazza’s and one after another after another they reveal themselves to you.. like hidden treasure just dying to be discovered. This was one of those breath taking Piazza’s and I couldn’t have been ready for it if I tried! With my host awaiting me I took some quick photos and continued on. I turned corner after corner and allowed myself to be swept away by the majesty.. cus there isn’t much you can do except let it wash over you. Then it happened.. I felt the enormous anticipation as I approached the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, known more generally as The Duomo. This wasn’t like the other Piazza’s, sneakily hiding and popping out at you unexpectedly. No no, not the Duomo. You can see a tiny sliver of the whole from the narrow street as you near the Piazza. Or maybe catch a glimpse of the top of the Cathedral with its shinny golden orb looming over the tall roofs of buildings that encase the narrow passageways as you walk. None the less I knew it was big and glorious, and I was headed right for it. No matter how many times you see these obviously mammoth figures on a map noting a church or museum, I don’t know if anyone is really prepared for how large they actually are in person. This thing blew me away. So bright and colorful with shades of green and pink marble gracing the facade, its intricate ornate detailing and Gothic architecture – not to mention the size! I know! It’s Italy, land of huge beautiful churches, but the Duomo in Florence is one the biggest in the country! Until the development of modernized construction it was the largest in the world. Construction of this Gothic style basilica stared in 1296 and was structurally completed in 1436, with lot’s of revamping and makeovers since. To this day the Cathedral holds the record for adorning the largest brick dome ever constructed.
What makes it even better is that basilica is just the main event of the Duomo complex. The Piazza del Duomo also includes the Baptistery of San Giovanni and Giotto’s Campanile. The Baptistery is a small octagonal basilica and is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built between 1059 and 1128. The Campanile is a bell tower that is a show piece of Florentine Gothic architecture.. a visually perfect counterpart to the Duomo.
Once I was done taking pictures and gawking in the Duomo complex, I had a pretty good idea of where I was so I started making my way towards the Arno River, the crucial landmark that would help guide me to the U.S. Consulate. The Arno is astounding.. boasting beautiful bridge after bridge with the surrounding city to the south cascading up into the mountains beyond it and the buildings of the north providing the most exquisite corridor-esque enclosure. I overheard a fellow first timer standing next to me say in amazement “WOW! I know Rome has it’s beauty, but it doesn’t beat this!” I haven’t been to Rome yet so that was news to me.. not like I could doubt or misguage this place..
I finally made my way to Riccardo at the Consulate. I dropped my bags off and headed back to adventuring after a short acquaintance. I spent more time loving every minute roaming around the beautiful city of Firenze!
Later that night Riccardo took me to a wonderful restaurant, where I fell in love with traditional Tuscana-style Italian food. For an appetizer we had these fried balls of Tuscan bread and a bowl of the softest white cheese to spread on the warm golden mounds of deliciousness. Then I had Ribollita, or Zuppa di Pane, a stew originally made of left over bread and vegetables created by desperate mothers during times of financial struggle in the region. MM I enjoyed every bite of that tasty Tuscan staple here and at several other restaurants in the region during my stay.
After dinner we had a great time going around to several different bars/cafes with differing entertainment at each. One had an acoustic Bob Marley (and more!) cover band with a lady singer and another had a four girl a cappella group that performed everything from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, soo good. We stopped by a couple other artsy bars before heading home for the night, it was fantastic and quite eclectic! By indulging in this youthful part of Firence it all came full circle and I felt like I was in a city that was a vast spectrum of creative expression, old and new. It felt limitless.