Friday in Florence
If you were traveling around Italy and you had the chance to do a day trip to Florence, would you take it? How much could you really see in just one day? As it happens, one of my dear school friends Annemarie was visiting Rome last week and mentioned how sorry she was that she wouldn’t get to see Florence on her first trip back to Italy in many years. I mentioned that Florence is only 90 minutes from Rome by train and Annemarie didn’t hesitate. She invited me to join her, saying, “When are we ever going to be able to spend the day in Florence together again?” How could I say no? I jumped online before either of us could change our minds and booked our tickets. Hint: if you book through the Trenitalia website even a few days in advance, you’ll find great discounted offers. I found two-for-one first class return tickets for only €67 each.
So at 7:50 on Friday morning we jumped on a Frecciarossa and at 9:20 (two minutes early!) the train pulled into Firenze S. M. Novella, Florence’s main station. My first stop would normally have been at Roberto Cavalli's Caffè Giacosa for a cappuccino. Unfortunately, this coffee bar which was well-known by locals and tourists alike for a good Negroni, traditional pastries and hand-made chocolates, closed in late July. I'm really hoping it re-opens because it was also a cool spot for a post-lunch espresso martini!
Instead, we began weaving our way through the small historical center of Florence with her Gothic-style Cathedral in our sights. The small shops were rolling up their security grills as we walked by but the streets were still quiet; that is until we reached the Piazza del Duomo, where we seemed to find all the tourists in Florence lined up to enter. With Brunelleschi’s dome towering above us, it was enough to admire the church’s pretty pink, white and green marble paneling from the square and then continue on with our adventure.
As we made our way towards the Piazza della Signoria passing by Italian fashion chains and local shops filled with leather goods and handmade marbled papers, I recounted to Annemarie the time I’d literally bumped into Helena Bonham Carter in one such shop a few years earlier. A Room With A View is our absolute favorite movie of all time and we walked a little way arm-in-arm – just like Helena’s film character Lucy and her cousin Charlotte – delighting in the romance and vitality of this city. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the bank of the Arno with an amazing view of the Ponte Vecchio. We stopped for some obligatory photos and then took our time strolling across the oldest bridge in Florence, eyeing off all the shiny (overpriced) gold.
Heading back to the center of Florence, we found ourselves in the midst of Florentine (we hope) leather bags and jackets at the Mercato Nuovo. Gelato in hand, we joined the line of tourists waiting to rub the bronze Porcellino’s snout! He is much more of a wild boar than a “little pig”. Apparently if you put a coin in the Porcellino’s mouth while rubbing his snout and the coin falls down into the grate, it brings good luck and ensures that you’ll return one day to Florence.
With that superstition taken care of, it was time to say a prayer that counts. Off we walked to my favorite Florentine museum, the Museo di San Marco, after popping our heads into the Church of St. Mark next door. At only €4 entry fee, this small museum/art gallery is a winner on all counts. From the early fifteenth century (when renowned artist Fra Angelico lived here) up until 2014 it was a Dominican friary, with a pretty cloistered courtyard at its center. Fra Angelico’s frescoes on the walls of the monks’ small rooms or ‘cells’ are what draws me back to visit every time I am in Florence. You can’t help but stop and meditate for a moment or two in front of his paintings and imagine what their communal life might have been like during the Early Italian Renaissance. At the top of stairs leading to the cells is Fra Angelico’s magnificent fresco of the Annunciation, ensuring all who enter the convent reflect upon it. In fact, he inscribed under the painting an instruction: Virginis Intacte Cvm Veneris Ante Fivvram Preterevndo Cave Ne Sileatvr Ave. "When you come before the image of the Ever-Virgin take care that you do not neglect to say an Ave”. Point taken – one Hail Mary coming up!
Across the piazza from the museum is the aptly named Gran Caffè San Marco where we treated ourselves to a fabulous cappuccino and some typical local pastries while we sat out a brief rain shower. Then, a very short walk to another obligatory stop when in Florence – the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. Much to Annemarie’s relief, I’d pre-booked our tickets. We didn’t have hours to waste waiting in line. No words can describe Il Davide. He needs to be seen (all 517cm of him from a single block of Carrara marble), and not the replica in Piazza della Signoria.
It was finally time for lunch, via some of my favorite shops including Luisa Via Roma which is like a cross between an art gallery and multi mega-brand fashion house. All I walked out with was a t-shirt for my husband. I promise!
We took the last table for two at Trattoria Marione in Via della Spada and both ordered fresh pasta, Annemarie’s with funghi porcini and mine a simple pesto. There. Is. Nothing. Better. Though my husband would be horrified we didn’t order their fantastic (and very reasonably priced) fiorentina steak for two! There is always a line out the door of this tavern-like restaurant but it moves quickly. If you’re going for dinner, be in by 7pm (early by Italian standards) and be sure to say ciao to my friend Carmine, the Sicilian chef.
The last stop before our 4 PM train back to Rome was at my favorite bar in the center, Colle Bereto (2 mins walk from Il Marione). It was a little early for an aperitif but when in Florence… If you come here around happy hour time, you shouldn't have to go to dinner afterwards. Order a cocktail and fill a large plate of food from the generous buffet at the bar. Cheers to more days like this in Florence!