Initially, when I reached Florence after a couple of quiet days in the cities of Cinque Terre, in Siena or on the little farm in Tuscany, I felt once again thrown in the chaos of the big city. From the crowded bus, to the noisy traffic and the hot room that got as accommodation, I thought my Italian adventure was about to reach a not so happy end. But that was just the first impression, that was largely caused by the abrupt change of scenery.
Then we got out of the house and started towards the city center and the magic started. The Dome! The Florence Dome is an architectural wonder. A huge lace carved in white, pink and green marble. A delicate porcelain sculpture, enhanced through a magnifying glass and set in the middle of the city. I was talking about the top 3 and the domes of Milan, Orvieto and Siena. Siena is by now means better, Orvieto I haven’t seen and Milan, as far as I can remember is impressive, but I couldn’t tell if to a larger or smaller extent.
Piazza della Signoria. Upon which the sun was descending at twilight when we arrived and was filled by the sounds of an orchestra. And then the many perfect statues and the people sitting on stairs and at terraces, and that wonderful dolce far niente feeling. Ponte Vecchio, covered in rainbow coloured lights, due to the city festivities (well, I like to believe it was all for me and my love of colour). And the main event of the festivities was a private party set by the side of the river Arno, given in honour of the mayor, that we just happened to crash, by simply putting on a nice smile for the bodyguards at the entrance. The unexpected party involved like music from a band, a glass of champagne and a boat ride on the river during which we were served sushi. No, I am not making up any of it! And to make it all perfect, we ended the evening on the stairs of the Uffizi Galleries, listening to Bach on a modern troubadours violin.
With only two days to wonder around, we agreed on a free schedule, no museum, no lines, no running around. So we walked the streets, the squares and the shops. The only points of interest we had set for the first day were Mercato Centrale for lunch and Piazzale Michelangelo for sunset.
Mercato Centrale is the old market, that still serves this purpose on the ground floor, where you can find all sorts of culinary goods, from fruits, to vegetables, meats, cheeses and everything in between and beyond. On the second floor things get fancier, in a mix food court space, with restaurants that fit all tastes and serve pretty much everything Italian, from oven made pizza, to grilled fish and seafood, to perfectly cooked pasta, icecream and delicious deserts. It’s a very authentic and picturesque place this hall, especially since it’s surrounded by all sorts of street vendors , found all over the city centre for that matter, that sell especially leather products, for extremely accessible prices, especially if you have some negotiation skills. (I got me two leather bags for 60 euros.)
Piazzale Michelangelo is the place up on the hill that offers a superb panorama to the city, so we thought it would be the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. After climbing many stairs, this time with much greater ease after all the exercise we got in Cinque Terre, and stopping along the way to get some rest on the grass of Giardino delle Rose, we finally reached the top. The actual top is actually set higher that the actual square and is the home to Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. Where we had another magical moment, when entering the grand and empty cathedral and hearing the organ play as the last rays of sun peaked lazily through the round windows. Goosebumps all the way! It took us a while to let go of the perfect combination and descend to the square as we planned initially. Things were far more earthly down there, with the crowds of people filling up the stairs and sidewalks and the stalls that sold mainly food (I tested some excellent tortellini al prosciutto). Anyway, I would say that it’s somewhere on this hill that you need to be in order to experience a great sunset.
As I left Piazzale Michelangelo I experienced probably the most amazing moment of my entire trip. Back in Cinque Terre we had decided that there could be no better soundtrack for our Italian journey than the tune The Beatitudes from La Grande Bellezza. So you can only imagine how I felt when, tired as I was and going down the stairs towards the old town, I saw a sea of soap balloons that float around to this precise music. I could not believe it. I almost felt like crying with joy and amazement. What luck, what coincidence, what serendipity! A perfect resume of all I felt during 8 days, synthesised in 5 surreal minutes.
We spent our last night in Italy in the company of some really nice guys that acted accordingly when we asked for a typically Italian nocturnal experience and took us to Piazza Santo Spirito, where we found exactly what we were looking for. A very lively square, with a summery breezy atmosphere, with people hanging around the bars, on the stairs of the church, on the curbs and in the central park, the pleasant noise of informal chatter that is so very Latin, drinks, laughter and good spirits.
The evening went on until pretty late, so the next day was a pretty lazy one. By simple chance we ended up on the rooftop of the la Rinascente building, where there’s a restaurant where you can choose to eat or not, but you can definitely admire Florence from above for free. Other then that we just walked around randomly, saw the previous nights square in daylight, this time hosting a fair with home-made and hand-made goods, bought souvenirs, ate one last gelatto and bid our fair wells.
After all, Florence turned out to be the basil on the pizza, the pesto on the pasta, the meringue on the lemon meringue tarte, the epic finale to an idyllic trip, that officially ended as spectacularly as it started.