Ahhhh, Florence. My love affair with this city probably began after reading the book and watching its movie rendition, A Room With A View by E.M. Forster. Since this novel was crucial to my awakening to the beauty that is the city of Florence, and because this book is just a literary masterpiece, I am going to give a summary of it. By the way, *SPOILER ALERT* !!!
The story takes place in England and Italy during the restrained Edwardian era. The reader follows young Lucy Honeychurch as she travels for the first time to Italy with her annoyingly uptight proper older cousin, Charlotte. Themes are foreshadowed and all is set into motion as the novel opens up with Lucy and Charlotte complaining at dinner about their rooms at the hotel they are staying at in Florence. Although they were promised views of the Arno River, they received rooms with a view of the courtyard. When a friendly older gentleman, Mr. Emerson, offers for him and his son George to switch rooms with the ladies, Charlotte, without consulting Lucy, immediately refuses. Their offer seems impolite and highly unconventional to Charlotte, and she warns Lucy against people like the Emersons who would put a lady under such an “obligation.” Lucy then runs into another guest at the hotel, a clergyman from her hometown in England, Mr. Beebe, who urges Charlotte to accept the rooms. He assures Charlotte that Mr. Emerson only meant to be kind. Although the other guests look down on the Emersons for being an eccentric pair, Lucy likes them and continues to run into them throughout her stay in Florence.
Later on in the week, Lucy sets off alone but comes face-to-face with a murder in the midst of an Italian plaza. George luckily catches her when she faints. Afterwards, the two share an intimate conversation. Lucy, confused by her strong feelings for George and bound by the constraints of proper English society, decides to avoid George.
However, that plan is quickly deemed futile, as the next day a group of Englishmen, including Charlotte, Lucy, the Emersons, Mr. Beebe, and Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who befriends Charlotte, all set out for a ride and picnic in the countryside. Lucy, after being dismissed by her cousin, attempts to find Mr. Beebe. In broken Italian, she asks the driver where he is, and the driver accidentally leads her to George, who is standing in a gloriously beautiful field of flowers. George, overcome with his feelings for Lucy and the beauty that surrounds him, kisses her, just as Charlotte rushes into the picture to stop the two lovebirds.
The next day, Charlotte and Lucy leave for Rome without saying goodbye to George.
Back at home in England with Lucy’s mother, younger brother Freddy and Mr. Beebe, we are introduced to Lucy’s new beau, Cecil Vyse, an arrogant and self-righteous jerk who admires her for her beauty and talent at the piano, but does not appear to have any understanding of the concept of love. However, after countless proposals (third time’s the charm, Cecil), Lucy accepts Cecil’s marriage proposal.
Just in the nick of time to change her mind, the Emersons arrive as tenants in a local cottage. Freddy and George become immediate bros, thereby introducing George back into Lucy’s life. Later, Freddy invites George to play tennis with him and Lucy at the Honeychurch house. Lucy is mortified since Cecil will also be attending. Throughout the tennis game, Cecil is a total bore as usual and reads aloud to the party from a silly romance novel. That is, until Lucy and George recognize a tender kiss in a certain field of wildflowers in Florence hits a little too close to home. The book is written by Miss Eleanor Lavish, prompting Lucy to realize her “dear cousin” Charlotte told Miss Lavish about the kiss. In the garden on their way inside, George kisses Lucy again.
Furiously, Lucy forces Charlotte to be in the room with her as she tells George to leave and never come back. George protests, telling Lucy that Cecil only wants her as an object and “wasn’t the sort who could know anyone intimately.” Whereas George, on the other hand, would grant Lucy the independence she desires and love her for the passionate little thing she is. Lucy remains firm, not realizing how much George’s speech has affected her until later that day when Cecil rudely declines to play tennis yet again, and Lucy breaks off her engagement with him, repeating George’s own words at him.
Lucy is a mess. (She loves George but can’t bear to admit it!). Instead, she abruptly makes plans to go to Greece in an attempt to run away. But just before her flight, she accidentally runs into Mr. Emerson, who is unaware of her recent breakup with Cecil. Lucy cannot lie to the old man, who makes her admit out loud her feelings for George. Lucy responds, “Well, what did you all think?” (Adorable, I know).
At long last, Lucy and George elope together and are seen smooching in a hotel room in Florence, complete with a tremendous view of the Duomo.
And speaking of the famous Duomo…
We made it! You’ll remember I, along with my comrades Athena and Madison, just spent almost 2 days in Venice. But come early Wednesday morning, we were on the road again (on train tracks, rather) headed south for Florence, our second-to-last leg of the trip and our longest stay in any city. We deliberately left waayy too early in the morning in order to maximize our time in the city considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Florence, the capital of the region of Tuscany, boasts one of the most iconic and mysterious buildings of all-time, Brunelleschi’s Duomo. To this day, engineers are left guessing how exactly he built the world’s largest masonry dome.
Follow this link if you want to see a great video my Art History professor showed us in class about Brunelleschi’s dome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IOPlGPQPuM
Of course, Il Duomo was our first stop!
The Duomo was even bigger than I imagined. The city seemed to revolve around it, restaurants and shops directed their gaze towards it, and people, such as myself, walked around and around it, marveling at its size and glory.
Tell me, where do people even come up with the designs for these buildings? Be it Gothic, Renaissance, or Rococo, this intricacy and attention to detail astound me every time. Also, unrelated, I wasn’t too sure about the color palette here, having never seen light pink and green like this on a building, but hey, you do you, Florence.
Street artists selling their craft had set up camp all around the Duomo, and on our last day Madison, Athena and I bought enough artwork to feast our eyes for a while until we can come back.
Next was lunch. After scouring the area surrounding the Duomo and the overflowing outdoor market next door, we passed by a restaurant whose menu was all in Italian. This was a good sign, we thought. Even better, when we walked in we heard more Italian than our native English. Sure enough, what ensued probably deserves a spot in my top 15 Best Meals of All-Time. Madison dug into the most succulent, tender lamb while I split open butternut squash ravioli bathed in a delicate yet rich sage butter sauce. (Cue the drooling). Tragically, I did not take any photos because I was too enamored with my dish. I know, I know, it breaks my heart too.
We kept exploring after lunch, trying to get our bearings of the city. Walking through the cobblestone streets of Florence was like walking through one of those pop-up fairy tale books you used to read as a child. The history and the art literally enfold you.
Speaking of which…
Example #1 of a bajillion of the fairy tale that is Florence!! I entitle this, “El arte existe porque la vida no es suficiente,” which would translate by my estimation as, “Art exists because life just ain’t enough.”
Whilst meandering, we stumbled across a ton of people waiting in line for something. As we got nearer to the front of the line, we realized it was a sandwich shop, the All’antico Vinaio. Or I should say rather, the most legit sandwich shop we had ever seen in our lives! Bottles of wine lined the walls, sitting in the windowsill, all different varieties of meat begged to be chosen, while tantalizing cheeses and spreads called to you from inside. As the cherry on top, all the sandwich makers were hot Italian men- score! Since we had just eaten, we promised to come back before we left, if not just for the sandwich but for the men making them as well 😉
The next day, we made our way to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. We waited in line for probably an hour and a half, but nothing was going to stop me from seeing one of the most revolutionary pieces of art.
You see, many Florentine sculptors had come before Michelangelo and offered their own rendition of David slaying Goliath. Why did they repeat this particular subject matter, you may ask? Well, during this time period Italy was not a unified state as it is today, but actually a whole bunch of warring states constantly competing for power. Florence, thanks to the prominent Medici family, was one of the more influential city-states. They saw themselves as the underdog, much like David in the biblical story, so naturally he became their mascot.
Here, in chronological order, you have Verrocchio’s David in the top right corner, then Donatello’s, and then my personal favorite, Bernini’s David.
The transition over time of artists’ portrayal of David is so cool. First, Verrocchio depicts David as this baby-faced, smiling idiot prepubescent little boy. Goliath’s head rests at his feet, indicating that the battle is over and David has triumphed. Similarly, Donatello has sculpted Goliath’s head resting at David’s feet. Yet he renders David’s body as a curved line and profound contrapposto, taking cues from Classical Greek sculpture. He appears older than Verrochio’s David, but still has that feminine softness to him. Is it just me, or does anyone else agree he sort of resembles the Venus de Milo?
Still, both Verrocchio and Donatello choose to represent David after the battle, having already defeated Goliath. In this respect, Bernini takes his David in a completely different direction. His David is set in action; the spectator watches David in the motion of throwing his sling towards Goliath. David breaks free from the constrained pose of his former cousins.
Even still, Michelangelo takes this concept even further. Davis is not depicted as the triumphant victor but as any human being, scared and vulnerable. Michelangelo gives us insight into David’s psyche, an unprecedented feat.
Now, I had seen some pictures beforehand of the Galleria and David, but nothing could have prepared me for his majesty. He was ENORMOUS, and the way the he was situated, with an oculus above bathing him in a golden aura, and the mini-dome thing in the background, only exaggerated his presence. He was a king, and we mere mortals merely gazed upon him.
After basking in the glory of Michelangelo’s David, we decided to bask in another type of glory, that of the impressive view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. But first, to get there, we had *got* to walk through the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, thereby appropriately named so.
The Ponte Vecchio is filled with old antique and jewelry shops, ranging from the oober expensive to the just plain outrageous. Appropriately, the gelato also fits into this category, with flavors swirling towards the ceiling of their case. Apparently, though, real gelato is anything BUT mountains of gob rising to great heights. You can spot the authentic gelato if it is smooth and flat, the same level or lower than its container. It doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing as the towering flavors in the more touristy shops, but there you have it!
We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and continued our way towards the most elevated part of the city, stopping for photo-opp moments along the way.
After what felt like an hour trekking up the nearly 90 angle ascent, we were rewarded with the most spectacular view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale is located in the hills of Florence, quite a steep incline as I mentioned before. There were many tourists sitting on the stairs of the plaza for the sunset, so I would recommend getting a little early to stake out a spot and bringing some fuel, perhaps a famous sandwich? 😀
If you haven’t already guessed the theme of this city and this post, I’ll give you another hint by saying that watching the sun go down over the Arno river, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo and the countless other red-tiled roofs of Florence was simply magical.
What else was magical our second day in Florence? Walking down from the plaza, getting dulce de leche gelato and taking it to the river to people-watch while an old Italian gentleman strums the strings of your heart when you ask him to play “La vie in rose” with his violin. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is!
For dinner that night, Madison, Athena and I took advantage of one of the restaurants offering a happy hour buffet. Some restaurants in Italy have deals like this during the hours of our happy hour, 5-7 or so. A ton of food is set out, you can have as much as you want, and drinks are cheaper. It’s like an homage to America and our affinity for all things jumbo-sized and all-you-can-eat.
Our last day, we first tried to go to the Uffizi Gallery, but the line was a horrendous complicated mess, and we hadn’t reserved tickets online nor prepaid a million dollars to skip the line, so we would have had to wait hours to get inside. There was still too much to do in the city of Florence, so we headed instead towards the huge outdoor market we had passed every day. Along the way, we passed by the Piazza della Repubblica, where all these wonderful old equestrian statues announced their ancient political prowess. I don’t think they were the original versions, but they were still cool!
And onto the market. Known as the Mercato Centrale, it is made up of two markets, an inner section selling all food items, like pasta in the shape of things you wouldn’t necessarily want pasta to be shaped like… and the larger market outdoor, selling clothes, souveniers and all. Things. Leather. Leather is actually one of the things that Italy is accurately known for producing really good quality, unlike wine and olive oil. Spain is actually the biggest exporter in the world of olive oil and wine, spread it around!!!!!!!
Leather abounded in this market, in the form of purses, wallets, billfolds, backpacks, belts, shoes, notebooks, and jackets. Whew, is that all? There were silk scarves, pottery, and countless other souvenirs. It was the perfect place to go for bringing gifts back for the family. Unfortunately for my bank account, I have the bad habit of buying just as many things for myself as for my family and friends. In fact, while bargaining for a scarf for my Mimi, I ended up buying a scarf for myself. But they are handmaid and made out of silk and cashmere! And look how pretty it is:
After shopping in San Lorenzo, we hit the Basilica of Santa Croce.
HA. Sorry, but this pathetic attempt at Gothic architecture by the Italians gets me every time. Now, this church is beautiful in its own way, but everyone knows the French do Gothic better! You see, the whole entire point of the Gothic was verticality. The higher the ceilings, the closer to God, you know?! Check out Amiens cathedral in Amiens, France, the epitome of the Gothic’s obsession with height:
This nave reaches an unbelievable 370 feet, a number totally unprecedented before Gothic times.
But those Italians, they didn’t really care about any of this stuff. They tried their darndest to make the exterior of their churches look similar to those in France, but as for the interior, they just couldn’t seem to shake themselves from their old-fashioned basilica plan churches that had worked for them for centuries. Hell, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
Lastly, our final item on our Florence agenda was the all-important sandwich shop we had passed by on our first day.
Apparently, it was also the last item on every one else’s agenda. The line was around the corner!
There was no other explanation for such insane popularity but that this little sandwich shop we randomly bumped into our first day in Florence was ACTUALLY (drum roll, please)… the MOST FAMOUS SANDWICH SHOP IN ALL OF FLORENCE!!!!!!!!!
True story, folks.
I mean, look how BIG it is!!!!!!
Seriously. It’s like the size of my head!!!
And as you can clearly see from my face of pure unadulterated joy, that sandwich was HEAVEN. I started telling the guy at the counter what kind of bread and meat I wanted, along with the other condiments, but he stopped me and told me no, no, no, that was all wrong. This type of cheese wouldn’t go well with that, etc, etc. So he said, “I make it for you.” Boy, did he ever. I couldn’t even tell what he put on my sandwich, but the combination of flavors was so on-point it brought tears to my eyes. The bitter olive tapenade blended perfectly with the salty meat, and the bread was so big and crunchy on the outside but gloriously soft once you bit into it further. Athena, Madison and I enjoyed our sandwiches whilst perching on the wall of the Arno river. Once again, it was magical.
And that brings us to the end of story time, boys and girls! Get it? Cuz Florence is a fairy tale and all!
Just one more trip in Italy before going back to Madrid. Rome is next!