The best part of Florence was exploring this beautiful city with my mother! It was nice to see a familiar face, especially one that I had been missing so much. And without her there would be nobody to complain with after climbing over 500 steps in the Duomo and bell tower or nobody to suggest that it was time to stop for gelato.
Il Papiro My favorite shop in Firenze and certainly my mother's also. This shop is filled with handmade marbled and stamped goods and papers. All of it is made in Florence. We were treated to a marbling demo. After thickening water, paint is dripped on the surface before patterns are pulled through with a stick. Then the paper floated on the water and when slid out, the paint is affixed to the paper. I've marbled paper before, but never have I seen such a flawless product. I think we spent more money in this store than anywhere else in Florence. It was like stepping into a patterned, jewel-colored world.
Piazza del Signoria & Palazzo Vecchio & Orsanmichele If you are in for some sight-seeing, these locations are great for gazing at statues. Piazza del Signoria does get a little touristy, but it is a great place to sit for a bit. We only went in the courtyard of Palazzo Vecchio--I wish we had time to return and go inside as what small part of it we saw was beautiful.
Ponte Vecchio Honestly overrrated. The structure itself holds much more value and beauty than the gold shops on top of it. I suggest avoiding the crowds and going one bridge down so that you can get a good look at the house-bridge that survived WWII.
Brac This great little cafe and bookstore came recommended by Girl in Florence. Very artsy and indie with good literature choices, a relaxed setting, and delicious, fresh food. The handful of tables were filled with locals when we came in for a late lunch. The servings were large and colorful with many veggies. My mother and I split an out-of-this-world fruit salad for desert.
Mercato Central Must do it Florence. The bottom floor of the market is stalls of fresh ingredients--fish, meat, pasta, fruits, vegetables--and the top is vendors selling prepared food. Split a plate of spicy pasta and it was awesome. The atmosphere is of one big cafeteria-style family, sitting down to enjoy the no-frills food.
Duomo, Bell tower by Giotto, & Baptistery The cathedral in the center of the city is hard to miss. It's absolutely breathtaking in its unusual green, pink, and white marble patterns. I recommend a combination pass to all parts of the Santa Maria del Fiore, that includes the bell tower, baptistery, climbing the Duomo, and the museum in the crypt. The museum is super interesting because it show remnants of the church through the centuries. Maybe climbing both the Duomo and the bell tower was overkill, my legs certainly thought so. But you get to see the frescoes up close in the Duomo as well as a city view and when you climb the bell tower you get a good look at the Duomo and the church. However, I recommend do these with as little baggage as possible and during tourist season, during off-hours like early in the morning or lunch time. This is because both sets of stairs are small and cramped and in some cases they are both the 'up' and 'down' stairs.
Pane e olio This was a random pick at the last minute, and I am very glad it happened. This little restaurant is definitely out-of-the-way of the main sites, but if you are staying near the historic district, like we did at the beginning of the week, it is so worth it. We sat outside in a twinkling glass box and were treated to great service and food. We received a free glass of wine each and when we asked for salad with our main dishes, the chef whipped up some delicious greens. My mother had excellent fish and I enjoyed a pasta dish. The meal was on the more expensive side, but worth every penny.
Medici chapels & San Lorenzo You will hear a lot about the Medici family if you visit Florence and you may visit the chapels, where some of the most prestigious are buried. The first chapel is huge, a wonderment of multi-colored marble. The second is smaller and less gaudy, but contains sculptures by Michelangelo. Attached to these are the Church of San Lorenzo and the Medici library. The Church is strangely plain from the outside because the face was never finished. It seems ridiculous the money and influence the Medici's had and yet they couldn't finish the Church closest to their family. The inside is a masterpiece of Brunelleschi's second only to the Duomo. All white and gold with precisely measured lines and geometrics.The audio guide, on a tablet that coms with the entrance fee, is very good (coming from a person who hates audiotours) and will give insight into the details and history of the church. Also be sure to visit the library of the Medici's with Michelangelo's staircase and rows of benches that once had the books organized inside of them, the titles printed along the aisle. I also loved the current exhibit in the library that held many illuminated manuscripts and old books. The 'museum' beneath the library space is nothing special, a handful of Medici goods.
Check back soon to read about the second half of my week in Florence. More to come: day tours and gelato places!