In January 2015 Emirates airline was running an amazing promotion: round-trip tickets for two from New York to Milan for only $800 total. I jumped on this deal and booked a two-week holiday in Italy for my then-boyfriend Bruce and I. (Keep your eye on Emirates if you’re looking to travel to Italy too as they may be running this deal again this year!)
After a series of trains which brought us from Milan to Florence and then a rental car which took us to our charming farmhouse outside of town where we stayed the first week, we drove back into the city on our first morning in Italy. Driving in Italy can be a challenge: first and foremost, you’ve got to be brave, so as to not get unnerved by all the crazy Italians speeding around hairpin corners, weaving recklessly in and out of traffic, and often passing some other motorist on a blind turn. Second, when you go into a city, you’ve got to navigate around the Limited Traffic Zones, ZTLs, which are restricted to public transportation and I think some residential licenses.
When we thought we’d successfully accomplished both tasks (though evidently we somehow crossed the ZTL as I got two tickets in the mail seven months later), we found a parking garage on the edge of the city and walked into the city center along the river. Florence is lovely in that Old World way: the red tiled roofs, the massive oak doors, the narrow crooked streets, the cracked and worn facades that betray the history of countless inconceivable generations — of centuries of everyday life. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the river which is one of the few areas that is closed to the madness of traffic. Along both sides of the Ponte Vecchio are shops selling high-end jewelry and watches to wealthy tourists. We meandered to the end and then turned around and came back down the bridge and made our way to the Galleria degli Uffizi, where we discovered that the line to get inside was 2 hours long. The line to buy advance tickets, however, was nonexistent and in the space of about 2 minutes we had made reservations to come back Thursday at noon.
Next around the corner to the Galileo Museum, which evidently closes at 1:30pm on Tuesdays, meaning that we’d missed it by ten minutes. We weren’t having much luck with museums so we headed up to the Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as Il Duomo. This is a massive Renaissance cathedral finished in 1436.
I have seen so many beautiful things in my life, I always feel lucky when I see one more. I hope I never stop finding things to be in awe of. I was in awe today standing in front of the Cathedral and Il Duomo. It is indescribably ornate, fashioned of white and green and pink marble, adorned with countless statues and sculptures and infinite architectural details.
We bought tickets at the office across the street and, when our necks began to hurt from craning and our jaws were tired from dropping, tried to enter the cathedral. I was stopped by a stern security guard who insisted that I must cover my legs before entering, for the sake of modesty. As I was wearing shorts and had nothing to cover up with, we had to leave. Instead we walked around to the Dome entrance, where nobody cared how naked my legs were, and began the climb to the top.
View from Il Duomo over Firenze.
Four hundred and sixty-three cramped, steep, and excruciating steps later we emerged at the top, legs and lungs screaming. We had an incredible view over the city and the nearby Campanile (bell tower); it was possible to walk the whole way around the Duomo so we could literally see all of Florence stretching away beneath us. We filled up on photographs and then made our way back down on shaky legs.
Next, when we were slightly recovered, we scaled the 414 steps of the matching bell tower – just in time to hear the bell ring at 5:15pm with an ear-splitting peal. When we finally coaxed our protesting legs up to the top, we had another great view of the city and the nearby Duomo.
After we’d filled up on the art and architecture, the day was waning and we made our way slowly back to the parking garage, stopping on the way for dinner and our second gelato of the day. We’d made plans to come back in two days to hit the things we’d missed today, including the Uffizi, David, and the Galileo Museum.
Want to do this yourself?
I found out about the Emirates airfare deal through The Flight Deal.
I booked this darling Tuscan farmhouse through Airbnb, it was about 30 minutes outside the city and I highly recommend it – we had a great host and great experience. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, contact me for a link to a $20 credit!