For one afternoon, we three ladies decided to sign up for a tour by an art expert to help us navigate the Uffizi Gallery. We were very pleased with our guide, Angelo from “Walks of Italy” (Walksof Italy.com) who was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject. He made the art come alive by tying the history of the Medici Family, Lorenzo Medici, the Church’s expectations, the Italians’ love of mythology with the artists of that time, such as Raphael, Lippi, Botticelli, Bernini, Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci and others during the Renaissance period which helped the artists to flourish and to create the masterpieces we were admiring. It took about four hours to walk through more than 45 rooms to see some of the major pieces. I was thrilled with this tour and I learned enough to return.
Uffizi with its marble corridors and 45 rooms was built in the 16th century as the Medici’s private office complex. It has so many famous paintings, including Giotto’s Maesta, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna with Child and Two Angels, Raphael, Madonna of the Goldfinch, Caravaggio’s Bacchus, Medusa and Sacrifice of Isaac among many others.
Angelo was kind enough to suggest a place to dine, the Osteria Santo Spirito, Piazza Santo Spirito,+39 055 238 2383. This restaurant was a short distance from where we were staying. And so we tried out this Osteria which is a local favorite located on a busy square. The food was exceptional and of course we ordered whatever our waiter suggested.
Once, while we were walking towards the Santo Spirito area, I noticed a long line of peoples waiting their turn to be seated at this restaurant, Casalinga (house wife). So, the next evening we made a reservation to dine at Trattoria Casalinga, Via dei Michelozzi, 9r, 50125 Firenze, Italy+39 055 218624. This ended up becoming our favorite restaurant. This is the perfect place to order the Florentine special, bistecca alla florentina which is a huge steak prepared rare.
Another morning’s itinerary included visiting the Duomo and Baptistry. This is the write up from Pauline Frommer’s Guidebook: “The Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) is the symbol Of Florence and the city’s biggest attraction, both in size and popularity. Piazza della Duomo contains five sights operated by the church authorities: the central church itself, the highly recommended climb to the top of the dome, the climb up Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Museum of the Duomo, and the Baptistry. In choosing which to visit, I’d say the Baptistry and a climb up the dome are must sees; the museum is a greatly underrated sight, and worth the time; the cathedral itself doesn’t take long. Giotto’s Bell Tower is for die-hards whose legs haven’t already turned to jelly from climbing the dome.”
Another day, we ventured to the Accademia Gallery to sit and study, Michelangelo’s famous “David,” as well as the many other statutes. Near here, one can refresh oneself at the Gran Caffé Marco, at the Piazza San Marco.
One fun visit was to the 2011 Gucci Museum which overlooks the grand Piazza della Signoria. It is housed within the Pallazzo della Mercanzia, which was founded in 1308 on the site of an ancient Roman Theatre and which was originally established to support the trade guilds. This museum showcases the designs of Gucci starting in 1921 from the handbags, to high fashion outfits, couture gowns, household items and even a Cadillac Seville.
As we toured the various museums, churches and other attractions located within walking distance from the Uffizi and the Duomo, one of our favorite activities was to sit at a café to rest, eat and watch the what was unfolding before us in a busy square. One popular plaza is the Piazza della Repubblica and here we would stop at Caffé Gilli. This iconic, beloved café which has been in business since 1733, is on the expensive side but this is the price for being a witness to the show of life at this well known plaza.
According to Visit Florence.com, “The square today is theatre to street artists and impromptu shows, particularly after sunset. Piazza della Repubblica is home to the historical Caffé Gilli, Caffé Paskowski and Caffé delle Giubbe Rosse which were meeting points for many of the city’s artists and writers in the past. Also facing onto the piazza are the Hotel Savoy on Via Roma and the central Post Office, located under the arches of the portico that extends to each side of the Arch of Triumph.”
Another beautiful historical 1872 icon, the Caffé Rivoire is a must for anyone who want to enjoy a pleasant stop in one of the most beautiful squares in the world, Piazza della Signoria. It is believed that Enrico Rivoire, Savoia royal family chocolatier, was from Turin and brought to Florence the tradition of the typical hot chocolate from his hometown. And of course, this café is famous for its hot chocolate and sweets.
As per Pauline Frommer in her guidebook, “Piazza della Signora is Florence’s public living room, a giant space filled with massive sculptures, and surrounded by cafes, palaces, and museums. This has been Florence’s political center since the 1400s, when the signoria, a group of noblemen ruled the city. The statutes may look like museum pieces today, but they brilliantly reveal the dynamic political nature of the square.”
I and my friend decided to explore the antique shops and the artisan businesses in the Olterano district which was within walking distance from our apartment. We had not been able to fit a tour of this area into our schedule. I did purchase some art work from the shop along the Via Santo Spirito, and just past the south end of the Ponte Santa Trinita. There is the small workshop of Ippogrifo, where a couple create gorgeous etched copper prints and the address is Via Santo Spirito 5/r, tel. & fax-+39 055 213255. In the same area I purchased a dress from Giofre Tailor & Fashion Designer; Via S. Agostino N. 32R, 50125; phone/ fax 055 2399141.
Following are suggestions which I wish I had acted to do:
1.) Context Tours.com which can be reached at +1 800 691-6036 offers 3 hour afternoon tours for 80 euros, about 2 days per week to enter artisan businesses in the Olterano district. The following is from their ad:
This three hour tour of Florence, Italy will explore the private workshops of this characteristic neighborhood, providing a behind the scenes look at the current state of artisan production.”
- Small group walks—6 people max
- Led by a Florence expert
- Explore the hidden craft workshops in the Oltrarno neighborhood
- “We will begin in the lovely Piazza Santo Spirito and enjoy a stroll through the Oltrarno neighborhood, which has been home to artisans for the last five-hundred years. The neighborhood is virtually carpeted with a maze of these small workshops on tiny side streets, representing some of the most historic enterprises in the city. The group will have the opportunity seeing some of these craftsmen at work; observing their meticulous practices and the tools of their trades.”
“In the company of our docent, we’ll talk about Tuscan artisan traditions and the value and role of work and manufacturing in Italian culture. This walk is very much for the traveler looking to scratch a little more beneath the surface of the city. It should not be thought of as a shopping tour, instead, it is an in depth look into the workings of this precious industry and should provide a better understanding of the importance of preserving and promoting this dying art.”
2.) I would attend the Teatro del Sale, Via de’Macci 111r. Pauline Frommer describes the following in her guide book: “Dinner and entertainment, 6 nights a week, doesn’t really sum it up. The entertainment varies from Italian theater to jazz and gospel bands to Elvis Costello…The dishes served buffet style, are created in a glassed off kitchen to the side of the theater area. Chef Picchi announces each order as it emerges from the kitchen, shouting them up like a ship’s captain:…The penne is powerfully hot and spicy. Diners jockey for position around the table to grab helping…Wine is dispensed freely from two large casks, and desserts arrive in big servings.”
Teatro del Sale requires a yearly membership as it is a club – so it costs 5 Euros per person to get a card which is good for one calendar year, which then entitles you to eat breakfast, lunch or diner.