Florence, Italy is saturated with treasures, from statues to paintings to culinary masterpieces. But the city itself is its most exquisite work of art. The architecture rivals the people for flash. A factor of unforgettability flows right along with the city's river. And the best part is, from morning, to noon to night, you can experience the best of Renaissance Italy just by strolling the streets of flashy Firenze.
The Duomo and it's sparkling red, green and white facade absorbs the morning light like a marble sponge. With a crisp morning sky, the entire impressive structure instantly becomes more photogenic than supermodels strutting the catwalks of Milan. A short walk away and the Ponte Vecchio shimmers like the jewelry being sold in its shops. The Old Bridge is like no other bridge you've ever seen, bustling with shoppers scouring the stores hanging out over the water like flower-filled windowboxes.
If you're lucky, you're stomach will let you know it's lunchtime before the bell towers around town. In Florence, as in a lot of Italy, most anywhere will provide a good bite, but a stop at Trattoria Mario's or All' Antico Vinaio and you've arrived at another plane of gastronomic excellence. Most obviously, you're getting something fresh for lunch: fresh-sliced proscuitto or porchetta piled high on fresh-baked bread, or perhaps a bowl of freshly-made pasta next to a plate of freshly picked vegetables.
After a carbo-loading lunch, walking may be the best remedy for a full stomach. Of course, if a scooter is at your disposal, it may be one way to motor across town to some of the other tourist destinations like the Uffizi Gallery or the Academia, where Michaelangelo's David calls home. But if you choose to tackle the Italian roadways, you're risking more than just your personal safety.
As the afternoon begins to wane, Firenze is just getting revved up. The trattorias, cafes and bars begin to buzz with life, as well as the open piazzas. Street musicians playing cellos, violins and guitars warm up, quickly shifting into classical masterpieces, Italian songs and a few familiar pop hits. You've never heard Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" until you've heard it plucked on a cello by an old Italian man standing next to a carousel.
Before the Tuscan sun begins to drop behind the far-off hills, circle back to the Duomo. By now, you've hopefully burned off your lunch, or else the 400+ staircase to the top of the cupola might be sluggish. The reward at the top is well worth it. A 360 degree view of this stunning Renaissance city is emphasized by the burnt-orange halo descending over every terra-cotta roof and marble column. The city glows as you take a deep breath and exhale into the brisk wind whipping up the side of the dome.
By the time you make your way back to ground level, and night has fallen over Firenze, a new beauty awakens. Again revisiting an earlier landmark, walk past Ponte Vecchio to one of the other bridges crossing Florence's river. From the middle of any bridge, the river reflects the city lights and an artistic dance of shadow and illumination unravels in the flowing Arno.
Florence - from its buildings to its food to its people - is a photography playground. There are treasures around every corner, and since you can't take snapshots in the art museums, you'll be snapping away along the streets. But the naked eye is just as good, since most anything you see will be indelibly saved in your memory - the unforgettable flash of Firenze.
Here are some photos from a day in Florence - morning, noon and night.
The Duomo facade
Ponte Vecchio in the sun
Proscuitto panini from All' Antico Vinaio
The unassuming front of Trattoria Mario
Street musicians at dusk
Shimmering lights on the Arno
Arno in Black and White