Sunday, May 19, 2013

Wherever it Takes column: A day in flashy Florence

Printed in the Wicked Local Weeklies
May 16, 2013

Florence, Italy is saturated with treasures, from statues to paintings to culinary masterpieces. But the city itself is its most exquisite work of art. Their architecture is as flawless as any statue. Their people are as colorful as any painting. Inspiration flows right along with the city's river. 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 its sparkling red, green and white facade absorb 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. This Old Bridge is like no other bridge you've ever seen, bustling with shoppers scouring the stores that hang out over the water like flower-filled windowboxes.

If you're lucky, your stomach will let you know it is 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 been whisked to 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.
Walking is the best remedy for a full stomach, especially after a carbo-loaded lunch. Of course, having a scooter at your disposal is another option for motoring about town. You can zip between some of the other tourist destinations, like the Uffizi Gallery or the Academia, where Michelangelo's David calls home.

As your 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, your trek should circle back to the Duomo. By now, you've hopefully burned off your lunch, or else the 400-plus steep stairs to the top of the cupola might be sluggish. The reward at the top is well worth it. From the top, the stunning 360-degree view of this exquisite Renaissance city is emphasized by the burnt-orange halo descending over every terra-cotta roof and marble column. The purple Tuscan hills in the distance heave and fall in the gathering evening shadows, a perfect backdrop to the glowing city sprawled out below. Take a deep breath, exhale into the Italian air and take in Renaissance Italy.

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 Arno River reflects the city lights and an artistic dance of shadow and illumination unravels in the dark current.

Florence - from its buildings to its food to its people - is a picturesque 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 even with the naked eye, most anything you see will be indelibly saved in your mind’s memory. So spend a day basking in the unforgettable flash of Firenze.

Mike Hartigan of Saugus is a writer and traveler looking for good story, wherever it takes. Follow along at or on Twitter @WhereverItTakes

Read more: Wherever it Takes column: A day in flashy Florence - Saugus, MA - Saugus Advertiser
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