En route to Florence, my roommate and I hopped off the train a few stops early in Pisa to see the city's namesake monument. Dragging our suitcases behind us, we caught a bus across town and snapped a few photos with the mysteriously tilted tower. We had just enough time to walk up the row of market stalls and grab gelato before we caught our train on to Florence.
The tiny lights and the glowing Duomo of Florence broke up the sheer darkness that evening from our view over the city from the top of Piazza Michelangelo, said to be one of the best views of the city (and home to a replica of Michelangelo's statue of David). We found a local restaurant serving a delicious seafood ravioli. The local dinner crowd seemed to pick up just as we finished our pasta around 10 o'clock.
Monday morning, my friend and I marched down the narrow crooked streets of Florence with our heads cocked up to find (sometimes non-existent) street signs. When we popped out in an open piazza and saw a mammoth of pink, green and white marble ahead, we knew we had found the Cattedrale di Santa Maria (a.k.a. the Duomo) -- the largest basilica in Florence, dating from the 13th century, with its grand elongated dome. Climbing to the top of the red-tiled dome to the open-air cupola remains one of my highlights of Florence. Just as we stepped out from a narrow dark stone spiral staircase, the sun broke free from the clouds and cast a warm glow over the city.
We also saw the Basilica di San Lorenzo, the Cappelle Medicee (the Medici Chapels) and the Medici tombs. And after all the churches, we found the Piazza della Repubblica -- the perfect spot to kick back, people-watch and ride a feathered-carousel horse.
We set our alarms early Tuesday morning to get a head start to see the best of Florence's art galleries. We had booked reservations to see the Uffizi Gallery in the morning and the Galleria dell'Academia in the afternoon. We walked through rooms of medieval and gothic religious art in the Uffizi; think gold-leaf and bold paints. My favorites were Botticelli's Primavera (with its mystical feel) and Rembrandt's Self Portrait as an Old Man. I recognized both from textbooks, but seeing the masterpieces a foot in front of me gave me a new appreciation for the work. Michelangelo's David stole the show at the Galleria dell'Academia. According to the plaque at the museum, Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt the figure for the Duomo and was only given a leftover scrap of stone. Ticked at the lack of material, he set out to sculpt David in his most perfect form. Mission accomplished.
At our art-quota for the day, we found another piazza and big bowls of gelato. I picked one of my favorite combos: dark chocolate, stracciatella (vanilla chocolate chip) and coconut. We finished in just enough time to catch our evening train to Rome.