If you don’t visit Tuscany, you aren’t doing Italy right.
So since my parents had already flown all the way to Milan, it made sense to show them one of the most beautiful regions of the country as well! After my last class on Thursday we took a train to Firenze (aka Florence), the capital of Tuscany known for it’s rich history and collection of art. There was a ton to do, so it was nice that we had the whole weekend to explore the city!
Before I get into the specifics of our weekend, let me first say that traveling with your parents is nice. I’ve been traveling with budget airlines and staying in cheap hostels all semester, so a comfortable high speed train and a quality hotel was greatly appreciated. Our hotel, called Antica Torre, was exactly that – an old tower – which was super cool and right next to the river Arno, with an amazing view of Florence from the roof. I loved being able to enjoy breakfast up there each morning. Also, their cappuccino’s were excellent (I’m telling you…I’m getting addicted).
So we started our first day in Florence at one of the city’s biggest landmarks – the Piazza del Duomo, which includes the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore, Battistero di San Giovanni (baptistery), and Campanile di Giotto (bell tower). The inside of the cathedral was pretty simple (I’m sorry but once you’ve been to St. Peter’s Basilica every church just looks kind of average), and underneath is a crypt with the ruins of Roman houses. The baptistery was under construction (there’s a lot of construction since the Pope will be visiting Florence in November), but we were still able to go inside and admire the famous bronze doors.
But that’s not all! It’s also possible to climb the Cupola del Brunelleschi (dome of the cathedral) as well as the bell tower. Of course, we climbed both. My quads were definitely sore the next day, but it was totally worth it for the gorgeous view of Florence!
We spent the afternoon at the Giardini di Boboli, the gardens of the Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace), which became the Tuscan royal palace under the Medici family. The Medicis were an incredibly wealthy and powerful Tuscan family that held the title of Duke of Florence for centuries, as well as producing four Popes. The palace changed hands a few times, being held by Napoleon and then serving as the royal palace of Italy once the country was united, until it was finally given as a museum and art gallery to the people of Italy.
And of course, we had to eat! As in Milan, we ate very very well in Florence. I don’t like red meat so I was not about to eat a Florentine steak, but I was still very happy since the Italians definitely know how to do food regardless of whatever region you’re in.
Our next day in Florence was all about artwork. I love looking at art, but I also have to admit that I know virtually nothing about it so we scheduled a guided tour through Florence’s main art museums. Turns out we were the only English speaking people who had booked a tour that day, so we ended up having our own private tour guide, which was fabulous!
We started at the Galleria degli Uffizi, which is huge and would have been completely overwhelming if we didn’t have our tour guide. There are so many masterpieces there, including Botticelli’s Primavera, The Birth of Venus, and Adoration of the Magi of 1475, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation, Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch, and Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo. Our tour guide did a fantastic job of pointing out the important pieces and explaining the significance and history of all of the artworks, it made the experience so much more enjoyable!
Next we went in to the Corridoio Vasariano, a corridor that connects the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace. It’s a part of the Ponte Vecchio (the super iconic bridge crossing the Arno with jewelry shops on it that you’ve definitely seen pictures of before…it’s called the “old bridge” because it was the only bridge not destroyed by Hitler during WWII), built so that the Grand Duke wouldn’t have to travel in public. Today the corridor is a gallery packed with self-portraits of some of the world’s most famous artists.
We also spent some time in the Piazza della Signoria. The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) sits on this square, so the piazza has historically been the political center of the city of Florence. There’s a bunch of statues decorating the piazza, including Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, and a copy of David in the statue’s original location.
The real David is now located in the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze. As I just mentioned, the statue used to be in the Piazza della Signoria and was a sort of symbol of Florentine independence, but had to be moved to the Accademia to protect it. After all of the other incredible works of art I had seen all day, my expectations weren’t that high. But honestly I was absolutely blown away. David is truly a masterpiece, there’s really no way to describe how incredible of a job Michelangelo did. Pictures can’t do it justice, you’ll just have to go see for yourself some day!
To wrap up our time in Tuscany we did a short day trip to Pisa. I feel bad saying this, but there’s not much to see in Pisa besides the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). Obviously there’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but there’s also the Pisa cathedral and baptistry. Though most people tend to focus on the bell tower, the entire piazza is beautiful!
I know the Leaning Tower is called the Leaning Tower for a reason, but it was still shocking how much it is actually leaning. It leans roughly 4 degrees, which doesn’t seem like a lot until you realize that means the top of the tower is off-center by almost 4 meters. It was super unnerving to climb the tower and be so aware that the stairs and the entire tower were leaning so heavily.
We walked through Pisa a little bit, but had to get back to Florence in order to catch our train back to Milan. My parents left the next morning, and are now safely back in the US of A probably eating deep dish pizza. I am so so grateful to have had them fly all the way to Italy to see me, and so happy to have been able to show them around Italy! I am such a lucky daughter, and will never be able to thank them enough for letting me study abroad 🙂
Thanks Mom and Dad, can’t wait to see you again on May 31!