Italy: Living in Firenze

Some recollections and recommendations from my half year living in Florence and the Tuscany region.


Italy: Living in Firenze

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

As much as I enjoyed the art, architecture and natural splendor, what sticks out most in my mind is the superior gelato. Yum!${QuickSuggestions} Most culturally-minded visitors to Italy are surprised to find that Florence is a more interesting destination than Rome and Venice. Allow yourself ample time to see all of the many sights of Firenze as well as to soak up its well-preserved charm and character. Plus, there are lots of gelato stops to visit!${BestWay} You might be crazy enough to rent a Vespa (small motorcycle/scooter) to navigate the narrow cobblestone roads, but I wouldn't want to be your travel companion waiting in the hospital lounge. Firenze is the perfect city for walking about aimlessly and discovering hidden gems. Bring comfortable shoes.

Vivoli

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 26, 2000

Vivoli is the most popular gelateria in all of Firenze, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily the best gelateria. The flavors here tend to be a little more exotic, and the prices are more than a little inflated. But if you are in the Santa Croce area and in need of an ice cream fix (not an uncommon problem for a summer tourist) make sure to check out the popular Vivoli and indulge in a chocolate flavor.
Vivoli
Via Isola delle Stinche 7r
Florence, Italy
(055) 292-334

Perche No!

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 26, 2000

Are you getting the idea that I took my gelato consumption pretty seriously? While Perche No might not equal the bountiful servings of L'Angolo near Santa Maria Novella, its central location made it a popular place to relax after a long day of sightseeing. I liked that some of the flavors had actual bits of cake or pastry folded into the cream. Yum!
Perche No!
Via dei Tavolini 12r
Florence, Italy
(055) 298-969

Amon

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

Who would have guessed that one of my dining stand-bys while living in Florence would be an Egyptian sandwich hole in the wall? The food was not nearly as exotic as I feared it may be, just standard grilled meats with relatively mild sauces. For under two dollars I could have a filling meal, saving my money for a post-dinner gelato fix.
Amon
Via Palazzuolo, 28r
Florence, Italy, 50123
+39 055293146

CarLie's

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

If you have been living in Florence for a while, you may very well develop a hankering for old-fashioned American treats rather than yet another cone of gelato. CarLie's is the solution, with a variety of homemade bakery items including chocolate chip cookies and brownies. However, CarLie's operate on an unusual schedule and seem to be frequently closed when you have such home cookin' cravings...
CarLie's
Via delle Brache 12r
Florence, Italy
(055) 215-137

L'Angolo del Gelato

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

No matter what your guides books might suggest, this is the best gelateria in Firenze, or perhaps the world. They offer huge servings for less than what you'd pay at a gelateria situated in a more popular section of town. While the blended flavors here are not as fancy or varied as others, the quality of the cream is significantly higher at L'Angolo. After buying a scoop you can enjoy sitting out in the nearby plaza in front of Santa Maria Novella.
L'Angolo del Gelato
Via della Scala 22r
Florence, Italy
(055) 210-526

Paperback Exchange

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

If you are travelling or situated for a while in Florence, you might want some English-language reading material. This store sells and trades used foreign language texts at prices that are significantly lower than the Italian bookstores. The selection is also fairly wide, which is a lifesaver if your reading list is more expansive than Mark Twain and the letters of Thomas Jefferson.
Paperback Exchange
Via Fiesolana 31r
Florence, Italy

After Dark

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

If you are looking for hard to find English-language magazines in Florence, this is the place to start. The owner stocks a wide variety of British and American periodicals as well as some English-language books. It's one of the only Italian places that sells gay and lesbian books on the shelf out in the open, perhaps meriting the somewhat salacious title of 'After Dark...'
After Dark Bookstore
Via del Moro 86r
Florence, Italy
055.294203

Santa Maria Novella

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

This beautiful church often does not receive the attention it deserves, living in the shadow of its more popular sister Santa Croce. But the beautiful facade leads into a cavernous Gothic interior that offers a nice respite from the buzz of the nearby trains and shopping district. Near the entrance is a popular fresco by Masaccio, 'Holy Trinity with the Virgin, St. John and Donors.' The piazza outside is lovely in the evening.
Santa Maria Novella
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
Florence, Italy, 50123
+39 055215918

Boboli Gardens

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 12, 2000

The spawling gardens are a great place too get away from the buzzing Vespas and sensory overload of Florence. A combination of the natural Tuscan country with formal landscaping, you can easily get lost among the acres of greenery, statues and fountains. Designed in the 16th century by the Medici family members who then lived in the Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens were left to the city of Frienze as a gift when the dynasty collapsed.
On your first visit to the gardens it is quite impressive to find this humongous park that seems to stretch on forever hidden beneath a castle in the middle of the city. Look for some of the more famous sculptures, including a copy of Michaelangelo's Slaves and the Fontana del Bacco featuring the fat dwarf riding a turtle.
Boboli Gardens (Giardini di Boboli)
Behind the Pitti Palace
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 (055) 2388786

Il Duomo

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

It's funny to write about the Duomo. You can't escape the looming structure that punctuates the city's skyline, no matter where you are in town. And it frequently serves as your guide to navigating the complex maze of Florence or as a genral meeting place for you and your friends who live in different quarters.
The interior of the huge cathedral is rather underwhelming after visiting other Italian churches. Much of the art has been transplanted to the nearby Duomo museum, leaving behind a cold, empty grey space. But don't despair, for a long circular hike up the dome leads you to spectacular panormaic views of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
One word of note: the narrow passageway leading up the dome might be a challenge for those who are claustrophobic.
Santa Maria del Fiore & Baptistery (Il Duomo)
Piazza Del Duomo
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 055294514

Santa Croce

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

The church strongly resembles Santa Maria Novella from the outside, with its tinted marble facade. But inside it is much airier and rich with history. Michelangelo and several other prominent Florentines are buried right inside the church, and you might not even be aware that you are walking over their graves until it's too late.
A large collection of art treasures are still on display as well, making this a popular destination for many tourists. More than a few, I'm convinced, are living out scenes from A Room with a View...
Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza Santa Croce
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 055244619

Uffizi

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

What was once the Medici palace now houses one of the greatest art museums in the world. Though not huge and comprehensive like the Louvre or the Met, the Uffizi houses several recognizable masterpieces.
Probably the most famous is Botticelli's Birth of Venus. It is an amazing painting, but I prefer the darker Primavera. Works of Leonardo da Vinci are housed a few rooms down, including his Annuciation and Adoration of the Magi. Fans of Raphael will also find some nice works in the Uffizi.
I think the reason I find this museum particularly appealing is that walking around the pallazo enhances the art experience by taking me back in time, and allowing me to sponge up the character and essence of a very different world. The Uffizi is closed on Mondays.
Uffizi Gallery
Piazzale Degli Uffizi, 6
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 05523885

Mercato Centrale

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

Located right next to the San Lorenzo Basilica, the town's central market is a wonderful place to practice your bargaining skills and find unique gifts for family and friends back home. Living in Firenze, it was of great help to me as a central location of fresh fruits and vegetables that were far superior and cheaper than those available in the small supermarkets throughout town.
If you are thinking about buying leather goods from one of the many available vendors I'd bring along a friend who knows quality items from the rest. Lots of items appear well-constructed but fall apart before you make it back to the States.
Mercato Centrale
Inside the San Lorenzo central market (in Via dell'Ariento)
Florence, Italy

Fiesole

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

This Etruscan hill town overlooking Firenze and the surrounding area is another world from the buzzing city below. Ruins of the Roman amphitheater are fun to explore and give one a sense of how much time this small village has existed. Yet the real reason to visit Fiesole is to escape the busy city and to soak up the atmosphere and quiet of this sleepy destination.
Fiesole
Via dei Bosconi
Florence, Italy, 50100

Cinema Astro

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by kylebarber on November 22, 2000

This little theater offers metal folding chairs, a small screen, and incorrect information on showtimes. So, why did I keep going back? Being an American movie buff in a country where they dub over the original language, I was thrilled to discover an outlet for English-language entertainment.
Best of all was meeting the colorful expatriates who attended the screenings, who offered advice on what to see and where to eat in Firenze (as well as whether Woody Allen or Martin Scorsese was the better director).
Cinema Astro
Piazza San Simone
Florence, Italy

Museo Archeologico

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by kylebarber on December 9, 2000

This museum should be of particular interest to folks who want to learn more about the history and culture of Etruscan society. However, most Americans who are more familiar with this type of historical museum will quite likely be disappointed with the small selection and presentation of items.
The number of urns is amazing, and some of them are actually interesting with the graphic depictions running circles around the pots. The small collection of Egyptian artifacts was noteworthy mostly in that the rest of the museum seemed somewhat drab. Once again, my opinion is based on my relative ease at seeing world-class Egyptian collections here in New York.
The museum is a great stop for someone who has an interest in the mysterious Etruscan culture, or who wants a break from the endless parade of Renaissance painting and sculpture.
Museo Archeologico
Via della Colonna, 38
Florence, Italy, 50121
+39 05523575

Accademia

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by kylebarber on December 6, 2000

The Galleria dell' Accademia is visited by hordes of tourists every year, primarily for a chance to view Michaelangelo's statue of David. The unfortunate truth is there not much else to recommend this small and expensive museum, which often has lines that wait over an hour for entrance.

David is pretty impressive, and much larger than you might expect. It's a little funny looking at him up close in that his hands look enormous and disproportionate. Michaelangelo's statue tited Slaves is also on display at the Accademia, and it is a beautiful work that evokes a sense of movement from its quite still marble.

The other works on display are pretty unexciting, though there is a Boticelli of Madonna and Child. If there is a huge crowd outside, try coming back later and to lessen the frustration fo what may turn out to be a pretty quick visit to the Accademia.

Galleria dell'Accademia
Via Ricasoli 60
Florence, Italy
055 238 8609

Bargello

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on December 6, 2000

This dark, imposing building doesn't just seem ominous. It has a very unsettling history of violence and corruption. Despite being designed as a palatial town center, it has housed police organizations, suspect political groups, a prison, torture chambers, and the site for public executions. That creepy vibe you keep feeling is grounded in a long history of unhappiness.
Now the Bargello plays host to a large museum of art, particularly sculpture and decorative arts. Much less crowded than the Uffizi next door, the Bargello is also a good choice to visit in that the building itself is so full of stories that you are easily sucked into learning about the sordid past of Firenze.
Museo del Bargello
Via del Proconsolo, 4
Florence, Italy, 50122
+39 0552388606

Battistero

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by kylebarber on December 6, 2000

The octagonal Battistero, situated directly across from Il Duomo, dates back to at least the 6th century. One of the oldest buildings still standing in Firenze, it probably was constructed on top of an ancient Roman palace. Inside, the Baptistery is pretty unimpressive except for the beautiful mosaics that reside on the oddly angled ceiling. The truth of the matter is that it seems fairly empty and cold.
The real splendor of the Battistero is the large bronze doors that lead into the building. The southern doors were commisioned first, and designed by the busy artist Pisano. The northern and truy wonderful eastern doors were both created by Ghiberti. The door panels depict many biblical stories, and the eastern doors, also referred to as the Gates of Paradise, have some amazing detail in their depiction of Old Testament histories.
Battistero
Piazza San Giovanni
Florence, Italy, 50129
+39 0552302885

Medici Chapels

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by kylebarber on December 6, 2000

Behind the main church of San Lorenzo is a seperate entrance that leads you to the mysterious Cappelle Medici, final resting place for many of Firenze's most powerful family. A crypt holds the remains of less important members of the dynasty, whereas the Sagrestia Nuova houses the tombs of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, and Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino. Both are adorned with wonderful sculptures by Michaelangelo. The Capella dei Principi upstairs is a gaudy mess of a mausoleum, with marble decoration everywhere.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Via Camillo Cavour
Florence, Italy, 50129
+39 0552760340

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