|Atop the Duomo in Florence|
My mother's family is Italian, and my whole life, whenever anyone asked me where I most wanted to go in the world, I said Italy. Luckily, I finally got the chance in 2011 when my sister and I spent 10 days touring Venice, Florence and Rome. When Ben and I started planning this trip, one of the biggest challenges was deciding where to go in Italy. I didn't want to re-do the same trip again; instead, I wanted to see southern Italy. Ben wanted to visit places connected with the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, which meant Florence and Rome. That put us in a bind, until we figured out the perfect compromise — skip Venice, spend a day in Florence, drive through the Tuscan countryside and end the trip in Rome.
|Arno River in Florence|
We flew direct from Berlin to Florence, then spent the afternoon seeing the sights, including the Ponte Vecchio, where we spent most of our time dodging selfie sticks. When my sister and I were in Florence, we ate at a restaurant with the most amazing pear and cheese ravioli. We raved about it to everyone for years. I wasn't even sure I remembered the name correctly, but after some internet searching, we took a chance and voilà. I recognized the decor right away and the pear and cheese ravioli was still on the menu! Our waiter was thrilled to have repeat guests and gave us a free crostini with fig, goat cheese and mint and free limoncello. Best of all, the ravioli was as good as I remembered. On the way home, we stopped at Piazza della Signoria to listen to a free concert in honor of Italy's Republic Day.
The next morning, we ate breakfast il banco like real Italians (banco is the cheaper option if you stand at the bar; tavolo is for sitting). With only one day in Florence, we decided to prioritize seeing Michelangelo's David. The David had been one of my favorite sights on my last trip, and it was just as enchanting the second time around.
|Statues on the Piazza della Signoria|
For lunch, we headed the the Mercado Centrale, which reopened last year, 140 years after the original glass and steel structure was built. We bought prosciutto, salami, fresh mozzarella, Pugliese bread, dates and strawberries and had a feast.
We were both more interested in Florence's architectural history than its artistic masterpieces, so we bypassed the Uffizi in favor of exploring the Duomo, Florence's central cathedral. Officially called the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, it's the the third largest church in the world (after St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London) and was the largest church in Europe when it was completed in the 15th century. Atop the cathedral sits the largest masonry dome ever built. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the dome spans a 45-meter diameter. Instead of using scaffolding, Brunelleschi built a double shell with space in between. The inner self-supporting shell is made of light bricks set in a herringbone pattern. The outer dome serves as a heavier, wind-resistant covering.
See more photos of the Duomo
Because we're crazy people, we hiked to the top of both the Duomo and the Campanile, which totaled about 1,800 steps. We then wandered back through town, admiring the replica statues at the Piazza della Signoria, before picking up our rental car to continue to Tuscany.