Live like an Italian in Florence

Shop in local markets, sip wine on the balcony and walking to the sites

The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova described Italy as the “dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” My dream is to enjoy life as a true Florentine, shopping in local markets, sipping wine on the balcony, walking to the sites in this compact city.

Live like an Italian in Florence3In addition to being steps from PiazzaSanta Croce, the Duomo along with was an easy work from our apartment

What a challenge to choose just one vacation rental for a week in Florence. After much discussion with my sister in the UK, we settled on an apartment, described as a “light, quiet 1 bedroom steps from Santa Croce.” Piazza di Santa Croce is one of Florence’s finest squares and this apartment is within easy walking distance of many of the city’s attractions, including the Duomo and the Uffizi.

Our vacation rental was a delight. The owner, Antonio, a teacher at an Italian language school, welcomed us at the front door of the building and carried the bags up the wide stone steps to the 3rd floor. These steep steps were at first rather daunting, but by the end of the week, they were a breeze. The bright, light and airy apartment instantly felt like a home away from home as Antonio showed us around and explained how things worked.

Live like an Italian in Florence2Our Apartment building’s front door. The apartment is up the stairs on the third floor.

By North American standards, the apartment is small and compact, but this is how many Italian families live. The sunroom has large windows on 3 sides and a wooden floor with a round dining table and 4 chairs, a couch, a buffet and a fridge, hiding in a cupboard. On the table rested a bottle of wine, crackers, cheese and some fruit – a perfect first meal for tired travellers. An internet connection is available in the sunroom for individuals who want to keep in touch with what’s happening back home. I simply ignored this modern convenience, enjoying the escape.

The galley kitchen, down a couple of steps from the sunroom, has a gas cook-top and a front-loading washing machine, which like the fridge is hidden in a cupboard. For a sunny day, an outdoor clothesline made a good substitute for a dryer. A large collection of pots, pans, cutlery and glasses resides in the kitchen, but Florence has many outstanding eating spots to enjoy and cooking was not high on our agenda. A good-sized bedroom with plenty of space to hang clothes and a small bathroom with a plentiful supply of hot water complete my dream apartment. Pictures, ornaments and plants give this small, comfortable, friendly space a delightful atmosphere.

Live like an Italian in Florence4

Making plans over a glass of wine

Relaxing over a glass of wine, we discussed our plans. A week is not long enough to savour all the delights of Florence, but this was not our first visit to Tuscany and it certainly won’t be the last. Some of the city’s attractions will have to wait for the next trip.

Live like an Italian in Florence5Live like an Italian in Florence6

If you intend to visit Florence, think about the advantages of a Firenze card, easily bought online before leaving home and picked up on arrival in Florence. The card valid for 3 consecutive days gives entry into most of Florence’s major attractions. A card costs 70 euros, which is a little expensive, but very convenient. No need to waste valuable vacation time queuing. For example, the card gives instant access to the Uffizi Gallery with its Renaissance paintings and the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David, and many other musts for the tourist, including the Santa Croce Basilica (photo below).

Santa Croce Basilica houses the tombs of many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, who worshipped here as a boy. The tombs of Galileo, best remembered as the astronomer, who supported Copernicus’s theory that the earth goes around the sun; Machiavelli, author of The Prince and Rossini, the composer of the William Tell overture and several operas, are also in the Basilica.

Live like an Italian in Florence7Live like an Italian in Florence8

A short walking tour (above) around the old city is a good way to discover Florence’s amazing, 2,000 years of history. Conducted by knowledgeable guides, these 3 hour tours bring history to life with stories of frescoes in churches, architecture, the famous Medici family, and the artists, Michelangelo and Giotto. Galileo and his contributions to astronomy, mathematics, engineering and physics, are remembered at the Museo Galilei e Instituto di Storia della Scienza. Children might enjoy seeing Galileo’s finger preserved in a glass jar.

Food, a cultural experience

Food, a valuable cultural experience, plays an important role on vacations. Each morning, we sampled coffee and a sticky treat at a different cafe or bar in the side streets surrounding Piazza di Santa Croce. Everything was good. On a sunny May morning, it was hard to believe that on November 4, 1966, the Arno flooded and the Piazza was covered with 15 feet of water.

A favorite lunch spot, close to Santa Croce, was FrancescoVini on the Piazza de’ Peruzzi. A favorite, not just because of its extensive Tuscan menu, but also because the waiter always inquired did we want to sit in the sun or in the shade? The pappardelle al ragu di cinghiale or pasta with a wild boar sauce is a Florentine speciality and well worth trying.

Gelato soon became a mid-afternoon treat. Located near the Duomo, Grom, part of an Italian chain of gelaterias, produces a multitude of delicious flavors from organic ingredients and fruit in season. Served with biodegradable spoons and tubs, the flavors change frequently.

Supper was found at the local supermarket, close to Santa Croce. After a long day of sightseeing nothing was better than to relax in the sunroom with cheese, crackers, fruit and a bottle of wine from the local supermarket, followed by a stroll in the warm evening air.

The week went all too quickly. One day, we ventured on the train to Lucca, a small, medieval, walled city and the birthplace of Puccini. And Fiesole on a hill overlooking Florence was worth a short bus ride to admire the city spread out below.

That “light, quiet 1 bedroom steps from Santa Croce.” is ideal for the solo traveler or a couple looking for an economical, peaceful, truly Italian experience.

ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY RUTH HART

Join and Read more of the May-June 2015 Issue

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