I didn’t like Florence.
As in, I didn’t like leaving Florence. I am sure that there are people out there that think cities like Venice and Florence are overhyped…I am not one of those people. Just as Venice lived up to its name a few weeks prior, Florence did not disappoint. The only bad part? We had only four days to visit. Such a city deserves more.
Though we had only four days to live up Florence, we certainly did our best to get the full experience. We saw Michelangelo’s David. There was Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. And then there was a trip up the Duomo, a night at the opera (another one!), and more gift shopping than my bag could handle. Suffice to say, we had a busy schedule.
Not to mention a dish of Florence’s renowned bistecca florentina and another meal that was quite possibly the best I have had yet in Italy, and one that should be nominated for Best Meal of My Life when I pass on from this earth. So you could say it was a good trip, despite its short length.
Florence Art: David and Venus
Obviously, art is a big deal in Italy. Now, I’ll never claim myself incredibly knowledgable about art (though I did take AP Art History in high school…) or even that I am a strong art enthusiast. However, I do know a cool (and quite noteworthy) sculpture when I see one, and that is exactly what David is. Michelangelo (the artist, not our Italian professor and guide) is a pretty big deal, so seeing arguably his greatest masterpiece (the Sisten Chapel was a decent final product as well) in person was definitely exciting. David is much bigger than I would have anticipated, and he looks nothing like the other David in my life, my father. The sculpture is much more toned and intimidating than the real thing, as difficult as that may be to imagine. Also, because I care about you readers, I ignored the “No Photos” sign and the lady yelling at me not to take photos and took one or two (or four) for your enjoyment. I do this for you, even when it means putting myself on the line.
As for the Birth of Venus, Boticelli’s finest work did not disappoint either. It was bigger than expected, though its vibrant colors had clearly aged in the years since its conception. Having the opportunity to see the sculptures and paintings in real life that I used to see on index cards in my nightmares (thanks, Ms. Strub) is a special one, and not one I take lightly. I only wish I could have seen these works four years ago when I knew every little detail about them. Now, I’m just another tourist wishing I had more cultural knowledge.
Four hundred and sixty-three steps. 463. That is how many steps you must climb to reach the top of the Duomo. That is how many steps your legs — no matter their size — must force their way up to find the greatest and most expansive view of all of Florence.
And it did not disappoint.
Hardly known for our stamina or fitness, Courtney and I still began the ascent optimistically. However, we soon learned that our optimism badly blurred our vision of a sad reality: we were not ready physically — nor psychologically — for the trek ahead.
Armed with stomachs bursting at the scene from six weeks of pizza and pasta and legs that would sore from standing in line for gelato, we were, admittedly, far from proper Duomo-climbing shape. But our will to see the top carried us.
Once there, it was magnificent. Glistening with sweat, we were soon
cooled by the morning air reheated by the unusually warm morning air. Despite this, nothing could detract from our view, one that had us overlooking one of Italy’s most notable cities. Well, nothing except for the fact that there was no elevator to take us down and give our legs a much-needed reprieve from the steps. We did manage to safely make our way to the bottom, leaving us witha a feeling of exhausted accomplishment.
As for the rest of our time in Florence, that can be summed up in four words: gift shopping and food.
First, the gift shopping. Florence is the leather capital of Italy, so naturally, leather gifts were purchased in abundance. I won’t say what was bought or for whom — as not to ruin the surprise — but let’s just say I could fill in for Santa if the need arises.
As with any tourist-popular, full-of-street-vendor cities, Florence allowed for its fair share of bargaining. Obviously, Courtney and I took full advantage of this. Indian bargaining this was not, though our skills translated well to the Italian game. And make no mistake: bargain shopping is a game to me, and it is a game that I refuse to concede defeat to some middle-aged Italian man or woman who thinks they can get more than five euros out of me for a t-shirt. You can sell the next three for eight euros a piece to that elderly couple from Florida, but you are going to sell me this one for five, and possibly even less than that. And if you refuse to play by my rules, I’ll leave. I don’t need that shirt, I need to win. So play my game or go home with a van full of unsold merchandise. Believe that.
[Note: For those of you who think I'm too serious about my shopping game, I'm not. You play to win the game. Also, I am blessed to have a teammate who cares as much as I do. Without Courtney, I'm hardly the shopper I need to be to defeat my opponents. There is not a better one-two punch out there.]
Put more simply, the shopping in Florence was fun, and it reminded me of my Indian experiences (though not on the same scale). Hopefully I can fit all of my recently purchased items in my bag…
As for food, that could be its own post entirely — I’ll do my best to keep it short.
The bistecca florentina was all it was hyped up to be. Tender, fell right off the bone, juicy, delicious. Really don’t know how else to describe it other than with pictures and a recommendation that you go to Florence (or maybe a crazy-nice restaurant in America) and order it for yourself. Worth every penny, worth special recognition.
However, the real meal that deserves mentioning was our last. Dinner for our last night in Florence found us eating at ZaZa’s as a group. This was very likely the best meal of the entire trip (in my opinion) and one of the greats of all time (again, in my humble and young opinion). My three course meal went as follows:
Ravioli with a walnut cream sauce
Special beef escalope with rosemary potatoes
Chocolate cake with eggless custard
The ravioli? Delicious and substantial but not overwhelming, unique because of the different type of cream sauce. Arguably one of the better ravioli dishes out there.
The special beef escalope? Hands down one of the best pieces of beef I have ever had — there was not one thing wrong with it. No excessive fat; no under- or over-cooked areas. Tender, succulent, perfect. Did I mention it was perfect and had no flaws? Also, the rosemary potatoes were strikingly good. My mouth is watering just writing this. I may need a break.
The chocolate cake and custard? Very good, it’s only flaw being that it had the difficult task of following the previous two dishes. Seriously. The ravioli and beef were that good. They made chocolate cake seem almost ordinary. Do you realize what that means?
I very much doubt that I have ever had a meal so good, it made a typically delicious dessert seem merely decent. I usually look forward to dessert, thinking about what is going to cure my sweet tooth while I’m still eating my main course. That is the type of person I am. But now? I just…I just don’t know. That meal changed me. I bought the restaurant’s cookbook it was so good. Even Courtney said she may have found a pesto pasta that matched — if not outpaced — that made by the one and only David A. Hansen. This meal may forever change the meaning of dinner. I may never be the same.
Time to end this post with some pictures that didn’t make the cut above: