8 Hours in Florence


Traveling across Italy by train made me a little bit angry. Do you know what it would mean if the US had efficient rail service that whisked you along at 200mph? It will never happen, America is too enamored with automobiles, but as a carless New Yorker I can dream.

In any case, we made it from Rome to Florence (or Firenze, as they say in Italy) while I was still in the middle of a quick cat nap. Of course, 8 hours isn’t much time to work with, but I recommend starting with an espresso and a climb to the top of Giotto’s Belltower (all 414 steps), which beats the view from the Duomo because you can actually see the Duomo. You also quickly get the lay of the land and a bird-eye view of a surrounding city, which was a bit peculiar to a foreigner’s eyes.


I mean, my home city (and Rome, for that matter) are places of interesting architectural juxtapositions, but Florence presents the pleasing view of a city that seems carved out of one stone. A jumble of terra cotta roofs stretched beyond eyesight, disappearing into mist and mountains that made with think of the dreamlike backgrounds in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings. Forget Mona Lisa’s smile–what the heck is happening behind her? These kinds of surprises are the things I most enjoy about seeing art in person. As interesting or important as a piece is to the rest of the world, I need to find something in it for myself. It could be an unexpected emotion, or something that’s not even particularly meaningful–more like an inside joke between friends than a stunning insight.

As far as art goes, wandering through the Uffizi is a must. One of the oldest art galleries in the world and chockfull of Renaissance masterworks, it’s also relatively empty on a weekday in mid-December, making for serene and well-heated strolling. Afterwards, there was plenty of time to wander through the Christmas market and down narrow streets in what turned from aimless sightseeing into a focused porchetta sandwich crawl. Regrettably, I didn’t take down the name of these sandwich shops. I didn’t expect to write about Italy at all. All I can say that they had long lines of Italian speakers trailing out the door and seemed like a good bet. While this methodology often fails in New York City (the hype machine has led me astray before) it yielded delicious results in Florence.