On November 12, I set off for Florence. We had a week off of classes, so I thought what better way to spend it than by visiting my friend, who is there on study abroad? I set off early in the morning and arrived in Florence at around 1pm, just in time to get lunch (pizza, of course). I was staying in an Air bnb, and when I arrived I was greeted by the woman living there (part of a couple who owned the flat). She did not speak much english at all, and I speak extremely limited (read 'no') Italian, but we managed to communicate with gestures, and, starting at this point and increasingly throughout the trip, I noticed that my Italian is coming back and I can actually understand some of what is being said. As for speaking...I can practice that more next time.
Following that, we explored the city. The place I was staying was very close to the Basilica of Santa Croce, just about a two-minute walk away. Santa Croce is the principal Franciscan church in Florence (and the largest in the world), and is in the piazza di Santa Croce (there are piazzas all over the city, and we walked from one to the other). Santa Croce is also where Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and many other famous Italians are buried, and so it is consequently also known as, interestingly, the ‘Temple of the Italian Glories,’ and it is indeed a glorious piece of architecture. I went inside on my third day in Florence, and the inside is almost even more amazing than the outside. There are raised carvings all over the floors, life-size carvings of people (these look like tombs) and various other designs. The ceilings are high and carved in amazingly intricate detail, and the walls and ceiling are all painted with the most beautiful murals. Depictions of the life of Christ and of Bible scenes also adorn the walls, and, outside, there is a courtyard with a very green lawn and Cyprus trees.
After Santa Croce, we walked to the Duomo, an architectural masterpiece. It is so big, and so beautiful, that it's hard to believe it's real when you look at it. Florence's streets are small and winding, and often you can't see what's around the corner until you turn. So imaging walking down a thin, crowded street and suddenly coming up on the Duomo. The experience is unreal. I felt like I could just stare at it forever.
After seeing the Duomo, we walked in a few other piazzas, many filled with amazing statues, and then went to a high vantage point (another piazza I think but I can’t remember the name) to watch the sun set over the city. On the way, we also crossed a couple bridges, including the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge spanning the river Arno and famous for having houses and shops built into it. Imagine living on a bridge! Overall, this was a great first day, which, of course, ended with gelato.
On my second day in Florence, I began the morning with more strolling around the city. After lunch, we walked to the Giardino di Boboli, a park full of fountains, plants, and sculptures dating from the 16th-18th century. The hedges were all trimmed up, but among the hedges were secret paths, wild, untamed ones, making the huge gardens seem full of smaller, hidden gardens. The entirety of it was maze-like and, just like a smaller and verdant version of the streets of Florence, you never know what you might find around the corner. There are ice deposits somewhere (we never found them), a porcelain museum, mini mazes, fountains, a cafe, and more.