MARCUS TRAVEL JOURNAL

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Firenze | Florence

FirenzeFor many a trip to Italy is a trip to Florence. We have visited Florence numerous times, sometimes staying in the city and other times outside.

This is one of the top destinations for tourists visiting Italy and it is said over a million tourists a year vist Florence. It was originally established by Julius Basear in 59 BC and named Florentia.

When staying outside you leave the city at the end of the day exhaused from the walking to arrive back at much more peaceful country setting. It has its advantages. You miss the great evenings walks picking up great gelato.

Over the past few years we have generally opted to stay in Florence, as that way it is easy to walk back to the hotel, have a drink, relax and then head out for an evening walk and pick one of the many good restaurants.

It is such a busy city, the crowds will tire you but, the sights will inspire you.

If you are planning to stay in the centre of Florence, make sure you check about the permit that you will need to drive your car in the city. Much of the older central part of Florence is limited to cars with permits. Cameras take pictures of license plates and non-authorized drivers will be fined.

One year we stayed in Pistoia and took the train into Florence. I don't think we would recommend that as the best option. In theory it should have been simple. The train schedule and performance, however, meant we missed a good part of the day travelling. Mind you, we found some of the best gelto in Italy in Pistoia and the town itself has a number of sights.

On other trips, Florence has been a day visit with us braving the drive into the town, finding a place to park the car (difficult and expensive), enjoying the city and then leaving.

Parking in Florence is possible but it is very difficult and expensive. In 2009, now with the pleasures of GPS, we were able to drive right in to the centre and park the car in an attended garage. It was very expensive but to just walk out of the car a block from Ponte Vecchio, well that makes visiting Florence very easy.

But for the parking lots, read parking signs very carefully. Having your car towed in Florence is an experience not to be repeated. That was our experience. When you arrive at the very large "holding lot" you will find that you are just one of the many returning to recover their car was gone.

On one trip the Pensione Bretagne, Lungarno Corsini, 6 met our needs very nicely. No parking so if you arrive with a car it is a problem. We did not understand the directions or signs correctly so had the experience of finding out car had been towed from a lot in the night. Taking a cab to go and pick up your car is one way to see the city, but expensive and frustrating. But the Pensione Bretagne has some real "old world charme", and a breakfast room with a ceiling and views over the river that are right up there in your list of experiences.

On another trip, we arrived in town with no reservations, had a horrible time looking for a place - impossible with a car and a real test of the marriage - and ended up staying at the Villa Fiesole, via Beato Angelico, 35; in Fiesole located 15 km out of town on the hill overlooking the city. It was very nice and very expensive. You can take a bus into town or drive in and park you car, with care of course.

No need to recit the sites to see. On your lists of musts make sure they include the Duomo, the Baptistry and the Cathedral Museum. The Uffizi now has a reservation system where you can book an entry time and that is well worth it. Endless lines to get in.There is also the Bargello. You will walk the Ponte Vecchio and we found that there were better deals on silver and gold in other locations around Italy. The churches are many but Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Maria del Carmine are ones of note... hard to say that and leave out others. Plan you day so that you get a good time in at the Accademia.

But, on just abpit every trip we have have a lunch or dinner at Ristorante Mamma Gina lised in our Great Places site. This restaurant is a long standing tradition for Florence. The food is very good, the portions are large and it is always packed with a buzz.

In 2006 we had the pleasure of staying for the first time at Residenza d'Epoca - InPiazzaDellaSignoria - a wonderful place to stay located right in the heart of Florence - Piazza Signoria. This instantly made our list of Great Places To Stay. We have returned to this hotel again, and referred others as it is beautiful, very peaceful and has a location you just can't beat. Right on the Piazza dell Signoria.

In 2008 we returned, as I had made arrangements to visit the Stipula Pen factory located just outside of Florence.

Again in 2009, whie staying at the Borgo di Pietrafitta, located about 40 minutes from Florence, we decided one morning that we should "do lunch in Florence" so we drive in and had a wonderful day in the city. Some pictures of an incredible festival that was on that day are included on the 2009 trip page.

In 2010 we stayed at the Hotel Albergotto, now one of our Great Places to Stay recommendations, on via Tourabuoni. A great location, just a short walk from the Piazza della Signoria, and for me, a short walk to the Visconti Showroom on via della Vigna Nuova.

Some of the major sights to see include:

Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral

No one goes to Florence without visiting what is referred to as the Duomo. The green and white marble is so impressive. I can remember seeing it in the 1980's before its most recent cleaning.Today, with each visit, we always make time for a visit. It is big, in fact the 4th largest church in Europe. Climb to the top of the Campanile.

San Giovanni Baptistery

The Baptistery sits across from the main entrance to the Duomo. Impressive. It dates from 1013. Lorenzo Ghiberti's the Gates of Paradise will always have a crowd in front of them.

Basilica of Sa Santa Croce

Located south east of the Duomo, it is a large an impressive church. Here famous Italians including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini to name a few, are buried.

Basilica of San Lorenzo

If you visit Florence, most likely you will visit the Market, and here is the church that is the burial place of the Medici Family.

Uffizi

One of the most famous art galleries in the world. Book in advance as the line-ups to get in start very early in the morning.

Galleria dell'Accademia

Famous as here is the Michelangelo collection, including the statue of David. I can still remember the first time I saw that.

Pitti Palace

A great Palace with art galleries but just walking about the place ths looking at the ceilings is a visit in itself. You can also vist the Royal Apartments that were used by the Medici Family. The King of Italy lasted stayed here in 1920.

Bargello

Museum with masterpieces by Michelangelo.

Plazzo Vecchio

The large building, with its high tower, holds an art museum.