Renaissance Comes Alive in Florence

So I’m sitting across from a nun on a high-speed train on the way from Florence to Venice. Although it sounds like a joke, it’s true. And she’s nun-spread to the seat Declan’s supposed to be in. But who’s going to tell a nun to move the hell over?

We spent nearly two days in Florence, following our first of two forays into Rome. Where Rome was somewhat chaotic, with centuries of history piled atop one another, Florence definitely remains a product of the Renaissance it helped create. The streets, though still narrow, are uniformly level and easy to walk on. The city centre is compact and chock-full of interesting things to do and great places to eat.

But with the Renaissance comes Renaissance pricing. Fortunately for us, low season means we snagged a primo room at the Torre Guelfa for about half price that included a sumptuous meat, cheese and croissant breakfast. It also means that every high-end retailer you’ve ever heard of has an outlet here. Tiffany. Mont Blanc. Prada. In other words, the Renaissance meets the Miracle Mile in Chicago or the Streets of Buckhead in Atlanta.

Another room with a view

But high-end retailing aside, the beautiful buildings, priceless artifacts and great dining (if you’re careful) are the main attractions. Luigi, our front desk clerk, raved about the view from the hotel’s tower, built in the 13th century. And he was right, as you can see from the photo.

We visited the Duomo, a 15th-century cathedral whose red dome dominates the Florence skyline (and the photo), and the Medici Chapels, which includes many funerary items that contain sacred body parts and several Michelangelo sculptures.

Later, we walked along Ponte Vecchio, the central bridge across the Arno along which the Medici family famously ousted more common merchants like butchers and bakers in 1593 and installed jewelers and goldsmiths, a tradition that continues to this day.

Today we visited the Palazzo Vecchio Museum. This second palace of the Medici family housed popes back in the 16th century and once was the center of government in Florence. Today, it remains a popular event venue, as evidenced by the fact it was closed yesterday for a Valentine’s Day event. The central hall rises more than 100 feet and is dominated by large paintings and sculpture. Most interior rooms feature intricately decorated ceilings and walls that remain striking centuries after their installation.

We capped our Florence visit at the Uffizi, which has housed the Medici family art and sculpture collection since the 16th century. Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio and Michelangelo are just a few of the artists represented.

We had a memorable Valentine’s Day meal at La Casalinga, including maybe the best steak I’ve ever wrapped my lips around that didn’t come off hot from my Big Green Egg.

While I appreciate all types of art, I do admit being tired of Mary and Jesus portraits (forgive me, sister), and men sculpted in combat while not wearing pants (either the English or the American kinds).

Not sure what that portends for our trip to the Vatican on Saturday.