I have been waiting for this to happen: for the grid of Florence to land on the back of my hand. For the breathing patterns of our lives to extend into the very air of the city. It has been six weeks that we have been here, full of logistics and finding apartments and schools and soccer clubs, visiting, consulates and the questura, filling out paperwork to be legal residents. We searched for grocers and drugstores, hardware and stationers. We tried different butchers and bakers... and candlestick makers?
So it was just a matter of time---of numerous walks and errands---that we would begin to know where we were and how to walk home. Our affection would grow for various streets and stores, specialty vendors and secret spots. And it has.
If you showed up on my doorstep, I would know just where to take you: to the best nearby gelato, what streets to walk down, good butchers and must-see tourist attractions (some on the grid, some off the grid). There is enough to see for weeks on end---we still have much to visit.
But, if you were to land in Florence for just a few days, I would recommend:
1. The David. You are in Florence, you have to see the David. (and read the book Agony & Ecstacy on Michelangelo, it is brilliant and will make all of Florence come alive...).
2. Cafe view of the Duomo. Here is a great hidden gem; this little cafe is unmarked, and sits on the rooftop of a department store: Rinascente (entry door in Piazza Republica). Enter store, find elevator, go to top floor. Exit elevator, look around for stairs climbing up; go up stairs into cafe, go up another set of stairs and... enjoy the view. Go mid morning and order espresso and a pasta (pastry), or land for a long lunch. Worth it.
3. The Uffizi. You just cannot leave without going to this gallery; it has a lot of 'originals.' You can stand in the long queue OR you can enter the same door as the long line, go to the reservation desk and grab tickets for entry later that same day (or early the next).
4. Santa Croce. This church is chock-full of icons. Buy the headsets, and pick and choose what to listen to. I plan to return soon...
5. The Duomo et al. Duh. Go to the Duomo, check out the Baptistry, visit the adjunct museum. You knew that, though, right? Good to know: Saturday evenings at 5pm is an all English-speaking mass.
6. The leather market. BARTER. This market (called the New Market) is aimed for tourists, and while 'happening' and worth a visit, is overpriced. They are ALL willing to sell for less. If not, move to the next vendor. Or you can walk a few blocks over, near the Piazza Republica, Mercato Lorenzo or en route to Santa Croce, and find less expensive vendors selling the same thing (purses, belts, souvenirs). Key things to remember when buying a purse: look to see if it has been stamped with a leather maker's name, ask for proof that it was made in Italy, and look inside the purse. You want it to have leather/nice material in the interior.
And if you can stay longer than a few days, well, that is another list for another time.