I think I fell in love with Florence before I ever visited the city. When my cousin said Florence was her favorite, I thought she was crazy. This was before I studied Italian cultural heritage in college. In my second cultural heritage class, I had the most amazing teacher, Dr. Looney. He spoke Italian fluently and took students abroad every spring to study in Rome. (I should’ve studied Italian and became a professor who takes kids abroad ever year, THE LIFE.) He had such a passion for the material and made his students love it as well. I wasn’t super thrilled with the reading list for the semester, but I wanted to read the literature created in the country where my ancestors came from and built a strong literary foundation that spans the globe and remain some of the greatest pieces of writing ever written.
I became obsessed with Dante and his writing after reading Inferno. I thought it was amazing and, in some cases, before its time; although, much of what he talks about is still present today, which could be proof that these are issues that have been around for years. There’s so much symbolism and meaning throughout the book and who knows if that’s even what Dante meant. He’s revered in Italy; his face is on the 2 Euro coin and he’s considered l’altissimo poeta or the ultimate poet and, quite literally, “the Father of the Italian language.”
Dante was exiled from Florence for political reasons, and it was during that time that he conceived the Divine Comedy–Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. You can find parts in his writing that describe the pain he felt being forced from Florence. The city of Florence has expressed regret for Dante’s exile and repeatedly made requests that his bodied be moved from his grave in Ravenna to a tomb built for the poet in the Basilica de Santa Croce. The tomb remains empty as caretakers refused to move Dante’s body back to Florence. There’s also a large statue in front of Santa Croce of the poet. Of all things, that was my must-see spot in Florence, besides the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, of course. I had to get a picture with Dante, duh.
In Florence, we stayed at Hotel Silla, an amazing hotel on the other side of the Arno River, just a few blocks from the Ponte Vecchio and within reasonable walking distance of everything else in Florence. I would definitely recommend staying here. On a map it looks far away from the main attractions, but the best thing about Florence is that it is an extremely walkable city. It’s smaller and not quite as spread out like Rome, and there’s way less traffic and congestion. Lot’s of tourists but still much less congested. We arrived mid-afternoon, dropped of our bags, connected to wi-fi for a few minutes so I could read all of my Happy Birthday texts. Then we were off! We walked out of the hotel and less than a block from the front door was the Arno River and the Ponte alle Grazie, where you can spot a magnificent view of the Ponte Vecchio. And just a quick walk down Via de Benci you happen across the Piazza di Santa Croce and the Basilica. By this time, it was almost 5 o’clock, so we decided to wait until the next day to get tickets to go inside the Basilica. We stopped at a restaurant where the food was less than exciting. I got basic tortellini with meat sauce but some of my fellow travelers hated their meals. This was where we went wrong. We stopped into the first place we saw and didn’t take much time to research some place decent. I usually plan better than this, but the lack of wi-fi was killing my Trip-Advisor creeping that I usually do before a trip. Should’ve planned better back in the states, lesson learned!
Afterwards, though, we got gelato. Hands down, THE BEST gelato I had my entire time in Italy. We got it from a place in the Piazza della Signoria, which I cannot for the life of me remember the name, but it was right next to a coffee shop and then next door was a restaurant with outdoor seating. The little café had mountains of gelato in their shop and looked just as amazing as it tasted. I got caffe mocha. I dream about this gelato. I wish I had enough money to book a flight just to get this gelato it’s that good.
We spent the rest of the night kind of roaming the streets. The weather was beautiful, but since we got there in the early evening we didn’t have time to go into any of the museums. We saved that for day two.