My first, regardless of the fact that it included
I debated returning. Why bludgeon myself with such patent unpleasantness again? But I’d not seen the Uffizi, the Bargello, the David. I gritted my teeth, stoked my inherent stubbornness, and returned, prepared to endure any unpleasantness to see the artists I’d loved my entire life.
And wound up in a place and with people who were as perfectly suited to my views and desires as my first trip was- not.
So my first tip? Stay at the Hotel Sampaoli with the brothers Caponi. Leonardo and Ricardo are erudite, good-humored, fiercely principled, and eloquent, brilliant conversationalists- in both English and Italian. They also, not-so-incidentally, run an excellent hotel: clean, comfortable, quiet, efficient. And, as I said, filled with cultured, informed, passionately opinionated conversation, if you want it. (In point of fact it was Orsanmichele that broke the ice between Leonardo and I as soon as I was through his door: “You know Orsanmichele?” Puzzled look. “Yes- former granary turned Medici church, no? Sculptures by Verrochio, Donatello, and Ghiberti?” A long impenetrable stare. “Si. Allora. Come here. Sit down.”)
Which leads to my second tip: Don’t ask Leonardo, Francesca, or Ricardo- hell, any Fiorentino- about the Trevi Fountain. (Yes, this really happened- and, I wince to say, it was an American. Leonardo informs me that it happens on a fairly regular basis.) What this really translates into is “do your homework”, which is the best general travel trip I can give anybody. You’re spending pots of money to get to, and then see, another place- learn about where you’re going, what’s there, and why it’s important to the world. It doesn’t take that long, and will make all the difference to what you see and how it stays with you.
Third tip: Don’t spend all your time shopping. This is another piece of good general advice. Even for those who love to shop- and believe me, Bea is one of those people; I spent more time shopping during the ten days we traveled together than I’d spend in a month and a half of my normal life- there are far better and more interesting things to do. While I bought Florentine leather, Venetian glass, fans, and museum books along the way... stuff is fungible. And all of the above are just that: stuff. Ultimately, you can get it anywhere.
Art, architecture, conversations with natives, espresso or wine or mountain air drunk in along with different views of the place in which you find yourself- these are the things that are unique and irreplaceable, the things which if missed in a given place are not obtainable anyplace else. Treat yourself to them. They, unlike the gorgeous leather belts and purses, the shimmering silver-and-gold glass, will stay with you as long as you have a mind with which to recall them.
Fourth tip: Walk. I’ve already gone on about public transportation in Firenze, and yes, I was there in summer, but the truth is that it’s a very small city, and no matter what the weather you’re going to see more twisting, cobbled alleys fronting improbable palaces and prisons-turned-museums, more jewelry stores spilling into each other on the Ponte Vecchio, walking, than you will any other way. So what if you’ll sweat? Wear antiperspirant, drink enough water, carry some baby wipes, and deal with it. Yeah, it’s plebian. It’s also the best way to see
Fifth tip: Listen. Listen well. Fiorentine Italian- the gorgeous, pure Tuscan dialect- is unequaled; peerlessly beautiful, it is singular in the fact that it was chosen as the standard for Italian based solely on the loveliness of its sound. Dante Alighieri’s title of Pater Patriae- Father of the Country- is based on his popularization of Tuscan Italian in his Commedia (later dubbed Divina by Boccaccio). It is, quite possibly, the most ravishing language in existence, and it flows freely all around you.
Sixth tip (coffee lovers only): A doppio espresso macchiato in
Most of the rest of my “tips” are actually observations from specific places I went in
I would say that
That seeing Firenze only for its shopping is like seeing the
That its palaces and castles are significant not for what they look like but for the opulence of the genius and artistry that they contain. That the grace and allure of the city lies in its anchoring in a past in which it changed the world. And for a time, dominated it.
That if you look carefully and well, what you see will shift your definition of beauty, of power, of achievement, of wealth. And that no matter how much you see, once you truly behold what Firenze offers you will never be able to see enough.
That’s what I’d say. But just to start.