Welcome to part 2 of our European Holiday recap! Part 1 detailed our stay in Berlin. Let’s pick up the story with our travel from Berlin the morning of Monday, September 26, to our second stop: Florence, Italy.
Our airport transfer was scheduled for 11 a.m. After extending our thanks to the Ritz-Carlton staff, we were off to the Berlin Airport for a 2 p.m. flight to Florence via Vueling Airline. (Which has some seriously awesome branding. I would choose this airline just because it’s so very happy.) Check-in was quick and easy. Security lines were short; no need to remove shoes or jackets, which was nice. But all electronics and liquids were to be pulled out for inspection. The woman ahead of us got her mega jar of salsa confiscated, so the 3-ounce rule must also apply in Germany. The flight was great—completely uneventful! We arrived to Florence Airport just before 4 p.m. After disembarking onto the tarmac, we loaded into buses; we figured the airport must be huge if we needed shuttles . . . we actually went about 200 yards to the terminal doors. ha! We had a good laugh at that! Just inside was the baggage carousel; we grabbed our luggage and exited to find our driver, which was easy enough, because the airport was quite small! We were out to the car within minutes; the drive to our apartment took about 25 minutes.
We stayed at the Divina Apartment, located just southwest of Piazza del Duomo. It was simply magical. The buildings are all from the 1400s–1500s—solid with stone and history. Divina was gorgeous, and Paolo, the property manager, was the best host. He met us at the door, gave us a tour of the apartment, and then walked us around Piazza del Duomo giving us tips and helping us get our bearings. Paolo greeted us like old friends and helped us feel right at home in a foreign city. He made all our dinner reservations since we didn’t know the language, and since we didn’t want tourist fare (also, Paolo steered us clear of the most commercialized traps). I want to be like Paolo to everyone I meet!
Since dinner wasn’t until 8:30, we decided gelato was needed. Paolo recommended Le Parigine Gelateria on Via dei Servi, insisting it was the best. We agree! It was delicious. After walking around a bit, we headed to dinner at Ristorante Natalino on Borgo degli Albizi; it’s been around for 130 years. The food was delicious. (Which I will say for all the food in Italy. And I mean it!)
Wednesday was our first full day, and it began with breakfast at Scudieri in Piazza del Duomo, per Paolo’s recommendation. Locals put back their morning espresso while standing at the counter because it’s cheaper than receiving service at a table. Being on vacation though, we got a table to enjoy the outdoor terrace and people watching. We had espresso and pastries because that’s what they eat and I didn’t want to offend. ha! Actually, this is my preferred fare. I’ve found my people. (Mike also had eggs, of course.)
Then it was on to day one: statue, monument, and piazza day. We had hoped to visit the David in the morning, but when we arrived to the Accademia at about 10 a.m. the lines were overwhelming. We checked with the ticket office to see if there were any reserve tickets available for later, which would cut out some of the lines at least. Tickets were available for 6:30, so we snatched them up! The next eight hours were spent walking all over the city. I have never seen so many statues, so much attention to detail. It was such a reminder that making things beautiful is important, worthwhile. Florence is a treasure. Back at Accademia that evening, I was so happy by our choice to wait. The lines had evaporated. There were perhaps 20 people, and we got in right away. It was relaxed and not as crowded so we could take in David in all his glory. After all that walking about, it was time for pizza at Tratorria Pizzeria Nerone on Via Faenza. It was, in fact, delicious.
Our second and last full day in Florence was Duomo day. The lines for the cathedral and dome climb are usually 1.5 to 2 hours long. I hated to waste precious time in lines, so here was our strategy: It opens at 8:30 a.m. so I got in line at 8 a.m. while Mike went down the square to the ticket office for tickets. By 8:45, we were climbing the stairs, ahead of the long lines/crowds. Perfect! The views from the top were breathtaking. Then we ventured back to Scudieri for breakfast, and toured the Baptistry afterward—it was dazzling. We walked the city some more, winding our way to a coffee shop I had been dreaming about: Ditta Artigianale on Via dei Neri. The setting and the coffee were perfect. Dinner was at Cantinetta Antinori on Piazza degli Antinori—a family-run restaurant featuring food and wine from their own farms and winery. Such a treat.
Our final morning in Florence was low key. We had our usual breakfast and walked some streets we had not gotten to yet. We enjoyed the sunshine and the quiet morning, soaking up the beauty of this great city. Paolo met us at Divina for check out—we were overcome with emotion and gratitude for all his help and kindness. He kissed my cheeks, shook Mike’s hand, and called us friends. I cannot stress enough how wonderful this experience was; much is due to Paolo and the Divina Apartment. If you are heading to Florence, check out Paolo’s properties. You will love them and him and you will make a new friend!
Florence Step Tally: 53,238 (an average of 17,746 per day)
Weather: sunny, cool in the mornings but nearly hot in the afternoons; low 60s to mid 80s