If you are one of those students lucky enough to not only study abroad in Florence but also have your parents visit you, then naturally you will want to make it worth their money and effort.
What do you do when I genitori arrive? Of course priorities will vary depending on the nature of your family.
An artistic family may want to spend more time in museums but not everyone comes to Florence to immerse themselves in art and drop a ton of money on eating out.
And in most cases you won’t be taking Mom and Dad out to the clubs with you.
So here are some ideas on what you can do to give your parents the full flavor of Florence, getting a little beyond the normal tourist sites without breaking the bank.
The first thing everyone seems to think about when they think of Florence is, art. If you are an art major and your family like’s art you can skip the next few paragraphs because you know better than I do what you should see.
But if you are someone who appreciates art but doesn’t have an art background here is the plan. Naturally, you have to see Michaelangelo’s David at the Galleria Academia. Besides “Dave” as I like to call him, the museum has the extraordinary Rape of Sabine, unfinished statues of Michaelangelo’s and a number of impressive paintings. Pair that visit with one to the Bargello to see Donatello’s David and you may have had your fill of art for the day.
Of course anyone who comes to Florence may feel guilty if they leave without visiting the Uffizi. Throw the guilt away. The Uffizi is a long wait for a ton of art it takes at least an art history intro class to understand. Instead you can simply walk by the Uffizi and admire the statues at Loggia de’ Lanzi visible for free in the Piazza della Signoria and on the outside walls of the Uffizi itself.
Unless you are dead set on the Uffizi, skip it and head across the Ponte Vecchio for a hidden treat. Take a right when you cross the bridge and find your way to the church of Santa Maria di Carmine. For only a few euros you can view a stunning set of about a dozen frescos. Isolated inside a beautiful church you’re less distracted by the need to see the next piece of art. Information about each fresco is available in several languages and they are a perfect finish to the artistic tour for the non-artistic family! No one wants to spend their entire time in Florence inside museums and churches. With Florence’s generally beautiful weather, finding beautiful views of the city is a must for any tourist. Most people climb the Duomo while others who are claustrophobic opt for the Piazzale di Michaelangelo. Both are great options but if you are looking for the exercise or willing to take on the challenge try heading up to the view from Bellosguardo. The trek is more difficult but worth the effort.
Shall I even talk about where to eat when there is amazing food on every corner? I’ll mention a few things. Although, Florence is full of places to get a great Tuscan steak, exceptional pizza and an array of pasta dishes, there are a few exotic and fairly priced places that can be fun.
Past the Bargello on Via Ghibellina sits the small Darvish Café. Inside where they speak no English (be brave, it’s fun, or bring a dictionary) you can find an eclectic menu full of delicious dishes of Greek, Turkish, Indian and Thai influences. If you like tea, curry, baklava or an eastern atmosphere this place is perfect. Just next door to the Darvish Café is the fun and popular Salamanca’s. It boasts the best nachos and sangria in town. With drinks selling at 7 euros minimum in Florence, a pitcher of sangria (about 6 glasses) for 15 euros is a steal.
I’m not even going to comment on gelato because it is amazing everywhere.
Now how about something a little different as well as totally and completely Florentine?
Up past the church of Santa Maria Novella at Via della Scala 16 is a profumeria bearing the same name as the church rich with history and heart pounding smells. All the products (perfumes, creams, soaps, even honey) are made with all natural products the same way they were made during the rule of the Medici’s in Florence. Although, the products are a bit pricey it’s worth the time to take in the smells and browse through the books. It seems to be the little things that we miss when we are bombarded with the shiny gold of the Ponte Vecchio, the massive beauty of the Duomo or the attraction of all the stylish stores in the shopping district. But don’t forget to let yourself wander a bit and keep your eyes open. If you do you may see at Via Giucciardi 22 across from Palazzo Pitti the sign that marks the flat where Dostoevsky lived in while he wrote The Idiot.
Or if you happen to stroll down Via Maggio stop in to Casa Guidi number 8 between 3 and 6 pm on Monday, Wednesday or Friday from April 1st to November 31st. You will be touring the home of the famous American poets and lovers Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Renaissance city is waiting to reveal its hidden treasures to you like the secret doors of the Oltrano neighborhood.
David and pasta are just the beginning. Head to the Central Market in the San Lorenzo district to see what real oranges taste like before passing the afternoon in the Boboli Gardens.
Finally, if it pleases you indulge with a moderately priced Cuban cigar from the tabaccheria in the Piazza de la Repubblica (after all, we can’t get them in the US).
Mom and Dad will go home impressed by your knowledge of the exotic in your city and may not think you are just partying all the time.
-Caitlin Janiszewski (Lorenzo dé Medici student)