In early August, as we drive to Città di Castello, a town in Perugia, Italy, my friends tell me about their time in Florence. The highlight of their stay is Trattoria ZaZa and its Florentine Steak: Bistecca alla Fiorentina. I’ve heard good things about this popular dish, but the way my friends describe it triggers a familiar longing to visit Florence. They tell me they wish I could have tried it, and I agree. For most of the drive, my thoughts center on Florence. I think about when I will visit, what I’ll eat, and the photos I’ll take to remember.
I’m in London preparing for weeks of consecutive travel when my good friend, D, sends a message to ask if I would like to travel through Europe with her. We plan to visit Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Venice, and Paris, but when we get to Rome, we realize that visiting the Amalfi Coast will be challenging in our time frame. So we ask for ideas from the concierge at our hotel. He’s helpful and tells us we can make a day trip to Florence on the express train.
A glimmer of sunlight filters through gray skies when we get off the train at Firenze Santa Maria. From the station, a short walk brings us to the Piazza del Duomo.
Tourists mill about, snapping photos and ignoring vendors selling selfie sticks, colorful magnets, and other overpriced knick-knacks. The elaborate walls of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore fill the piazza. Its exterior is an intricate mosaic pattern of green, pink, and ivory marble. We linger here for a while, marveling at the stunning expanse of Florentine design.
Past the piazza are narrow streets lined with museums, boutiques, designer stores, and restaurants.
One museum catches our attention with a bright pink banner draped across its front entrance; Gucci Garden
We pay the 8 euro entry fee to explore the Archetypes exhibit–an immersive showcase celebrating decades of couture from the Italian fashion house. My favorite room is one where a dance video is projected onto the walls. Speakers play what sounds like 80’s music, so I dance along to the upbeat rhythm as D films my movements on camera. “Happiness is free,” I hear her sing over the music, and the phrase reminds me how much joy I can find in fleeting moments.
By the time we leave Gucci Garden, we’re hungry. Trattoria ZaZa is booked full, to my disappointment, so we stop for lunch at Ristorante Paoli; the oldest restaurant in Florence. The Florentine steak here is decent but unremarkable, nothing like what my friends described eating at Trattoria ZaZa.
After lunch, we walk along the Ponte Vecchio–a bridge that arches over the Arno river running through Florence. The pale glimmer of sunlight dims as we drink foamy espresso martinis on an outdoor patio. Darkening skies hang over the city, signifying evening’s approach and our cue to return to Rome.
The next morning, we board a train from Roma Termini to Venice.
Good to Know
- You can book train tickets from Rome to Florence via the Omio App. Traveling by train in Italy is convenient and affordable, especially if you book well in advance.
- Logistically, if you are going to visit Venice, it makes sense to take the train and continue on from Florence. We only came back to Rome because we did not originally plan to visit Florence.
- Florence is great for art and history lovers, shopping enthusiasts (nearly every designer I know had a store here), and foodies.
- We traveled in October. While there was still a crowd at the Piazza del Duomo, it wasn’t overbearing. I would sacrifice summer weather to avoid crowds any day.
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Same Footprints, Different Sands