Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hip Getaways - Florence, Italy

I have been meaning to share a few photos from my visit to Florence, Italy from last September. I was finally able to go through them and give a little snapshot of our two nights here. The shopping is pretty stellar, without being over-the-top luxury and the leather products are fairly inexpensive. Make sure you look for a pair of cashmere-lined leather gloves. I picked up a pair for $60! It's also a great chance to shop for a good pair of Italian shoes and handbags. The open markets are a great place to haggle yourself a deal and literally are everywhere. After all that shopping, make a point of having late afternoon drinks at The Four Seasons Hotel. They have a full-on sculpture garden inside the largest private park in the city (11 acres). Your mind will be blown at how gorgeous the grounds are. It's consistently ranked as one of the hotels in the world.
Florence was an easy place to walk everywhere, but it can get quite crowded with lots of tourists. If you're driving into the city, do note that you can't really officially drive around Florence without a city permit - you will get fined. We drove in from the coast to check-in to our hotel, which is apparently OK. It was a valet-only system around $40/night, since they apparently took our little Fiat 20 minutes outside of the city to be parked. They weren't exactly thinking underground lots around here when this place was built.
I love a random Merry-Go-Round


We found a decent deal of around $250/night on Expedia right in the heart of the city. Somehow we got upgraded to this crazy Presidential suite (below) at The Grand Hotel Minerva. Apparently the hotel manager, knew the last hotel manager who called to arrange the booking for us and was nice enough to spoil us. The room was incredibly comfortable and spacious for Florence standards. The mural (right) on our ceiling was original from when the hotel was built. The hotel even boasts a rooftop pool and bar to cool off after a long day of sightseeing. Everything was in a 20-minute walking distance. If you're looking for a cheaper option, many tourists stay outside of the city in Tuscany and take a 45-minute train ride in. We liked being in the hustle bustle of it all.
Seriously grandiose
Whenever I travel, I like to take a visit to the local market for some food souvenirs and an easy lunch. The Mercato Centrale is a must-do, just to salivate and stare at all the prosciutto everywhere. The market also has a few take-away counters for prepared ready-to-eat food.
Mini bottles of olive oil, balsamic vinegar are all for sale. Lots of mushroom varieties and sun-dried tomatoes can be freeze dried and taken home.
Delicious-looking dried fruit
Don't miss a visit to The Duomo Cathedral in Florence. The ledge just under the circular window is where you would walk to climb to the very top of The Duomo. Lines to the top can be very long and the stairs get congested. Bring lots of patience, it's a once in a lifetime experience and I still recommend doing it.
Inside the gorgeous Duomo in Florence
The 463 stairs to the top (8 Euros), with no lifts looked a little something like this (right). It's a tight, narrow and hot space that was probably intentioned for one very small monk. Now you have tourists cramming up a one-person flight, going both ways. Did I mention how steep certain parts of it were? It's a series of winding staircases and hallways. Not for the claustrophobic. There's only one way up and down and remember - you paid to do this.
The view from the top of The Duomo, though crowded - makes it all worthwhile. Bellisima.

Looking for more on Italy? Read our entire Italy Travel Series. We hit up Pisa, Bologna, Cinque Terre and Tuscany, while cruising around in our little rented Fiat 500.

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