23 days in Italy. Florence is still everybody's dream city. But if visiting Florence, parking is costly. Take the train.

By Tom P Blake – Finding Love after 50

My partner Greta and I are staying at a 16th Century farmhouse in the heart of Tuscany wine country with nine other couples for one week.
 
Yesterday, 10 of us caravanned in three cars to Florence. We didn't know where in the city we were going to park so we were flying by the seat of our pants. We did have a walkie-talkie in the lead car and another in the rear car, which kept us from getting separated. Trying to drive in Florence is nuts; trying to caravan three cars insane.
 
Florence is a constant traffic jam, especially at the rotaries where four streets converge into a circle. We tried to park near the train station and finally found a garage that would take all three cars. After handing the attendant the keys, we found out the garage closed at 8 p.m. 
 
The problem with that, we had a 50th anniversary dinner for one of the couples scheduled for 8 p.m. at a restaurant near the Ponte Vecchio overlooking the Arno River. We'd have to return to the cars after sightseeing and park them elsewhere.                                              

The group of 10 headed on foot for the Galleria dell' Accademia, where Michelangelo's statue of David is displayed. Florence teems with tourists. It was 90 degrees and we tried to stay in the shade. There was a line a mile long to get in but we had made an advance reservation online so we were allowed to enter immediately. 
 
The statue of David is as impressive as advertised and photos are not allowed. But the incredible paintings by Italian masters are simply beyond description. One could spend a month in Florence just studying the art and barely scratch the surface.
 
Later, the ten of us found a sidewalk café where we had lunch. Greta and I shared an eight-euro pizza (about our medium size) and a bottled water. In most parts of Italy now, the restaurants add a service charge. At this place, it was 2.50 euros per seat. Our lunch was 17 euros, converted into dollars, it was about $22.

 

We had a reservation for the Uffizi Gallery at 2 p.m. On the way, we stopped at the Duomo, the main church in Florence, and the fourth largest church in Europe. Work on it began in 1296. The inside of the dome is painted like the Sistine Chapel and is almost ten-stories tall. It was the only major church in Italy we visited that did not have an entry charge. Women were required to cover their shoulders upon entering.

 
Across the street is the Baptistery, with the famous east doors commissioned by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

 

The Galleria degli Uffizi has 43 rooms so full of master works of art it is overwhelming. Our favorite piece was Michelangelo's "Holy Family with St. John," a round painting with a stunning frame.

 
Next, we returned to the parking garage. The cost for the three cars was 84 euros, about $140. If you plan to visit Florence, I suggest coming by train or bus. 
 
We went to the Piazza Michelangelo that overlooks the city to leave our cars there while dining. Taxis took us to the restaurant and back when we were finished.  
 
At 9:30 p.m., the caravan returned to the farm house. On the Italy autostrada, we missed our exit and ended up driving half way to Rome to find our way back. At 12:30 a.m., as we drove up the dirt road to the farm house, a porcupine showed its quills like a peacock shows its feathers. A deer darted across the road. And although wild boar are all around this area, we didn't see any that night.
 
With the euro so high, the cost of visiting Italy is very expensive. But after seeing those masterpieces in Florence, it's still a must-see place.

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tompblake@gmail.com

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