Italy’s Perfumed, High-heeled Florence Is No Disney Chick

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I’ve heard Florence dismissively described as “Renaissance Disneyland” for her abundance of color, beauty and summer crowds, but you’d be hard pressed to find a greater concentration of important and incredible works of art anywhere else in the world. Practically everything in sight is authentic and interesting and significant, which is far more than can be said about any corporate amusement park. Also, there’s not a wine bar on every block in Disneyland.

The train from Rome to Florence passes through the Tuscan countryside of rolling golden hills, acres of olive groves and countless vineyards. It’s like traveling through a movie backdrop so beautiful it looks fake. The trip takes about an hour and a half, most of which I spent with my nose on the window, and by the time we reached the station I was anxious to get out and start exploring. Upon checking in to the hotel, I heaved my suitcase into my room, rode the tiny shuddering elevator down to the lobby and started walking.

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I took my time wandering the streets towards the city center, soaking up the sights, peering in every window and generally enjoying the feeling of being in a city I had always dreamed of visiting. After a time I turned a corner and was suddenly presented with my first view of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, commonly known as the Duomo. Dominating the Florentine skyline with her unsurpassed brick dome and her facade of white, pink and green marble, she’s a marvel of engineering and beauty in perfect harmony. That first glimpse literally took my breath away. The closer I got, the more incredible she became and from that moment on I was completely and utterly in love with Florence. She was a good fit for me from the start, and I honestly haven’t been the same since.

With a blue sky overhead and buildings every shade of yellow, tan, orange and red, Florence is easy on the eyes. Everything looks perfectly balanced. There’s also a pleasant fragrance to the city that’s difficult to describe. During the day you certainly notice the exhaust of the buses and cars, but by evening she takes on the scent of her many restaurants, cafes and gelaterias as well as the smell of warm soapy water after the street sweepers have drifted by. It’s wonderful, really, but my love for her makes it difficult to be objective about her perfume. On the other hand, everyone I’ve traveled with has noticed this too, so perhaps I’m not all that biased.

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It’s difficult not to find something interesting on nearly all of her streets, and there’s nothing like the knowledge that any moment you can turn a corner and find a shop or cafe that you’ll talk about for the rest of your life. That’s certainly true for the tiny sandwich shop I Fratellini (Via dei Cimatori, 38/r), a literal hole in the wall that makes tasty pulled pork sandwiches. When we stumbled upon it there was a line of people waiting to place their orders, and any time you see a line of locals it’s best to queue up too and find out later what you’re waiting for. The shop is only wide enough for the two brothers who own it; one takes your order and pours your wine and the other hands you your sandwich. Attached to the building on the wall next to the shop are racks with numbers on them, which we learned was a clever place to set your wine while you feast on your sandwich. There are no seats, and you eat standing in the middle of the alley, but it couldn’t possibly be more charming.

Florence is a walking city, which means you can usually get everywhere you want to go on foot. Your feet might be sore and tired when you get back to the hotel, but hopefully you’ve invested in a good pair of footwear that won’t let you down. Only local Italian women can get away with walking cobblestone streets in fashionable shoes. They might occasionally trip and fall, but they do it with style and panache, while the rest of us are going to go down like a safe hitting the pavement. It can be a real dignity-free moment if it happens to you, so don‘t let it. Spend good money on good shoes and you’ll be able to see a lot more, trust me.

There’s more of Florence still to come. I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Matt Grigsby is a Redding native who has learned how to tell the difference between fresh gelato and machine-made. He owns a beautiful imaginary six-room villa in the hills above Florence, as well as a very real cottage on the west side of town. By day he’s a computer analyst toiling for the public good and he dreams of one day owning a robot servant. Matt only uses the fancy ketchup.

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Matt Grigsby
Matt Grigsby was born and raised in Redding but has often felt he should have been born in Italy. By day he's a computer analyst toiling for the public good and by night he searches airline websites for great travel deals. His interests include books, movies, prowling thrift shops for treasure and tricking his friends into cooking for him. One day he hopes to complete his quest in finding the best gelato shop in Italy.
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28 Responses

  1. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Your love of Florence comes shining through clearly here. You described perfectly how it feels to visit a place you've dreamed of, and to fall in love on the spot. Bella!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Thank you! Sometimes it only feels like a dream that I've actually been there. And then I look at some of my photos or my awesome souveniers and remember all of her charms.

  2. Avatar Janet says:

    It has been 20 years since I was in Florence but you brought it all back and with such love and regard. Now, I need, want, should be planning a trip there in the not so near future.

    And, how true that when you see locals lining up you should just get in line, especially in Italy. But, I am not so sure I would be that brave in other countrys ~

    Bella indeed!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Grazie! The first time I hopped in a line without knowing what I was waiting for, I was anxious but I saw each person walking away with a big smile and I knew I was on to something. That tactic hasn't let me down yet.

      20 years is a long time to be away from Florence. I'm sure she misses you!

  3. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    You make me home sick . . . no, wait . . . I AM home. I guess you make it "italy-sick!!" Beautiful article. Thank you!!!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Grazie!

      There really should be a word for being homesick for a place where you don't live. I know the feeling all too well, and I can hardly wait to get back there.

  4. Doug Cushman Doug Cushman says:

    You pretty much captured my feeling for Florence, Matt. I've been going there almost every year for the last 5 and I still find something new to see or do there. It's so small but jam-packed (if i can use such a trite expression for a magnificent city). Can't wait to see more!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      It really is amazing how such a small place can be so packed with treasures. A walk in any direction will take you to a masterpiece within minutes, and you'll pass a hundred minor wonders along the way. I could spend a lifetime wandering the city and not get tired of her charms!

  5. Avatar Sunny says:

    Oh my! I can hardly wait to book my trip! I love, love, love reading your articles! I certainly hope that there's more. I am beginning to feel, by your descriptions, like I'm standing right there with you on those streets, looking up at the Duomo. Keep them coming.

  6. Avatar Chris Bennor says:

    I've never been to Italy but I've heard from a few friends that Florence was, hands-down, their favorite place. I think it's time for me to start saving for a dream trip!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Florence is by far my favorite place, but the entire country is an amazing place and worth checking out.

      Old Flo is just waiting for you whenever you're ready. She's a patient gal like that!

  7. Avatar Cindy C says:

    Ahh, I have been waiting for Florence. Thank you for sharing your adventures! I always love reading your articles. More please!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I'm so glad you're enjoying the articles!

      Your wish is my command. Stay tuned for Florence Part II!

  8. Avatar Brian says:

    Great article! I especially enjoy the descriptions of your experiences. Cant wait to read the next one!

  9. Avatar Shirley Barone says:

    Matt,
    Love your piece on Florence. I'm totally in love with her and I haven't even met her yet! When I visit Andie in Prague I'll take a few days and visit your beautiful lady!

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      When you're ready for tips and advice on old Flo, I'm totally your man. You will feel totally at home there!

  10. Avatar Chris Carter says:

    Great article. I forgot about the sweet smells in the city. Totally true. Its a matter of weeks till we're back in the lovely city of Florence.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I can still smell the coffee and the baking and the scent of soap on the streets. I can't wait to experience it all over again.

  11. Avatar Sandy Tincher says:

    Love your article. Florence was also my favorite city in Italy. Among many other things, I loved their cappucino (did I spell it right?). I've never found it even half as good in our country. We just got back from Bolivia. I loved La Paz–another great place to visit—-but it isn't like Italy—much more third world.

    So what will you write about next?

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      I know exactly what you mean about the cappuccinos in Italy. They're richer and more flavorful than the giant pints of liquid we get here, and I can never recreate that taste when I make them at home. It must be the magic of drinking them "in situ."

      More to come on Florence, for sure. I'm glad you're enjoying the articles!

  12. Avatar Sue says:

    O.K. You've got me convinced. I'm going.

    • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

      Yes! She won't let you down, I assure you!

      • Doni Greenberg Doni Greenberg says:

        Matt, once again, you've done it. I love your artircles. Thank you thank you thank you.

        Florence is one of my favorite places, too. I know there are many cities in the world to see, but I've been to Florence twice and share your total, head-over-heels adoration of her. You know what would be fun one day? If we had an anewscafe.com group tour to Florence. (p.s. I'm still in Ostrava, where it's threatening to snow. Brrrr. Dang. Why didn't I pack more warm clothes?)

        • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

          And of course Matt could be the tour guide!

        • Avatar Matt Grigsby says:

          I'm thrilled you're enjoying the articles!

          I think anewscafe.com tour group sounds like it would be molto bene and tons of fun!

          Stay warm, but remember you can always do a little shopping for some awesome warm weather gear!

  13. Avatar sue says:

    I'm there! (budget permitting)