Florence, Italy

February 17, 2012

You may have noticed that earlier this week, I updated my sidebar with links to some of our travel adventures. We’ve done so much exploring this past year that it’s become a recurring topic. So I thought it would be fun to make Travel an official Design Mom column that features daydream destinations, useful tips or products, and reports on our own trips.

Which reminds me, I’ve been wanting to share photos from our trip to Florence for ages. You may remember, Ben Blair was speaking at a conference there, so we turned it into a romantic getaway sans kids. Here’s a little writeup of our 10 favorite things in Florence + lots of photos, in case you’d like to see. (And please let me know if you have any ideas about the travel column. I love your feedback!)

First, the Duomo Cathedral. I loved catching a glimpse of it as we explored the narrow streets.

Until we were close up, I had no idea it was surfaced with colored tiles! I just assumed it was built from the same materials as the cathedrals in France and other northern European countries. But of course, building materials change from region to region. Somehow, it just surprised me!

The main thing I remember is just how massive the building is. Massive I tell you!

We criss-crossed the city by foot lots of times during our explorations and every time we’d get a good shot of the cathedral, my heart rate would sour. It really is stunning.

Second, the open air markets. The weather was chillier than we were expecting, so one of the first things we did was stop to pick up cozy scarves. And though there were tons of scarf options, the big deal was all the leather goods. Bags, belts and bracelets everywhere, in fantastic colors.

Third, the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella. They say it’s 600 years old — the oldest one in Europe!) It was highly recommended by many of you, and we really enjoyed it.

In fact, our scarves, and a little something from the pharmacy were the only souvenirs we brought home. I have several lovely images from the pharmacy, so I’ll share them in another post and show you what we bought!

Fourth, walking, walking, walking. Florence is a great city for strolling and getting a bit lost. There are interesting side streets and grand architecture in every direction.

Throughout the city, we would spot little alcoves in the buildings with statues. It seems to be a favorite Florentine architectural detail.

It’s also fun to arrive at the river and see all the bridges. What a kick it is to cross them and get amazing views of the city. This one is covered in buildings and shops.

Fifth, The David. This image is of a bronze replica that overlooks the city. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the real thing. But oh my goodness! Standing in front of the original marble David I remember thinking: I need to call every person I know and tell them to drop everything and get on a plane right this minute to come and see this sculpture. Have you ever seen the David? Did you feel the same way?

Sixth, taking in the views from Piazzale Michelangelo. It’s a square over-looking the city, and the bronze statue of David, pictured earlier, is there as well.

We arrived at dusk and the light was misty and beautiful. We could have stared at those views for hours. Can you see some of the bridges?

Seventh, climbing up even further to the church above the Piazzale Michelangelo. I can’t remember the church’s name. If you know, remind me and I’ll add it in.

Definitely worth the climb.

Eighth, the Bargello Museum. It’s an excellent sculpture museum and we enjoyed the collection, but my favorite part was the stone plaques attached to the courtyard walls. I wonder what they’re for?

The image of the lion at the very top of this post is also from the same museum.

One funny thing. We misjudged our time and had to skip the Uffizi. Since we had pre-bought tickets, we stopped long enough to find two people waiting in line, and gave the tickets to them. And I snapped this photo on the way out.

Ninth, seeing the city at night. Especially this view from a bridge.

Tenth (and last but not least), we loved the food! Pasta, pizza and at least 10 different stops for gelato, and we were only there for 2 days. : ) By the way, you may have noticed I don’t appear in any of the photos. Usually I man the bigger camera and Ben Blair uses his iPhone (he’s really good!), and that way, we both end up showing up in at least a few shots. But we seem to have lost a whole bunch of his phone images — including me eating lots of gelato. Darn!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the little tour. Have you ever been to Florence? What favorites would you add to our list?

P.S. — Who handles the camera at your house?

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kirsty@Bonjour February 17, 2012 at 6:54 am

I would love you to start a travel section – we live in the south of France, so I’d love to see what’s hot in the north (we have a spring trip planned).
I think that church is the San Miniato al Monte. Such amazing views!


2 Design Mom February 17, 2012 at 8:28 am

Thanks Kirsty! I plan to add a travel tab to my top menu. Watch for it!


3 Livi February 17, 2012 at 4:21 pm

The church at the top is San Minato. Did you hear the monks sing? The author of Pinnocho is buried in the cool cemetery in the back.


4 Sherr February 17, 2012 at 6:56 am

I loved Florence – though…. only did a short visit there. Nice photos :).


5 Madeline Diaz February 17, 2012 at 6:57 am

Beautiful images! The church on no. 7 is San Miniato in Montorio. The reoccurring bridge with the buildings is the Ponte Vecchio. Next time you go, make sure to see Santa Croce (the virtual pantheon of Florence where many prominent figures are buried – Macchiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo and many others). The frescoes by Masaccio in the Brancacci chapel are not to be missed either =)


6 Zoe - SlowMama February 17, 2012 at 7:12 am

I loved Florence and stayed in a small inn very close to the Duomo, which is amazing indeed… unless you try and climb to the top of the dome with friends, forgetting you are both claustrophobic and afraid of heights. Heh.

Seeing David was one of my peak moments in life. I will never forget it. Perfection.


7 Mary February 17, 2012 at 7:17 am

I absolutely felt the same way about seeing the David. Magnificent. Truly. We went to Florence – with kids! – last summer and loved it (despite the August heat). Gorgeous city. I loved seeing your pictures and getting transported back there. So much gelato, so little time!

And I haven’t appeared in pictures for years. Every now and then I will shove the camera into my husband’s hands and demand that he take some, but even then we still seem to end up with pictures of the boys. I need to fix that!


8 Jennifer February 17, 2012 at 7:20 am

For the travel section, can you always include where you stayed? Was it a hotel? A apt rental? House exchange. With young children, hotels are often not the best option so I’m always interested in accommodations when traveling with young family members.

And Florence, love the city. I lived in Rome for 6 months for a study abroad program and fell in love with Italy. Favorite cities were Venice, Bologna, Naples, Capri, and of course Rome.


9 Design Mom February 17, 2012 at 8:28 am

Great idea, Jennifer!


10 Connie February 17, 2012 at 7:22 am

What a great post-I’ve heard many happy reviews of Florence.
In our family, I’m the one most often taking photos-I work as a photographer, so it is second nature. But once in a while, he will stop and say, “Could I have the camera?” And I watch as he snaps several shots of some moment that he wants captured. When we’re taking one of those “lean-in-smooshy-face” photos, he’s the one who holds the camera because I’m 5’7″ and he’s 6’4″ so his arms are longer than mine and his photos are therefore less likely to have one of us cropped funny. :)


11 The New Diplomats Wife February 17, 2012 at 7:29 am

Love the new travel sidebar – what can I say, it’s my speed ;) . Have lots of fond memories of florence, including losing the bumper off a rental car since I didn’t notice a significant curb. Hmmm. Also of going to the consulate for a security clearance for a summer internship and being led down to a suspicious basement, where they rolled out a fingerprinting machine from what must have been the 40′s, complete with liquid ink poured onto a slate. I studied in Bologna for a year so it was a frequent stop for us – actually headed back to Bologna this year for the 10 year reunion!


12 Ris February 17, 2012 at 7:53 am

These photos are beautiful! I’m usually the one behind the camera too :)


13 SissyHirsch February 17, 2012 at 7:55 am

Vielen Dank für die wundervolle Einstimmung auf Florenz! Freue mich schon auf die nächste Woche in der Toskana, auf Siena, Montalcino, die herrliche Adlertherme, den Blick vom Becken in die Toskana, Frühstück im Cabriorestaurant……juhu, wir sind schon am Weg, voll der Freude, Sissy


14 Susan February 17, 2012 at 7:58 am

Seeing David was…incredible.
When I stood in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in the Uffizi I wanted someone to pinch me, it didn’t seem real that I could be standing in front of something so old and so beautiful.


15 Kat February 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

I agree with Susan and the Botticelli’s…in the Uffizi you are standing so close to the paintings and they are so vibrant…surreal…

I thought I had pictures of the David…it is so clear in my mind that I had to go and check my photos…me, a girl from Colorado, with 2 kids (7 and 9) in standing inches away from the “real” David… I may have pinched the kids…I definitely said “you have no idea what you are seeing and why this is important”.


16 Summer February 17, 2012 at 8:04 am

I got to go to Florence when I was 16, and the Duomo is still my favorite cathedral (which is saying something!). I loved how intricate it is! Florence is also my favorite of the “big” Italian cities (although I’ve never been to the Amalfi coast…).


17 Heidi February 17, 2012 at 8:10 am

You might think otherwise, but when I looked at David, I swear he was breathing!


18 Design Mom February 17, 2012 at 8:29 am

I can totally see that, Heidi!


19 se7en February 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

THank you for a visit and a stroll through my favorite city in the whole world!!! The church at the top of the hill is: San Miniato al Monte… Florence is our favorite for all the sights and the dipping into designer shops and frankly the best food, especially street for in all our travels!!! I’m such a sucker for books in real life so my hubs and I sought out all the spots from “A Room with a View”… Lovely!!! Happy weekend to you all from sunny Cape Town!!!


20 the emily February 17, 2012 at 8:31 am

Oh I LOVE these pictures! Thank you so much! I’m dying to get to Italy, it’s been something I’ve been aching for (and planning for) since I was 16.

I’m always behind the camera. Always. I don’t usually mind but it’s kind of sad to go back and look at pictures and not be in ANY of them. That’s why I’m part of Aleida’s challenge to try and be in more pictures with my kids…but my husband just never remembers!


21 Sharmyn February 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

When I saw the David I cried. Cried because it was so beautiful. Cried for the magnificent talent displayed. Cried because it was a blessing to be there. And lest you think I stood there blubbering, they were pretty tears. Because they were tears of gratitude. I don’t mean to give improper reverence to an object, but sometimes you glimpse a soul and realize a God-given talent and your heart skips a beat.

And p.s. didn’t you think the setting was absolutely perfect? Could he have been displayed more nobly? (Is that a word?)


22 Kristina February 17, 2012 at 9:19 am

It’s true about the David! I was an art history graduate student and a bit jaded to be honest – and the David completely amazed me. No matter how many times you’ve seen it reproduced (both respectfully and profanely!) nothing prepares you for the real thing. And what a lovely trip you had!


23 Mags February 17, 2012 at 9:42 am

Ditto on the David. I don’t think I was prepared for how *big* it is…I just stood there slack-jawed for most of my visit.

Love these shots of Florence! My one and only visit was during the winter, too, and the quality of light (and scarves!) brings back lots of memories. Beautiful!


24 Sandra February 17, 2012 at 10:12 am

Love the idea of the travel column. You know how it is, when you love to travel it’s GREAT to get recommendations from someone you already “know” (even if it’s just virtually!). And since I have a six year old and we travel a LOT, recommendations that include family-related travel are useful too.

I have never been to Florence but spent 10 days in Rome a few years ago at a conference. Incredible food, friendly people….When the husband’s next sabbatical comes up in a few years I’d LOVE to do it in Italy.


25 nicole @ deliajude February 17, 2012 at 10:15 am

florence is my most favorite city in the world…of the cities i have been too of course. and i thought the very same thing when i saw david…i thought it was the most beautiful piece of art i had ever seen.


26 jennie w. February 17, 2012 at 10:41 am

The Uffizzi is mind-blowing! It seems like on every wall is a well-known famous painting. Also, the architechtural details around the museum are gorgeous too. That’s something that surprised me so much the first time I went to Europe: the buildings are often as fascinating as the art.


27 Sandra Gonzales February 17, 2012 at 11:26 am

Would love a practical travel column –especially restaurants or eateries that were special in some way. I’m thinking of something like Gwyneth’s GOOP suggestions except for normal middle income folks.


28 christie elkins. February 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

LOVE this idea, Sandra!


29 Lucie February 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

your pictures totally take me back to my honeymoon! I loved Florence and seeing the David is something I will never forget. I honestly didn’t think it would have such an effect on me. I figured, yeah it will be beautiful but I was in no way prepared for exactly HOW beautiful it would be. I could have stood in front of it for hours. HOURS. It was magnificent and it’s hard to put into words how it makes you feel. Truly life changing moment. Michelangelo was a genius. Brilliant.


30 Karen Chatters February 17, 2012 at 11:32 am

Gabrielle, I spent a semester in Florence when I was in college and have never been back. Your pictures brought back tons of memories. I would LOVE to go back and bring my husband. Maybe for a second honeymoon. Thank you for sharing your pictures, I loved the trip down memory lane.


31 Genevieve February 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Wow! Brings back a ton of memories for me of a vacation I took there with a college boyfriend! The David is very impressive! I read the Agony and the Ecstasy before traveling there and it made the city come alive for me! I now try to read as much as I can about places before I go. Wonderful pictures!


32 Debbie February 17, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I have never been as impressed with seeing a piece of art in real life as I was with the statue of David (although The Birth of Venus is a close second). The massive size and detail only enhance the beauty of it. My kids and I stood around it for ages admiring all the details and talking over the story of David and Goliath.


33 CMN February 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Dear G,
I chuckled to read about your souvenirs… The last time I was in Italy (just last year, now that I think of it – LOL!), I brought home a cherry red, cast-iron mailbox! I’d seen similar boxes attached to building fronts and gates, and fell in love. So when I saw this one at the main Post Office in Milan? I scooped it right up – no questions asked. Packing it home wasn’t easy (cast iron!), but never a moment of regret. Amour!



34 Gina February 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm

This brings back some great memories for me – my husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon and Florence was one of our stops. We were only there for 2 days – wish we could have stayed longer!


35 christie elkins. February 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

It has always been my DREAM to visit Florence! You and Mr. Blair are much blessed :) Oh, and I totally man the camera around these parts. My kids will have no idea what I looked like as a young mama!


36 Kathleen February 17, 2012 at 1:36 pm

The last time I was in Florence was years ago with my friend Rebecca. We had an awesome time and ate delicious food for days on end. Still haven’t made it there with my husband, but this post may inspire me to plan something . . .


37 Margaret February 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I got to go to Florence just after college, with some friends, and I felt just the same way about the David. I could have stared for hours… it looked like it was alive. Absolutely astounding that Michelangelo could get stone to look like that. I’m glad others think so as well… when I told people back home, they raised a skeptical eyebrow. :-)


38 sarah k February 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm

This brings back so many memories. I was in Florence a few times on a backpacking trip through Europe in college–I think I had forgotten how much I loved it, until I saw your pictures. Those particular colors of Florence–so warm and orangey. And the gelato! Never such gelato, anywhere else. And I agree about Michelangelo’s David–I remember thinking that art history books had given me no inkling of how big it was, and supple, and alive.


39 Lynn richards February 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Oh, my heart skipped a beat looking at your photos. My daughter spent a semester in Florence last year and I was fortunate to be able to visit her. I loved Fiesole, and stopping for coffee at 4or5p.m. Every day. So many beautiful memories. Thank you!


40 My Traveling Troop February 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Stunning photos! Was this your first trip without the kiddos? I think it would be lovely for my hubby and I too, but haven’t taken that leap yet. Have any thoughts or tips on this?



41 steph t. February 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm

i’m headed to florence in a little over 2 months and i’m SO excited!
this post just gets my blood pumping.
i can’t wait to spend time there.
now you’ve given me a great start of what we can do while we’re there for 5 days.
great, great pictures.
do you use a canon? what kind of lens do you use, if you don’t mind me asking.
i only want to bring one along and i’m always curious what everyone else prefers for travel.


42 Abby D February 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Oh how I love Florence. We went there for vacation at the end of a 2 year stint in London. It doesn’t look like you made it to the Oltrarno. We stayed there and despite the rather long walk to the city center, we loved it. We especially loved the Boboli Gardens. It was such a fun adventure for our daughter who was nearly 3 at the time.


43 sofija February 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

a travel column sounds fantastic. I always get exited when you post pictures of your travels in Europe, especially with the 6 kiddos in tow. We have six as well and to us it seems so daunting to go anywhere. And when we get there after a long drive the hardest part is finding a good place to eat and a place for them to run around and stretch their legs. I would love some tips and tricks how you organize your trips? I was grew in Europe but it seems waaay to small for big families. I usually take only two with me at a time. Yet you make it seem easy.
I’m expecting a family from Switzerland and have been planning activities for them that adults and kids can enjoy for the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. I bet a lot of your readers live in interesting places and could give you a top 10 list of things to do.


44 Dariela (@darielacruz) February 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Oh Florence! I’ve always been in love with Baroque music and Florence is one of the cities that had the most wonderful ones! All of that city’s culture is amazing and I’ve never been. Thanks for the little tour, now I want to go even more!!! The travel column sounds awesome, you could have categories that show travel with and without kids too since you do both!


45 Flannery O'kafka February 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Went to Florence again in October for my daughter’s 16th birthday…perfect for beginning artist. It’s great to see your photos. Love that city.

Our ultimate love was the grotto in the Boboli Gardens.

And yes, I felt the same way you did 5 years ago when I first saw David. The veins in his arms just overwhelmed me.


46 Livi February 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Im so glad you went to the Bargello! No one ever goes there and it’s one of my favorites! It’s amazing you can see three of the four Davids there. And yes! The Michelangelo David is a very moving experience! Your photos from piazzalle Michelangelo really brought me back to Florence. I love winters and springs there because the tourists aren’t there yet and the city is your own.


47 Julie February 17, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I spent part of my honeymoon in Florence so thanks for the memories!


48 Sarah February 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm

I completely agree with you about the David. I started crying when I saw it. There’s something that is magnificent and otherworldly about it, yet it’s so… human.


49 Anneliese February 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Florence is one of my faves too. An art lover’s dream. I can’t wait to go back–and my daughter can’t wait to go back to all the gelato shops. There’s no way you cannot have it at least twice a day when you are there. I love the travel column idea! Top 10 lists are great. I agree that talking accommodations owuld be helpful and I also always enjoy information about the best local flavor–places to eat and shop–little gems outside the main tourist thoroughfares.


50 Tanya H February 18, 2012 at 12:11 am

Ohhh! I’m so disappointed you missed the Uffizi! Maybe next time.

In 2009 when we took my then 7yr old, we visited the David statue. I had appropriately prepared her for the amount of nudity in art to be found during our month long trip to France, Italy & Switzerland so she would not be taken aback. When she saw the statue, she simply stood there…frozen. I wondered if it was too much for a 7yr old to take in. When I finally pulled her aside I noticed she was near sobbing. She turned to me and said “Mommy, why do I feel God’s love so much when I look at this statue?” Tears filled my eyes. She continued “It’s okay. I know why. Because the sculptor borrowed His hands.” It was truly a spiritual experience for us.


51 teresa February 18, 2012 at 5:01 am

Awesome loved all the pictures! Thanks for the tour =)


52 Munjaal V. Kapadia February 18, 2012 at 5:08 am

Did you both get matching Burberry scarves?


53 Cortnie February 18, 2012 at 10:37 am

The last time I was in Florence I was on my honeymoon almost 11 years ago….this post brought back so many memories!



54 Lola February 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Inspired to take a little wander over to Italy soon – I went to Rome last year and it was gorgeous (the gelato doesn’t hurt, either!).

Those statues are just a grander version of the paintings which pop up seemingly randomly on the sides of buildings in lots of Catholic countries, dedicated to saints and other church people – actually, you can tell when you’re getting really far north in Scotland, because they start cropping up by the roadside (Protestantism never quite made it all the way up the Highlands). I think they’re super pretty!


55 Debbie Mayes February 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I love your pictures! I can’t wait to be back in Europe! I am the one taking the majority of pictures in my photography business so I find when I’m “off” I hand the main camera to my hubby and I take pics with my iPhone – i’m obsessed with Instagram right now!


56 Sandi February 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Love reading about travels. I am currently planning a trip with my hubby and 6 kids to Paris and London. Looking for all kinds of tips any place I can get them!


57 Melissa February 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm

The David…all I can say is, WOW. The pictures that I’d seen in text books and art books did NOT do it justice! I literally gasped when I turned the corner and saw it at the end of the corridor! And now that I’ve seen it I feel like my description of it does not do it justice either! It’s just a piece of beauty that HAS to be seen to be truly appreciated.


58 jessica February 18, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Your post brings back so many wonderful memories of my wedding in Florence. When I was a young girl vacationing in Florence with my family and seeing the brides walk through the streets having just been married, I knew I wanted that to be one day. Fortunately, the dream became a reality. I look forward to taking our kids to Florence one day and showing them the catholic church where their mommy and daddy wed.


59 Kristen February 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm

What a fabulous few days you must have had! We were there last summer and I have quiet the scandalous story to share about our adventure there regarding the accademia and the statue of David. They let me take a fantastic photo of him, I couldnt beleive it. :) I dont want to hog to much space here, but I am happy to share it if you want. Next time you go, I would highly HIGHLY recomend mama gina’s. Try their risotto or caneloni mama gina. The best food I had in our entire 2 weeks in the country. Thanks for a fun post!!


60 elena February 20, 2012 at 4:33 am

the church overlooking piazzale michelangelo and florence (my home town!) is…. the basilica di san miniato al monte…. i got married there 4 years ago and now…. we are the happy parents of 3 special and funny kids: luce (2 yrs and 8 months), jacopo (1 yr and 4 months) and pietro (2 months)…


61 Lark February 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

What a treat to glimpse some photos of my favorite city! There is something special about Florence that makes me feel content everytime I step off the train there.


62 Paige February 20, 2012 at 12:22 pm

These pictures are fabulous! I lived in Florence for a year after graduate school and it changed my life. I would go back in a second if I could. I used to run in the mornings up to Piazzale Michelangelo – the view is equally fabulous as the sun is coming up. Your last picture of the bridges at night is identical to one that sits on my desk. So lovely!


63 Mau February 21, 2012 at 4:46 am

I’ve been twice. The first time I was running a fever and don’t remember anything of that trip. The second time we stopped over while on a cruise. We rented a car and went there. On the way back to the ship, we got stuck behind a protest and almost missed the ship!


64 Annie February 23, 2012 at 7:34 am

Gorgeous pictures of Florence!!
I want to make it there someday, hopefully with my daughter in tow. :)

xo Annie


65 meditating mummy March 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Loved your photos!! we will be there in 2 weeks. I am already in love with this city and what an incredible place. I am going with my husband and 2 kids. I usually man the camera at home. We will be there for 4 1/2 days. I want to know more about the leather bags or see your photos.. as much as I love architecture, I love shoes and bags.
Thank you for posting…


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