Our trip culminated with 5 days in Florence, which was actually the main reason we traveled to Italy. I presented a poster of my research at the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) World Congress of Neuroscience held at the Fortezza di Basso, which gave us the opportunity to make this trip possible.
After taking the train from Vernazza to La Spezia to Pisa to Florence, we walked to our B&B, the Accademia House (we stayed in the Modern Room), where we met Jonathan Cayce (who works with me in my lab at Vanderbilt and was also presenting a poster at the conference) and his wife Elizabeth. After Jonathan and I checked into the conference, we all walked down to the heart of the historic center of Florence for dinner.
Our time in Florence was different than the first half of our trip due to the fact that I was at the conference on and off throughout the day and we had many more days to spread out our sightseeing over a city that is much smaller than Rome.
Rather than give a chronological account of what we did, I’ll just give a quick summary. We saw the Accademia Gallery (where Michelangelo’s David is the center piece), strolled through the numerous pedestrian plazas scattered throughout the city, ate several good meals and tons of gelato, walked through some of the high-end shops in the fashion district, strolled through the vendor-lined streets of the mercato centrale, and crossed the river to climb a hill with an amazing view overlooking the historic downtown and the rest of the Florence sprawl.
We took many pictures and recorded some video, but it was really difficult to capture the essence of Florence on camera. In Rome, you kind of know what you are getting with all of the historical sites and the “old” feel of the many streets and alleys, but Florence seemed a bit different in a way that is hard to convey without being able to see it. The city itself is more “modern” than Rome. “Modern” meaning that the city really exploded with the Renaissance. While not the fashion capital of the world like Milan, Florence does have a very impressive fashion district. If you’re not standing outside of Dolce & Gabana, you’re at Chanel, Gucci, Armani or any number of other really expensive large and/or boutique stores. There was also quite a bit of expensive jewelry. There is actually a bridge over the Arno River called Ponte Vecchio which is a really neat bridge lined with expensive jewelry stores. Across the river from the main historic center is a cool neighborhood with lamp lit streets, great restaurants and more high-end stores.
Just as we did in Rome, we walked into some of the churches that we came across. While they were also spectacular, they were nowhere near as grandiose and over-the-top as the churches in Rome. They were still structurally impressive, but lacked the floor to ceiling gold coverings and vibrant colors. What was most interesting is it seemed that the outside of the churches in Florence were more awe-inspiring, while the inside of the churches in Rome were the most amazing.
The place we stayed in Florence was also wonderful and deserving of the accolades we found on TripAdvisor. Marcos, the owner of the B&B, was young, super-friendly and spoke great English (he actually lived in Chicago for a while). Our room was incredibly large with modern furnishings and designs, great air-conditioning and was located a short walk from most anywhere we wanted to go. If you’re planning to visit Florence, I’d certainly recommend the Accademia House B&B as the place to stay.
All in all we really enjoyed Florence. All three places we visited felt unique and different, but we definitely enjoyed all three. It was nice to share this time with Jonathan and Elizabeth and have more time to relax, sit around and people watch and grow accustom to the day to day culture of the city. While we are both excited to go home (even if only for a few days before we head to Chicago), we’ve had a blast and look forward to the opportunity to take a trip like this again. Other than getting lost our first day in Rome, we had absolutely no hiccups in our trip. No flight delays, no missed trains, no real communication problems or anything. We feel really fortunate to have had this opportunity and are so glad we were able to make the most of it.