Originally published on my old blog ruby-rubes.blogspot.com
A few years ago I decided to research symbolism in Elizabethan court art for my EPQ (a monster of an essay for all you non UK sixth formers out there). Although this rather ambitious project was pretty swiftly dropped in favour of spontaneous summer bike rides and the chance to sip lukewarm cider in friends of friends back gardens (as you do in those coming of age summer holidays), my interest for art history remained. So, when I found myself with time to kill after my impulsive decision to interrupt university nothing called to me more than the chance to finally study the elusive history of art.
Found by my mother (because, hey, what are mothers for if not to air lift you out of times of crisis), it was a month long course at the British Institute in Florence. Florence, Italy; aka land of sun, ice-cream, art and ‘Italian stallions’ (as my friends wistfully noted). In those short moments I quickly imagined myself drifting around this world renowned centre for art, easel in tow, sipping cappuccinos and watching the world go by. I booked it immediately.
Of course, quite a lot needed sorting out before I jumped on a plane and nipped across the channel. Primarily, I needed a place to stay. It was promptly decided that a month was slightly too long considering that I would be departing the UK again for three months in the middle of April (hello, Uganda!) so we settled on a week and a small, friendly looking hostel nestled in the back streets behind the station. Once this was decided and small, insignificant things like renewing my passport (oops) and sorting out travel insurance – which I forgot and left until 10pm the day before I flew to have a freak out about and desperately call the saviour that is my banks 24/7 help line (thank you Nationwide!) – were done, there was barely a moment left before I’d packed my bags and was nervously waiting in Gatwick’s departure lounge.
My course consisted of one and a half hour lectures each afternoon so this allowed me plenty of time to explore. As the typical tourist I am, I ploughed through most of main galleries and attractions available in the city but these are the ones that really stood out:
1. Giardina di Boboli I was exhausted. My plan to lounge around cafes, book in hand and let the city sink in whilst looking truly metropolitan had been rather derailed. Instead, I seemed to be spending my days getting so horrendously lost the only choice was to either laugh or cry (I did both, on several occasions), being hassled either for directions from tourists who thought I was Italian, or from Italian shopkeepers who rightly sensed my confusion and pinpointed me as a tourist. Thus, when I discovered the serene oasis of the Boboli perched overlooking the city I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours sunning myself as I finally leafed through my book.The gardens themselves are stunning and if you are slightly less lazy than myself I’d definitely recommend looking around them thoroughly, but equally if you’re also in need of some peace and quiet I can’t advocate it highly enough.
2. Uffizi.I don’t think you can go to Florence without exploring the Uffizi. Europe’s centre for Renaissance Art and crammed full of Leonardo’s and Botticelli’s it’s a must see. Even if you aren’t particularly partial to galleries, the building itself is beautiful and offers stunning views over the city.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del FioreVisits to the Cathedral itself cost nothing so take advantage of this rare opportunity to visit somewhere in Florence for free – the Duomo is excluded from this rarity and you do have to pay, unfortunately. Its stunning exterior and interior are awe-inspiring; true works of art themselves, and inside the Cathedral holds work of Giorgio Vasari. When I visited, being me, I accidently stumbled into Catholic mass and had to sit through the whole hour as I was too embarrassed to leave. This ended with me being blessed by the priest and having a conversation with him about where I was from in front of the entire congregation. It was an experience to say the least!
4. Gusta PizzaOther students from the Institute took me to this sight of wonder (aka the best pizzeria in all of Italy). We ate our on our knees overlooking the river Arno passing round a bottle of vino. It felt terribly romantic and one of those rare novel-esque moments in life.Ridiculously cheap (five Euros for a margarita) I can hand on heart describe it as one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.
The Bargello MuseumFlorence’s sculpture museum is perhaps not as well known as it should be. Held in a beautiful gothic palazzo, the museum itself is as much a work of art as its collection. Enjoy its stunning assortment of mosaics and sculptures alike – and if you’re anything like me prance up and down the steps pretending to be in Italian Downton Abbey.
6. The Shake CaféIf you’re craving something slightly different to the never ending stream of (undeniably delicious) pizzas and pasta Florence has to offer, the Shake Café may be your saviour. Small and compact but a hipster haven these bohemian bars offer enough wraps, salads and freshly squeezed juices to create a fully detox effect before your back at the pizza for dinner.
If you’re longing for a beach holiday perhaps Florence is not your next destination, but if the opportunity to leave feeling more culturally and carb filled is calling you, I can’t recommend it enough.