Home DESTINATION SPOTLIGHT Travel Destination: Florence, Italy
Travel Destination: Florence, Italy PDF Print E-mail

Florence, or Firenza to Italians, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. From our traveling experience, it is our favorite in Italy, not only for its timeless charm, but because the other big cities there have turned into tourist traps.

Rome is crowded, dirty and has turned into a 24-7 tourist rip-off. We couldn't even visit the Vatican, the Forum or the Coloseum without being overwhelmed by street vendors, creepy would-be guides, urchin pickpockets, phony costumed characters and non-stop commercialism. Also, all public toilets in or near the landmark buildings are pay. If you don’t know the exchange rate, the surly guards will grab everything you have in your hand, whether an English pound, an American dollar or whatever.

Venice is still unique when viewed quickly, but once one goes strolling along the narrow streets or drift by the canals, one can see and smell that the city has degenerated into a glorified sewer. The famed flocks of pigeons in San Marco Square look great in photos, but in reality are dirty pests that flock and poop all over people, and fight to scarf up the expensive birdseed in a tiny paper cup sold by greedy vendors.

Michelangelo's David


In contrast, Florence is a sparkling city that doesn't seem to have changed much in the past 400 years, and strives to be the cleanest and most authentically restored city in Italy. As we gazed at the famed statue of the Biblical hero David, we wouldn't have been too surprised to see Michelangelo come by to add a few extra chisel strokes to his masterpiece, as if it really needed it.

On our visits, we always check out the other glorious landmarks: Bartolomeo Ammanati's Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River, the Medici Family Chapel, Santa Croce, the Uffizi Gallery and countless other delightful sights.

My fondest memories don't only include all the wonderful history of Florence. There was one experience I still treasure. We met with our tour group in the square in front of the Duomo, a magnificent 14th Century church. It was long past noon, and I was getting hungry for some of Florence's famed Italian food. While we were listening to a boring lecturer, I noticed a group of Chinese tourists following an English-speaking guide. I could hear him telling them he was taking them to one of the best non-tourist restaurants in the city, so I sneaked away from my group and followed them.

Their guide was taking a long route, pointing out various famous buildings and piazzas, but I persisted. Finally, he said they were on their way to the restaurant. With visions of ravioli and linguine dancing in my head, I followed down one narrow street and up the other. Finally, the guide stopped at a small door with the word ristorante on it. I went with the others through a dark entrance and into a dimly-lighted cafe set with attractive tables. So far, so good.

I realized the guide had sent the food order in advance, because after everyone had been seated, waiters came marching in carrying steaming trays of food. I could almost smell the first course, delicious minestrone. But the smell was different. It was wor won ton soup! Then, the revelation! In honor of the Chinese visitors, the Florentine restaurant had prepared a complete Chinese dinner!

After the initial shock, I didn't really mind. I love Chinese food, and the Italian chefs did a magnificent job of preparing it as well as any upscale Chinese chef could. I figured ... what the heck ... and dug in with my newfound friends. Later, after I sneaked back to join my tourist group, we were taken to a nice Italian restaurant. Although the food was good, the other tourists wondered why their full-bellied companion just picked at the local Florentine delicacies.

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