Shopping near Piazza di Santa Croce – gold & leather shops
After Uffizi, my friend and I went shopping with another tourmate, who was being abandoned by her friend for the opera. Seriously, you can’t go to Florence without doing some shopping. We were told to head near the Piazza di Santa Croce to find the best gold and leather, so we took off down what I believe was the Borgo de Greci.
We went into the 1st purse shop we found, Saleh Ghada, and two friendly salespeople helped the three of us find new leather purses. They were willing to negotiate prices (most stores are, so just ask). I found a black purse with brown trim with “Florence” and the crest stamped on the front. It’s soft. My friend got a black & brown patterned purse and wallet and our tourmate got a bright red bag that we just loved.
In another shop selling beautiful suede wraps, we met a woman from Boston working there. She did a semester in Italy for school and fell in love with an Italian and married him.
The church of Santa Croce in this Piazza can also be toured and boasts the tombs of some famous people (such as Michelangelo & Galileo).
Shopping tip #2: it is considered polite to greet the shopkeeper upon entering and exiting the store. All shopkeepers were friendly, helpful and spoke English well. Service in Italy, actually, is miles above service in the US.
Shopping tip #3: (courtesy of another tour member), when buying leather at an upscale store, ask for the location of their discount store, which will have the same inventory at a much lower price.
Piazza Santa Maria Novella
The Piazza Santa Maria Novella was near our hotel. Michelangelo used to work there and they think some drawings in there are by him.
Piazza del Duomo with Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore – oddest architecture I’ve ever seen
Day two in Florence began with a walk to the Duomo where Michael gave us some information on the cathedral (Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore), which is huge and ornately decorated on the outside with an orange dome. I don’t remember much what he told us about it, as I just basically stared up at it in awe. We don’t have elaborate architecture like this in the U.S. The Campanile is a clocktower. The dome was by Brunelleschi.
We walked to the de’ Medici chapel/mausoleum in the Duomo. The oldest (1st family) of de’ Medicis are buried in there. Michelangelo sculpted several sculptures in the main crypt containing Lorenzo the Great, his brother, grandson and a nephew. Sculptures of Madonna & Child, night & day (naked woman & man), and sculptures depicting the deceased. Then we went next door to the elaborate crypt of the 2nd de’ Medici family. It is in the process of a 400-year restoration project – elaborate decoration in stone, big dome painted about 200 years after the de’ Medicis died out.
We peeked inside the baptistery Baptistery of St. John with the Gates of Paradise doors. The baptistery is one of Florence’s oldest buildings. The bronze doors have biblical reliefs.
We also visited the Church, which while elaborate on the outside (Façade from the 18th century) was plain on the inside. Of course, that was one of the few places we could take pictures in.
Plaza della Repubblica
We walked to the Piazza della Repubblica, where Jewish people used to live when it was a ghetto. It also used to be the city’s forum. There is a carousel there now.
We stayed at the Hotel Adler in Florence (Via Della Scala, http://www.hoteladlercavalieri.com), which appeared to be a low-rate hotel in an unsafe part of town with beds an inch apart, hard pillows, but a decent bathroom (with bidet). It’s actually a four-star hotel located in a former monastery (according to its website). One pair on our tour had a room on the first floor with a private porch and another couple had a balcony. We thought our hotel must be in a red light district as there was lots of graffiti and we’re pretty sure we walked past a drug deal in progress right next to our hotel returning from dinner. The guy on the sidewalk was negotiating with someone in a car.
However, it was within walking distance (depending on your definition of a “walk”, which in Florence could be 1-2 km) to most everything we wanted to see.
Florence by car and by foot
Don’t drive! Our bus driver got lost entering Florence and we circled the city initially. The traffic is awful – cars and numerous scooters randomly changing lanes without using blinkers and some roads are without lane lines and lanes and roads are narrow. The sidewalks are narrow and uneven so most people walk in the street. You will and can do a lot of walking in Florence.
Bonus pictures of the Duomo