Eat, Pray, Love Florence: Loving Florence on a Budget
“You have a husband, bella?” The waiter’s thickly lashed black-brown gaze lands on my left hand, naked of any ring, and then wanders over the rest of me as though imagining those parts to be naked, too. The question comes at breakfast on my third and final day in Florence, the day I’ve slated for exploring the romantic offerings of this most romantic of European cities. How…prescient.
Cheeks warming, I shake my head. “Uh, no, but I have a boyfriend.” This happens to be entirely true though my significant other is inconveniently in New York. One feathery black brow flits upward. “Here?”
The next time this scenario repeats, I smarten up and lie—my boyfriend is searching out the nearest W.C. (public toilet), napping back at the hotel, ferreting out the next ferociously good gelateria—but it doesn’t matter. Any woman going about her business—or rather, her vacationing—in Florence is fair game.
If you’re a single woman between sixteen and sixty, prepare to be flirted with outrageously by any number of Florentine males, many of them young and hot and all effusive with their compliments. Being swept off your feet is as real a danger as wearing home all that pasta, pizza, and gelato on your hips.
Spoken for though I am, still I am determined to make the most of my one day devoted to Love in this most romantic of cities, so I set about packing in as many scenic overlooks, botanical gardens, and romantic bridges as I can feasibly fit into the following eight hours.
When a river runs through it, we of the intrepid traveler sort must cross that river. The Arno bisects Florence into a right and left bank as the Seine does Paris. Skip the tourist-packed Ponte Vecchio and instead cross over the adjacent Santa Trinita Bridge. Popularized in the Italian blockbuster film, Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo, the bridge—or rather its triangles—is a popular lover’s lane for couples at twilight and a sanctuary for singles at any time of day. Skip the lock key tossing and instead bring along some wine and a snack, ease down onto the wide triangular parapet, and enjoy the serene romance of the river. Copping a squat here isn’t, strictly speaking, legal but no one, including the police seems to mind.
Two of the very best reasons for crossing to the left bank are the Bardini & Boboli Gardens. In addition to offering myriad statuary, fountains, grottos, flowering plants and topiary, the gardens offer breathtaking vistas looking back onto Florence. The Bardini Garden remains my favorite, both for its more manageable scale and greater sense of intimacy. Pause at the bottom of the grand stairway built by Giulio Mozzi in the late 18th century and admire the embellishing statues and fountains, notably a poignant suite of statues depicting Ovid’s immortalized lovers, Vertumnus and Pomona. If you have the time, skirt Forte di Belvedere and enter the Boboli Garden at no extra admission.
What’s sexier than Michelangelo’s very buff in the buff David? The cradle of the Italian Renaissance is home to many of the greatest masterpieces of the Western World. That said, admission to Florence’s two most famous museum galleries, The Accademia (home to David) and The Uffizi, can be a challenge, particularly at peak season (May through September). Even with advance tickets, expect to wait in line from two to four hours. As much as I hate being herded, paying the 60 Euros for a licensed tour guide to take me through both museums was imminently worthwhile. Each tour lasted about 90 minutes with a lunch break in between. For guided tours with a more personal touch in a smaller group, book in advance with Art Viva.
Shopping in Florence
What better way to love oneself than by indulging in a little retail therapy?
Fashionistas as well as foodies have a lot to love in Florence. In addition to Gucci, all the major European design houses are represented here, and the couture showcased in their chic fashion district shop windows makes Fifth Avenue look like an outlet mall.
Though the weakened U.S. dollar limits me to mostly browsing, the markets at San Lorenzo and San Spirito still have much to offer the savvy consumer, from leather apparel to Florentine porcelain to vintage jewelry and antiques.
If your steps take you to the left bank quarter of Oltrarno, and I heartily hope they do, be sure to stop in at Sciccherie. This locally-owned and whimsically named boutique offers high-quality, unique Italian handicrafts. My amicable chat in French and English with the proprietress, Tiziana (the feminized version of Titian) stands out as one of my fondest Florentine memories.
Lastly, a word to the (shopping) wise: Buying knock-off “designer” handbags and other items from a non-licensed street vendor—hint: they’ll be the guys displaying their goods on blankets strewn on the street and high tailing it at the first police siren—is illegal. The fine that falls on you, the consumer, is a nosebleed steep 1,000 Euros!
Florence Accommodation Guide
Florence has any number of high end hotels, many located within steps of the train station and major attractions. If you are on a budget and staying more than a week, look into subletting a furnished flat. If less, I prefer staying in inexpensive B&Bs and guest houses, including the following:
Via degli Avelli, 8
Santa Maria Novella
Tel: 39 055 212 692
Via della Scala
Tel: 39 055.268675
Cimatori Bed and Breakfast
Via Dante Alighieri
14 50122, Florence
Tel: 39 055 2655000
Casa di Dante Bed & Breakfast
Via Dante Alighieri 14
Tel: 39 055.218132
Dei Mori Bed & Breakfast
Via Dante Alighieri, 12
Tel: 39 055 211 438
Badia Fiorentina B&B
Via Dante Alighieri, 12
Tel: 39 055 219 126
Written by Hope Tarr for EuropeUpClose.com