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Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo

We strongly recommend our small, European style hotel: Hotel Hermitage, 1, Vicolo Marzio (Piazza del Pesce), 50122 Florence.  We stayed there in the 1990s, and it still was there in 2010.  Be sure to specify a quiet room (some face the street). The air conditioning worked lavishly well. The location is outstanding, just around the corner from the Ponte Vecchio. Everything is just a walk away. There is a wonderful roof garden with views of the city.  During our visit that year we stayed at the Hotel Bernini Palace, which was very centrally located and also had excellent air conditioning.

Visit the church of San Marco. This remarkable monastery has fabulous frescoes by Fra Angelico (one of the monks) in every cell. Near by is the Galleria dell'Accademia, where the long line to get in and see Michelangelo's statue of David is worth the wait. (Don't miss the Rape of the Sabine Women, another famous statue, also there, as well as the series of rough Michelangelo Slaves, and the Madonna by Botticelli.)

The best views of Florence are from above on the Piazzale Michelangelo.  We drove the beautiful road to the look-out, but we understand there also is a bus.

It is advisable to have your hotel arrange tickets on-line in advance for the Uffizi Gallery. The lines can be long. Be prepared for many stairs. A must see.

See the Medici Chapels, which are accessible from behind San Lorenzo, the Medici church. This church is also well worth a visit, including the Laurentian Library, but the marbles in the Medici Chapels should not be missed.  The Sinagoga offers a fascinating window on Jewish life in a beautiful, 19th-century structure designed to blend in with the city's prevailing architectural styles.

Be sure to stroll down the Ponte Vecchio early in the morning, before it opens up for business. The medieval stalls are fascinating when they are buttoned down for the night. There is a magical, serene quality to this bridge when it is empty and the city is asleep.

We have a number of restaurant recommendations. First, a general word on Tuscan food. Do not expect to see much pasta. Beef and beans are the two regional specialties, and the Florentines regard pasta as "Roman." You may see pasta; you may not.  We became fascinated by how many versions of ribollita soup we could find.  This literally means "reboiled," and is a thick, vegetable soup.   As in all Italian restaurants, the later you dine, the higher the percentage of locals.

Our favorite dinner restaurant was Trattoria dei Quattro Leoni, which combined tradition with inventive ideas.  Ristorante Pauli is a somewhat higher-end standard in a beautiful dining room.  Il Latini is a standard of a different kind:  cheek-to-jowl family-style dining with a limited menu.  Not visited by highly-recommended by Italian friends is Omero on the hills with a magnificent view.  (Book a table by the window.) 

If at all possible, in connection with your stay in Florence, try to visit:

Tuscany, and

Siena

Gary and Susan Johnson,

2010