I got a good glimpse of Florence in the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, the one where he eats a guys’ brain and stabs another guy in an artery and leaves him to bleed out on a crowded street. The movie wasn’t as good as the first one, but it showed where a sophisticated psychopath like Hannibal Lecter would live if he ever escaped containment. Florence smells of almond soaps, perfume you can’t buy anywhere else in the world, and pizza. And then there is that characteristic smell of old stuff. You know, that museum smell of formalin and cold, if cold was a smell. Firenze is located in a sort of a focal point between Rome, Venice, and Milan and has more a small community, village feel to it, compared to the other three. It’s strange considering how much of an impact this city had on the modern world, which would not be the same without the inventions and imagination of the genius Leonardo da Vinci. And the Michelangelo’s iconic David is out on display in the Accademia Gallery among other historical works of art. This genius artist was laid to rest in the Basilica of Santa Croce, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories alongside other giants such as Galileo and Machiavelli. Tupac Shakur used that name as an alter ego and he’s most likely the one who brought Machiavelli to pop culture. I don’t see a clear connection. Machiavelli was that dick who wrote The Prince; a book that to this day is a tutorial in backstabbing and instructed generations of corrupt politicians.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is a symbol of Florence. Known as the Duomo, this monumental cathedral is mind-blowing, the construction started in 1296 and took almost 200 years to finish. It’s not just a big church, it’s an entire complex consisting of the Duomo, the Baptistery and Giotto's Campanile, everything located on the Piazza del Duomo and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dome itself is a marvel of architecture, largest bricked one in the world; you can even climb on top of it for the best view of Florence. I love these things, narrow passages, almost claustrophobic but oh so mysterious, makes you think what kind of secrets are buried within the walls of this humongous building. When being in Firenze you cannot afford either to miss out on the Uffizi Gallery, where you can admire the work of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giotto and Botticelli. Also the collection of Greek and Roman sculptures of the Uffizi is overwhelming, both in size and quality.
Stroll around the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge over Arno, world famous and very characteristic with the households and boutiques built into it. It used to be a disgusting meat market, butchers would dump buckets of intestines and blood and everything they couldn’t sell straight into the river. The Medici ruled Florence during that time; they ruled most of Europe really, due to the huge wealth they accumulated thanks to the Medici Bank. I even heard about some tinfoil hat theories how they still rule the world, how Citi Bank is their spiritual child, the Illuminati etc. Anyway, the Medici weren’t fond of all that waste flowing down the river, stinking their city up. So they kicked the meat vendors out and replaced them with jewellers who occupy that space to this day. The discovery of perfume is also attributed to the Medici. Renato Bianco discovered it when he was brewing various poisons for that family. I suppose they needed it for “stuff” and turns out that the first perfume in the world was a by-product of murder. If you’re interested in all sorts of heavenly smells then you should definitely visit the 600-year-old perfume store Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (http://www.smnovella.com/) at Via della Scala, 16.
Florentine cuisine is unique, very distinctive compared to the rest of Italy; one could even say that it’s an acquired taste. Tripe, chicken liver paste on toast or tomato soup made with stale bread, those aren’t universally adored dishes like pizza and gelato. There’s also the Bistecca alla Fiorentina or simply La Bistecca, which is a huge T-bone steak. Nothing special but everyone loves steak. You can taste both of those worlds in Florence’s Central Market. Mercato Centrale consists of two floors; one is your basic market with vendors selling fresh meats, fruit and produce, while the second floor is more of a food court with restaurants and bars. The region Tuscany (Toscana) is famous for its winemaking tradition and you can take advantage of that. Wine tours are all about getting wasted while pretending you’re sophisticated and trying to broaden your knowledge. Drop the appearances; just go get smashed in one of the numerous bars like La Terrazza Rooftop Bar on top of Hotel Continentale at Vicolo dell'Oro, 6.