I have a confession to make, the first time my wife and I visited Florence; it was anything but love at first sight. In fact, we couldn't get out of the city fast enough! I know, you think we are crazy, EVERYONE loves Florence, right? We do NOW, but it took a couple of visits to get us to come around.
Let me set the stage for you. Palm Sunday, 2009. My wife and I along with our four kids ranging in age from thirteen to two have already been in Tuscany for a week but had yet to visit Florence. We took a train from Certaldo to the Santa Maria Novella train station. All of us were so excited to experience everything this renaissance city had to offer. The Piazza del Duomo, the Santa Croce, Michelangelo's David, Medici Palace, and so much more. We read the guidebooks, talked to our fellow travel partners, we knew this was going to be one of the best experiences of our 17-day vacation, how could it not be?
Remember when I said it was Palm Sunday? Yeah, lesson one; if you don't come prepared for the start of Holy Week in a very holy city in a very holy country then the size of the crowds may overwhelm you! As soon as we stepped off the train it felt like we got punched right in the face with some of the largest swarms of people we had ever seen. Shoulder to shoulder as far as we could see. This trip was also our first experience in Europe. We had been warned by several people to be on the lookout for pickpockets, gypsies, and anyone looking to take advantage of novice travelers (which we were). From the minute we arrived, we were overpowered, scared, and most of all out of place.
I was carrying our three-year-old in a backpack, and our other kids were attached to our hips. If anyone even as so much looked at us in a funny way, I was positive we were going to get robbed.
We first visited Basilica Santa Maria Novella; it was closest to the train station, so it seemed like a natural thing to do. My wife will tell you that I don't deal with stress very well, and I don't deal with big crowds. Combine the two and I become a wreck. I like to think I have changed a lot since this moment in time, but if there was ever time I was going to take Xanax, this was it. So on Palm Sunday, we go to a church, and not to attend mass! It didn't take me long to figure out that I didn't plan this day very well. I wanted to keep moving, find space, find peace and try not to get ripped off.
So after leaving one church, where do I decide to lead everyone? Another church! Only this time the Florence Cathedral to see the Duomo and Baptistry. So I guided our family through a vast crowd to one twice as big. Maneuvering the streets of Florence, panicked, stressed and sweating because I'm hauling a three-year-old on my back, we arrive a the Piazza del Duomo. Unfortunately, it was more like a scene out of the first Vacation movie when the Griswold's visited the Grand Canyon.
After about 30-seconds at the Duomo, we decided we were hungry, and we found a cafe to sit down at and try to relax. It turned into a family meeting where we decided to leave Florence vowing NEVER to return. So that you know, on our first trip to Tuscany we spent a little over three hours in Florence on a journey that lasted 17-days.
Looking back, I regret this day so much. We have returned to Florence several times since and have become quite fond of it. Normally we like to stay in countryside villa's in Tuscany, but in March of 2015, we broke our routine and decided to reside in the city. Amazing! There is so much to do and so much to see that Florence does get inside you and changes the way you look at the world.
That's the lesson here, the first time I visited Florence my eyes were shut, and I refused to take a peek the beauty before me. When you visit Florence for the first time, or the next time make sure your eyes are wide open! I promise you will see something different everywhere you look and fall in love with the birthplace of the Renaissance. In fact, you may never want to leave!