Visiting Florence, Tuscany in Italy With a Small Dog
Visiting Florence, Tuscany in Italy with a small dog should be on your bucket list! Some posts are just harder to write. You end up putting it off as long as you can and you end up feeling the fool for days as it haunts you, teases you. These posts are not difficult because there isn’t anything to say, but precisely because there is too much to mention. You can’t pin the thoughts flying in your mind long enough to figure out where to begin. It is all the more frustrating that you really want to write the post.
Such is the state of mind I find myself in as I ponder over the glory that was our three week stay in Florence .
How do you even describe Firenze ? So much more than the birth place of the Renaissance or home to such great artists as Michelangelo, Botticelli, and men like Galileo not to mention the powerful Medici family? A place for Kings, Artists, Popes …all the best sights are encompassed within such a tight little circle within the city that you find yourself awed and discovering treasures and stories with every step. Everywhere there is art, history, beauty. The people are proud of their city. They keep it beautiful and clean. They are kind, generous yet still independent and combative. And they should be, for science has showed that there is a unique Tuscan Gene. Florence has seen the birth of fashion icons, Gucci and Ferragamo … here leather, cashmere, marbled paper, silk, olives, cheeses, Chianti wines and honey and so much more is on offer. There is very little “made in China ”, in their pride the people stay true and close to their land.
So where do we start? First some basics:
Florence has a major train station, and also has its own airport. It is a perfect place from which to zig zag across Tuscany . Nothing seems to be more than an hour and a half away. Even Rome and Venice become possible day trips.
Tuscans love their dogs. The dogs, like their owners are well dressed, well fed and well behaved. Badly behaved dogs are not well tolerated, so if you are a yapping, bouncing, pulling on your leash kind of dog – then ask your bipeds to take more obedience classes with you before going. It would be a shame to be asked to leave because of something as simple to resolve as bad manners. If you are a biter by Italian law expected to wear a muzzle especially on public transport. Even nipping a careless child is not tolerated. Dogs out in public are expected to behave as well – if not better – than humans.
We stayed in a lovely “2 bedroom – 2 bathroom” apartment that we shared with our friends Ingrid and Andre. Conveniently located in a small side street near the Piazza della Republica where café’s line the plaza and serve the best coffee and hot chocolate the bipeds had ever tasted, with waiters that are professional and handsome in their crisp white shirts, black trousers and long aprons.
The art of service is still an art here and so is people-watching. People do not take their coffee to go, no no NO – that is blasphemy. You stop, even if just for 5 minutes at the bar or you sit. You drink your coffee. You say “Ciao!” and smile as you pay before moving on. Dogs are allowed on these terraces. They are also allowed in restaurants. In Italy the law regarding dogs is simple: Unless otherwise indicated – dogs are allowed.
Just around the corner from our home was one of the world’s most famous bridges: The Ponte Vecchio. The bridge was designed in 1345 by Taddeeo Gaddi. It is the oldest and most popular of the Florence bridges and retains most of the original features including the hundreds of jeweller’s shops that sell everything from affordable and modern to antiques and precious stones. Many of the old workshops behind the jeweller’s front, overhang at the rear, and are supported by timber brackets. The most famous Florentine goldsmith has a bust on that bridge right in the middle where it opens up to reveal the view of the Arno River on both sides. Yes, the business of jewellery has been going on – on this very bridge – for over 500 years. It is a great place to find a spot, with a gelato if possible and just watch the tourists go by. I know I loved it! If we went in the afternoon or on the weekend, I had to be picked up. The crowds can get very dense. The bridge is most beautiful as the sun sets on it in the evening. I met so many of my Italian canine friends here; it really is a fun place.
If you keep crossing the bridge, you come to a section of the city know as Oltrarno. This literally means “the other side of the Arno”. We had some of our best times on this side, so make sure to cross. Not only does it have the Boboli Gardens (sadly and oddly not dog friendly) and the Palazzo Pitti (the country retreat of the Medici) but it is how you make your way towards San Miniato al Monte and the Piazzale Michelangelo that will provide you with a hilltop view of Florence that will take your breath away. This walk is so pleasant we did it twice! Stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo café for a drink – the prices are reasonable enough to even have a small bite to eat. Florence will seem so close you can touch it … but give you an overall view of all of the treasures within. On the weekend, you will often find collectors of rare motorcycles or luxury cars (in our case Lotus) gather to admire the view and each others toys. Do continue to the San Miniato al Monte church and cemetery, you will not regret it. Of note, dogs are not allowed in the Church or the cemetery – although I was in the sling and no one seemed to mind as we walked and were amazed by the crypts on the cemetery grounds and saw the last of the season’s roses in the garden.
Also on the Oltrarno side but closer to the river and not in the hills, is the Brancacci Chapel. Now we will not mention every Church we visited because – well we simply would bore you to tears if it isn’t your thing – but this deserves a special mention. The Church has newly restored (2008) frescoes called “The Life of Peter”. The bipeds wanted to see it but knew that, dogs are not allowed. But, they thought just this once, they would ask. The lady at the ticket desk wanted to let me in so – she waved us in and said to talk to the guys that sell tickets inside. She promptly called them on the phone as we made our way. When we got there, there was a lot of “Oooh!!” and “Ahhh!!” and “Picolino!!” (means smaller than small)… they then sent another person to go ask the guard inside the church that watches over the fresco if he was ok with letting me in. The girl came back with a big grin. YES! So … after being told a hundred times “strictly forbidden!!” they all gathered one last time … all of them in cahoots on this … and … miraculously … in I went. I saw my first frescoes that day. I was quiet as a mouse, hid in my sling as much as I could. I sniffed and licked the guard inside as a token of my appreciation. It was a great time. I loved the smell inside of the Church. The candles, the cool air … the centuries of smoke and dust. I will never forget what they did for me there. It also showed the bipeds that I go super quiet inside Churches and next thing I knew – I was being snuck into a whole bunch of them. Do this at your own risk!
Back on the other side of the river, the obvious next stop is Piazza della Signoria. Here you will find the copy of the David in the original location (real one is at the Academia). I wondered the plaza, saw the statue of Cosimo I, the Neptune Fountain, said hello to David and of course the Hercules and Cacus … I was snuggled into my sling and walked the Loggia dei Lanzi where some of the worlds most famous statues seem to hold court over the heads of all the tourists. Here I saw the Rape of the Sabine Women, Perseus holding the head of Medusa and so much more. Dogs are not allowed in this free and open air museum. Odd …. Since the pigeons are likely doing far more harm. I also walked the ground floor of the Palazzo Vecchio the home of the Medici family. I got to see the Cortile and Putto Fountain and amazing inner courtyard. I was not allowed inside but still, it gave me a good idea of what might be behind those thick walls (bipeds recommend the visit).
Once again outside we walked around the Uffizi. Now on the outside the place doesn’t look like much. But it is special. Not only does it house some of the world’s greatest artworks, such as “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, Michelangelo’s “Wholly Family” or Titian’s “The Venus of Urbino” … those I could not see since they are inside and no dogs allowed – but the building is in itself interesting. Built in 1560-80 as a suite of offices for Duke Cosimo the I’s new administration; not only did the building now mean that the Medici did not have to walk the streets and mingle with the riff raff – the architect (Vasari) used for the first time iron reinforcements to create an almost continuous wall of glass on the upper storey’s. Something we do in Malls, shops, homes and offices today and take for granted.
Moving along we discovered the area around San Lorenzo (the Medici Church – no dogs – unfinished façade but lovely Church) and OH! I was spoiled here! Not only does the indoor market (Mercato Centrale) allow dogs, but the butcher gave me treats and so did the cheese vendor! I also had fun visiting all the outside stalls selling scarves, and leather goods to tourists. Haggle here; the odds are you can get a better price. Do not buy from the men who have the fakes. There are some hefty fines if you get caught. It is not worth the risk. Plus … a fake? Really…? Do not forget to stop in (without dog) and visit the Capelle Medicee. Here two of the Medici family are buried and some of Michelangelo’s pencil sketches survive on the walls inside.
The San Marco area is worth getting to know. There is of course the Church itself (no dogs) but the plaza is fun, with the Spedale degli Inncoenti (the city orphanage) and of course the Santissima Annuziata Church in all its over the top baroque style. I was snuck into this, rather openly and … no one seemed to mind. Please note that ALL Churches no matter how famous or tourist riddled … all Churches function as places of worship. Your shoulders should be covered and your clothing long enough. Even if not your faith, please be respectful and abide to the basic dress code. We are pagan – but Mom always had a shawl for her shoulders.
The same area is home to the Galleria dell’Academia I mentioned earlier. This is where the original David can be found among many other treasures. No dogs allowed but I am told by the biped that it is worth it. Apparently he is so amazingly well done you expect to see his chest rise and fall with a breath. His hands and feet are “too large” but Michelangelo was the first to use an actual adolescent as a model for the pubescent David and not a man. At that age many young boys have hands and feet that seem too large, too manly for the still somewhat childlike frame. In addition this statue is remarkable in that it was the first time an artist ever gave a human “the look of intelligence” rather than simply a stare into the distance or to another statue. David is thinking, brows furrowed you can almost here him think: ”hmmmm…. Is this going to work?” The museum also holds a fine musical instrument collection including some Stradivarius violins.
Of course no visit to Florence can possibly be considered complete without the Piazza del Duomo. It knocks you off your paws as you walk up to it. You see it happen to everyone; followed by an instinctive rush to take pictures. The plaza holds three buildings.
The Baptistery: In those days if you were not baptised you were not allowed into the Church. As such the baptistery was always a separate building. Most fascinating aspect about the baptistery is the world famous golden east doors. Lorenzo Ghiberti’s work is a sight that can’t be duplicated in photographs or in any other medium. You simply have to see them to believe it. They are so very different than anything that was being produced at the time that for many these vey doors are considered the very first product of the renaissance. The doors have 10 panels featuring all the usual stories from Adam and Eve to the Fall of Jericho and so on. But the fun little tidbit I want to impart is that the artist put himself and his son in the door, right smack in the middle. You just want to stroke his bald head and say “well done”. Inside the Baptistery you will see the13th century mosaic ceiling that saw the likes of Dante and other famous Florentines baptized.
The Campanile: At 85 meters (276 feet) the tower is only 6 meters (20 feet) shorter than the Duomo. Like all the other buildings in this trinity, it is clad in white, green and pink Tuscan marble. It is known for its unusual Gothic windows. You can climb to the top for a wonderful view of the Duomo and the city. Alas, not with your dog.
The Duomo: the Cathedral is not just any old Cathedral. If the Neo-gothic façade doesn’t amaze you, the Dome itself certainly will. Brunelleschi’s achievement was building the largest dome of its time without scaffolding. You can climb the 463 steps (the bipeds did – and back down again … but I was not allowed) to the top and see the inner shell that provides the platform for the timbers that support the outer shell. Bricks of varying sizes were set in a self-supporting herringbone pattern. Brunelleschi copied this from the Pantheon in Rome . Amazingly – as you climb up – you are given access to the ceiling frescoes by Vasari … the last judgement painted here is enormous and it is never as obvious as when your hand is only inches away as you look all the way down to the marble pavement. I think I am glad I wasn’t allowed to join the bipeds for this one. Not even in my sling…. Perhaps they were afraid I might fall to my death. *shudder*
The list of activities and sights to see is long. In fact we could continue for pages as the many books on the city prove. So many Churches that I could not see, like the stunning Santa Maria Novella, or the Santa Croce where the great men such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Leonardo Bruni are buried and I am told the grass is lush near the cloister and that I would have enjoyed the smell of leather at the leather workshops. The (small dog friendly) Gucci Museo and hundreds of restaurants … the list of things yet to see still seemed long even after 3 weeks in Florence with day trips out to other destinations, we found that we had barely scratched the surface.
In review: The food alone is wonderful. Gelato, panacota, pizza and pasta are delicious and wonderfully presented to you every day, tempting you to indulge. And we did. The sun, the scents, and the endless supply of street musicians of such a high calibre you can’t understand why they are not at the Met or Paris Opera. Dogs are allowed in the grocery store (not all so check), the pharmacy, the baker, the Gelateria, the plazas and patios, the big and small stores, boutiques and kiosk …. Everywhere art, food, and joie de vivre abound. Some places are like magic, Florence is defiantly one of those places.