The principal Tuscan city of Florence (Firenze) nestles belowthe wooded foothills of the Apennines, along the banks of the ArnoRiver. The works of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Bruneschelli,Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio, Alberti, Masaccio, Donatello, Vasariand Fra Angelico imbue the city with the magnificence of theircontribution to art and life. The city itself is muse to some andhome to many stylish citizens who titivate the cobbled streets andfashionable piazzas with their inimitable Italian flair.
The heart of the city, where everyone from tourist to tout seemsto congregate, is the Piazza de Duomo and the Piazza dellaSignoria. The statues dominating the Piazza della Signoriacommemorate major historical events of the city's life and themagnificent Palazzo Vecchio still performs its original role asFlorence's town hall. The adjacent Uffizi is the oldest gallery inthe world with a collection of the greatest works of theRenaissance commissioned largely by the Medici family. The man whofounded the great long-ruling Medici dynasty was Cosimo il Vecchio.His legacy is imprinted in the city's northern area marked by thechurches of San Lorenzo, San Marco and the Palazzo MediciRiccardi.
The Western stretches of the city are formed by Florence'srailway station at one end and the Ponte Vecchio at the other. Thequaint Ponte Vecchio bridge was built in 1345 and was one of thefew areas to emerge unscathed from the wartime bombs. Littleworkshops that used to belong to butchers, tanners and blacksmiths,peer onto the river from their timber supports. Santa Maria Novellaalso rises from the city's western boundaries in true gothicsplendour preserving some of the most important works of art inFlorence.
The Oltrarno (meaning 'over the Arno') area became the placefrom which the Medici ruled from the Palazzo Pitti. The magnificentBoboli Gardens were designed and laid out around it. The areasurrounding Via Maggio and Piazza di Santo Spirito boasts acollection of other palazzi built during the late 16th and 17thcenturies.
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September). Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the European-style two-pin plug. Money: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtainEuros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs arewidespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in thelarge cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards areaccepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities.Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates thancasas de cambios.
Language: Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country. Entry requirements for Americans: United States citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is notrequired for stays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for UK nationals: British passport holders, irrespective of endorsement regardingnational status, do not need a visa to visit Italy for up to 90days. Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must have a valid passport. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for Australians: Australians must have a valid passport. No visas are requiredfor stays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans need a valid passport and a Schengen visa totravel to Italy. Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport. No visa is required for astay of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for New Zealand nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a valid passport. No visa isrequired for stays of up to 90 days. Passport/Visa Note: The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes thefollowing countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France,Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands,Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue astandard Schengen visa that allows the holder, in principal, totravel freely within the borders of all. Travellers are advised tohave a return or onward ticket plus all documents required fortheir next destination, and sufficient funds to cover period ofintended stay in Italy. Embassy or Consulate in US: Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 6124400. Embassy or Consulate in UK: Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 73122200. Embassy or Consulate in Canada: Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401. Embassy or Consulate in Australia: Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333. Embassy or Consulate in South Africa: Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 0000. US Embassy or Consulate: United States Embassy, Rome: +39 06 46741. UK Embassy or Consulate: British Embassy, Rome: +39 06 4220 0001. Canadian Embassy or Consulate: Canadian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 85444 1. Australian Embassy or Consulate: Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721. South African Embassy or Consulate: South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541. Health: There are no specific health risks associated with travel toItaly. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services providedthey have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Cases of the N1bird flu were found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily, butthere is a low risk of human infection; as a precaution all closecontact with wild, caged and domestic birds should be avoided, andpoultry and egg dishes should be cooked thoroughly. Tipping: Tipping is customary in Italy and 10% of the bill is acceptablein restaurants (unless a service charge has already been included).Hotels add a service charge of 15-18%, but it is customary to tipthe service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but5-10% is usual. Most other services expect some small change. Safety: The Italian Government has warned that the risk of aninternational terrorist attack in the country has increased, andtourists should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites.Domestic terrorism continues, but targets are usually Italianauthorities, however there is a possibility of being caught up inattacks. Tourists are vulnerable to pick-pocketing and muggings inthe bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowdedareas and around tourist sites, and should exercise caution whencarrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Be particularlycareful on bus 64 to St Peter's Square and around the main trainstation, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children,some of whom will distract attention while the others try to stealwhat they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularlythroughout Italy and delays are possible. Since February 2007 therehas been an increase in volcanic activity on Stromboli and part ofthe island has been evacuated. Customs: It is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near publicbuildings, including the main churches, in Florence; eating anddrinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests orany other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches. Business: Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warmand welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often athird party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Businessattire is formal and usually stylish, and handshakes are the norm.Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talkingover each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately thebureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours areusually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according toseason and region. Communications: The international access code for Italy is +39. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUnited Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whetheroriginating in Italy or out, unless calling a mobile phone.City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome.There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels and it isgenerally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxestake phone cards for local and international calls, which can bebought from newsagents. The local mobile phone operators use GSMnetworks and have roaming agreements with most internationaloperators. Internet cafes are available in the main towns andresorts. Duty free: Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have topay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%,or 2 litres dessert wine not exceeding 22% alcohol content andsparkling wine, and 2 litres of table wine; perfume up to 50g or250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption tothe value of 175 per adult or 90 for children under15 years. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinalproducts, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal andplant species.
Message Edited by LL_Editor on 05-30-2007 03:50 PM
My Husband and I went to Florence, Italy in April of 06. We purchased the Luxury Link 3 night package at the Plaza Luccehesi which was wonderful. We were picked up at the train station by a driver who gave us a tour on the way to the Hotel. The Hotel and staff were so accomodating and friendly and the room was gorgeous! Dinner was excellent and the reservations for the Uffuzi Gallery meant no waiting in the long line to get in. Florence is such a magicial city; staying at this Hotel made it the most memorable experience of our Italy trip.
We too spent a few days this Spring in Florence and had a wonderful time. Florence has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, the pick-pockets there have taken their craft to a new high.. We were at a 4-star Hotel having breakfast while a man came into the breakfast room, still wearing his overcoat. He looked presentable enough. He sat down on a table next to a couple who had placed the women's pocket book on the chair between them. While they were having breakfast not paying attention to the man and their pocketbook, he reached behind it, took the pocket book off the chair and slowly walked up to the buffet service table and out out of the hotel. By the time the couple realized their pocket book had been lifted he was long gone. What gall the thieves have there, to walk into a hotel breakfast room, grab a pocketbook and walk out with it. Needless to say, the woman was in tears. She lost their return tickets, their passports, their camera, all credit cards, money and whatever else was in the pocketbook.
The lesson here is, never leave your belongings out of your site. Never hang a pocket book with all your valuables over your chair. Leave return tickets and passports in the hotel's safe. Carry duplicates of your passport, tickets and credit cards in a separate place. Most of all be VIGILANT even in a 4-star Hotel.
About 45 minutes outside of Florence are all the" oulets" You can get a driver for the day pretty reasonable or take the train and have the driver pick you up at the station and drive you to the outlets of Prada,Gucci,etc. really worth the trip and the ride in the spring was beautiful.I've been to Florence a few times ,but the last time stayed at the Savoy Hotel. It was wonderful! I was a woman traveling alone and felt very comfortable and safe. I felt the staff was watching out for me. I also liked the location for walking and sightseeing better than the Excellcier Hotel where I have stayed previously. Wear very comfortable shoes or (sneakers) The streets are cobblestone .
We have been to Italy 4 times and never had any pickpocket problems. As in any large city , be aware. Never just drop your purse anywhere. If on public transportation, hold your pocketbook close to your side. Florence is a beatiful city --you will love it. Pre reserve for the museums unless you enjoy standing in line--there are websites , or you can jsut call the hotel and have the concierge do it for you. In Florence, they don't eat dinner quite as late as in Rome--but don't go early if you want to eat like an Italian.
1. Gardens at Palazzo di Pitti (skip the Royal apts --- walk outside. they are some of the best kept Italian gardens available.... and fresh air is a bonus)
2. Church of Santa Croce -- tomb of Michelangelo (favourite son), same of Dante (the greatest of all Italian writers), and the memorial to Galileo (who was excommunicated for his scientific challenges of the church, but Florentines insisted that he be commemorated appropriately).
Best food recommendation:
Cantinetta Antinori. A wine bar, a restaurant, reservations a must, and both food and wine are perfectly matched. You'll pay more for much less everywhere else. Its in the Palazzo Antinori, at the Piazza Antinori..... you get the picture. Fabulous.
I don't agree with you obrienkf on the the Palazzo Pitti, which is the the archetype of all European royal residences and one of the best preserved, with beautifully decorated baroque interiors. The fully furnished Royal Apartments date back to the last kings of Italy.The Boboli Gardens on the hillside behind it are georgeous and beautifully kept, especially in spring time. But also, be sure to see the Palazzo's Palatine Gallery, which contains 16th- and 17th-century paintings by Raphael, Titian, Veronese, Rubens and Van Dyck.
The church of Santa Croce is a must, well worth the visit.
We did stumble into the Cantinetta Antinori restaurant at the Piazza Antinori (without a reservation) and had a wonderful meal there. I particularly remember their fennel salad with blood oranges and walnuts beautifully presented. We were lucky, but I too would suggest to make reservations ahead of time.
agreed that the Palazzo Pitti. Perhaps I should have qualified my comments.... as most people who visit Florence have very limited days, and most "do" the "once in a lifetime 3 city voyage" (Roma, Firenze and Venezia) which is exhausting, and as Firenze has so many overwhelming museums and churches, the Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, the Duomo (and Baptistry), the Cappelli di Medici, the glorious Uffizi, the Accademia, what I have found (having been fortunate to live in Italy, and having been to Florence many times) is that after the crowds and jostling in the queues to see all these wonderful places, the push and shove on the Ponte Vecchio, trying to decide what restaurant to sit at, often struggling with language barriers, and the normal feeling of confusion wandering through quaint little streets, in what feels like endless circles, discovering the unexpected, is that ..... a two hour stroll in a superbly kept classic Italian Garden (that is not a 50 euro tour bus ride away), offers a moment to experience Florence as the Royals really did, serenely in these gardens, and this gives a tired tourist, who may be experience museum and art fatigue, a mental break, in quiet green space, and a place to look at the essential check list, re-orient, and regain bearings. Yes, the Royal residence is worth seeing. But there are very few such Royal Gardens in the European cities, still in the cities, that are open and so carefully maintained. Most are in the countryside, and without a rental car, they are hard to find. That is what I should have explained. You are certainly correct.
And as for the Santa Croce is important for a number of reasons, not the least it is the final resting place of Michelangelo (designed by Michelangelo's contemporary and his greatest fan, Georgio Vasari, an artist and writer of his own, whose book should be carried while visiting these museums, churches and galleries) Dante, and the memorial to Galileo.
Hope that clarifies. Thanks for bringing my lack of clarity to my attention.