Florence (Firenze, in Italian) is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. As you walk through the narrow streets, you are surrounded by art and history.
I love this city. Many of the buildings in Florence were built before Christopher Columbus discovered America. Actually, many were built before he was even born! In the US, we think of an old building as being one that was built in the 1800's. That's a "newer" building in Italy! There are buildings in this city that date back to the 1200s...and they're in better shape that our "old" buildings here in the US!
The narrow streets can become a little confusing, simply because of the tall buildings, but with the help of a map or gps, you'll be just fine. If you find yourself lost, don't panic! Florentines are very friendly and will gladly help you with directions.
Most of the historical city center (centro storico) is restricted from traffic. The ZTL (zona traffico limitato) is something you must watch out for if you are driving a car in Florence. Driving in the ZTL is limited to registered vehicles only. Drive in the ZTL without proper registration and you will find yourself faced with HUGE fines. Honestly, you don't want to drive in Florence anyway, trust me. Don't bother with a car. To rent a car is expensive and public transportation is reliable and safe, so save your money for more gelato & skip the car, unless you plan to take a drive into the countryside of Tuscany.
One of the little things I love about Italy is being surrounded by Christianity. Italy is mostly Catholic, and you can see evidence of their faith around every corner - literally. On almost every building, you will find some sort of shrine to a Saint, Christ, or the Blessed Virgin Mary. These shrines can be small, as is the one in the photo above, or huge, like the one in the photo below.
Oh, and as you're walking through the city, be on the lookout for bicyclists. They are EVERYWHERE. It's actually a lot easier to get around town on a bike than in a car...and it's cheaper. Gasoline is really expensive over there. If you do the conversion from euros to US dollars and liters to gallons...they're paying almost $8/gallon. Remember that when you're grumbling over prices around $3.50/gallon. It could be much worse!
I stayed in Florence when I was visiting this past April (and will be staying there again in a couple weeks). In the next blog postings, I will try and touch on various places within Florence that are worth your time to visit.