Firenze 2023, Christmas Lights

My sister (Susan), daughter (Laura), niece (Rachelle) and her friend, Callie, and I arrived in Firenze from Rome early afternoon, December 7, 2023; our goal being to see the lighting of the Christmas tree as well as other holiday lights.  We succeeded at that but for the others, it became pretty much a shopping extravaganza.

So I’ve tried to organize this post into our walkabouts (day by day), shopping, and our apartment, plus a few mentions about restaurants. 

Day (afternoon) 1, December 7, 2023

As soon as we got settled in our apartment (see Where to stay below), we went around the corner to Signorvino’s  (see Where to eat, Roma e Firenze, 2023  post) for a late  lunch.

From there we walked along the Arno, then across Ponte alle Grazie and up via de’ Banci to Piazza Santa Croce to see the Christmas Market.  It was sunny, with bright blue skies, but very chilly.  So my daughter hit the market hard (see Shopping below) for warmer clothes.

From Piazza Santa Croce I led the troops through the back streets to Piazza del Duomo, taking via Verdi to Piazza Salvemini and then via dell’ Oriuolo into the piazza.

It always does my heart good to share the duomo with someone and my daughter’s reaction was one of complete amazement.

As we walked around the north side of the Duomo, we saw a large crowd and realized it was the night of the lighting of the Christmas tree. We were pretty much frozen by then and decided we had time for a quick vino and warm up, choosing Caffe l’Opera (see Where to eat, post) right on the piazza. 

From the caffe we could see the parade of Renaissance marchers entering the piazza so quickly paid and hustled out to see the event.

Unlike Rome (see Five days in Rome, off season post) the Firenze officials didn’t waste a lot of time and it was just, ‘dieci, nove, otto, sette, seis, cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno and ‘Bam!’ the tree was lit.  We were fairly far back in the crowd, so our pictures aren’t that great but it was still a fabulous experience.

I suggested we take via Roma to Piazza della Repubblica on our way back to the apartment, thinking there would be another Christmas tree there along with the usual lights on Rinascente, the big department store which always has a great light show.

As we arrived in the piazza, we stopped and watched what we thought was the end of the parade from Piazza del Duomo.  But it was a group of flag throwers who put on the most amazing display I’ve ever seen.  It went on for at least 30 minutes; first a group of young men, then the older more experienced flag throwers.  Mama mia!!  It was breathtaking.

We watched every minute in absolute awe.  Then we continued down via Calimala and across the Ponte Vecchio, deciding to eat at Osteria de’ Pitti which was about 2 blocks from our apartment.  (See Where to eat post.)

Friday, December 9, 2023

My daughter had a 6:30 or 7:00 am flight from Firenze/Peretola to Roma/Fiumicino and so had a 4:15 am Uber reservation to the airport.  I told her I would get up with her and make sure she got off OK.

I woke up abruptly at 4:30 am, hearing loud voices in the lower level living area.  When I went downstairs, Laura and Rachelle were at the table; Laura semi hysterical because her flight from Firenze to Rome had been canceled at 1:30 am and there were no other flights which could get her to Fiumicino in time for a 10:30 am flight to the States.  (And I strongly recommend avoiding Peretola if at all possible.  We’ve had the entire spectrum from late flights to canceled flights.  And there are very few options when you’re in that situation.)

We helped her change her flight to Saturday, then Rachelle went back to bed and I helped Laura get a 5:30 pm train ticket to Roma Centrale and then on to Fiumicino.  She went back to bed also, then 3 of us made an abortive trip for coffee.

When Laura arose, we decided to try a café, Ditta Artiginale, that our host recommended.  (See Where to eat post)  It was just a couple of blocks from the apartment and a welcome relief from the tension of the past few hours.  We were enjoying our second cappuccino, when my niece texted, saying they were leaving the market and thinking of going to the Accademia.

I responded that our plan was to go glove shopping and then get some Euros.  So they decided to meet us at Ditta.  From there I led them to a shop on Borgo San Jacopo, that I’d noticed while walking to school the previous week.  (Roberta Firenze, https://www.robertafirenze.com/en/)  Everyone loved it and we were there for close to an hour.  (Read more below in the Shopping section.)

After leaving Roberta’s we walked to Piazza della Signoria to get euros at one of the banks in the piazza, having been warned, a number of years ago, not to use the bancomats on the streets around Firenze.  After getting some cash we walked around the piazza, taking pictures and enjoying the scene, even though it was rather chilly and gray.

We made a brief stop in Piazza Santa Croce to look at gold crosses, then  we just walked back to the apartment so Laura could pack.  While she did that, I wrote directions on how to change trains at Roma Centrale and then get a cab to her hotel at the airport.

After putting Laura in her Uber to the train station, we headed to Quattro Leoni for dinner.    It was our first visit there in at least 5 or 6 years and we had a great time.  

From Quattro Leoni, we decided to walk over to the Lungarno, just east of the Ponte Vecchio, even though it was raining lightly, because it was the first night of the Firenze Light Show.  We didn’t get great pictures that night due to the rain but I thought they were still pretty and atmospheric. 

Everyone was exhausted by the time we got back to the apartment so I’m not sure if we even had our usual night cap.

Day 3 December 11, 2023

Our group had breakfast and cappuccino at Ditta Artiginale, then walked to the Firenze Leather School (La Scuola del Cuoio) behind Santa Croce.  I first visited La Scuola in 2019 with a friend from language school, then introduced my sister and niece to the School in 2021.   (Read more below in Shopping)

From there we walked back to Piazza Santa Croce where we had planned to get another cappuccino at Caffe Finisterrae but it was packed.  So I peeled off from the group and stopped at a couple of booths in the Christmas market that had ornaments since my daughter had asked me to buy some.  (And I did; see Shopping below) 

Then my mission became to find billfolds for my grandsons and a good friend.  It was a lovely day and I wandered through a large part of the centro, not seeing anything I liked, but I did get some beautiful pictures of the Duomo. 

I finally returned to  Via de’ Guicciardini, near our apartment, which goes from Ponte Vecchio to Piazza de’ Pitti, where Google said there was a store that carried Gianni Conti, the brand I was looking for.  Success!!  You can read more about Umberto’s (https://www.umbertoleather.com/) below in Shopping.

I looked for billfolds for the boys at Umberto’s but was undecided so went across the street either to I Medici or Lorenzo’s and ultimately had success there.  

The rest of the group came back to the apartment not long after that and my niece suggested we go to the Bardini Gardens since it was so nice.  My sister and I agreed to go and Callie went off to do more shopping.

By the time we reached the Bardini and paid our fee to go into the garden, it was getting cool.  But it was still spectacularly beautiful and we walked from one end of the gardens to the other, enjoying the peace after the craziness of the previous days.

Our pictures came out exceptionally nice and so I put almost all of them in the gallery below.

Unlike 2021 the little café at the top of the gardens was open.  Traditionally we have a prosecco at the café but we decided it was too chilly and went in search of a bar in Piazza de’ Pitti where there was still some sun.  We walked up and down the piazza, finally settling on Osteria de’ Pitti, mostly because we could sit below the heaters.

Callie joined us after about 30 minutes and we sat and laughed and talked for quite a while, joking with our waiter who was pretty funny.  When all was said and done, we had 7 glasses of prosecco and some snacks that set me back about $80. Yikes.

Dinner that night was also at Osteria de’ Pitti because my niece and Callie decided they wanted to have Bistecca Fiorentina.  They easily spent an hour going through reviews of restaurants with Bistecca Fiorentina, finally choosing Osteria de’ Pitti.

I had learned several years earlier that Bistecca Fiorentina should only be ordered rare and should have stopped them when they ordered it medium rare.  They weren’t terribly happy with their Bistecca but I had the Strozzapreti which I love and enjoyed my dinner immensely.

Since it was still fairly mild outside, we walked back to the Arno and through some of the nearby streets taking photos of the Christmas lights.  Without the rain, we could really see and appreciate the light show on the Ponte Vecchio and stood there for a long time watching in amazement and taking photos and videos.

Sunday December 10, 2023

Our last day in Firenze

While my sister, Rachelle and Callie went to a flea market in Piazza Santa Spirito, I walked to Piazza Santa Croce, first having a cappuccino and brioche at Caffe Finisterrae.  Afterwards, I strolled through the Christmas Market one last time, buying Christmas ornaments at the request of my daughter.   You can read more and see pictures in the Shopping section below.

I met the group back at the apartment late morning and we decided to walk to Mercato Centrale, thinking we might buy some food to cook for our last dinner.  My sister and I had made several trips there in 2018 (see Firenze, old and new  post) and thought it was fabulous.  But apparently Sundays are a whole different animal.  It was crazy crowded and there were only a few shops open, the rest were the equivalent of fast food restaurants. 

We escaped the crowds and walked through Piazza San Lorenzo finding a nice restaurant just around the corner from the basilica (https://sanlorenzofirenze.it/la-basilica-di-san-lorenzo/), the eponymously named San Lorenzo Trattoria, for drinks and snacks.

We spent the afternoon packing for our trip back to Rome and eventually home, then late afternoon, we walked back up to Piazza del Duomo to take photos of the tree and other lights.

We shared a slice of cheese cake with glasses of prosecco at Caffé l’Opera (see Where to eat, Roma e Firenze, 2023 post), then slowly walked back towards the apartment taking more pictures of the Christmas lights and the light show.  The city was spectacular, a fitting end to our trip.

As we walked, we discussed where to go for a last dinner and I threw out Osteria Santo Spirito in Piazza Santo Spirito.  We had a delightful dinner there of pasta, wine and dessert.  Both the prices and quality of food got rave reviews from everyone. 

Shopping

Roberta, Firenze  Borgo San Jacopo

https://www.robertafirenze.com/en/

As I walked back and forth to school on Via Tornabuoni  my first week in Firenze, I noticed this small shop of what looked to be high quality leather goods—purses, gloves, etc.-at what I thought were good prices.  I had also walked past the shop where I’d purchased gloves for my mother the first time I was in Firenze (La Moda, I think) and thought their prices were much higher than the last time I’d been in Firenze.

So Friday morning, December 8, after arranging for my daughter to get to Rome for her flight and having breakfast at Ditta Artiginale, we met the rest of our group and walked to Roberta’s where we made the owner very happy, purchasing a fairly amazing number of gloves and purses.

My niece bought dressy gloves for her best friend plus a beautiful pale green bag.  My daughter bought a pair of lined gloves for me because my hands had been freezing since arriving in Firenze, Callie bought gloves for herself…and so it went.

Christmas (and other) Markets

As I mentioned in my Firenze 2023 and Italianme  post, I stopped at the Christmas Market 2 or 3 times my first week in Firenze.  And I returned multiple times during our brief visit to see the Firenze Christmas lights.  We all stopped here our first afternoon after arriving in Firenze from Roma and my daughter bought a warm hat and a beautiful scarf at a booth selling high quality Scottish wool products.  Since she didn’t have time to return, she tasked me with buying ornaments from several of the stands (bancarelle).  She also wanted me to buy one of the Scottish wool scarves.  As to the latter, the stand wasn’t open Sunday morning when I returned so  I bought more ornaments which I gifted to my daughter and grandsons at Christmas.  They loved all of them.

My major disappointment with the Christmas market was a 50 euro sweater I bought my first week in Firenze that was advertised as being cashmere and wool.  The ‘cashmere’ component was maybe 5% of the total and wherever the wool came from it started to ‘pill’ after the first wearing. 

My sister, niece and friend also went to a craft fair in Piazza SS Annunziata (see photo below) plus the ‘flea’ market in Piazza Santo Spirito.  They came home from the latter with wall sconces and a brass sculpture of a pointer for my niece’s husband.  Lol  Flea market in Piazza SS Annunziata

 

 

Umberto Via de’ Guicciardini 114/R

https://en.umbertoleather.com/chi-siamo

I was determined to buy a good leather wallet (portafoglio) in Rome or Firenze for a friend who had bought one in Rome a number of years ago.  It was a  ‘Gianni Conti’ but was showing it’s age.   

I couldn’t find that brand anywhere in Rome.  So I did some ‘Googling’ when we returned to Firenze and found a shop just a couple of blocks from our apartment that carried Gianni Conti.  I went in on Saturday and asked to look at billfolds from that maker.  I found one very similar to what my friend had and took the leap and bought it.  As I was handing one of the owners 100 euros, I asked, ‘Novanta otto?’ to clarify that I’d given him the right amount.  ‘Brava!’  Then he and his assistant started talking with me in Italian; his assistant saying my pronunciation was good, sealing the deal. 

I Medici Via de’ Guicciardini

I had also promised my grandsons to buy them nice billfolds in Italy which turned out to be a much tougher task.  I started at a shop in Piazza Santa Croce where the owner insisted that young men liked two tone billfolds.  Nope.  So I wandered all over the centro storico, looking and finding nothing that I thought they would like.

I went back to Umberto where the assistant had shown me a style I thought they’d like but she wasn’t there and no one else could find that particular type.  So I went across the street, to a small leather goods shop (and I can’t swear it was I Medici, but I think so) where he had just the style I was looking for but only had one in black.  He told me to stop by later and he’d try to get another one from his other shop.

And I did and he had a second wallet.  The wallets were also Gianni Conti, all hand made in Italy and marked 75 euros each but he sold them to me for 65 euros each.  The boys loved them.  I’d like to think the discount was due to my speaking a little Italian, but who knows. 

La Scuola del Cuoio  Via di S. Giuseppe, 5/R

https://scuoladelcuoio.it/en/

I mentioned La Scuola to my Italian instructor my first week in Firenze and he expressed shock that I’d ever heard of it.  I explained how a friend I’d met in language school told me about it and how the two of us visited in 2019 and then I’d taken my sister and niece in 2021.  (See Three Days in Firenze and Istituto Michelangelo, parte due posts)

When I stopped at La Scuola my first week in Firenze, I just took photos of the billfolds to get an idea of what my grandsons might like.  Naturally my older grandson picked the most expensive one, a 125 euro billfold of black woven leather.  Yikes.

Saturday morning we all trooped over to La Scuola, but this year, unlike 2021, my niece just bought a few small gifts for friends.  Still it was  fun looking at all the beautiful goods, plus it was a spectacular day and the area behind the school was especially pretty.

Where to stay

‘Perfect Apartment’  Piazza Santa Felicita

Perf Style  VRBO

My niece and I spent several hours going through VRBO listings, trying to find an apartment for what was initially to be 4 people, but at the last minute morphed into 5 when my daughter decided to join us.

After winnowing down the selection to apartments in the Oltrarno with at least 3 bedrooms and bathrooms, my niece sent out choices to her friend, Callie, who sent back comments.  I, then, added my comments along with pictures shown on VRBO to help us remember the differences.

We went back and forth, finally getting the list down to the top three, and ultimately choosing the self described,   ‘Perfect Apartment.’  It’s a three level apartment with the living room and kitchen on the lowest level, the entry way and laundry room on the middle level and three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the 3rd level.

Not surprisingly, since it’s owned by a family from the U.S, it’s been remodeled and refurbished in a clean, modern style.  We only had two issues with the apartment itself; we couldn’t figure out the heating system the first night and had to sleep in our clothes to keep warm and the showers in both bathroom had some type of control so that you could only get lukewarm water, although there was plenty of hot water from the faucets in the sink.

The location was perfect, though.  Piazza Santa Felicita is a tiny piazza just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio, within easy walking distance of every place we wanted to go plus, as I wrote about in my Where to eat, Roma e Firenze, 2023   post, several restaurants and cafes were within 2 or 3 blocks of the apartment.  On the right is a photo taken from the apartment balcony.   

 The one problem with the location is that taxis will not stop in the piazza.  You have to go around the corner to via Bardi where there’s a taxi stand and hope you can find one. 

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