FLORENCE, Italy -- As I exit the brutal train station that Florentines despise as a monument to their dark fascist past, the rain clouds that followed me from Rome finally started to break. The glorious sun kisses the city with golden orange light, lifting my spirit. Florence has begun to cast its magical spell over me.
I am swept to the bustling street market of San Lorenzo where vendors flog leathergoods and textiles. Their carts circle around the Mercatto Centrale, the city's main market where reginal delicacies are served with typical Florentine panache. Famished, I devoir my "trippa alla florentina." Feted, I venture to San Lorenzo Basilica containing Michelangelo's famous tomb commissioned by the world's greatest art patrons, the Medici's.
On to Santa Maria del Fiore. Filippo Brunelleschi's magnificent cupola tops the Duomo, which to this day remains an engineering mystery! The labour of climbing its precarious stone stairs is rewarded by a brilliant view that lays out the city like a giant unfolding map. I can see the shoppers strolling down the Via Calzaiuoli which leads to the famous Piazza della Signoria where Ammannati's Neptune Fountain stands guard over the world's oldest operating municipal building, the Palazzo Vecchio.
Next stop: the Uffizi Gallery. But the long lines here convinced me to wait another day for a chance to steel a glimpse of Botticelli's Birth of Venus. Moving towards the river Arno I catch sight of the bridge I had read about as a little girl, the most beautiful bridge in the world, the Ponte Vecchio! As in Medici's reign, the gold merchants still display their wares in the tiny shops impossibly balanced over the water's edge.
On to Santo Spirito Church stands another Brunelleshi masterpiece. In this piazza one can stand with a plate of pasta and a good glass of chianti for as little as 10,000 lires.
Just to the southeast, the massive stone enforcements of the Pitti Palace hold some of Florence's treasures, paintings, sculptures and jewelry. A welcomed retreat is the palace's Boboli Gardens where one can relax under the cool greenery.
Back into the pounding city, my head swirls at the thought that once Dante, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vince and Savonarola walked through these cobbled stone streets.
With newfound energy, I climb the Viale G. Poggi imagining the summit, Piazzale Michelangelo. The breathtaking panoramic view is dominated by the Duomo, sitting like a crown jewel clustered by the other churches, spires and towers, setting stones in a renaissance dream. I quietly mark the sights to explore tomorrow. San Marco with Fra Angelico's Crucifixion, the Accademia dell'Arte, housing Michelangelo's masterpiece "David," The Bargello, the Archeological Museum, and of course, another stroll across the most beautiful bridge in the world.