florence | a walking tour

by | Jan 14, 2020 | a slice of life, Travel | 29 comments

This is my final post about my trip to Europe last fall.  (If you missed any of the posts or you’re planning your own trip, all of the links are below.)

During the car ride from Barga to Florence, I was feeling ready to go home.  I would’ve been completely okay with going straight to the airport.  But, after checking in at the Piazza Pitti Palace, shopping at a 163-year-old pen & paper shop, and being introduced to a gold & silversmith by our enthusiastic guide, I wanted just one more day.  Maybe two.  I was regretting the decision I made months earlier to spend just an afternoon in Florence.

But, the flight was booked, so I needed to make the most of this time and soak it all in.

We left the artisan workshop and Vanessa, our guide, led us through non-touristy narrow streets.  These streets were still bustling with locals, but they weren’t packed with wide-eyed tourists bunched in tight groups that were difficult to wade through.  They were populated by shoppers, commuters, and people just going about their day.

Some streets were almost empty, a stark contrast to the main thoroughfares.

Every block or so, Vanessa stopped and pointed something out…a bit of architecture, a historical event, a story that might help us understand the culture.

She even pointed out the high school she attended!  (It’s the building pictured below.)  It was evident this was her city, not just simply a place of employment.  She was greeted by a shop owner or someone biking home from work on almost every street.  She would exchange quick pleasantries and then continue with our walking tour.  Those “interruptions” didn’t detract from the tour, but added to it.  The fact that everyone seemed to know her indicated you were in good hands.

On our way to see Michaelangelo’s David, she showed us a small church that is over 800 years old!  Seeing buildings like this makes you realize how young our nation is.

We saw a lot of churches and cathedrals on this trip and they were all special, but I really loved this one.  It was smaller, simpler, but still ornate and beautiful.  Music drifted into the sanctuary from an adjoining room.  A small handful of visitors were knelt on benches, praying.  It was a beautiful moment.

As Vanessa shared a flyover of the history of Florence, I was so glad we went on a tour of the Louvre at the beginning of our trip.  The two dovetailed so nicely.  We saw portraits in the Louvre of people we were now hearing about.

And it was amazing to see medieval buildings, still intact and in use.

…and how the new built around the old, leaving little hints of remnants of the past on display.  (See the arches?)

Florence to me was a place where you had to guard against pickpockets and push your way through thick crowds and wait in long lines.  Vanessa showed me a different Florence…one where you can stop and take a picture without getting jostled or pushed or feeling hurried.  It was a leisurely evening stroll in the coolness and relative quiet of the shaded alleys.  It was magical.

As we were walking, I noticed a woman with a pochade box on her lap, working on an underpainting.  I took a chance that she was American (or at least understood English) and asked if it was okay if I took her picture.  She complied.  “You’re doing what I want to do…someday.”  She looked over her shoulder and smiled.  “Well, you should!”

We did walk by the Duomo, but the evening crowds were a bit thinner and the atmosphere was more relaxed.  She told us about the architecture and the history of the building as we made our way to other significant sights.

With the sun slipping behind the buildings, it was time to pick up the pace to make our scheduled appointment at the Academie.  Vanessa always suggests going in the evening, because the crowds are thinner and the lines are shorter.  She worked her magic and sweet-talked the attendants into letting us bypass the line to get in.

(Warning: I’m showing pictures of David and he is naked.  Just in case you didn’t know!)

The room was still full, but it wasn’t packed wall-to-wall.  You could take a moment to view the unfinished works lining the hall that lead to David.  These works show the process by which David was carved, which makes you appreciate the finished masterpiece all the more.

And then we saw David.  I saw David as a child and I remember him being much taller!  Even though the scale wasn’t as impressive as an adult, I appreciated the detail and craftsmanship so much more.  I found myself tearing up and my throat tightened.  He carved that in three years out of one piece of marble.  One slip of the chisel and it would’ve been ruined.  The confidence, skill, and level of mastery it takes to make something like that is breathtaking.

It was a great experience and I’m glad my mom and I decided to do the “tourist” thing and see David.  Before heading back to our hotel, we took the time to tour the rooms filled with musical instruments and one of the earliest versions of a piano.  As musicians and music-lovers, we enjoyed that part of the Academie as well.

We walked home under a deep blue sky, completing a short, but rich and satisfying day in Florence.  It was the kind of travel experience you hope for when you start making plans to visit a destination.

We were too tired to try to seek out a place to eat, so we sat down at the restaurant that was just a few paces from our hotel – Cafe Pitti.   We ate outside on a marble-topped table and had some of the best food of the trip.  I had zucchini risotto and my mom had the plate of spaghetti she was hoping for.  Instead of traditional Italian bread, they served bread “chips.”  It was so much like a chip that it took us a while to figure out it was very thinly sliced, seasoned bread!

Exhausted, we walked to our hotel and slowly ascended the stairs.  I literally fell into bed, on a high from the day, but disappointed that I had to get up so early in the morning to catch a plane.  3:00 am came way too soon.  My suitcase was definitely heavier on the way home and more difficult to zip.

Before I started a movie on the plane, I took some time to write in my journal.  The notebook that I thought would be ample was completely full and the pockets were stuffed with scraps of paper, ticket stubs, and a dried bay leaf from the vineyard in Montecarlo.  And I even lived up to my commitment to sketch (almost) daily.  I got out of the trip what I wanted (with the exception of an antique tabletop easel) and I gained more than I anticipated.  Even on the way home, weary from travel and time changes, I was thinking about where I might want to go next…

If you’re going to Florence and want to contact Vanessa about a private tour, you can reach her via e-mail – garau.vanessa@gmail.com

If you want to go on an organized tour (as I did in Barga), you’re in good hands with The Inspired Tourist.

If you’re traveling to Paris or Tuscany and want to know the specifics of what I did, you can find all of the posts of my trip (with links to tours, guides, lodging, food, and shopping) below…

Paris 2019 | Chateau Latour & The Louvre

Paris 2019 | The Marais Walking Tour

Paris 2019 | The Fountain Pen Shop

Champagne & Reims

Free & Final Day in Paris 

Paris Souvenirs

Pole-Pole-Tree & Dinner with Florentines (The train ride from Paris to Florence)

A Walking Tour of Barga

Cooking with Rita | A Tuscan Cooking Class

Thrifting & Antiquing in Tuscany

Lucca Antique Purchases

Montecarlo & a Vineyard Lunch

Lucca Purchases (Leather & Clothes)

Florence | Piazza Pitti Palace

Florence | The 153-year-old pen & paper shop

Florence | The Maestro & the Apprentice (meeting a gold & silversmith)

Florence | A Walking Tour



  1. Lee Ann

    At the end of a guided hiking trip in Italy, my wife and I chose to book three more days in Florence for ourselves. Just to wander. It was blissful! Florence is one of the most easily walkable, navigable cities I’ve enjoyed in Europe. With a room in small old family hotel (in one of those ancient buildings, with one of those ancient birdcage lifts!), we felt like we had our own little neighborhood. We found a little market, a favorite restaurant, shops we loved. I want to return, but there are so many other places to explore first.

  2. Dana Wall

    I love that your day was so perfect! Thank you for sharing all of the fine details with us, I could even picture you flopping into bed! <3

  3. Mary J Beadles

    Thank you for sharing! This is on my bucket list!

  4. Louise

    I feel like I’ve been there thanks to your very detailed descriptions.. That’s as close as I will ver get and it’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Susan

    Oh, this was wonderful! You did such a lovely job of taking us with you. My heartfelt thanks to you for sharing your

  6. Emily Cleverly

    I loved reading this, and would like to visit Florence this way. I have been there on a day trip and it wasn’t my favorite even though so many rave about it. I suppose this was because of over crowded touristy parts.

  7. monique odman

    Thanks for letting us follow you through the great city’s back streets.
    The Duomo is unimaginably beautiful, we never went in because the lines were long and slow. My husband never waits in line for anything. So your suggestion of an evening visit is useful as well as the woman local guide.


  8. Mary C

    I have loved your series and soaked them all in. Isn’t everything in America so ugly when you first get back? So new and flimsy compared to Europe where everything has a story. Italy is next on my list, did Paris last year si this is our off-year.

  9. Michele M.

    Visiting Italy – and esp Florence – is high on my husband’s priority Bucket List. I am so glad of this final posting of your days spent vacationing. I appreciate Vanessa’s info, thank you.

    Funny – is it just me, or the angle of the David – but are his arms extra long and his hands extra large? They seem oddly disproportionate. Has to be a trick of the eye – I am finding it doubtful The Master made an error. Your thoughts?

    • Beth L

      The proportions are a bit off intentionally because, from what I understand, it was created to be looked at on top of the building. Truly brilliant!

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, Beth is right. It was originally commissioned to be on top of a building, but, as I understand it, he also wanted to show off his mastery of carving hands. 🙂

  10. Diane Christy

    My university had a student program in Florence and I was able to catch up with my major professor and see parts of the city with him. It was 1974 and my husband and I had just moved to Germany for what would turn out to be 5 years. I was 6 months pregnant with my second child and it was summer, so sitting in the cool churches was lovely and a great excuse to slow down and reflect on the beauty around us. Back then there were not the crowds of tourists there are today and we saw David and the Uffizi, Pitti Palace and Ponte Vecchio easily. We stayed in a small hotel right on the Arno, Hotel Berchielli, for $11.00 per night! Beautiful city and one of my absolute favorites for its walkability and charm.

  11. Beth L

    I’ve only been to Europe once, and that was all in Italy. Florence was our absolute favorite and I would go back in a heartbeat.

    The Academia is small but magnificent. David is beyond belief, and as a pianist, I also loved the instrument rooms.

    Hopefully you can go back and absorb more another time!

  12. merle turner

    Interesting place wonderful old buildings.

  13. mary m young

    My daughter and I went to Portifino,Italy this past summer. Like you I took some great but obscour pictures. My favorite was of laundry hanging across a building. I printed it out and have it hanging in my laundry room.So quaint. Thanks for the great pictures and memories of Italy.

  14. Wendy

    Thank you for taking us along. Your pictures are beautiful. If I am ever fortunate enough to make such a trip, I will refer to your posts for guidance.

  15. Esther

    Your day sounds wonderful! How did you find your guide? We will be there in May and I’d love to have her.


    Marian, thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us. Your pictures are beautiful. When we go, we will make sure we get in touch with Vanessa before we leave. How great it was for you to have her take you to all the special places. We know that once we go too Europe, this will be the start of many trips for us. We should have done this 20 years ago! You have given us such great info. Thanks for your wonderful posts!

  17. Sheri

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us!!
    This spring my husband and I are going to Europe for the first time ever! We’ve booked a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam! We are SO EXCITED!!!

  18. Sandy R

    Thank you for sharing your visit with us. You got some great photos throughout the city. When my husband and I were there about 8 years ago, the security staff kept telling people, actually yelling at them, to stop taking photos of David. My husband was able to sneak some good ones. Was it easier for you to get your photos last year?

    • Marian Parsons

      No, there were no issues with taking pictures of David. That’s strange!

  19. Denise Rambo

    I got KICKED OUT of The Accademia for taking a photo of David! I mean, LITERALLY escorted off the premises! I never got to see anything but David and the Gift Shop!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh my goodness! Pretty much everyone was taking pictures and there were no issues. So sorry that happened to you!

  20. Cyndi Raines

    What a lovely trip. You crammed a lot in and what great memories you will have. Also, some awesome souvenirs, really special ones, worthy of heirlooms, not the cheap stuff Americans usually go for. David is beautiful and I would have probably teared up too. I noticed his hands did seem overly large, but thought it was the angle, so thanks for that educational tidbit. I enjoyed seeing all of your trip, beautiful pictures. So awesome that you could take this time / trip with your mom, what a treasured memory.

  21. Sandy

    My husband and I visited Italy (Rome, Assisi, Florence, and Venice) in 2015. A trip I will always remember. Thank you for sharing your trips with your lovely mother. They have brought smiles to my face as I recall the beautiful cities.

  22. Lorrie Mariani

    Thanks for sharing!! How long was your private tour in Florence? Did she pick the area to tour or did you?
    I’m going to send her an email, we will be there in late April. Love the pics!!

    • Marian Parsons

      We had a two-hour tour, but You can really schedule for as much time as you want. She will arrange to meet you wherever it’s most convenient based on where you are staying and what you want to do. We didn’t know where we were going, so she met us at our hotel.

  23. jean

    We enjoyed walking tours in London, Florence and Prague one summer. It was an amazing way to really SEE a city and enjoy the stories from a more local, and yet historic, perspective. In Florence we took one tour up a hill to enjoy a wine and vinegar tasting in a olive orchard. It was heaven. We also did a tour to visit the David (in 2006 they wouldn’t let anyone take a picture!) and breezed through the lines. I highly recommend looking into these tours wherever you go in Europe – these are cultures that understand how to walk everywhere!

  24. kathleen

    Oh MY GOODNESS. What incredible images Miss Mustardseed. Thank you so much for sharing. I have never been to Europe. This is breathtaking. The comment about the ancient buildings still in use… they certainly were built to last. built for warmth? built as a defensive stance against the invading Hordes, the Vandals, the Visigoths etc.. The USA is young in comparison, towns were not built by Feudal landlords determined to work their slaves to death building their fiefdom. But we marvel at the design but are we told of the blood sweat and tears spent in the evolution of the street scape. I am no historian but I studied Latin for three years and well the culture and history is all part of the package of learning Latin.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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