Today we were gifted the heavenly gift of a free day in Florence, Italy. usually, about half of my classmates use the free day to explore the cities outside of churches and museums, while the other half choose to rest and recharge at the hotel. This time around, I decided to explore Florence on foot, as I’d been dying to do for the past few days here. This started with a spontaneous decision to visit Gucci Garden, and after some wandering, I decided to take a minute and visit Florence’s baptistry before climbing the Duomo and exploring the Medici family’s palace.
Usually when I hear the word ‘Gucci’, my brain automatically switches off because all I know about it is that it’s a brand and that it’s way too expensive for a pleb like me. So when I heard that Florence is home to the “Gucci Garden”, a museum dedicated to the fashion empire, I decided I wasn’t going to visit because the admission cost was probably expensive.
Then I found out it was free to visit with a student ID.
So I figured, why not? It was close by, and to be honest, the curiosity was enough incentive for me to go, and so I set off on my own from the hotel.
Gucci Garden is adjacent to the store itself, so I looked around uncomfortably until I spotted the teeny tiny ticket window. The man working there was very nice, and assured me that my student ticket was, in fact, free. He handed me my bubble-gum pink ticket with an illuminati pyramid-eye in the center. It’s the only Gucci item that I will ever own.
The museums are on the upper 2 floors of the building, so I hopped in while wondering why the elevator was cast in dark red lights.
On the 2nd (or maybe 3rd) floor, the elevator opens out onto the first gallery. It’s full of custom outfits that have been worn on the runway. Each one is carefully tailored with animal patches, flowers, and LOTS of rhinestones. I could definitely see Freddie Mercury, Dolly Parton, or Harry Styles rocking some of these looks.
There’s also a lot of wacky murals along the wall that look like a page straight out of Alice in Wonderland. My favorite part, though, were the placards that waxed poetry about how each design is inspired by nature, and how it wanted to be “a symbol of the human experience” or “connecting the soul to nature” and other fancy buzzwords like that. It was a really cool sentiment, but I personally had trouble seeing how a trick-or-treat bucket with Mickey Mouse’s face on it connects to nature or the human experience. Then again, I’ve never really understood abstract art.
On the top (3rd or 4th) floor, There’s a collection of outfits that have been worn by celebrities, a separate room for suitcases and other Gucci travel items, and a small movie theater. The movie plays one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, it’s basically two hands shaking each other and moving around the screen. Like I said, I’ve never understood abstract art, but it’s fun to guess what it could possibly mean.
Oh, and there are more murals here too! I tried my hand at modeling in front of one of them:
I spent about 5 seconds into the Gucci store itself. It was long enough for me to look at a pair of shoes, realize that they were $700 dollars, and quickly leave the premises.
A Walk Around Piazza della Republica
After leaving Gucci Garden, I bought a smoothie and enjoyed walking around the nearby Republic Square, or Piazza della Republica, on this cool, breezy day. It’s a lively square with lots of vendors, shops, and restaurants, and there’s even the historic Picci Family Carousel for the kiddos!
The Baptistry of Saint John
During class two days ago, we’d been given an admission pass that was good for entry to the Florence Duomo, the Duomo Museum, and the Baptistry. It would have been a waste to not use my free admission, so I decided to pop into the baptistry for a quick minute, and I’m glad I did!
It reminds me a bit of the Roman Pantheon in that it consists of one big, very tall room with a gorgeously decorated ceiling. The baptistry of Saint John is adorned with a huge, beautiful golden mosaic on its octagonal dome. On the mosaic are layers upon layers of biblical characters, and the octagonal shape means that each side can tell a different story.
I spent longer than I thought I would with my neck craned back, staring at the gorgeous shimmering ceiling.
Oh and I almost forgot, the doors are covered with Ghiberti’s famous bronze panels, which depict stories of John the Baptist, for whom the baptistry is named. They are so beautiful, that Michelangelo referred to them as “The Gates of Paradise”. Now that’s some high praise!
Climbing the Duomo
It’s no secret that I’m in love with Florence’s Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore, and have been since the time I first saw it five years prior. So imagine my excitement when our class was given the chance to take an optional excursion to climb to the tippity-top of the mighty Duomo, where we’d get spectacular aerial views of Florence!
The first leg of the journey is to the base of the dome, which opens up onto the interior of the cathedral. The inside is surprisingly plain, but the ceiling is covered is fantastic Italian frescoes. I was glad that the walls surrounding the walkway were made of glass so that we could see the inside of the church from a bird’s eye view.
Once we actually started climbing through the dome, things got a little trickier. The stairway narrows and becomes incredibly thin, so much so that it’s only wide enough for one person. This became a problem when someone was trying to go down the same staircase that we were trying to go up. Thankfully, we didn’t run into many other people as it was mid-October. The stairs are also extra steep and made of slippery stone, so it can be slow going. Overall, I would not recommend this trek up to dome to anyone who has claustrophobia or breathing difficulties considering how cramped the stairwells are.
Finally, we made it out of the stuffy, slippery stairways and onto the wraparound balcony at the top of the Duomo. For a while, I stood there, breathing heavily and sweating. It was a heavenly view to rest to! No matter where you looked on the balcony, red clay tiled roofs sprawled out through the expanse of Florence with a few church spires poking through, and in the distance, you can even see the rolling green hills of Tuscany. The weather was perfect too, cloudy with a few rays of sun shining down on the city.
We walked all the way around the dome to see every panoramic viewpoint, taking fun pictures all along the way! It was definitely the highlight of the day.
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Originally, I’d planned to call it a day and rest up back at the hotel after our trip back down the Duomo, but a friend had been watching netflix documentaries about the powerful Florentine Medici family, and wanted to go see the Medici family palace, or the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.
And so I went along too.
Entrance to the palace’s museum, chapel, and cave is 10 euros, but you can walk through the garden for free, which we did since it was about to close.
The gardens were clean and well cared for, and there were a few statues to look at too. We only spent about 10 minutes wandering through, though.
I was so happy to finally explore Florence on my own by just walking through the city and choosing things to do as I passed them. It made me love this city even more! Despite being such a tourist destination, it’s not insanely crowded (at least during the off-season), and it’s just a really easy place to be, especially compared to the other major cities of Rome and Venice.
Reading back, I realize how judgemental I was of Gucci Garden, and although I still think it’s a little ridiculous, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun in its colorful, wacky museums 😉 Gucci Garden is also a great free thing to do in Florence if you’ve got a student ID.
I also enjoyed spending a few minutes in St. John’s Baptistry, and I think it’s a great place to pop into if you have a few minutes in Florence. I’d reccommend it even more if you decide to get the Duomo Pass, which lets you into the Duomo Cathedral, Baptistry, and Museum for a discounted rate.
Climbing either the Duomo’s dome or belltower is a must-do activity when in Florence, and it’s my favorite place in Florence by far! Personally, I’d reccommend climbing the dome over the belltower, as it’s a little bit taller.
As far as the Medici Palace goes, I think you can give that a skip unless you’re really into the Medici family history like my friend.
If you liked reading about today’s adventures in Florence, you read more about my time studying in Florence, where I visited some of its prestigious museums like the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi Gallery, or our chaotic dinner at a traditional Tuscan restaurant!
But now I wanna hear from you guys! What would your perfect day in Florence look like? Or if you’ve been elsewhere in Italy, where is your favorite town or city?
Let me know in the comments, I can’t wait to read them! 🙂
A WTB Bonus:
If you were curious about the Gucci-poetry placards, here they are 😉