Florence is a beautiful city. Like any city, however, it is an expensive place to live. Last weekend, by way of experiment, I decided to leave my purse at home and explore the city for free, with just a 10-euro banknote stashed away in case of emergency.
9am. Saturday. Biblioteca delle Oblate, Florence’s most central library. The students here have the most picturesque views (what other library looks over that Duomo?). An ex-13th-century convent, its terrace would make the perfect setting for a Romeo and Juliet remake. My friend, feeling sleepy from the early start, indulges in a coffee in the library’s popular cafe, but I resist, before we continue our economical adventures.
Santissima Annunziata is next on our list, north of the cathedral and a stone’s throw from the Accademia Gallery and piazza San Marco. If the Duomo is inside out, this basilica is just the opposite. The regal yet fairly plain exterior doesn’t prepare you for the intricately designed interior. You have to concentrate to take in what’s around you, above you, behind you. You can’t possibly take it in at once. And all this beauty is, perplexingly, free.
Deciding we want some fresh air we take the #2 bus (#28 works also) from Santa Maria Novella station to the stop Sestese 03. Our destination is Villa la Petraia, an old Medici villa. It’s a good 15-minute walk, but worth every effort. We don’t venture into the villa itself, but sit in the impressive, perfectly maintained gardens. One section’s low-cut hedges construct a maze-type effect, its surroundings filled with colourful plants, lemon trees, tulips and peonies.
On Sunday morning, it’s time to get up late and wander around Santo Spirito’s Sunday market, always bustling. Until now I’d never set foot inside the basilica, put off perhaps by the plain stonewalled exterior. Surveying the crucifix, likely to have been sculpted by the young Michelangelo himself, is a moving experience.
The church of San Miniato is our next stop. Named after an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army who was denounced as Christian and consequently beheaded, the story goes that the prince picked up his head, crossed the river and walked back to his hermitage. A shrine was shortly erected to honour him, followed by a chapel in the 8th century and finally the present-day church in 1013. I can see why the Armenian prince would choose this spot to return from the dead to, it’s a truly magical place.
Our weekend draws to an end as we sit on the steps of piazzale Michelangelo and watch the city as it begins to light up. The sky turns a dusky pink and the temperature dips before we make our way back into the centre, purses still intact and perfectly content. Florence, at times, is priceless.