The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.
- Mark Twain
Welcome to the capital of Renaissance culture, the birthplace of the rebirth of the human mind and spirit. The West would not be the way it is were it not for Florence and the host of artists, scholars, political leaders, and academics that have come from these streets. Since the fifteenth century, when Cosimo de Medici became the de facto ruler of the city, Florence has breathed energy into an atmosphere that allowed artists like Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo to revolutionize the worlds of painting and sculpture. It has cultivated an environment where universities could thrive, and intellectuals such as Pico della Mirandola and Machiavelli could orate on both the dignity of man and the deeper sources of his power. And thanks to its banking power and economic wealth, the city has been able to maintain its dignity in all fields for many years. That dignity - and impossible beauty - is still present today.
You'll be enveloped by that beauty the minute you step on Florence's streets. Indeed, between gawking at the Duomo, climbing the stairs to the top of Giotto's tower, wandering the halls of the Uffizi and Accademia, and exploring the Piazze della Signoria, Republica, and Santa Croce, there's a lot history to take in in Florence. You'll have to do a lot of active sight-seeing to check it out.
But make sure you save time for a run. The two routes BTG has mapped out will allow you to escape the tourist crowd, breathe some fresh air, and see the parts of Florence that are part of today's Florentines' everyday lives. The first run is a flat jaunt to a park on the northwest side of the city; the second is a short but steep city run to Piazzale Michelangelo. Each run can be shortened to allow for a busy sightseeing day. Similarly, each run can be lengthened if you need to get out, go far, and celebrate your own Renaissance freedom.
A couple of notes for you before you start reading about your Italian running adventure. First, BTG throws lots of Italian words into this chapter. We do this in hopes that you will make them your own, and use them, and win Italian friends who will be impressed by your cool vocabulary. So just remember as you read: Firenze is Florence in Italian. a passagiata is a stroll, and often refers to an evening stroll that many Italians take after work. Stradi are streets, motos are mopeds (you'll see lots of those). Pontes are bridges, lungarno are the streets that run next to the Arno River, which bisects the town. The area south of the Arno is called the Oltrarno, and is worth a bit of an explore.
And last, but not least: our favorite word in Italian, even more than correre (to run), even more than vino (wine), and yes, even more than cappuccino, is bicicletta. Just say that word, and you will make us smile.
- Narrow Streets: Skinny stradi are to be expected in this Renaissance city, but also be on the lookout for skinny sidewalks. These will particularly become a problem along the lungarno avenues near the Ponte Vecchio, where masses of tourists confront masses of motos and make moving forward mighty difficult.
- Traffic: If you need BTG to warn you about Italian drivers, then you're not ready for a trip to Italy. Just remember that in Italy "traffic lanes" are widely interpreted to incorporate any part of the road / curb / sidewalk / cafe patio that are in the vicinity of the passageway. And those one-way streets? Think of them as any one way, in that all ways are more or less allowed.
- Tourists: Florence is one of the most visited cities in Europe. During high travel season (June-August), crowds will flood the streets and make walking nearly impossible. As you can imagine, it's not much fun to try running through the masses. Try to schedule your runs for early in the morning, or try to schedule your trip around avoiding the busiest times of year (see our "Best Months to Visit" suggestion).