I’m a little ashamed to say I forgot… You see, the fact that the Duomo was in Florence wasn’t exactly on my mind when I first turned down one of the streets leading towards the cathedral.

It was our first evening in the city and I’d just escaped from some fellow exchange students blaring music on their portable speaker. I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of Florence, unpolluted by their noise. When I was confident I was alone, I stopped to stand and absorb the Renaissance square around me. Beautiful statues sat at its heart while imperial colonnades wrapped about its frame. The sun had just said and warm lights bounced off every facade.

Florence was glorious, living up to its reputation of elegance and culture. I wanted to keep walking, yet the only orientation point I had was the hostel I had just set out from. I could not even point to the main square. That was, until I looked down the road to my right. Above a street packed tightly with restaurants and cafes, lit Indigo by the scattered fluorescent signs and terrace lighting, the imposing dome of the Duomo peered down the street. It’s unique colors and patterns in the soft artificial light, seeming somehow alien and mysteriously out of place. I was stunned. For a moment, I had completely forgotten all the photos I had seen of Florence and was blown away by the structure. My feet quickly carried me down the street, navigating twisting roads until they spit me out beneath the church’s monolithic dome. I paced the cathedral’s perimeter, gazing up in wonder the entire time. I’d seen Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, but this somehow seemed even larger, grander.

As I rounded back to where I started, I found my music playing friends again. I apologized for what I’ve done and what I was about to do again. Then sped walked away, back to exploring Florence’s lazy, evening streets.

The next day my itinerary was packed. A trip to one of the most famous art museums in the world, plus a tour of the city, a little bit of free time and a late afternoon departure for Venice.

Two world-renowned art museums sit in the heart of Florence. Each holds one of two iconic Florentine masterpieces. Michelangelo’s David stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia, while Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus hangs in the Uffizi Gallery.

Most tourists (including myself) do not recognize that they are kept separate. It is a common fate for many travelers to end up in the opposite museum of the piece they wished most to see, but, in that, I was rather fortunate. A small group of us exchange students entered into the Galleria dell’Accademia during some free time in Florence. The statue of David was the biggest must-see for me in all the city, and while I wanted (and expected) to see The Birth of Venus, I was not terribly disappointed when I found it wasn’t there.

In the free time we were granted later that day, I paid a visit to a little hole-in-the-wall that our tour guide recommended as having the best gelato in Florence. It was indeed heavenly, but I hurried to the finish, anxious to see what is for me the most splendid site in the city.

Ponte Vecchio is a bridge like most in Europe used to be. Merchants built shops and cottages along the edge of the bridge to cater to the floods of people who had limited options for getting to the other side of the river—the same principle as putting billboards and limited numbers of gas stations along a major highway. Today Ponte Vecchio is primarily occupied by jewelers (capitalizing on tourists), but has otherwise maintained its original romantic form.

I couldn’t help the pick up a few souvenirs on the way back to the hostel. As you’d expect, some truly splendid artists live and work in Florence, pedaling their works two tourists with good taste. They seemed to me the true embodiment of Florence. Unlike souvenir peddlers, they did not obnoxiously try to garner attention. Instead, they sat with a quiet confidence in the skill of their works.