Florence is like one giant art museum. Everything is historic and beautiful and detailed, and there’s even some interesting street art. But first let me tell you about my trip here.
I had to take 3 trains. Riomaggiore to La Spezia to Pisa to Florence. I get to La Spezia no problem, and then my train to Pisa was just on the next platform over. Ok cool. I find a seat and stash my suitcase. It’s about an hour train ride. I’m looking at my tickets and realize I only have 5 minutes between the time the train is scheduled to arrive in Pisa and the departure of my next train. What kind of schedule is this? So I’m praying, hoping, fingers crossed that my train was on time. I checked ahead to see which platform the next train was departing from so I could make a mad dash once I got there.
My train was running 7 minutes late.
I checked the schedules and saw that there would be another train leaving 20 minutes later, so at least I had options. I decided to just enjoy the ride (and the amazing countryside) and just let whatever happens happen.
We arrive in Pisa. I look up at the monitor and see that my next train is also delayed. Great! I see another girl also heading towards platform 8 and she’s running. I’m running but I have 3 bags and she just has a handbag. She presses the button to open the doors and hops on. The doors close. I press the button and nothing happens. Shit! I’m literally 2 seconds too late. The doors are locked and the train departs.
Ok. I’ll find the ticket office and see what to do. I already knew there were other trains but wasn’t sure if I needed a new ticket or what. I stop by the info desk and the very helpful man tells me to just keep the same ticket and take the 3:12 train. Which is direct! Huzzah!!! And it’s a double decker which was fun but it was so hot up there! But I had a whole section of 4 seats to myself. Perfect.
The train ride was only 40 minutes! I arrived at the station and then walked to my hotel. It’s in this super old building on the third floor. You have a to take a tiny 2-person cage elevator to get up there. It’s charming.
I check in and the concierge is super helpful. He gets out a map and helps me get oriented and circles all the spots he recommends visiting. I asked about his favorite gelato spots and he marks those too. (I haven’t been yet but I have had gelato twice already.) He carries my suitcase up a flight and a half of stairs for me and shows me my room. Ummmm I didn’t remember booking a twin bed? But I doubled checked my reservation and sure enough, I did. What was I thinking? I sent a photo of my room to my sister who’s response was “oh, that’s a fancy prison cell”. It was 118 square feet.
I had been having difficulty ordering my ticket for the Uffizi so I called my personal ticket agent (my sis) for help. She was able to take care of it for me and I was grateful!
I decided to explore. And I was hungry, so I would head to this little wine bar I’d read about for a snack and some wine before dinner. I walked over to the wine bar which was on the other side of the river and grabbed the last table. This spot was so cute! It soon filled in with other patrons, both locals and out of towners. There was a long bench that ran along one wall and then just 4 small tables with short stools for the other seats. This couple came in with a baby in a stroller and asked if they could sit on the bench next to me which was fine, I had plenty of room! But then we ended up sharing the table and chatting it up. They were visiting from Belgium and had driven for 3 days with their 18 month old daughter who was very cute and well-behaved. Their English was better than my French and we had a great multi-lingual conversation, and then they offered to buy me a second glass of wine so I took them up on it. I’d had some crostini and had still planned on going to dinner afterward.
I learned about an interesting Belgian tradition: The server had brought out 3 glasses and filled one of them but the bottle ran out. So the tradition goes, whoever gets the glass of wine with the last of the bottle will have a baby in the next year. They passed the glass to me. Yikes!
By the time we finished I walked next door but the restaurant was completely booked. I wasn’t super hungry anyway so I walked along the river a bit to find the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous bridge in Florence. There were a lot of people out, and most of them were hanging out on the next bridge over to observe. I joined them. The Ponte Vecchio is not just a bridge, it’s all built up with shops too.
So I headed back to my hotel but first stopped off for gelato. I tried mango and coconut. Amazing!!! I set a new goal for this trip: must eat more gelato. There is definitely no shortage of it here.
I returned to my prison cell for an awkward shower (like, there’s barely enough room for me to wash my feet) and then had the most awful night’s sleep of the entire trip. A twin bed does not work for me, and also I’m not convinced the AC was working the best it could.
Florence Day 2
I can’t sleep like this for two more nights. So after breakfast I asked at the front desk guy if there was any chance they might have an available room with a larger bed. He said he would check and then said “ok, like a free upgrade?” I said I would pay for an upgrade if I had to. No no he said. I have something. And so now I have a grown up sized room with a giant bed. Score.
I got an early jump on the day and headed over to the Bardini Gardens which my Belgian friends had told me about. I did a bit of research and learned that these gardens had only recently re-opened and were still sort of undiscovered by tourists. I walked over and discovered that the walk was about 50% uphill. But on the way I walked past Galileo’s house! So that was cool. It was around 10am Sunday morning and the city was still quiet except for ringing church bells which really added to the ambience. I got to the gardens and followed the map to tour the entire place, which took about an hour. One of the best parts though was the view of Florence! It was absolutely amazing and you could see all of the major churches and monuments from up there. The gardens themselves were beautiful – there were cool sculptures and even an orchard area. Definitely worth the price of admission and the uphill walk.
At this point I was really close to the Pizzale Michelangelo which is all the way in the southeast corner of the city, and I was only about 12 minutes away. So I decided to check that off my list. A few twisty side streets and then – guess what – a lot of steps!! Like maybe 200.
But I’d already trained for this in Monterosso so I was set. I walked up to the top, and then you make a sharp turn and you’re on this beautiful overlook from where you can see all of Florence and beyond. It was busy up there (but probably not as crowded as it would be later in the day). Lots of people taking photos, and lots of souvenir vendors. I walked around and took it all in and took a few photos.
I was sitting at the top of a large set of steps and there was this guy sitting there too. He asked if I would take a picture of him, so I did. It wasn’t what he wanted, so I took it again. He introduced himself and told me he was from Morocco. His English was terrible. He asked if I wanted to get some wine or beer and I said no thank you. So then he asked if I would take another photo from one of the different parts of the piazza and I said sure. We started walking and he tried to take my hand but I pulled back and shook my head. So we walked over to his ideal photo spot. I snapped the pic. He asked me if I wanted him to take one of me. I said no and hightailed it out of there.
Back down all the steps and into the city. I spent a good part of the rest of the day exploring and going on a street art scavenger hunt. There is a local artist who has modified several of the “do not enter” signs so I started trying to find them. I also found some posters of random people and animals wearing snorkeling masks. Also the door knockers here are pretty fantastic. So I’ve started my own gallery of all of these which I will post somewhere.
Everywhere you look in Florence there’s an opportunity to gawk at the architecture, the history, the beauty of the buildings. Even the regular shops and restaurants and apartments look beautiful.
I walked around one of the main areas of the city and came across a ragtime band performing in front of a carousel. I stopped for gelato at one of the places I had been seeking out and then wandered a bit more before stopping for lunch at Coquinarius, a restaurant that was on my list of places to try. It was fantastic – I had a sausage and cheese crostini and a burrata ravioli with pistachio and a roasted onion sauce. And also wine, because 1) It’s Italy and 2) I can.
Then in the afternoon I visited the Uffizi Gallery which is one of the most visited museums in the entire world! It’s filled with artwork from the Renaissance era, lots of complex paintings and marble sculptures. There was artwork from all the masters – it’s pretty amazing to me that some of the pieces date back to the 1400s and are still so well preserved. I also found it interesting how many Roman gods and goddesses were featured in the works of art.
After that, some more exploring. I found a place called the Innocenti Museum which used to be an orphanage. You can still see the window where people who could not afford to keep their babies would pass them inside for adoption. As the story goes, you would also break a coin in half and give half to the orphanage. Later when you had enough money to claim your child you would take your half of the coin with you to make a match, ensuring you were getting the right child. I just can’t imagine what that would have been like.
In the evening I met up with my 3 Australian friends (who I had met in Riomaggiore) for dinner. We sat outside at a trattoria and had pasta and wine and great conversation. It was a long but wonderful day!