When: June 2015
Hotel: Affittacamere Alba
Why Florence: One European city that I did not want to miss visiting before we left Europe was Florence, so it was an easy choice picking it when putting together an itinerary. After two days in the Tuscan countryside, we begrudgingly said goodbye to our awesome farmhouse and made our way into the busy city.
The Trip: Let me tell you – the one place I wasn’t looking forward to driving around was Florence. I’ve been to Rome twice and that place has CRAZY drivers, and even outside the big cities, Italian drivers may be the worst in the entire world. Turns out – I was not wrong about Florence. I can’t quite describe the hair-raising experience it was driving to our hotel in the city. Which brought us to another adventure – the hotel we stayed in was not marked…at all. So we went driving around, in ridiculous traffic, trying to find out hotel. Finally, looking at the fine print on our reservation, it said we had to check in across the street at a better-marked place. I jumped out, leaving Karyn on the side of the busy street with safeties blinking, to run in to get us checked in. And when I came out…the car was gone! (Turns out, it was just blocked by a big truck and Karyn had to move the car up).
Needless to say, by the time we dropped out bags, we were ready to be out of the car and start exploring the city! Our hotel was in a great location, one block down from the famed San Lorenzo market…leather everywhere! It’s important to know going in that the prices are VERY negotiable – so never, never pay the ticket price. (More often then not, they will automatically drop the price. Keep talking them down, though, because they will go lower.) They can get a bit aggressive though, which is why I walked away from one guy – I don’t want to feel pressured when I’m about to buy something.
Right in the center of the market is Mercato Centrale – a great place to grab a quick lunch while wandering around the many food booths. It can be a bit overwhelming – we finally found a sandwich place (that was delicious!) but didn’t realize there was actually a second floor with more restaurant options.
We continued our wandering and made our way to the famed Florence Duomo. It is a beautiful, impressive building and I just loved it! We had plans to climb the Duomo the next morning (before the heat really set in!) so we just did a drive-by the first day.
The flow of the city automatically takes you from the Duomo to Piazza Vecchio, where you find Palazzo Vecchio with the replica of David out front. There are also various statues and a pretty fountain that is best scene at night.
We wandered through the Piazza, opting to avoid the crowds in line for Palazzo Vecchio, and headed for the Basilica di Santa Croce. It is a pretty church, that is also the burial ground for Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli.
We continued to wander by Ponte Vecchio, the famed bridge full of jewelry stores that I couldn’t afford, and went to the hotel to relax before heading to dinner and the awesome sunset views! The hike up the hill to get to Piazzale Michelangelo was steep, but so, so worth it! We walked but I believe there are buses that could take you there as well. We were able to snag a good spot for pictures – and we were lucky because the place was packed! Lots of people waiting for the sunset. Better prepared, I would have brought along a bottle of wine as well!
We made our way back to the hotel, snagging a few night photos. Florence is definitely a picturesque city!
The next day, our itinerary included a climb up the Duomo and a visit to the Accademia to see the real David. Depending on your time and interests, you could also add in the Uffizi Gallery, home to some of the best Renaissance painting. But the entry fees aren’t cheap, and neither Karyn nor I had much interest in going to the Uffizi when we were only mildly interested, so we picked the Accademia. For the Duomo, you can’t buy your tickets in advance, so in order to not climb during the hottest part of the day and to avoid the crowds, we planned to get to the Duomo early. But first up – a run through the quiet streets!
Our plan for the Duomo climb worked perfectly, and by the time we bought our tickets (the ticket office is inconveniently located on the complete other side than the entrance to the climb) and made our way back to the entrance, the wait time was still minimal.
Oddly, after you climb down the Dome, you have to go back outside and get in line to enter the Duomo (which is free!) So, we exited and got back in line to go inside – again, we got lucky and the wait was only about 20 minutes. Even better, the dome provided shade, so we weren’t waiting in the sun!
We were able to buy tickets to the Accademia in advance, which was key because by the time we got there, lines were long and the sun was beating down! We had a short wait and walked in – much better!
In our usual tradition, we spend the last night enjoying a bottle of wine at a cafe right in front of the Duomo. It was the perfect way to end our time in Florence!
Final Impressions: Florence was beautiful. The food was amazing (a tip, Karyn and I picked a gelato place with a chocolate wall on Via del Corso…it was delicious! I forget the name, but just look for the giant curtain of chocolate and you will find it easily!), the streets were easy to wander and the sites were fantastic. I would say, with our itinerary, 2.5 days was more than enough time to see everything because Florence is so compact and walkable. We were able to relax a bit and even got a nap or two in without feeling rushed, which was nice! Stay tuned for Part 4 – Venice!