When we booked the tickets to Italy, the goal was to utilise the four days at our disposal to the maximum.
Thus, after the planned one and a half days in Rome — you can read more about that here — Florence was to be the next destination. The mini-vacation would conclude with the final leg to Pisa, in the afternoon of the fourth day.
I wouldn’t say we rushed to the Termini station in Rome, as it was relatively close to the hotel. We actually took our time. But once we got there and started searching for the train to Florence, it turned out it was to be found at the farthest platform from the entrance. Of course, we had no idea about that when we started looking for platform 1a.
Wouldn’t have believed a train station could be so long! I actually checked earlier on Google Maps to see how far we had to walk: about 600 meters. I bet that does not seem like much when you are not rushing to catch a train with only a few minutes to spare. Luckily, every 50 meters there were signs reminding you that you’re heading in the right direction; we made it just in time if a little winded.
To say the train ride to Florence was long would be a bit of an understatement. During the 3.5 hours, Hazel checked her Facebook, read the news and napped while I tried and mostly failed to finish editing the gelato post. I think I was about 85% done when the internet completely dropped in a tunnel and my progress was reset back to 40% due to the connection issues. I felt I was going slightly mad and even started laughing maniacally at my moderately alarmed girlfriend.
Luckily for my wallet, we got to Florence just as I was contemplating murdering my laptop in cold blood. The completion of the article was left for later.
As it’s always “desirable” when you really have to get to the loo, the Airbnb host was impossible to reach. Agonising minutes ensued before a proper connection was established and the front door of the building opened. Quick baggage drop and out the door again. No time to waste. Florence beckons!
Passing again by the train station, we made our way into town. Hazel has been here before so she took the lead, heading towards the Mercato di San Lorenzo. This imposing market was raised back in the day when Florence was the capital of Italy in the late nineteenth century. Before getting to the Mercato you will have to meander through throngs of pedestrians gawking at the many stalls lining the streets.
Many of the stalls and shops you will see around the area of Mercato sell local leather articles. Purses, coats, belts, wallets, you name it, they had it. The market is a different affair: each of its two floors has a different destination. The ground floor deals with fresh produce mostly, although there are plenty of places where you can take a snack or even a proper meal.
The second floor, which you can see in the image below, deals only with freshly prepared food. You will find here a vast assortment of foods so I recommend doing a tour first to see what’s on offer and what prices you find to your liking.
After taking lunch at a disappointing restaurant next to the market that only proved the Google reviews can’t be trusted 100%, we headed towards the famous landmarks.
Seeing the Florence Cathedral for the first time in real life is a unique experience, even if you have glimpsed it in pictures before.
Given the surrounding Piazza del Duomo is not very large, you don’t really get to see the Cathedral from a distance. When you finally reach the Piazza, the Duomo seems to suddenly appear in front of you, especially if you are coming from its front side. Its intricate facade in white, green and pink marble makes for a very commanding presence.
The queue for the Cathedral seemed quite long and at any rate, it was getting quite late, so we left visiting it for the next day. The oldest Piazza of the city, Piazza della Signoria wasn’t far away. The Palazzo Vecchio is the current Town Hall of Florence, but it was originally called Palazzo della Signoria after the Signoria of Florence.
I find it quite fascinating how this Signoria was functioning. Its members were chosen every two months, from guild members over 30 years of age. To be considered eligible for office, these had to have no debts, no recent stint in the Signoria and no family connection to the men already drawn.
The Uffizi galleries are a stone throw away from the Old Palace, Palazzo Vecchio. Being one of the most famous and largest museums in the world, I was quite sorry not having time to pay them a visit. Then again, I need something to do the next time I visit, don’t I?
For the ones that don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Uffizi, an impromptu art show is put on by the local art sellers just outside the Galleries. Some of the pieces for sale were quite interesting and you can probably conduct a bit of haggling if that’s your thing.
As you exit the Piazzale degli Uffizi, pictured above, you are an arrow flight away from the Ponte Vecchio. If you are wondering what’s with these archaic units of measurement, I’d blame it on Florence. Funnily enough, the first time I lay my eyes upon its medieval majesty was in a game.
The “Old Bridge” Ponte Vecchio is, who would have guessed, quite old. 674 years old to be precise, which to me is quite impressive. Two previous bridges were built on this location, both swept by floods.
If in the past this bridge’s shops used to be occupied by butchers, nowadays mostly jewellers ply their trade here. As this is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city, besides the Cathedral, the crowds are a constant. Like perfect tourists, we took a stroll along the bridge, taking in the sights.
Random fact: allegedly this bridge was the only spared during the German retreat in WW2, at the express order of the Fuhrer.
Just enough clouds in the sky to make for great photo subjects, rather than providing any cover from the sun. Not that I complain, after the London weather. A nice tan can’t hurt, even if it’s mostly a farmer’s tan.
At every step, a selfie stick is menacingly thrust towards you. You have to learn fast how to dodge them.
I have to admit, after the gelato tour in Rome, I was quite picky. As such, our next stop at the Gelateria La Carraia, which comes very highly recommended on Google Maps, failed to impress me. It wasn’t too bad though, as the Brits would say. Furthermore, the cold treat was more than welcome, given the hot day. I’ll count that as a win.
Looking at that picture of gelato, I want to pack my bags and go to Italy, like now!
This print shop encountered on the way to Palazzo Pitti caught our eyes. The maps, scrolls, anatomy sheets and many more were anything but boring. They were printed right here in the shop, using the most analogue technology possible.
The Palazzo is so big it didn’t fit a normal picture, and that’s considering a phone camera lens has a really wide opening. It was originally the “modest” town residence of an ambition banker by the name of Luca Pitti. I’d say, his name can pass as a Romanian one any day.
Today the over 500 years old palace hosts the largest museum in Florence. The famous Medici family unintentionally helped make that happen. Over centuries of hoarding they gradually built the place to be a veritable treasure house, filled with paintings, jewellery, ceramics and other luxurious objects. Another museum we didn’t have the time to visit, another reason to come back to Florence.
The point we were actually trying to reach was the summit of the San Miniato, the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers commanding views of the city. Given we took the road that doesn’t run by the river, serious climbing ensued.
On Via di Belvedere, brave stretches of wall from the medieval period were still at their post, guarding the city.
Luckily for us, as in Rome, you could find the occasional water fountain. You only have to remember to keep your empty water bottle instead of chucking it in the first trash bin. Unless you are in the habit of carrying 2-3 full water bottles wherever you go, you’ll find that is useful advice, given you won’t find shops at every step.
I won’t bore you with more pictures from the Giardino delle Rose (although I probably should…or I will let you discover that one for yourself) and I’ll jump straight to the view from the top of the hill, from Piazzale Michelangelo. I know, it’s quite a stunning view, and absolutely worth the trek.
When we descended, the sun was setting. The river was glimmering with the last rays, while a gentle warm light was bathing the Old Bridge. Sadly I was too lazy to carry the camera which means I failed to take some proper shots of this great scene.
We went looking for a recommended restaurant which proved to be too crowded for my liking. But that trip was anything but lost as we found by accident one of the best gelato places in Florence. Gelateria de Medici, in Piazza Cesare Beccaria was so fascinating that in my excitement I failed to take usable pictures. Amazing looking cakes and not any less amazing tasting gelato proved too much for my senses. Not to mention, no tourists! Which meant the place was packed only with discerning locals. Yes! This is what I am looking for.
To top it all off, not far from the Piazza Cesare Beccaria we found a great local pizzeria. I say local because it was obvious there was no tourist in the area. Besides us two lost sheep, of course.
If you made it as far as the Gelateria de Medici, then make sure to stop at Pizzeria La Luna on via Vicenzo Gioberti as well. It’s a mere 4-minute walk away.
Mostly by rolling after the plentiful dinner, we made the long long way back to the hotel.