Our Great Italian Adventure: Part 2: Friends in Florence

PREVIOUSLY Our Great Italian Adventure: The train was old, and they turned the heat off half way through, and we got off one stop too early ( we just got on the next train), but we made it to Florence in one piece. (Part 1)

Pictures for Florence

We arrived hungry, and when to a restaurant across the street from the hostel, which was pretty good. This time, we actually did have a private room, which we were thankful for. ( A note on our hostel in Florence: We stayed at Leonardo House, which is not named for DaVinci, but for the owner and seemingly sole operator, Leonardo. He was so sweet and accommodating, and the hostel was probably the cleanest and most comfortable one we’ve stayed in during our semester of travel. And it was only 57€ a person for three nights! Highly recommend.) So we were in Florence! And now I didn’t have to worry about plans because Shannon was in charge of this leg of the trip. Tuesday morning we went to a cafe where you could get an espresso, a croissant, and fresh squeezed orange juice for 4€. We got blueberry jam filled croissant, and it was basically a jelly filled donut. It was sinful, but delicious. The orange juice was amazing too. They’re big into fresh squeezed OJ in Europe (or at least in Spain, France, and Italy) and I am all about it. Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the espresso in Italy is heavenly. I know they’re famous for it, and rightly so. It is amazing. Spanish espresso is much better than what I’ve had in the US, and Italian espresso is much better than Spain’s. It is extremely smooth, with no hint of acidity or bitterness. Just dark, dark, caffeinated yumminess. And it’s usually only 1€. I don’t know how I’m going to survive in The States without it. Anyhow, enough about breakfast. Our first stop of the day was the Gallerie dell’Accademia. It is a relatively small museum, but it has one very important piece: The David. He is a sight to behold. We’d already seen the Sistine Chapel and the Pieta, so it  was amazing to see this third masterpiece of Michelangelo. I learned about him in elementary school, and again in my AP European history class but I would really like to know more about him. If anyone has an interesting biography to recommend, let me know. Again, the David is one of the most famous pieces of western art, so to see it in person is impressive. The detail, the movement, the expression, and the sheer size of the sculpture are all breathtaking. Catey fell in love with him and was very sad to have to leave him behind. We eventually convinced her to leave, and we went to get some lunch. We picked up some sandwiches to go. As has been the trend in Italy, the workers were very accommodating and made sure we got exactly what we wanted. The sandwiches were delicious- and they cost less than 5€. They even had a little dish for us to pick buttons out of for good luck (which, after our train “ordeal,” we needed!). That was the trend of food in Florence. Friendly staff, affordable, and delicious. We ate our sandwiches in the Piazza della Signoria, since we were blessed with another beautifully sunny day. We were soon surrounded by pigeons and finches, but we didn’t mind them too much. We followed lunch up with gelato, naturally. I thought I would be really missing out because of my dairy intolerance, but most fruit gelati have no dairy in them at all. Lots of  places also have a dark chocolate one that is dairy free too. This place had a dark chocolate with orange gelato that is probably my favorite thing ever. We even came back the next day to get more. The “very small” size is only 2€ and is still more than enough frozen dessert to satisfy you. (Especially if gelato is sometimes a twice a day occurrence.) After our delicious food, we headed to the Pitti Palace, where the Medicis lived. On our way, we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and I really thought  we had fallen into a painting. The river and the buildings and the trees and every looked too perfect to be real. When we got to the palace, it was bigger than Shannon remembered it being, and we wandered around for almost two hours without seeing everything. It had the royal apartments, but it was mostly an art museum. I cant imagine living in that kind of opulence. It seems like it would be overwhelming! I learned all about the Renaissance for the first time in fourth and fifth grade, and reading about the Medicis brought me right back to that. It was very cool to spend a few days in a city that was so important in that pivotal period. Travel tip: If you are in Florence, and don’t have time to see the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Uffizi, and the Pitti Palace, this is the one I would recommend skipping. It was cool, but I would definitely prioritize the other two. Shannon had planned for us to go to the Bobobli gardens after the museum before going up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to see the sunset. We hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time though, and Catey and I were pretty beat. We hadn’t done that much that day, but we had walked about 10 miles the day before, and it was catching up with us. So we decided to sit down with some coffee before heading to the Piazzale Michelangelo. This place is up on a hill, so you have to climb a lot of steep stairs to get up to it. We were sucking wind and starting to question Shannon’s judgement until we reached the top. The sun, already low in the sky at 3:30, was shining golden light over the whole city of Florence. There were low clouds in the distance, giving the city a fuzzy quality and really making it feel like a painting.

sunset in florence 11There was a man playing guitar and singing songs that everyone likes, like “Hallelujah” and “Imagine.” Couples, young and old, families, and groups of friends, were all sitting on these steps, enjoying the view. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and dream-like. (You can see a video I took here.) I’m glad we took pictures, because otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve believed it was real.  Shannon really took the cake with her planning on this one. Down the stairs, we could see people looking over another ledge, so we went down to see what the view was like from there. It turns out what the people down there were looking at was a professional model shoot! There was girl in a beautiful black dress doing a photo shoot. They had a multiple cameras, trucks, wind machines, and a man whose whole job seemed to be hair-spraying the model. The poor girl looked like she was afraid she was going to topple off of the ledge they had her on, but she was being a real trooper about it.  Her dress was beautiful and I said, “Wow, that dress is gorgeous, but that kind of cut only looks that good on girls as thin as her. I could lose all of the fat in my body and my hips and ribs would still be wider than hers!” I wasn’t even trying to be self-deprecating. I was just observing how slight that girl was and how that dress looked good on her body type. (If you know me, you know I have no problem with my body type at all.) Shannon and Catey were agreeing with me, when this American man standing in front of us turned around suddenly and said, “You could pull it off, girl. You could pull it off.” before walking away. It was so sweet and funny,  and we couldn’t stop laughing about it. The sun was setting for real now, and the sky was being reflected beautifully in the river. We took some more pictures, but then decided to go before it got too cold.

It was too early for dinner, so we decided to wander for a bit. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a Christmas market. There were tons of stalls selling food, candy, spices, ornaments, soaps, things made out of wool, pretty much everything you could want. I bought some candied orange peels, and Catey bought this cinnamon roll thing that was seriously delicious. We browsed the stalls until it was an acceptable time to eat dinner, and then headed to a place Shannon’s dad had recommended to us for dinner. It was a really cute and affordable place, and the food was very yummy. After dinner, we met a friend of Shannon’s for some more gelato. (We ate a lot of gelato on this trip.)

The next day, Shannon had big plans for us, starting with Il Duomo. Unfortunately, even though we had “skip the line” tickets, we still waited about 30 minutes to have our tickets scanned, at which point they told us we needed a reservation to go up the dome. It turns out we did have a reservation, but we just needed to click on a different link in the confirmation email. There were lots of other tourists confused about this, too. Considering this must happen every day, you would think that the staff would be pros at dispelling this confusion and rectifying the situation. This was not the case, but we eventually got everything situated and made in the door, if an hour later than we expected. The ascent up to the Dome was more brutal than I expected it to be. I’ve climbed several lighthouses, and I expected it to be like that. But the 400+ steps of Il Duomo were more taxing than any of the other towers I’ve climbed. Also, at some points it gets very narrow and steep. I would not recommend it if you don’t like enclosed spaces. But wow-was the view worth it. You can see all of Florence and it is breathtaking (not just because of the stairs). Also, you get to see the inside of the painted dome of the church, which is impressive. Unfortunately the interior walk way is surrounded by a  very high clear plastic wall, making it difficult to take pictures. But the pictures you can take from the outside are great! After we descended from the Dome, we poked our the museum of Il Duomo that was included in our ticket before meeting up with Shannon’s friend again for lunch. We went to a place called Panini Toscani that is right next to Il Duomo, and I had what is in the running for the best sandwich of my life. The man who I think runs the place clearly loves his job. He was downright jolly. He lets you (makes you) sample their three cheese and three meat options before choosing what you want on your sandwich. All of their products are fresh and authentically Tuscan. And all of their cheeses were sheep cheeses so I could sample all of them!  I settled on a smooth, creamy sheep cheese, with a fennel salami on a seeded wheat bread, with arugula, sun dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers as my toppings. And then they heated it up. Yum! And only 6€! My grandpa told me the best food he had in Italy was in Florence, and I would have to agree. We, of course, followed this up with gelato. With happy tummies, we conquered our next museum: the Uffizi. This is where the Venus is housed, along with other gorgeous Botacelli pieces. His works were my favorite of those we saw in the museum, but there was so much to see there. The building itself is also impressive.

After the museum, which took a while because it is huge, we headed to the laundromat.  Packing for 10 days in a carry-on necessitates a load of laundry, especially when you have cold weather clothes with you. We managed to clean all our clothes without shrinking anything or flooding the laundromat, so we were feeling pretty successful. We decided to celebrate with something we were all craving: Chinese food. I know it sounds funny, but we have been ~deprived~ of our Asian favorites in Oviedo. Asturias has Asturian food and essentially nothing else. (I was trying to explain to my host mom how good Asian food is, and she said that there’s a Japanese restaurant or two in Oviedo, but they don’t go there because it’s too modern for their taste. She said, “ We have Asturian food, which is delicious and has variety. So why would we need anything else?” From what I can gather, this is the general sentiment in Asturias.) So, for three American girls who normally eat foods from all different kinds of cultures, the opportunity to have Chinese food was irresistible. Also, one can only eat so much pizza in a week. The place we found was amazing. We had spring rolls and Oolong tea, two of my favorite things ever. And then I had curry rice with spicy Thai style chicken. For desert, I had this gummy rice ball, rolled in toasted coconut and filled with black sesame paste. It wasn’t what I thought it was when I was ordering it, but it was really good! So while it is a little funny to say we had Chinese food in Italy, we had no regrets because it was delectable.

The next morning we were heading to Venice! We took a fairly early train because we were only going to have one full day in Venice. We went back for more blueberry filled croissants and then headed to the train station early, because we were not going to have a repeat of the Rome to Florence train situation.