Ahh, Florence…..the capital region of Tuscany, the home of the famous Statue of David, the Medici Family, and the famous Duomo. This beautiful, historical city in Italy is just shy of an hour and a half train ride from our home base, Rome. Florence was a must see.
We began our planning with train tickets. As we have mentioned before, the railway system in Europe is top notch and incredibly easy to use. This was an easy direct ride from Roma Termini to Santa Maria Novella, with trains leaving every 20 minutes. Obviously, we wanted to pack as much into this day as possible, so we chose the 6:30am train to arrive just before 8:00am. This sounds brilliant. We patted ourselves on the back and thought, ‘Wow, we are going to see everything we want to see and we are so smart!’
Next purchase was the Firenze Card. We highly recommend this pass if you want to skip the lines. It is a bit pricey, but you have free admission to several sites, and you jump to the front of the line. Look at http://www.firenceturismo.it to see if this will work for you. While we would have saved money just paying admission to the places we wanted to visit, we wanted to avoid waiting, so it was worth the extra cost to us. Being the planners that we are, we purchased our cards in advance and just needed to pick them up. Now readers, remember the early train and picking up of our cards. We will revisit our brilliance soon.
Florence is a vast city overflowing with art, history and culture. It is truly beautiful and captures the essence of Tuscany. With that said, it can be overwhelming to pick and choose what you will see and what can wait until your next trip. We struggled with adding and removing venues from our list. We took some advice from travel guides and made decisions based on knowing ourselves and what makes our hearts beat a little faster.
Our day was fully mapped out and we were ecstatic! The day has arrived, and we are off to Florence. Due to the early time of our train, we opted for a taxi to the train station (only get in the white ones.). To say the swindlers saw us coming a mile away in that train station is an understatement.
We walk in squinting our eyes, looking around at the different boards with confusion apparent on our faces. A man walks up to us offering to help read the board and let us know which area to enter for our train. Being in a casual uniform, we assumed he worked for the train station. It was not until he asked for money for his generous help that we knew. Lesson learned- the train stations do not have employees walking around offering help to lost travelers. Also, he left empty-handed.
He did give us accurate directions, though, and we were safely on the train and headed to Florence. We took the time to admire the Italian life passing our windows. We got lost in the terrain and dreamed about next time renting a car and doing our own exploring. Quickly we are at the Firenze station and heading to pick up our Firenze card……
As soon as you exit the station you head left and are walking to the center of town and the famous Duomo. We walked down the streets like we had been there a hundred times and our confidence in ourselves was beaming outwardly to anyone that walked by. A local may have even asked us for help. We’ve got this.
Arriving at the Tourist Information point we are a little surprised to see the lights off. Huh, that is odd. We look at each other questioning why they would not be open. Peaking down at their hours of operation we see they do not open until 9:00am. How convenient we are here at 8:00am. We have an hour to kill and most of the city is still sleeping.
We believe one of the most important aspects of traveling anywhere is the ability to ‘roll with it.’ You may have the best laid out plan with every T crossed and every I dotted and things can still go awry. How you handle those bumps will have a huge impact on your trip.
Did we mention it was raining? No? Well, it was. A steady drizzle was coming down on us while we stared at each other thinking what do we do now? We both began to laugh and looked around to find some cafe or bakery that was open.
Directly next door was a diner and we quickly ran in to escape the wet and our minor delay. This was not just any diner. It was a 1950’s Americana diner with an owner that spoke approximately three English words. It was awesome. We ordered cappuccinos and croissants, sat and looked at the pictures of Elvis and James Dean while Rock Around the Clock boomed from the speakers. We laughed and enjoyed the moment of being in Florence surrounded by home.
With our Firenze cards finally in hand we were off to see that famous David fella and see what all of the hype is about. While on our way, we stopped to admire the outside of the Duomo. This building, for some unknown reason that we cannot understand, was pulled from our must-see list. Do us a favor and google Florence. See the domed building with incredible architecture that pops up in every single image? That is the Duomo and we decided, nah, we don’t need to go in. Face palm. Next time Florence, next time.
We arrive to the Accademia Gallery an hour after opening and the line is wrapped around the building. After flashing our fancy passes we skip to the front and enter. We saved ourselves at least a two-hour wait by having the Firenze Card.
The bread and butter of this gallery is David, but on your walk towards the grand finale you can marvel at the marble statues lining the path. Some of these works are unfinished pieces by Michelangelo, and some are pieces by other artists of his time.
Approaching the end, you can see the top of the statue, since it is 17 feet tall. No picture can capture this masterpiece and certainly our words cannot express the grandness and perfect creation that is David. Just go and see for yourself. Thank us later and do not let it be a face palm moment for you.
As you may have caught on, we are history lovers. The Medici family is as close to a royal family as you can get for Italy. Their family produced four Popes and married into royal families across Europe. Naturally, the Medici Chapels remained on our list. This was the family’s personal church and is now a mausoleum which houses most of their family.
With their immense wealth, you can just imagine the art within these walls. The tombs were even designed and carved by Michelangelo. The original floor is still intact, and you can look upon it while you walk along the clearly marked “Walk only here” carpet or be like Craig, walk on the floor and get scolded like a schoolboy. Did we mention yet that Jen did a lot of head shaking? In Craig’s defense, he can now proclaim that he has walked on the same centuries-old stone floor as the Medicis. Jen, the rule follower, can’t say that. Craig is way cooler.
The Uffizi Gallery has the greatest collection of Italian paintings featuring Giotto, Leonardo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian and Michelangelo. The Firenze Card takes care of the admission and waiting. You do not have to be an art lover to appreciate the raw talent you are surrounded by. It is an opportunity to step back in time and absorb the pure devotion poured into every piece. Take it in; it is an incredible experience.
Our last major stop for the day was a personal decision. The Boboli Gardens sit behind the Pitti Palace and were at one time for the Medici family personal use (see a trend here….Jen was clearly a member of the Medici household in her previous life.) One travel guide said this was skippable and your time could be put to better use. This was a time that we knew what we loved and wanted to see for ourselves. Best decision ever.
This is not just gardens, but an outdoor land of winding paths with hundreds of varieties of trees and bushes delicately embracing you. Fountains, ancient sculptures and countless stairs lead you further in and up the hill to give you the best view of Florence you can get. We are not city dwellers, so it gave us an opportunity to escape the noise and commotion for a few hours and see a different side of Italy. It was the highlight of our Florence trip and is a place that we will visit again when we return.
Now, on to some general sight-seeing and window shopping on Ponte Vecchio. The aptly named Ponte Vecchio, which means ‘old bridge’ in Italian, was originally built in Roman times. Then, both sides of the bridge were lined with merchants; tanners, butchers, farmers, all selling their wares and tossing the waste in the river below. In 1595 the rules were changed and only goldsmiths and jewelers were allowed because the Medici’s were sick of the smelly meat market. This rule is still in effect today. The bridge is something out of a fairy tale with the arch style and cobblestone beneath. Craig thinks next time he is there that he is getting a watch from the Rolex store….isn’t he hilarious!
After making our dream selections we were in need of refreshment. We can tell you Florence is different from Rome as far as language barriers. Most waiters had a wide English vocabulary in Rome, while Florence was more like playing charades in order to communicate. We spotted a woman near a wooden door inviting patrons to dine in the hidden patio covered in vines.
She waved us in, and we were trying to ask if she had our favorite wine, Moscato. Jen probably said Moscato fifteen times thinking eventually it would dawn on her what we were asking for. Ok, let’s try the word sweet. Sure, that should work. And while we are at it, we can wrap up some hand motions meaning sweet and she will surely understand. The woman’s face lights up, her finger goes in the air, she smiles widely and says words, words, words in Italian. We nod because obviously we speak fluent Italian and she is about to bring us our wine.
She returns with two small glasses with a murky, pink/orange liquid. Pushing the concoction towards us, she says, “You try, you try.” Right, ok. We warily lift the glasses, clink, and drink. The burning was instant. It was not a slow, smooth burn to warm your belly, but more of a fire shot through your skull. The fuel could be felt the entire length of its decent. Jen managed to squeeze out, “Not it, not it.” We smiled politely, offered her money and hightailed it out of there. Maybe next time we go to Italy we will know how to say more than just ‘ciao’ and ‘grazie.’
We came upon Piazza della Republica and sat at an eatery with an Italian/English menu. There are many guides that will scoff at a touristy restaurant that offers menus in different languages, but after our experimental drink, we will take the safe bet. Our waiter knew how to say hello and thank you, and that was the extent of it. Luckily, we could just point at our choices and nod our heads yes to whatever he was asking. We had an amazing appetizer of various meats and cheeses, pared with a fruit spread that we have tried to recreate since coming home. This was the best appetizer that we had on our entire Italy trip. We people-watched and enjoyed our Moscato in the city of Florence.
With full bellies we had some time to kill before catching our return train. If you love to shop, then Florence is the place to be. Florence is especially known for its leather production and this is the place where all Italian leather is made. In other words, buy it here. Craig passed by a gorgeous brown leather messenger bag five times and refused to purchase it despite Jen’s consistent encouragement. This just meant that days later he bought the same exact bag in Rome at a much higher price. Much higher. You can hear the story and see the bag here.
We have toured, we have eaten, we have shopped, we have had a witch’s brew and we are now exhausted. We are still an hour and a half away from departure time. For some reason we decided to book the 6:20pm train to return. Craig wanted an earlier time and Jen wanted later so that we could take our time and see everything. Naturally, Jen won the contest and was now eating her words.
Big advice here- do not make your day too long. We went back to the train station to sit on the curb along with many other travelers that made the same epic mistake. As always, we do not miss an opportunity. We soaked up the sun, took in our surroundings and talked about the outside of the grand Duomo.
Is Florence on your bucket list? How about the Duomo? What facepalm lessons have you learned on your travels? Tell us in the comment section below.
Thank you for reading, and #NeverStopPlanning!
Jen & Craig