Although Florence’s smell of leather and mounds of gelato give a good first impression, the entrance fees to the tourist attractions make you think twice. Churches cost anywhere from 2.50 – 10 euros and the museums and palaces are upwards of 8. Making the situation worst, the student discount is only offered to citizens of the EU. Despite the high costs, we were still able to see lots of Florence.
Our first night we found an apertivo (the Italian version of Old Country Buffet) and had a very satisfying dinner. There were three different kinds of pasta, potato salad, fried zucchini (my favorite), tomato and mozzarella salad, and many other delicious things. After stuffing ourselves, we decided to walk-off our meal by exploring the city. We discovered the Duomo, with its lovely pink and green marble façade, Ghiberti’s baptistery doors, and Ryan, our Canadian friend we met in Sevilla!
It was quite bizarre, we were walking down the street, spotted Ryan, and had lunch with him the next day. It was really funny seeing him again, we didn’t even know he was going to Florence.
After talking with Ryan we went in search of gelato (even though we were still full from dinner) but couldn’t find any; it was about 10pm so I think a lot of gelaterias we already closed. We settled for ice cream at McDonald’s, and then went to bed.
On a side note, we were quite scared to go to bed the first night. Arriving at our hostel was quite sketchy. The workers, Mario and Antonio, started talking to us really fast and said they were moving us to a different location. They loaded our stuff in a car, and drove us across town to an apartment next to the Accademia gallery. It was a good location, the room was huge, we had a full kitchen; it was too good to be true. It seemed weird to us that they didn’t make us pay extra (in fact they gave us a discount because we didn’t have the internet), we didn’t have to pay them upfront (as you do in most hostels), and they didn’t take our passport information. It was also weird because the apartment was pretty bare, there weren’t pictures on the walls and the shelves were empty. We kind of thought they were in the mob, and were going to take us in the middle of the night. Luckily it all turned out all right, we weren’t kidnapped.
Anyway, on our first day in Florence we decided to check out the inside of the Duomo. First we headed for the dome, designed by Bruneschelli, because there was no wait. Well, after paying a total of 16 euros, we found out why there wasn’t a line. After climbing up 463 stairs, there’s a balcony about 2 feet wide (literally, I’m not exaggerating), with a clear Plexiglas side. It provides a good view of the paintings on the dome, but also a good view of the cathedral hundreds of feet below. After climbing to the first terrace, you must continue to the next level, in order to exit. I was petrified (and so was Josh.) It was not a good experience.
Back on sturdy ground we entered the cathedral, which was very pretty. The trip to the top of the dome was a definite rip-off, because you can see it from below. If I wanted to see it up close, I would have brought binoculars.
After the cathedral, we had lunch with Ryan, the Canadian, at a hole-in-the-wall panini shop. The sandwiches were delicious, and for only 2.50 each they were quite a steal. We ate some gelato for dessert, I had orange cream, and then went shopping at the flea market. I bought a cashmere scarf for only 5 euros, and later a leather wallet for 10.
Next we went to the Accademia gallery (which costs a whopping 14 euros a person), and saw Michelangelo’s David. It was stunning. The sculpture is humongous, and very accurate. It was definitely worth visiting.
On a side note, the museum workers in Italy, have been very rude. They don’t like to give directions, they snap at you for entering the wrong side of a gallery, they’re totally unpleasant. Oh well.
The next day we visited Basilica San Lorenzo, designed by Brunelleschi. Inside we found a really cool mural of the constellations. The church was very Renaissance with lots of columns and arches; it had a very simple design.
Afterwards we were planning to visit the Medici chapels, but the entrance fee was 9 euros, so we decided to skip it.
After pizza for lunch, we went on a Tuscan wine tour. It was really cool! We visited a castle, once owned by the Medici family, where wine is now produced. It’s a family owned company, and the family lives in the castle. The wine is made beneath their living space. We visited the cellars and saw the wine barrels. The family also makes olive oil, so we learned a little about that too. Following the castle tour, we got to taste three different kinds of wine, two Chiantis and a white wine. They were all fabulous. Not only was the wine good, but Tuscany was beautiful too. I’m really glad we were able to see the Italian country-side.
Our final day in Florence we did a lot of walking. Due to rain and odd opening times we walked back and forth through the city. We planned to visit the Biboli gardens behind the Medici palace, but when we arrived we found the entrance fee was 10 euros a person. It wasn’t worth the cost, so we took shelter from the rain in Branacci Chapel, they were finishing mass when we snuck in the back. Nobody seemed to notice us, and we were able to see the church without paying. It was a good deal.
After we had another pizza and gelato lunch, we visited the Uffizi gallery. We saw a lot of really cool paintings, my favorite was the Allegory of Spring, by Botechelli. We also saw art by Giotto, Raphael, DaVinchi, and Titan. I liked the museum because it was small enough to visit every room.
Next we went to Santa Maria Novella Church, where we saw Mossachio’s painting, The Trinity. All the artwork wore us out, so after buying a few more things at the leather market, we walked home and went to bed.
Now we’re on the train to Rome!