Picturesque , beautiful, warm, delightful. All words that float off the tongue when describing Florence. It was one of the major reasons for me choosing to travel to Italy and I was not disappointed. From the historic buildings, the friendly atmosphere, and the ease of getting around, all made sure that Florence is a place that I will definitely visit again.
First things first. Florence is a city which caters to tourists. There are restaurants and shops in practically every building in the centre of Florence, which is great as the food is fantastic – but we will get to that later. Nearly everyone I met spoke good or at least a little English. And the city is quite small so everything is within walking distance. But what does this all mean?
The city is full of tourists! And I know that as I am one of them. It might sound odd, but I have been in Florence for six days now and I picture myself above the plague of newcomers – most of them being old Americans, which does make me pity the locals.
Now, I have nothing against Americans (excluding Donald Trump). In fact I have met a few since staying in my hostel here, and they were perfectly nice and up for a good conversation, even conversations about how annoying pompous American tourists can be.
I will give you an example. I was having lunch in a delicious restaurant and was sitting next to an elderly American couple. The lady was working herself up into an ego-fuelled rage because the menu was in Italian and she couldn’t understand anything on it. Her husband acted as her saviour when he pointed out that the writing in red on the menu was in …”American”.
When he said that fateful word I had to tighten my throat to stop the bile coming forth. Firstly, if you visit another country that doesn’t speak your language don’t be surprised, and definitely don’t become angry when the menus are in the country’s own language. And just be thankful that you speak ENGLISH, yes that’s right ENGLISH. It being the business language of the world means it is quite likely that they will have English menus or be able to translate for you what is on the menu.
Now I have gotten that off my chest I can move on. You also might notice a lot of young Americans around town. That is because there is an American university in Florence. So many of the city’s students have come from the U.S.A to study here. Which makes the night life a lot less frustrating, as it can be hard enough for someone’s whose first language isn’t English to understand a sober Scotsman, but an inebriated Scotsman makes it damn near impossible.
A big attraction for English speakers is the ‘Red Garter’ bar, a karaoke joint that draws all sorts, including my friend Max Danger and myself on my first night in Florence. Yes, on my first night I made a new friend whose middle name actually was Danger. I refused to believe it until I saw his passport. But although he was literally called Danger, he was good crack, so we both decided that it was only right to grace Florence’s streets with our drunken steps.
We set off from our hostel and immediately found a Scottish pub. Fate demanded that we go in. I am glad we did as it had the familiarity of pubs back home, minus the habitual alcoholic who is unmovable from the bar where he drinks either in silence or in incomprehensible slurs.
It was also the only place where I have found cider in Italy, which was very nice. After failing to convince the bartender Dexter that my Scottishness entitled me to a discount in his establishment, he gave me some good advice on where to go in Florence and directions to the Red Garter, which wasn’t far from the pub.
So Danger and I made it to the fabled Red Garter. We bought two rum and cokes, costing €8 which I was annoyed about until I saw the portion sizes, which were about half and half in a pint glass. We then warmed up the karaoke to persuade the nervous group of Aussies in the back to join in. We continued to try to sing until we were kicked off the karaoke, which was madness considering we were making the others look so good.
By that point we were a tad worse for wear so headed back to our hostel to annoy our Venetian fellow hostel stayer Alice, until she phoned the manger to ask if there were any spare rooms. In Alice’s defence, Danger was spewing in the toilet with such gusto it sounded as if he was playing a wind pipe in there, and I had introduced myself to her about five times and was trying to convince her to follow my blog. The next day was unsurprisingly spent inside, writing my Milan blog post, too hungover to explore the city.
The day after that I visited a building that I have wanted to see since I was young: the building at the heart of the city, the Duomo di Firenze (the cathedral of Florence). The Duomo took 140 years to build, and that is certainly believable.
It’s a mammoth of a building with beautiful designs and sculptures on the outside, and a jaw-dropping massive dome decorated with the classic Italian orange tiled roof, which seems when the light hits as if it were designed to present a view unlike any other.
Next to the cathedral is Giotto’s Campanile, a beautiful bell tower with an exhausting but worthwhile climb to the top, where you have a view of the whole of Florence. Also in close vicinity of the cathedral is the baptistery, so beautifully adorned in the inside that it puts the interior of the cathedral to shame – I found that to be lacking compared to the beauty of its outside and the interior of the Milan cathedral. However, many of the sculptures or paintings which were once in the cathedral, but have been removed for various reasons, are now on display in the Opera Duomo Museum behind the duomo.
You can enter the cathedral for free, but to enter the baptistery, museum, and Giotto’s Campanile you have to purchase a €15 pass. This will be sold outside the baptistery, at the Giotto’s Campanile or from the museum. I would advise doing this, but before you do you must decide whether you would like to go to the top of the dome. If you do you have to make a time reservation, and you must also have a valid €15 pass – the pass is valid for 42hrs. I unfortunately missed out on the dome as I had already bought my ticket and the dome was all booked up for the next few days. But the view from Giotto’s Campanile is from around the same height and you can also get a good picture of the dome from it – although there is a mesh around the top which does make it tricky to get pictures.
You have Erin to thank for this next section of the post. The food in Florence is lovely, I have eaten out for every meal since my stay here and have loved every bit of it. Because of how small the place is, I would explore all over when finding a place to eat. One place I ate at was a fancy restaurant at the Piazzale Michelango, I had rabbit stuffed with shrimp and a side order of roast potatoes. While it was wonderful, the meal racked up to €40 so if you’re working on a budget I’d advise not to visit.
A place I ate at a few times was the Auditore restaurant, which served good burgers, pizza and lasagne – that is one of the pictures on show below. It is fairly cheap and has nice food so is good to visit for lunch.
My favourite restaurant is Finisterrae in the monumental complex of Santa Croce. Although it isn’t cheap it is reasonably priced for fantastic food. My first dinner there was accompanied by friends who for some reason thought I would make a good tour guide for the day, and I have just returned from my second dinner. The first dinner I had there was slices of sirloin steak with salad, and my companions had a lovely pizza that I have completely forgotten the name of. For dessert I opted just for the ice cream. The meal that I am still stuffed from eating was a knuckle of pork with roast potatoes and mushrooms. Followed by a single profiterole. Overall I would say it will be hard to find something to eat in Florence that you won’t enjoy.
A must-do in Florence is to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia that houses Michelangelo’s David. It’s truly an awe-inspiring piece of art. It is difficult to imagine that someone could create such beauty from a lump of marble, let alone be able to envision it in the marble in the first place.
Standing at 5.17 metres, it would seem that David, who defeated a giant, has been immortalised as a giant himself. Created between 1501 and 1504, the David was originally destined for the cathedral of Florence. It was instead moved to the entrance of the city’s town hall. The nature of the hero represented caused the people of Florence to identify with the statue and see it as a symbol for the defence of the Republic of Florence as an independent city-state which was threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states. David’s eyes, with their warning glare, were turned to face Rome.
If you want to end the night with beautiful sunset views of Florence then the best spot is the Piazzale Michelangelo. A square with an amazing panoramic view of Florence. It allows you to see the whole of Florence in all of its breath-taking glory. It also allows you to see some of the old city walls. If you follow the road heading higher up from that view, you will come across a monastery called Monastero di San Miniato. It is beautiful from the outside and inside, which is basically pure marble. It can be easy to forget, among the throngs of tourists, that these are places of worship, so make sure to be respectful, especially of the fact that there is an area in the back that you are not allowed to photograph.
You can really stop heading further uphill at that point. I however couldn’t stop there. My inner Columbus thought there was plenty more exploring to be done. So I followed this road, going past houses after houses. I started to think that maybe I should head back but then I spotted a castle far up on a hill. Desperate to see the view from it, I headed there like a shepherd after the north star.
It was beautiful to see some of the countryside outside the city on my way. As I was nearing the castle I noticed an increase in the size and grandeur of the houses around me. I realised I must be in the posh part of town. Clad in my shorts and Celtic top, I must have been quite a sight for the high and mighty of Florence, but I was so close to my goal I couldn’t stop.
I saw that the way to the castle was along a road past a gate that was open, but the road to the castle was closed. However there was another gate next to the castle road. It was open and contained an elderly local couple waddling to their illustrious home. I followed them, thinking that I could maybe find a way into a castle from their side. I inconspicuously searched and found a way in. I also spotted security vans.
Not really thinking the view would be worth being arrested for, I headed back home. Or so I thought. When I reached the gate that was previously wide open and now locked tightly shut, I realised they were automatic gates. They had only been open before because the elderly couple had unlocked them. So I was trapped in the posh part of town. It felt wrong. It felt so wrong.
Not wanting to go explain to a couple of old Italians why I had followed them home like a stray dog, I decided to go into the castle area and try find another way out. Only a few steps into the castle grounds a security guard appeared. His only knowledge of English was: “You can’t be here.” So I had the joyous task of explaining to him, through hand gestures and mimes, that I was accidentally locked in. I succeeded, and the guard let me out. It was certanly an experince that was begging to be shared for the blog though. Plus On the way back I saw two nuns in a car asking for directions which I found to be absolutely hilarious.
Florence is an absolutely great place to visit. The amount of tourists must make it annoying for residents of the city – and I can’t imagine what the number of tourists must be in the height of summer.
There are museums all over the place for those who enjoy them, so many it can seem overwhelming to decide which to pick. There is a considerable smaller amount of scammers than in Milan, but there are a lot of beggars around the place. Most people speak basic English, it is truly beautiful and is small so you can easily get around. It is somewhere I was happy to wander and become lost in, and is a place that I will undoubtedly visit again.
That’s everything for Florence. I probably should have written two posts on it, but was far too lazy. Next stop for me is Venice, with the help of Alice, the Venetian who I annoyed, but luckily not to the point where she wouldn’t be nice, so I have the inside scoop on her city. I won’t be there for long so it won’t be too long until my next post. Until then, here’s the picture of the nuns in the car to help you survive until we next talk.