I spent five nights in Florence, like Rome I wanted to be able to take my time and see everything; experience the city without rushing and enjoy my time walking through it. Within those five nights I slept in three different places; my first night I slept in a hostel, the next three nights I couchsurfed and the last night I slept in a different hostel.
Florence is considered to be the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance with many of the greatest artists of that age studying or working there. The city exemplifies the Renaissance style of art through its architectural facades and numerous sculptures and paintings found throughout the city; the most beautiful and most perfect example coming from the dome of Santa Maria de Fiori. The cathedral is easily the most magnificent building in the city and is a prime example of the early Renaissance style combing old and new forms. As I excited as I was to finally see it, I didn’t spend a lot of time near it when I first got to the city; I had other things I wanted to do and I knew I would have plenty of time to see it.
After a four hour bus ride from Rome, I arrived to Florence in the afternoon, hungry and excited. There were two things I wanted to do, the first was get a panini from a panini place considered to be the best in Florence. My friend visited last year and said it was something you had to try, also, everybody I met in Rome that had visited Florence said the same thing, you have to go to this panini place. Since I was hungry, it was only fitting to get a panini there. I wanted to get there before it closed, which was at 3:30, so I only had about an hour after arriving to the hostel; this is one of the reasons why I casually passed the Cathedral. I arrived to the panini place, easily found by the lines of people waiting on either side of the street. I only had to wait about 20 minutes. I arrived to the counter unsure what to get, telling him to make me his favorite sandwich. The panini’s only cost five euro and come with huge portions of delicious meat, cheese and sauce between huge buttery toasted slices of faciattea bread. My first experience with it was so memorable that I decided to go back and get one for dinner. They were cheap and incredibly tasty. I also wanted to try their other sandwiches, they had about 5 or 6 listed as their best made. The second thing I wanted to do was to stop by an artists’ studio and get my sisters a little gift. I didn’t know what his hours would be the upcoming days because of New Years and since it was only the 28th, I figured he would be open. His name is Clet Abraham and he is a painter and sculptor as well as a street artist that manipulates street signs in a playful way. He places stickers on them changing what they look like. Throughout the city you can find his work on various signs and spotting them was fun to do while walking around.
After visiting his studio and talking to him for a bit, I decided to walk to Piazza de Michelangelo, since it was close by. It’s another thing I heard you had to do because it provides a beautiful view of the city. I climbed the hill and steps to the Piazza and was rewarded with an incredible view of the city. The Palazzo Vecchio and the Cathedral rise above every other building in the city, towering above like a testament to the Renaissance and the medieval history that has stayed intact to this day. I arrived at the perfect time because the sun was starting to set. It created a beautiful contrast from light to dark across the sky.
Once it got dark, I decided to make my way back to the hostel while at the same time exploring more of the city. I walked to the Ponte Vecchio (the covered bridge above in the middle). An amazing and unique bridge because of the shops that flank both sides and the only bridge to have not been destroyed during WW2. Because of this it still retains its historic charm. When I arrived to the hostel I met two of the people in my room, an Argentinian girl and a Canadian. We chatted for a while and relaxed. When it came to be dinner time, I knew what I wanted to do, I was going to go back to the Panini place and get another sandwich! Kathleen, the Canadian had just gotten in and hadn’t seen much of the city, I also hyped up the panini place so she came with me. Coincidentally, one of the best gelato places is right down the road, so we also got the best gelato in Florence after having the best panini in Florence. Then, I literally did the same route I did earlier showing her around and getting a chance to see Florence at night.
The next day I had plans to go to the Ufizi gallery with a Mexican girl I had met in my dorm. The night before I had reserved tickets, but I didn’t get the actual tickets, I was suppose to wait to receive an email which would then have the tickets. However, that morning I still had not received the tickets and I wanted to go to the gallery that day, so we went to the gallery to see what we could do. On the way we bought the tickets to climb the bell tower. It’s actually a combination ticket that includes access to the Duomo, the baptistry and the Cathedral Museum. When we arrived to the Uffizi, I spoke to somebody in the ticket reclaim area, he asked me if I had info or an email or something, I did and he asked me how many tickets I reserved for. Within that split second, I knew he didn’t have any information on my reservation and being the lightening fast thinker I am I said two (even though it was really only one) and he gave them to us without a problem! We only had to wait about 20-25 minutes to get in. The Uffizi is a beautiful museum hosting the largest collection of Renaissance art. While Renaissance art isn’t necessarily my favorite movement there were some incredibly brilliant pieces. I was more interested in their funny depictions of people and their lack of knowledge on perspective. They painted faces very serious or as if they “can’t even”, also baby Jesus was depicted like a little grotesque man. Aside from the beautiful pieces, the ceiling of the rooms and hallways were in their own right artwork, beautifully painted.
We spent a little over 3 hours and then afterward we made our way to the Bell tower to climb it. We had to wait about an hour, but it was well worth it. The climb to the top is over 400 claustrophobic steps with little space for more than one person. Once at the top, you were rewarded with an incredible view of the city and the Duomo. There is something so soothing about being so far above and detached from the hustle and noise of a city. Below you, thousands of people are experiencing their lives, living in their moments and dealing with whatever they may have to deal with; detached from this (in a way) you experience the flow of life from a different perspective. Eventually we started getting hungry, so we of course went to get a panini!
Now it’s around 3 o’clockish and at some point I am suppose to be meeting the dude I am couchsurfing with. I figured it didn’t matter and that I had plenty of time because he had sent me a text saying that I could meet him at 1, or that I could meet him around 5. Due to some miscommunication, this will later become a minor
problem. After lunch we went to the Cathedral Museum located right by the Cathedral. I had never heard of it, but it was included in the ticket. It was one of the best museums I have been in, it wasn’t too large, but it was incredibly well designed; each room was carefully planned to focus the attention to the artworks in it. Within the museum were the golden baptistry doors, a full scale replica of what the old facade of the Cathedral looked like and one of my favorite sculptures that I have seen, the Deposition by Michelangelo. The Deposition is an unfinished sculpture, which is one of the reasons why it’s so fascinating to me. More or less half finished, you are able to see the progress and process of creating a sculpture; how the sculpture takes shape and form and the incredible difficulty it must have been to create a piece. It was one of the last pieces he created, started at the age of 72 he worked on it for 8 years before destroying it in a fit of rage.. Apparently, he found the marble to be flawed. It was then later restored a few years later by another artist.
When I got back to the hostel I had to get my phone working to contact the couchsurfer. Eventually I was able to get it to restart and talk to him. When I did, he was annoyed that I wasn’t there yet, apparently his text, that I took as a choice was more of a necessity. I had to be there before 5, but to me he never made this clear. So, I told him, okay, I’m leaving the hostel now i’ll be there in 30 min (because that’s how long it took to walk there) and he told me okay. I get to his place, ring the bell, get let it, get to his door and ring the bell. No answer. I thought that this was strange since I was let in. I ring the bell again. No answer. I ring the bell a third time. No answer. At this point, I’ve realized that he is not there and sit outside his door thinking what I should do next. Luckily, I remembered that he said he was next to a hostel. So, I went next door to the hostel and asked if I could use their wifi. I contacted the couchsurfer, he told me that he had to leave because he had to see a friend and asked if I had someplace else to sleep for the night. Obviously I didn’t, then he came up with the idea (which I don’t know why he didn’t suggest first) that I could meet him at work at 9 and chill there until he has to leave around 2 or 3 (he was a bartender).
At this point I was exhausted and just wanted to put my stuff down, rest and relax for a bit, so it’s the last thing I wanted to do, but I had no other option. Mind you, at this point it’s only around 7. Luckily the hostel had no problem with me sitting in their lounge and even better they had the most incredibly friendly dog I have ever played with! I believe it was a Stafford shire terrier. I’ve never fully understood the ability of a dog to cure sadness and depression up until that moment. I wasn’t depressed, but I was frustrated and in a negative mood and that dog changed that. He absolutely loved me and for the time I was sitting there, he was laying and resting on me for most of that time. Occasionally he would go to greet a newcomer, but he always came back. It helped me feel better and when the time came, I was sad to leave it. I hope to find a dog like that in the future!
When it was time, I left the hostel, took another 30 min walk to the bar and met up with the couchsurfer. He was really friendly and welcoming. I sat at the bar and drank some Guinness, met a guy who was traveling with his wife for the first time outside of the US, I also met two American chicks that had just got to Florence and a father, son and daughter from one of the mid-western states. They had money because the dad had a vodka company and traveled trying to get it into new bars, so he bought all of us a bunch of drinks and shots. In the end, I ending up going out with the son and the two American chicks to a nearby bar. Of course I had all my stuff, so I felt pretty stupid and I didn’t want it to get stolen, so I was hesitant to go, but they were insistent. In the end, it ended up being a fun night.
New Years Eve! For some time throughout this day I thought I’d be spending New Eve alone, wandering around the city drinking by myself. I had wanted to do couchsurfing because I had a good experience last year on New Years Eve and thought a similar thing would happen. I figured I’d hang out and do something with the couchsurfer and their friends. However, he had to work, so I was going to be alone. Luckily, earlier that day while I was shopping for a wallet, I ran into Kathleen from the other night. She was with two other people from the Hostel and I asked them what they were doing later. They said they were going to drink in the hostel later and then go out to celebrate and said I could join. I gladly accepted and was happy to have plans for the night. I didn’t really do much during the day, I found a nice leather wallet that I am currently using and I attempted to do a free walking tour that never came to fruition.
Later that night, I met them at the hostel, met some new people in their room and we drank. Due to the large amount of Argentinians I met, I drank Fernet and cola, a popular drink in Argentina. Fernet taste like black licorice and gets better with each glass. If you give up after the first one, you’re missing out. At around 11;30 we left for the Piazza Vecchio. Packed among everyone else we waited until it was 12. It was kind of underwhelming, but exciting at the same time. There were no fireworks, no countdown, just a bunch of people looking at their phones to tell them it was 12. After came the fun part. We wandered around the city to one of the main piazas that was hosting a free concert. I couldn’t tell you what they were singing or who they were because they were Italian groups, but it was a good time. We ended only staying out until 3ish.
New Years day was a very relaxing day. I woke up late, video chatted with a couple of my friends and walked back to the Piazza Michelangelo and chilled there for about two hours. After, I walked to the Duomo and found a spot to sit and just hung out there for a little, Duomo and people watching. When it was getting dark (which was early), I went back to the house and relaxed the rest of the night. The following day I had planned to wake up early and go to San Gimignano and Siena. San Gimignano is a small medieval town that boasts 14 medieval towers out of the 72 that once existed. Unfortunately, when I woke up the following morning it was pouring, so I decided to continue sleeping hoping it would stop. Eventually I got up and it didn’t, but I decided that I could at least go to Siena and spend a couple of hours of there. I had first check into the new hostel because I was leaving the couchsurfers house. So I did that and took a 12:40 bus to Sienna. I arrived there around 2 and only spent about 2.5 hours because of the weather. I only had one pair of boots (more like dress boots), and they are probably the worst rain shoes you could wear. They aren’t waterproof and actually seem to absorb the water. The rain, gloom, cold and my soaking wet socks however, did not stop me from enjoying the city. Siena is a small town with a big personality, it’s like a time capsule transporting you back to the 13th century. I wandered around, grabbed lunch at this really cool meat shop. They were throwing bread with meat in it to the customers. It was very tasty. I saw the famous black and white striped Duomo, but only a fraction of it because if you went in through the side to the prayer chapel you didn’t have to pay, but couldn’t walk through the church. I walked to the outskirts of the city to get a view of the cityscape, but it was hard to see because of the fog. I then got back on the bus and headed back to Florence. I spent the rest of the night doing laundry and talking to two Argentinians in my dorm I had met and two Chileans we met. That is how I ended my last night in the beautiful city of Florence.