Read Italy Stop 1: Rome here!
With tired feet from all the walking and sightseeing we had done in Rome, it was a welcome change for my husband and I to take an hour and a half train ride to Florence (that’s Firenze in Italian!).
The train ride, in the economy section of the train, was short and comfortable. They assign seats on longer train rides but for the most part we noticed that the seat assignments don’t really matter and no matter how hard you try to get two seats next to each other when you buy your tickets it doesn’t end up working. So we just sat next to each other each time with no issue. On the ride, my husband took advantage of the WiFi and I checked out the scenery.
We set off first thing in the morning and arrived in Florence around 11am to drop our bags at the hotel we were staying at. I will mention here that I would not recommend Hotel Annabella/Hotel Bijou in Florence mostly due to the fact that the staff smoked in the common areas. Other than that, the location was convenient and the room was large and clean.
Once we had dropped our bags, we were ready to head off to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. We had already bought our tickets online for a specific time so we knew we were going to head over there but when we mentioned it to the innkeeper while dropping our bags, his response was, “Why you go pay and stand in line to see David? No. Go to the piazza, see David for free, no lines, enjoy a cappuccino…” My husband and I smiled and nodded since we already had our tickets to see the David at the Accademia. And it was SO worth it. This was another “NO FOTO!!!” place so this is a really blurry sneaky photo of David but you can see a better picture on the website for the Accademia. We took the free Rick Steve’s walking tour and really enjoyed it as well as seeing a few other Michelangelo works in this museum.
Most people probably only need about an hour at the Accademia (definitely look around– David is impressive but there’s more to see!) so we took about that long and then sought out a sandwich place my friend recommended while she was in town a week before us. She found it on Tripadvisor since it’s amazingly well reviewed so All’Antico Vinaio is certainly no secret but I would also recommend it to anyone visiting Florence. The idea is that you go in and tell the (English speaking) guys what things you like– for example salami and mozzarella– and then ask them to add whatever goes with that. As we waited in line, we saw a young guy a few people in front of us do this recommended thing, something like, “Can you make me a sandwich with anything but beef. Any other meat is ok.” The guy gets to work, we wait in line, and when he finishes, he holds up a monstrous sandwich and looks for the kid. He looks around, calls out…. but nothing. The kid is nowhere to be seen. There’s a huge line, the kid is gone, so the guy says, “Anyone want a free sandwich?” I’m thinking, “No I want to pick what WE want on our sandwich” probably like all the other Americans standing in line. The guy plops it down on the counter, and it does look good. He says it again, “Free sandwich for anyone” and walks off to take another order. My husband, who is so awesome, looks around, picks up the sandwich and says, “Let’s go.”Yup, free sandwich. Free, gigantic, delicious, we-don’t-know-what-it-was-but-it-was-good sandwich. I will happily report that we enjoyed it so much we returned the next day for our salami and cheese plus whatever they wanted on top of that sandwich which was equally good or better.
In the afternoon we had tickets and a reservation for the Uffizi Gallery so we walked around Piazza della Signoria where you can’t miss this castle:
See the David down on the lower right? This is the one our inkeeper said was the one to see for free. And while it is a replica, there’s something about a dirty statue being dwarfed by a giant building that makes it not quite the same as seeing it in pristine museum condition.
Outside of the Uffizi are several statues of famous Italian artists, philosophers, etc. so we paid a visit to a few of them. Galileo was among them.
The Uffizi was worth a visit even if you aren’t a giant art buff. We used another Rick Steves tour which took us through several of the rooms. Similar to how I felt in the Sistine Chapel, there were so many familiar pieces I had seen in textbooks that it was a really different experience to see the actual painting up close. Also, from the Uffizi (which is “office” in Italian because it used to be the Medici’s offices”) you have a great view of the pathway that the Medicis used to go from their offices to their palace. That is indeed the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge.
Our first day in Florence was very busy and we had a light lunch at a fantastic Enoteca. I wish I had the name to give you because it was just what the doctor ordered after a giant sandwich for lunch: great salad, fresh crostini, nice wine. If you are in Florence, seek out an enoteca for a light meal.
My husband and I started our second day in Florence with what is, we learned, a typical Italian breakfast: cappuccino and a croissant, often with Nutella. I asked several Italians if this was really typical breakfast and for most people it sounds like it is. Coffee and something sweet. My husband took no issue with this but when possible I tried to have a yogurt instead because I just couldn’t wrap my mind around all that butter and sugar every day so early in the morning.
With another Rick Steves free walking tour on our iPhones (which we kept in airplane mode for our whole trip) we set out to the Florence Duomo.
This building, and several others that match it, are crazy ornate on the outside and way beautiful. I’ve really never seen anything like it ever before. I was somewhat surprised that such an ornate building on the outside is actually kind of plain (compared to other churches we saw) on the inside.
Quick and easy tour that answered some questions we had about the building. We also had another Rick Steves tour that took us around Florence and showed us interesting things we would have otherwise missed. It was about snack time by now, and there was gelato everywhere Generally you saw them heaped in giant containers like this shop:
The tour guide we had in Rome, though, told us to ignore those and look for the places that had metal tins (not plastic!) which generally indicated they made their own gelato and it would be better. On our walking tour, we both whiffed chocolate from a nice looking shop and had to grab some gelato. I believe this place, Venchi, actually has multiple locations in Italy but it was the best gelato we had on our trip. Here is the face to prove it:
Florence is a very walkable city and we found some quaint alley ways to explore.
Also, I was obsessed with the doors. Everywhere I looked there was another neat door knocker or carved design to look at.
This one stopped me (and another toursist) in my tracks.
In the afternoon after scarfing our sandwich from the same place I mentioned earlier, we took a (uphill) walk to Piazzale Michelangelo. It provided some excellent views of Florence. Below, you can see the olive trees and the city wall– Florence would be off to the right.
The view from the park allows you to take in the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, and other main sights across Florence.
It was hot but my husband and I made it, slowly, to the top.
Since we were already across the river, we headed to Amici di Palazzo Pitti which is where the Medicis used to live.
It’s a garden or museum now (I think) but was closing when we got there at sunset. Instead, we sat and watched the sun go down.
And rested our feet because our dogs were barkin’! Or at least mine were.
Dinner time was a ways away because it usually starts at 8pm, so we stopped into a bar for apertivo aka happy hour. Bars and cafes often offer small snacks and drinks in the afternoon before dinner but we were more interested in the free WiFi we found! Prosecco and an Italian beer were icing on the cake.
For dinner on our last night in Florence we had no reservation (big mistake) and first tried a restaurant in the guidebook which was closed for the season but open for a private party that night. He referred us to another restaurant that had no openings for a few hours so we thought maybe we would try the enoteca we enjoyed the night before but it was full as well. Hungry and tired of aimlessly wandering, we walked into a restaurant blind and were amazingly let down. The servers had nasty B.O. (body odor) and while my husband and I each got different dishes, they both came drenched in thick, viscous cream sauce. Not to mention we were served one of the worst tables wines on our trip. It was terrible. I wish I had the name of the place to tell you to stay away but instead, just make sure you have a reservation at the place you really want to go!
Florence was a must-see city for us and we liked it a lot. Unfortunately between the hotel that was not so good and our last gross meal I think we had some really awesome experiences tainted by bad ones. Like Rome, though, I would recommend it to folks visiting Italy as it has beautiful, unique architecture and is a very walkable city. Just make sure you do your research in advance, as you should with any travel, to make sure you know what you are getting.
See Italy Stop 3: Manarola (Cinque Terre) here!