The second leg of our Italy trip was three days in Florence. I was looking forward to this since I had heard the city was very walkable and friends had loved it.
I’ll be doing a separate post about Italy hotels (coming soon!) so I’ll hold off on talking about that here, but let me say the hotel was not as close as we had hoped to the city center.
The train ride from Venice to Florence was stunning. Tuscany really is all it’s cracked up to be. It was green, gold, and blue and the country villas with the fields were just beautiful. I would have loved to get off the train and drive through that countryside!
On our first day, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that spans the Arno River and is made up entirely of jewelry shops. This is the only bridge in Florence that Hitler spared and it has a long and rich history. The Medicis built a passageway on top of the shops on the bridge, so that they could cross the river in private. The shops are really overwhelming. There’s just too many, with too much merchandise. I didn’t even go in one – too confusing! We did window shop though.
The shopping on the far side of the bridge (the side where the Pitti Palace is) was excellent however. Lots of artisans selling wonderful things like paper, leather, jewelry, and ceramics. The shopping on the city side of the bridge is mostly designer stuff I wasn’t interested in very much.
There were some artists set up outside the Uffizi and I bought a painting there (my shopping post will be coming soon).
We visited the marketplace where there is a boar statue you are supposed to pet if you want to return to Florence. The boar was cute, but the market was run of the mill street vendors with cheap stuff.
On our second day in Florence we took a tour. They took us by bus to the Piazzelle
Michaelangelo. There’s a huge parking lot up in the hills where you can stand and see not only the entire city, but the entire countryside. It was simply stunning and made me wish I could get out into the countryside even more! There is a replica of the David in this parking lot as well.
Duomo and Baptistery
The Duomo and the Baptistery are the famous church buildings in the center of the city. Unfortunately, our tour did not take us into these buildings. That was not made clear to us when we signed up at all, so once the tour was over, we backtracked and went into the Duomo, which is a beautiful church with a dome created by Brunelleschi, at a time when the technology for making domes like this had been lost, so it is quite impressive. There was a long line to go up to the top of the dome, but we weren’t interested in doing that. The outside of the church is prettier than the inside, however, with its gold outer dome. The Baptistery is famous for its bronze doors, which are no longer original. We didn’t go inside, but we looked at the doors.
Our tour next took us to the Accademia. We were able to skip the line to get in (and it was a LONG one!), but we still had to wait for our group to be let in. It was extremely crowded inside. We ditched the tour and just went to see the David on our own. It was much bigger than expected and his hands and feet looked
huge and out of scale. It was beautiful though and I’m glad we got to see it. We looked around a little bit, but really we just wanted to see the David and be done. Not to mention we were given no chance to use a bathroom on the 3 hour tour. It turns out the bathrooms in the Accademia are downstairs and you have to leave the ticketed area to get there, so we just left once we were done. Also, their gift shop was just awful!
The tour had taken us through this plaza in the center of the city, but there isn’t much to
see. It’s just an open square that used to be the Roman forum in the city. There is a carousel there now and at night there were artists selling their work.
We went to see the Pitti Palace on our own (no tour) later on the second day. This was a palace the Medici family took over and built out. It honestly is pretty ugly from outside and the entire front lawn is paved or brick, so it was not pretty or welcoming. The pricing was complicated. You had to choose one group of galleries/rooms to see. We didn’t want to pay for both, so we missed out on the gardens, which I understand are gorgeous (my kids would have rioted if we made them walk through a garden though). The rooms were beautiful and ornate, but I think I am desensitized to palaces after our trip England where we saw so many! It was worth seeing though, so I’m glad we went. I would have liked some background info on the place and the Medicis, but we just couldn’t handle another long tour.
The last day in Florence we took a train to Pisa (about a one hour trip and there are trains running every 20 minutes). This is a really cute little city and I wish we had had time to explore it. We took a cab from the train station to the Campo dei Miracoli, which is the complex where the Leaning Tower stands. It’s basically a baptistery and a church and the tower on a giant open square. We had tickets to climb the tower a couple of hours after our arrival, so we spent some time walking around. The immediate area is really junky souvenir shops (yet, as my husband complained, not one had a t-shirt that said “I climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa”). It was pretty horrible. Finally it was our turn to go in the tower. We were stopped because my daughter had a purse. No one told us you couldn’t bring a purse in. There are no signs. It says nothing on the tickets and when we picked up the tickets no one said a word about it. So my husband had to run across the campo, rent a locker and leave it.
Then we started our ascent. It is a LONG way and it winds around and around. One of our group has trouble with heights and that person was not enjoying it at all. I did not like the pressure of trying to go fast enough to keep the people behind me happy. It is a little bit claustrophobic in there, particularly when people decide to go down past you.
We made it to the top and there is a nice view of the countryside from the top. It is nice to be able to say I climbed to the top of that!
The descent was easier than the ascent, however my husband managed to sprain his ankle coming down (he was trying to be careful of his knee and ended up hurting something else!). We got to the bottom and asked the people who worked there for medical attention and they were unhelpful. He hopped all the way to the ticket office where we were given one of those instant bags of ice (you smack it to activate it). Since it was about 99 degrees, it didn’t last long. We asked for another and got it, but were told it was the last one they had. Great. We saw an ambulance parked on the other side of the campo and he hobbled over there, hoping to get an Ace bandage. It turned out not to be an ambulance, but a police van, with no police anywhere to help us. Really, really frustrating.
We waited and waited for a cab, which took us to a restaurant I had read about. It turned out to be closed so we ate at a pizza place in an alleyway where they spoke no English. We got back to the train station and that was the end of our day. On the way to the train station, we saw where some decent shops were, but were unable to stop. So Pisa was a bit of a bust for us.
Florence at Night
We did have a nice dinner near the Duomo one night and came out to find lots of people wandering around the piazza. There were people selling toys that shoot up in the air and light up (we bought one for my son). We wandered a bit and on a street just off the Republicca Plaza, came upon a street performer we watched for a bit. It was nice to walk around the city at night and see other people out and about. It was a relaxed feeling.
Overall, I was not in love with Florence. The city felt dirty and cramped to me. There wasn’t a lot to see or do compared to Rome and Venice. Tuscany is a place I could fall in love with, but Florence itself did not thrill me. I did like the vibe the city had of being a home to artists and creative people. I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I would plan to return to the city itself.
The second leg of our Italy trip was three days in Florence. I was looking forward to this since I had heard the city was very walkable and friends had loved it. I’ll be doing a separate post about Italy hotels (coming soon!) so I’ll hold off on talking about that here, but let me … Read more