Upon arriving in Florence, the first priority (as it has been with every city along this trip) was checking in to the hostel. Sam and I stayed in Ciao Hostel, a short walk away from the train station where we came in, so it was pretty convenient. The first stop on the agenda was the Florence Cathedral, home of the famous Duomo (dome). The Cathedral is right in the middle of a giant square with lots of shops and restaurants, so it’s kind of hard to miss. There are about five different parts to the cathedral, including the massive dome, tower, and baptistry which is detached from the rest of the structure. If you look closely at the “windows” of the cathedral, you’ll find that they aren’t really windows at all. Rather they’re just a bunch of bricks that have been framed and colored to look like windows. The entire building is very beautifully designed and colored, and it’s size is quite spectacular as well.
Since we had climbed up the 551 steps of St. Peter’s Basilica the day prior to arriving in Florence, we decided to wait and postpone the trek up to the top of the dome until our legs had gotten a chance to recover a bit. Instead, we decided to visit the University of Florence’s Botanic Gardens. Unfortunately, we found out that the gardens were closed on Wednesdays (of all days to be closed) but simply walking around the walls of the building wasn’t a total loss. There was a bunch of writing, drawing, and general graffiti lining the walls that I actually found quite beautiful and intriguing. Although I don’t agree with graffiti on historical buildings and such and I would never deface any public (or private for that matter) space myself, I find there to be art in some sorts of graffiti. However, I’ll leave those thoughts for a different blog post so as to avoid going off on a tangent.
At this point, we didn’t really know what Florence had to offer and we were just sort of wandering through the alleyways of the city. We came upon a couple of different squares and cathedrals/basilicas: Cathedral de Santa Maria Del Fiori and Basilica de Santa Croce. Both were very lovely, but at the same time somewhat unimpressive. I guess when you’ve seen St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, most other religious buildings seem to sort of pale in comparison.
We crossed the Arno River to the other side of the city and began the hike to Piazzale Michelangelo, one of the highest points overlooking Florence. Although the walk up was quite steep, it was also very beautiful and it really gave you a taste of the Tuscan countryside. We were welcomed to the top by a gorgeous panoramic view of the city (and a refreshing breeze). You could see what seemed like the entire area of Florence; all of the mountains, houses, buildings, basilicas, and so forth converged into one quite awe-inspiring view not unlike the one we had seen from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. We spent a good amount of time marveling at the view before descending the steps in search of dinner.
On the way back towards the town center, we walked through the area of Santa Croce which was all very high end and pricey. There was literally about a two block stretch of NOTHING but jewelry shops (which could definitely do some damage to the wallet if you’re like me and like shiny, pretty things). Although this area was more expensive, it went along with the whole “you get what you pay for” saying as everything was very nice. We passed by a huge outdoor market and a couple of street artists that were doing some amazing chalk drawings before arriving in a wide open square with lots of patio restaurants of sorts.
After weighing our restaurant options, we sat down at Coccole Cioccolato Cioccolateria (I know, what a mouthful). The prices weren’t bad and they had a decent selection of pizzas, pastas, and calzones. Since I had already tried Italian pizza and pasta, I decided to order a ham and cheese calzone to try something new. After all, it was only ten euros. When the food arrived, I was in shock; my calzone was bigger than my head! Now I know calzones are usually puffed up with air and such so it’s not as much food as it seems, but it was literally hanging off of the plate on both sides. It was a lot to eat, but I was hungry and it was delicious so finishing it was no problem. The weather was beautiful and the patio was very lovely as well and we had live music to listen to while we ate, so it was a very enjoyable experience.
After dinner I wanted to continue my gelato fix, so we popped into a little corner store right across from our restaurant. They didn’t have prices listed, so I just went ahead and got two flavors in a cup (which is usually three to five euros). The woman behind the counter then handed over this massive cup of gelato and said, “ten euros.” Ten euros! I spent ten whole euros on basically ice cream. Although I hadn’t really wanted to pay that much, I handed the money over and enjoyed the heck out of that gelato. Even though it was incredibly yummy, it was way too much and I decided that maybe my “seven days straight of gelato” thing should end there.
After being thrown into a food coma, we decided it was probably time we made our way back to the hostel. We stopped at a wine store along the way so that Sam could buy a bottle of Chianti, one of the Florentine wines suggested by my brother to try. I don’t really like wine, let alone red wine, so it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but Sam seemed to enjoy it just fine. We finished the night off by relaxing in the hostel and preparing for our next day out and about in the city.