Here is the second part of our Italian vacation! So since we were traveling with Nick’s grandmother, we kept our AirBnB in Rome as a home-base where we left most of our luggage. After packing one light backpack each, we headed to the train station. Nick had enough foresight to book our BnB close to the train station which was great for us. He also anticipated less availability for taxi’s and Ubers in Florence and Venice, so he booked hotels right near the main attractions.
After our last trip to Paris, I took the time to read up on pick pockets and scam artists. Sure enough, right at the train station, a woman noticed our confusion and offered to help. She was in jeans and a t-shirt, but had a lanyard on with the train’s name. She tried to get us to the train kiosk and I knew she was hoping Nick would need his credit card to buy tickets and she could steal his information. I kept insisting that we already had tickets and tried to convey that this was a SCAM artist. Eventually we started to leave towards our train platform and the woman yelled back at us demanding a tip. The moral of the story is, if they are not at the information booth, they are probably scam artists; do not show them your card!
So we got on our train and began our trip to Florence. I want to say it was about 2 hours but my memory is hazy and I don’t want to look it up. The train ride was beautiful. It is really one of my favorite ways to travel. As we passed by the small villages along the way, we would tell Janice her family was probably from a village like that (that is a fact; we know her family originated from a small Italian village); but she insisted that her father “came from money” and he was probably from Rome!
The first thing we could see, while still on the train, was the Duomo peeking out in between buildings as we rode into Florence! I instantly got so excited! Leaving the train station was easy because everyone goes the same way; right toward the Dome, duh. Unlike Rome that had cobblestone made of small squares, Florence had much bigger brick like stones. I remember this because me and my heels had no problem in Rome, but were wobbling like crazy in Florence.
Since our hotel wouldn’t be ready for another few hours, we decided to look for a coffee shop near the Duomo. Now, I had seen pictures all my life… my grandmother was a big traveler and she had a small model of the cathedral in her house and I always thought it was beautiful. I WAS NOT PREPARED! It was HUGE! We had invested in a good camera and there was simply no way to capture it completely.
We stopped at the cutest cafe, fortunately right next to our hotel so we became regulars. They served great espresso and a gorgeous assortment of pastries (though I don’t recommend the gelato). Il Bottegone was its name; the inside reminded me of cafe’s in Paris, and outside there was patio seating fenced off with decorative bicycles covered in flowers! Best part is you are gazing right at the cathedral!
When our room was ready, we were excited to enter a very small though nicely decorated lobby, and were directed towards a sketchy and small elevator and sent to the 4th floor to the Donatello suite. At first, the living room and kitchen looked spacious, there was a nice bathroom and a good bedroom for Janice even though her preference is always to sleep on the couch. But as soon as we entered the master bedroom we were so blown away! There was a giant window opening right to the cathedral! It felt like you could touch it! We were so happy with our room at the Palazzo Gamba! There was even a night when we bought wine and cheese and just stayed at our window for a few hours!
But as soon as we dropped off our things, we marched back out to the popular Michealangelo Plaza. Florence was very walking friendly, not very many cars although there were a few horse carriages. Along the way we passed by the Medici house with its Neptune fountain and outdoor Statue museum in the Piaza. Then to cross the river, we took the Ponte Vecchio. I always thought this bridge looked weird in travel vlogs, but in reality is was pretty neat! It had odd house like stores all over the side of the bridge making it feel like a street until you look across and remember you are on a bridge!
The Plaza Michelangelo is up a very big hill that has stairs dotted with artists and vendors. This was nice since it gave us something to look at whenever we needed a break. At the top of the hill we enjoyed a beautiful view of Florence; seeing the cathedral, the river, bridges and more. At this point Janice ran off to buy souvenirs for her family. For a lady with dementia, this was actually kind of cool to see her excited to go buy a souvenir. At first she just kind of walked out of the stall with what she wanted, but once we gave her money, she figured it out!
We took a taxi back to the room and prepared for dinner. Nick researched a Florentine steak while I looked up good gelato! We found two well reviewed places right next to each other. The steakhouse, Cut, was small, fitting a bar and less than ten real tables. We ordered our steak medium rare and it came out absolutely beautiful! The owner came out and talked to us and we could tell he took a lot of pride in selecting the most perfect cuts. Now, Janice is a picky eater and not one to keep quiet about it so she complained loudly that it was too bloody. We assured the owner that we knew it was it perfect and we would feed her something else later!
Now about gelato! Nick read somewhere that the best gelato lies flat; this makes sense that if its thick and creamy, it wouldn’t puff up all pretty like most gelato’s near the tourist spots. So, across the street from The Cut Steakhouse, was Gelateria La Carraia (named for Ponte La Carraia, the bridge right outside). This was highly reviewed, had a line out the door and we went back for seconds!
On day 2 we woke up bright and early and it was COLD! I turn into a pumpkin when I’m cold. Rather than let it ruin our morning, Nick decided to treat us to the horse drawn carriage ride! Our driver was spectacular! He gave us a blanket and whisked us off on a tour of Florence pointing out some history along the way.
Next we toured the tomb of Michelangelo and Dante. Italy has a way of making you feel strange about death. I had seen the Sistine Chapel, The Pieta, and we were on our way to see David next… and that incredible artist from the Renaissance, was literally right in front of be in his tomb. I can’t put that feeling to words… it was both unbelievable and unnerving.
Shaking off that experience… we stopped for wine and a photoshoot of the picturesque medieval looking streets. As we sipped wine, an actual professional model was prancing around having her picture taken as well!
We moved on to one of Nick’s favorite attractions, the Galleria Academia. Knowing he had to see the statue of David, he had booked the tickets in advance so we did not have to wait in the normal line… which was ridiculous. The deal is you are given a certain time to go and then you go to a different, much shorter line. I didn’t get the hype about David until I was there. Not only is the slab of marble absolutely massive, the detail was so impressive! Michelangelo did not go for a perfect anatomy opting to make the head and hands bigger than normal. Since you are looking from down upwards to the top of the tall statue, he knew that if he made the proportions accurate, our eyes and perception would actually give the illusion that the head was too small! Also, since his subject was David right before battle, he drew your attention to the sling by making his hand larger.
In addition to all this, there is so much life in David’s expression and detail in his musculature and even had veins popping out of his hands. Needless to say… I finally understood the hype.
So this night we were good to Janice and took her to a nearby restaurant for pasta and pizza. She was tired so we took her back to the room before Nick and I decided to explore on our own. It wasn’t super rainy but it was drizzling as we casually walked around the Piaza. There was a chain gelateria named Venci (it’s all over Rome and Venice too) and it was surprisingly good! Not as good as La Carraia but a close second.
Our last day in Florence we took pretty easy. We got coffee, packed and checked out. With our backpacks we decided to go to the Ufizi gallery (might have misspelled that). It was pretty neat… there were great views of the river. I personally loved the Birth of Venus painting. it was not super lifelike like Michaelangelo, Raphael or Caravaggio but it had a beautiful color scheme, beautiful drawing and it was instantly recognizable amongst all the other art. We sat and had wine, yes, in the museum before hurrying off to catch our train back to Rome.
So my next blog post will be about Venice. I had planned to make this post about both, but I guess I had a lot to say about Florence! Anyway, here’s more pictures!
And that’s it!