We got into Florence in the early afternoon. It was all very smooth and we found our hostel really quickly.
I would highly recommend this hostel to anyone traveling through Florence. It is a 7 minute walk to and from the train and also 5 minutes to the Duomo. When we arrived the lady led us to our room to drop our bags. It was a private room and a private bathroom and it was adorable. It had butterfly decals above the headboard and was very inviting. It also had a fan and air conditioning INCLUDED so we were pretty happy about that.
We then met her in the office to sign in and she gave us a map of florence that she highlighted with the best path to hit all the hot spots, as well as marked down some of the best restaurants and other ‘off the beaten track’ attractions. It came in VERY useful later on.
Although they did not have breakfast included they had free coffee and tea as well as free croissants every morning. Pretty perfect.
The Statue of David
Since we had gotten in so early we decided to get a head start on the city. We beelined straight for Accademia Belle(?) Arti to feast our eyes on the Statue of David. It was raining so the line was not too bad but still lasted about 1 hour – And it was worth every moment.
After walking through the start the museum pretending we were interested, but really just wondering where David was hiding, we finally found him. Standing tall in all his glory with every inch of his body meticulously crafted was the most beautiful statue I had ever seen (and we have seen a lot so far this trip). From the veins in his hands and the curls in his hair (all of it) right down to the detail of his calf muscles and toes, David was ‘statuesque’.
We basked in his radiance before strolling off to look through one more room full of heads and smaller statues. We maybe should have done this one first because all of them failed in comparison – but were still interesting to see.
S. Maria Del Fiore (Duomo)
After the museum we pulled out our handy ‘Hostel Nella’ map and found our way to the highlighted path, bringing us to the Duomo.
When we turned the corner we were absolutely blown away. The exterior walls of this building were colourful, detailed, and immaculately ornate. It loomed over us like a mountain and the dome shone in the sunlight. It really did take our breaths away.
As we began to walk around it we realized that what we had seen was nothing compared to the front of the building. With statues, mouldings, gold, and decorative ledges we were again taken aback by its beauty. This building really did live up to, and surpass, my every expectation.
The line to get inside, however, was longer than we cared to wait, so, after admiring its exterior for a little longer, we found dinner at a small cafe. Note: Rose wine does not mean it is sweet… if fact… it could mean that every sip is like acid. Just saying.
Off to bed.
The next day we got off to a slow start, exactly what we wanted. Since our hostel was so close, we detoured past the Duomo again to get another look (still a long line). We then wandered past the Piazza del Signolla and through the corridors of the Galleria D. Uffizi, stumbling upon an adorable art market. Here, one particular artist caught our interest. At this point we were growing tired of museums and churches and found the street art to be far more interesting. Most of the vendors were selling paintings of florence that had clearly been mass-produced 10,000 times over again, but one was not.
An adorable older man wearing an apron covered in paint was working tirelessly away behind some of the most beautiful canvases we had seen. His style was an abstract take on realism and every picture seemed to speak to us. The artist was painting another masterpiece behind his booth and we spoke to him about his work. He later invited us to his birthday and gave us his business card. After much deliberation we decided to walk away art-less but with his website stored for later.
If you have a chance to go to the Galleria D. Uffizi don’t miss the art on the outside, there are truly some gems.
We then ventured across the Ponte Vecchio (which, to be honest, didn’t wow me.). There was store upon store of jewelry stores that didn’t look like they had updated there products since the bridge was built.
We took a few pictures, admired the views from the little inlets, and made our way across.
After a quick bite to eat and a check-in with the available wifi we headed out to find Michelangelo’s Plaza. It was a bit of a windy road filled with numerous stairs and a good stretch of leg-burning but we eventually made it.
At the top was the best view of Florence from anywhere in the city. It was by far my favourite place in Florence and most definitely worth the climb.
We got some ice-cream and took pictures around the plaza and gawked at the replica Statue of David (since nothing even comes remotely close to the real one we had already seen). From the plaza you could see every attraction, including some of the rolling hills of Tuscany, and that is where we decided we wanted a wine tour.
No Big Deal
We took a quick detour to Chiesa di San Miniato al Monte (I’m reading these names off of the map right now… no way in heck would I be able to remember them) which was pretty beautiful and much more modest than some of the other old churches we had seen, before heading back to our hostel..
We passed Piazza di S. Croce, got lost near the Bargello, strolled leisurely past Saint Lorenzo, and picked up Gellato before turning in to watch Matchmaker Millionaire for the rest of the night.
Chianti Wine Tour – Organization
Since we had decided we wanted to a wine tour it was time to make it happen. We googled and googled and googled. Apparently ‘day-before’ reservations are not easy. Or maybe they just don’t do Mondays. But eventually we found one that was the cheapest yet (45 euros) and started at 2pm. We had hoped for a morning tour but had no such luck. Because of this we would not be able to visit Pisa but I figured I could do some creative photoshopping to solve this. Even still, we would have to catch a train immediately after to get to Cinque Terre since we were booked in there for the night and it cost 50 euros if you showed up after 11pm. Yikes!
Note: We talked to a man who booked the tour through a tour guide and it cost him 90 euros for the same thing… so try to do your own research instead).
The next morning we slept in and left our bags at the hostel while we wandered around town. We did a few errands, grabbed some yogurt for breakfast (which I’m pretty sure my body absorbed whole because it was even remotely healthy) and went to arrange our trains for the evening. This is where things got interesting.
We booked our tickets for 7:30 from Firenze to La Spezia (the closest station to Cinque Terre). Note that the reservation is only needed from Pisa to La Spezia so that is what shows on the ticket (The ticket will have the time leaving Pisa (ex: 21:01 for us), not the time to leave Firenze (in our case, 7:30). You just have to catch the train from Firenze (7:30) on your own to make sure and get to Pisa before that train arrives (21:01). It is a little bit confusing, but makes sense when you get there).
We figured if the wine tour is 5 hours and leaves at 2:00pm we would not have much time to run back to the hostel to get our bags so we opted to use the baggage hold service at the train station. When we went to check prices we got a little surprise. The men behind the baggage counter were so immediately in love with us that they told us we could keep our luggage there for free. At first I was not really sure if I liked the un-professional nature of the whole situation and hoped they would not go through our bags there, but, in the end… it was saving us 9 euros each.
We told them we would be back and went for our bags. When we returned they put our bags in a separate area and gave us a note to give to the people on shift when we returned. It was in italian so we had no idea what it said, do you?
Chianti Wine Tour
We ran off to catch our bus for the tour, thanking the baggage men for their generosity.
We boarded a bus with about 30 other people and drove through the winding roads around Tuscan vineyards (luckily we popped some gravel before the adventure). I nodded off and woke to a castle.
The old castle was beautiful and surrounded by rows upon rows of perfectly lined grape vines. We got off the bus and were greeted by a tour guide from the winery. She showed us the barrels in the cellars and introduced us to the wines before we headed back up into the sunlight for our tasting.
There were 3 red wines and a desert wine, along with snack pairings for each. Jess got pretty lucky and got to enjoy 6 red wines since I was unable to swallow more than a few sips. I found it extremely harsh and bitter but she enjoyed them immensely. I, however, got lucky when she tasted her desert wine and quickly poured the rest into my glass. Yum.
We took a few photos before boarding the bus again for our next stop, a small town with more wine tasting. This round of wine tasting was not included in the price so Jess and I opted to wander the shops. We came upon a great little kitchen shop with wooden block cheese graters, which jess purchased, and we pet a very adorable long-haired chihuahua X named chappy (yes… chappy…). Then we headed back to the bus and back to the train station.
We got off the bus at 7:10 and bolted for the train station. When we ran in to get our luggage a man said “oh, you must be the Canadian girls”. What? Two seconds later he came out with our bags and a note that said “AMAZING Canadian Girls”. Nice! We didn’t know what was more flattering, that the guy had written that note about us or that the new guy knew it was us right when we stepped in the door. Either way, we were pretty pleased.
We got McDonalds fries and then ran for our train.
We had a short ride to Pisa where we switched trains (and took a picture on the platform with the typical Pisa ‘hold-the-building’ pose, just so we didn’t feel left out.
When we boarded this next train Jess put her purse on the seat and was lifting her bag into the rafters above. Just then a man sat down in the seat next to her bag. She looked at me and asked if I could just watch it…
The second I looked over he was unzipping her bag and beginning to rummage through it! I could not believe my eyes. I did not even take a breath before lunging over him and ripping it out of his hands (thank god for my cat like reflexes). I looked at him angrily and asked what the F* he thought he was doing… He just shrugged and mumbled something. Idiot. I mean the guy was probably 35 and in some heavy-metal t-shirt… get your shit together man!
From there on out we felt uncomfortable and ended up changing cars since the man did not seem to be phased by the event and was still sitting there. All I could think was every time he took out his phone he was letting his friends know who we were and lining them up for a hit at the next station. Luckily in the next car over there were two nice french girls and a very attractive man who was in the Navy, so we chatted with them and eventually eased.
We got off the train at La Spezia and took a cab to our hostel. And that story, my friends, is for another time.