Europe // Italy Part II (Florence)

Ah Florence! Was so magical – exactly what people say and more. Truly one of my favorite cities in the world.

We took the train from Venice to Florence, which was only a couple of hours, and arrived at a surprisingly busy train station. For some reason I thought Florence would be small and quaint but I was wrong!

We decided early on in the trip to take public transportation whenever we could to 1. save money and 2. experience the culture, but the bus system in Florence was a nightmare. We were the only tourists on the bus and crammed in like sardines (it didn’t help we arrived at rush hour). Needless to say, once we got off the bus, we decided to take cabs and our hotel shuttle in Florence the rest of the trip. 😉

Kev and I arrived at our hotel, Ville sull’Arno, which is located just outside the main touristy spots of Florence.

As you can see, our room was so nice. The bed? The most comfy.

The shower? The most fancy.

We liked being a little bit away from the touristy spots and our view of the river was magnificent.

The hotel spa, which we only used once, was also wonderful. We were the only people down there so we had the steam room, ice room (I lasted about three seconds), sauna and pool all to ourselves.

Our first night was exhausting. We didn’t sleep the night before because #nighttrain, so once we checked into our hotel, we showered and immediately went to find food. Kevin happened to find a place with good reviews just a few blocks away so we ended up there. Turns out La Pizza (literally the name of it), was the best/cheap/late night food in Florence.

My pasta was served on a paper plate and our entire bottle of wine was four euros. Both were perfection.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for gelato – of course! Pistachio for me… the very best.

The next morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast at a nearby cafe and grabbed our spot in line to climb the Duomo!

The pictures do not do this church any justice. Built in the 13th century, this church has multiple buildings to explore including the dome itself, bell tower (which you can also climb), the museum, baptistery and crypt.

We started our day climbing the Duomo. We purchased tickets in advance online via the church’s website. Tickets are only 15 euros each, but they get you into all of the buildings I mentioned above.

I recommend booking tickets online in advance because you get to select your time for climbing the Duomo and believe me, you want to have that so you don’t have to stand in a line for hours.

Oh and more military guards.

Okay so I’ll admit I was nervous to climb this thing. Everything I read online said that you shouldn’t climb it if you’re scared of heights and claustrophobic. I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as either of those things, but I also wouldn’t say I particularly enjoy being up very high and enclosed in small spaces.

That said, the picture below is the widest/largest spot of the entire climb – all 463 steps.

Once we got to the top, the views were worth it!

You don’t realize how big Florence is until you’re up that high. It seems to go on forever.

Once we took photos from all sides, we decided to venture down. The staff does a good job of staggering people coming up and down (because it’s all the same set of stairs, and no room to pass), but we did have to wait a few minutes before heading back to ground floor.

Our next stop was the crypt, which is the spot where the old Santa Raparata was. This very spot where we were standing was built around the year 400. THE YEAR FOUR HUNDRED. That literally boggled my mind.

Many of the artifacts left here are actually ancient Roman ruins, which was so neat to see. The archaeologists are actually still working to uncover artifacts, which is amazing to me.

We used the free Rick Steves audio tours at almost every major sight in Europe and I’m so glad we had it for the Duomo. Fun fact, the below picture is likely the original herringbone.

We saw the Gates of Paradise, made of bronze from the 15th century up close. The level of detail in this thing (and frankly, all the artwork we saw the entire trip) is unreal. You just gotta see if for yourself – pictures do not do any of this justice!

Donatello’s Mary Magdalen was up next. I remember studying this one in an art history class in college but admittedly couldn’t remember what it’s significance was. Very glad we had free Rick Steves audio tours to help us!

We also saw Michelangelo’s The Deposition, which wasn’t behind glass or anything. Just right out in the open – could have touched it if we wanted (we resisted).

We took a break from museums and climbing for lunch and ate at a nearby restaurant, La Capanna for pizza, pasta and vino (of course).

And just like the day before, no meal in Italy is complete without gelato. Thankfully we walked off everything we ate (so. much. walking.).

We still had our passes to the rest of the Duomo buildings/museums, but we ventured over to the Uffizi Gallery (purchased tickets online in advance here) to see the infamous David statue. Kevin and I aren’t overly huge museum people but we had read the David is a must-see, and I’m so glad we did. The statue is huge (and not just that part) and so beautifully detailed (again, not just that part).

We used Rick Steves audio tour for the David and I’m so glad we did because he shared a ton of specifics about the statue and Michelangelo we wouldn’t have otherwise known.

We spent about an hour wandering throughout the museum to see some of the other artwork. Leading up to the David, the gallery has statues lined up on either side of unfinished Michelangelo statues.

But then, it was time to head back to the Duomo and climb the Bell Tower – all 414 steps. We didn’t have to be here at a certain time like we did for the Duomo climb, but they did stagger us again since the stairwells are so small.

See?!

The climb was certainly worth it for the view, once again.

Later that afternoon, once we finished up with both museums and all the exercise, we ventured over to the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence.

We walked over it, through some of the shops along the way, and found ourselves at a little wine bar over looking the bridge and Arno river.

Drinks with a view!

We met an American couple from New Jersey and talked to them for a bit. By this point on our trip, we really enjoyed talking to other people because it felt familiar to speak the same language and it was nice to talk to someone other than each other for once!

That night, we decided to eat at our hotel because we heard the restaurant had amazing reviews. The hotel was definitely on the small side, and the kitchen was just as quaint (but I loved that about it!).

I got the world’s best pasta dish: cacio de pepe (which translates to cheese and pepper).

Kev got a ravioli dish and said it was amazing. I don’t think either of us shared our meals because we were too busy shoveling the food in our mouths.

I love anything pistachio so we topped off the night with a pistachio dessert and hit the hay.

We had a great first full day in Florence but the next day was even better!

 

Europe // Italy Part I (Venice)

Italy was the last country on our Europe trip. We previously went to Germany (recaps here and here) and Austria (recaps here and here). 

We left off surviving the night train from Salzburg to Venice and despite the lack of sleep, we were excited to be in Italy! When planning this trip, Kevin said Italy was his top destination (mine was Germany), so we decided to hit four cities in eight days.

Our train got into Venice at 8:30 a.m. and we immediately dropped our bags off at the luggage drop within the train station for five or so euros (I can’t remember the exact amount) per suitcase.

Then, we caught Venice’s form of public transportation – a boat – to the main district, San Marco.

Venice is simply amazing. There are no cars, obviously, so everything is transported via boat. Kegs on a boat!

The ride was pretty cheap (maybe two euro a person?) and about 20 minutes, but it felt like a tour of all the districts as we passed by each. Highly recommend just using public transportation over a water taxi or gondola.

Once we got into the San Marco area, we popped into a little cafe for breakfast. Cappuccino and pastries!

We were only in Venice for the afternoon, and it rained the entire time we were there, so we didn’t do many touristy things. We basically just walked around and got lost in the streets – the best way to see Venice, in my opinion!

We made our way to Harry’s Bar, the birthplace of the bellini! This bar has been open since 1931 and was a favorite of Earnest Hemingway. I’ll warn you this place is not cheap, but it was fun to sip on the bellini, where it was created.

We kept getting more and more lost, but every turn was picturesque. I mean, someone lives here!

We found a little bar/cafe for lunch and grabbed a couple slices of pizza and a glass of wine. The pizza here doesn’t look very good, but it was delicious.

And gelato! Out of all the things I couldn’t wait to see/do in Italy, gelato was near the top. We got some twice each day, usually once after lunch and once after dinner.

Kevin always got some sort of fruit flavor, like berries or mixed fruit…

Meanwhile, pistachio was my flavor of choice. Obsessed. 

We left Venice around 3 p.m. to head over to Florence via train. We really didn’t give ourselves much time to truly explore Venice but I am honestly not sure what else we would have done – walk around, take a water taxi, saw the sites/culture, ate pizza, drank bellinis and got gelato.

Florence up next!