I hopped on a bus bright and early from Milan to Florence hoping to see some beautiful Italian countryside along the way. While parts of it were beautiful, I was overall not super impressed and was a bit surprised when the majority of the road between Bologna and Florence was actually tunnels underneath the Apennine Mountains.
Regardless, I arrived at the bus station on the outside edge of the city, grabbed a transit ticket and hopped on the first tram into the city. It didn’t take very long and the tram itself was very new and clean which was refreshing after some of my experiences living in Milan. I had reserved a 3 day ticked for the Uffizi, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens which meant that, due to poor planning on my part, I had to rush through the city to get to the museum in time to collect my ticket.
Despite my lack of art knowledge, the Uffizi was very good and definitely worth a visit even if you are not artistically cultured. My favorites were the intricately painted ceilings, and in terms of the actual exhibit, I tended toward the sculptures rather than the paintings and frescos.
Afterwards, I walked along the river and over the Ponte alle Grazie (which is a bridge with lavish jewelry shops and houses on it) and over to my hostel to drop my bags. I had every intention to just cook a bit of a late lunch (can it still be considered lunch at 4:30?) and then head off to the train station to figure out my Pisa/Lucca trip but I ended up in a deep conversation with a 70+ year old Irish man staying in the hostel. He was very nice and so I don’t feel too bad about the change of plans. After all, half of traveling is about meeting new people and seeing new perspectives.
That night I took a stroll around the neighborhood, watched the sunset and took some beautiful night photos which you will have already seen if you follow my Instagram. Something about the light in city allowed for really nice photos even on my old-as iPhone.
Day two was busy, and I mean really busy. So busy that I have to rely on the fact that Google was tracking every step I took in order to remember everything I saw. Ironically, I started the day off by planning for the next. I headed straight over to the train station and bought my tickets to see Pisa and Lucca. After that was sorted out, I set off from the train station to see the things I blew by the day before in my rush.
I started off at Santa Maria Novella but didn’t pay the admissions to go in and instead headed right over to Duomo which is pretty spectacular. Duomo on the map are actually a few buildings all crammed together to make one big spectacle. There’s Battistero di San Giovanni (The Baptistery of St. John) with the Gates of Paradise, Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower), Cupola del Brunelleschi (Brunelleschi’s Dome), and the massive Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Unfortunately, I didn’t think things through when getting dressed that morning and wasn’t wearing appropriate church clothing.
I thought that I would try my luck with the lines at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenza (Academy of Florence Gallery) which houses Michelangelo’s David. I had originally intended to buy that ticket in advance like I had done with the Uffizi but somehow I closed my window full of tabs without actually completing that transaction and so I ended up wading to the back of the 2 hour long queue.
Apparently Lady Luck was on my side though because less than an hour into the wait, a guy walks by offering up his pre-purchased ticket. I was a bit skeptical but I knew the guy behind me in line would let me back in if it turned out to be a scam and so I went with him to the entrance to make sure that it was a legitimate ticket (which it was), paid the guy and was standing in awe of David in no time.
It was lunchtime when I had had my fill of the arts and so I walked over to the Mercato di San Lorenzo which is a famous leather-goods market. After perusing the belts and bags, I had a fantastic lunch at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Trattoria Sergio Gozzi (which was recommended to me by a friend). From there I headed south, past Piazza della Repubblica, Chiesa di Orsanmichele (Church of Orsanmichele), Mercato del Porcellino (Porcelain Market), and ended up in Piazza della Signoria.
In that piazza is the Palazzo Vecchio, Loggia dei Lanzi which is an open air statue gallery, Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) which was unfortunately under restoration, and Chiesa di San Piero a Scheraggio (and also the Uffizi museum which I already had seen). A bit more walking and I was at the Basilica di Santa Croce which completed my route for the northern part of the city.
This second half of the day is a good example of my occasional poor planning and what not to do. I decided that the smarted thing to do would be to just go straight south to the Piazzale Michelangelo and then head west to the rest of the sights which would also lead me basically straight to my hostel. While certainly efficient, I had no idea that pretty much the entire route would be up a steep hill which I timed to be hiking at 3 pm AKA the heat of the day.
Oh well, it was actually only 82F/28C and slightly breezy which to me, is a bit toasty but nothing to change plans over. I took a lot of breathers and just kept thinking of all the calories I had to be burning and before I knew it, I was on top of the world looking out on a stunning panoramic view of the city. One-million percent worth it.
On my way down, I meandered through the rose garden which was nice but not in season anymore and then proceeded to hike up what is likely the steepest hill in all the city, along the Mura di Firenza (Walls of Florence) to get to the Giadino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens). Apparently Forte di Belvedere (the fortress) was closed for maintenance or an event because they had the entrance all roped off when I walked by and seemed to be kicking people out of the building.
The Boboli gardens were nice but actually a bit of a letdown compared to what I had been imagining. It’s still a completely necessary stop in Florence, don’t get me wrong. I had just hyped it up in my head for some reason. A quick wander through the gardens (using my Uffizi combo ticket) and I decided to hurry over to Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace) before they closed to use the last stop of my combo ticket.
I was really curious about the name Pitti (which is, boringly enough, just the last name of the banker who built it) because to me it was a bit comical. I made a joke in my head which was probably totally unoriginal that if you threw a party in that palace you would be having a Pitti Party (get it pitty party, I wonder how many people have come up with that one). Anyways, inside are a handful of smaller museums housing mostly art which was very nice (in fact I might have like the art here better than in Uffizi).
By the time I had wandered completely through that giant palace my feet were screaming. A quick check of my Apple Watch explained everything; I had walked over 13 miles (basically 21 km)! I hobbled back to my hostel, picking up a pretty decent kebab on the way and turned in for the night. After all, I had to get up early the next day to queue for the Cathedral before hopping on my train to Pisa.
The Cathedral turn out to be not so incredible inside and so I’m glad I didn’t end up waiting in line very long. I arrived around 8:30-9, it opened at 10 and I was out and on my way to the station by 10:30 so I think that if you wanted to sleep in a bit more, the line moves fast enough that you could probably wait until 9-9:15 to queue and the extra time you’d wait in line after it opened would be the same as what I waited having gotten their early.
After a day exploring Tuscany by train (post here), I came back to Florence for on last night before departing for Rome with a stopover in Siena. Overall, I really loved the city. It’s very interesting with loads to do and for some reason, even the tourists were nice with some shared sense of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced elsewhere.