Something I’ve noticed is that many of the names of places and streets in Europe are replicated in the US. This is not at all surprising as the US is a baby (in age) compared to pretty much any other country, but especially Europe. Florence seems to be an especially popular city name though. We have a Florence in South Carolina, Alabama, Oregon, Arizona, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Mississippi, and probably many others. Do other countries have this problem or is it unique to the US (and we are just a bunch of lazy buggers with no creativity)?
Florence, Italy is a beautiful city. It is full of many years of history, tons of ancient architecture, art and landmarks and lovely people. We stayed at Sette Santi Hostel (translation is “Seven Saints”), which is a remodeled convent, hence the religious name. Our room was pretty spartan, which I imagine is how the rooms were when it was a convent as well. They added a bathroom to our room, which was nice. One of the first things that I do in a new room is check out the bed. This is obviously the most important part as this is the main reason anyone pays for a room – to use the bed (in one way or another). Well, the moment I sat down on this bed I nearly fell backwards onto it as I rolled into the middle. Let’s just say the beds felt like they hadn’t been replaced when it was converted to a hostel from a convent. We both got a good laugh out of it and continued with our unpacking. No sense in making a big deal about the bed anyway, typically we are so tired after walking around all day that the comfort level of the bed has little to no impact on our ability to sleep.
So we stashed our stuff in the room and headed to the main floor for a bite to eat. The hostel has its own chef that makes breakfast and dinner and the prices were reasonable (buffet style). We ate well, then asked one of the staff members where we should go for a couple of hours that night. They suggested the Piazzale Michelangelo, which would offer us great views of the city and is even better at sunset. So, we got directions to the bus and headed that way. After hopping on the bus, I noticed that we were moving pretty fast and… recklessly. I glanced over at the bus driver to see him bouncing around in his seat with headphones in, whistling to some lively music. Crazy Italian drivers… The more we travel, the more I realize that EVERYTHING in the US seems to be surrounded in a giant layer of bubble-wrapped rules, legislation and lawsuits to “protect” people. The lively bus ride is just one example, of course, but sometimes I get the feeling that we in the US are breeding a generation of people incapable of watching out for themselves or others.
Once we reached the Piazzale Michelangelo stop, we stepped off the bus, walked past a colorful disco and arrived at a breathtaking scene.
The piazzale was, of course, teeming with people but we managed to snap a few photos and enjoy the view before heading off in a new direction. We had no idea where to go next, so decided to hop on the same bus, going in the same direction. Jesse asked the bus driver where to find a non-touristy bar, which he pointed out to us right before he stopped to let us off. We wandered around a little area of Florence across the river from the main tourist destinations and landed at an Irish Pub. It seems odd to find an Irish Pub in Italy, but when I consider the many cultures represented in the US, I don’t know why it seems so odd. Perhaps because the cultures in Europe seem more segmented and less like a giant melting pot. We had some tasty beer and tried our hand at darts. I’m not going to say who won most of those games, but let’s just say it wasn’t Jesse.
We left the pub around 11pm or so and headed towards the main train station in Florence. I did not have an Italian SIM in my phone, so had no internet access and Jesse’s phone had died a bit earlier, so we were going on our limited knowledge of the city to try to get back to our hostel. We wandered around for about 45 minutes, trying to find the right bus, asking a handful of different people if they knew which bus to take and/or where to go to catch it. We finally gave up and caught a cab to our hostel, which was just a bit too far away to walk. Our fare was €10.50, or about $13.50 US. In retrospect, it wasn’t a ton, but compared to bus fares it felt like a fortune. We headed to our room to fall asleep and prepare for a full day of sightseeing.
The next day we decided to visit a few key spots in Florence. We headed first to the Duomo of Florence, aka Florence Cathedral, aka The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. The term “Duomo” means cathedral, even if it does sound like it means dome, which would make more sense since they all seem to have domes… just saying. Anyway, I took some pictures of the pretty inside, such as this one on the right. We had the option to pay 8 or 10 Euros to climb 200-300 stairs for a view of the whole city, but since we had already seen a great view of Florence the night before, we decided to save our money and our stamina and imagine that it looked similar.
Next stop was the Uffizi Gallery, which seemed like an important place to visit since it contained works by such famous artists as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Raffaello. I had seen that we could purchase tickets online, but you had to do so at least 24 hours before you visited. We have not been planning our sightseeing so far in advance, and I figured the lines couldn’t be too terrible to get in. When we finally found the entrance for the gallery, there were signs telling you which line to get in. The one we needed happened to be the longest, and it wasn’t even moving. We hopped in line and Jesse held our spot as I walked around all the potential entrances to gather more information. There was one entrance to pick up tickets purchased online and another entrance to get in with said tickets, then of course our entrance, for the losers who thought the lines wouldn’t be too long and would just wait to get in. The way our line worked was that it would be unmoving for about 15-20 minutes at a time, then a chunk of people would be let in. We ended up waiting for about 90 minutes before we could get in to purchase our tickets. The place was super crowded, but we managed to make our way around and check out all the sculptures, paintings and various artworks we could see. This place was much bigger than I expected though and I have to say, I think there are entirely too many “Madonna and Child” paintings in the world, and most of them seemed to be in this gallery.
I am not the type of person to stand and stare at a painting or other piece of art to examine it, and this gallery was no exception, although I wouldn’t have been able to stare at any one painting or sculpture for more than a few seconds and still see the rest of the museum before closing. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so we took a photo outside, at the top of the gallery, right after we finished seeing the whole gallery. Or so we thought. After making a restroom pit stop and preparing to head out while winding our way down and through the museum, we realized that we weren’t done. Noooo, not by a long shot. We then shuffled amongst the crowds through countless additional rooms of paintings and sculptures until we were nearly delirious – the museum was never-ending! Clearly we eventually made it out, but not without being scarred for life. I don’t think I need to visit another art museum ever again. Or at least one full of sculptures and religion-themed paintings. Or modern art. I enjoy art, but I think I prefer to appreciate it somewhere other than in a huge gallery full of it.
After the Uffizi Gallery, we met up with someone we met at the beginning of our Helpx stay – another Angela, who is a landscape design artist studying in Florence and works with Josh (one half of the couple from our Helpx stay). We had accidentally left our GPS tracker in Josh and Virginia’s car and it just so happened that Italian Angela was home over the weekend near them. So, rather than trying to get it sent in the mail somewhere, Josh and Virginia gave it to Angela and we met up with her in Florence to get it. It seemed to work out quite nicely considering the many alternative ways it could have ended up. We met up with Angela and her boyfriend for coffee and they showed us some neat places on a map of Florence that we could visit, as well as suggesting a couple great restaurants. We planned on meeting up with our new NY friends that we met in Venice that night and wanted to find a decent place to eat. They showed us an excellent little trattoria with a great chef, which we relayed to our friends. After we said our goodbyes to Angela and her boyfriend, we met up with our NY friends and made our way to the little trattoria. The food was excellent and the conversation even better. We talked about where we were headed next – Cinque Terre – and talked it up so much that we convinced them it was worth a look. After dinner, we headed back to our hostel to prepare for our journey to Cinque Terre the next day!