Toscana (Tuscany) – Home to beautiful olive groves, vineyards, great wine, leather apparel and olive oil. It’s capital city Firenze (Florence), is considered the cultural hub of Italy. Housing Michelangelo’s David and the biggest Cathedral in Italy’s northern state called Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Florence was approximately a three hour train ride from Cinque Terre, passing Pisa on the way – the trip was surprisingly quick and very scenic. We chose to stay in Florence because of it’s proximity to places like Pisa, Milan and Venice. Our thoughts were if we wanted visit one of these places, we could easily do these by train.
Our apartment was in an area on the outskirts of Florence and only a short 20-minute stroll into the centre of town. We decided to do some good old-fashioned walking here, which is probably why we felt the unrelenting heat burning the insides of our brains even more. The city of Florence was extremely hot, with only a temperature of 30 degrees – it’s cobblestone streets, buildings and no breeze made for a human furnace. We often found ourselves in gelati shops to recover and I was encouraged to visit the almighty Zara to find some air conditioning relief. This may have slowed down our sight seeing a little, but we still managed to see some of the beauty Florence has to offer.
The sights: Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is the most obvious landmark in Firenze. It’s one of the five bridges that crosses the Amo River that flows through the city. This bridge is famous for it’s façade, which simply looks like houses stacked up on top of each other and their windows face the outside of the bridge. On the bridge itself is a different picture all together – there are dozens of jewellery shops, specialising in gold and silver. Not to mention street vendors. We were lucky enough to be there for the San Giovanni festival, which meant fireworks off the bridge. Not foreseeing that this festival was just as big as NYE fireworks for us, we got to the bridge 10-minutes before start time and the fireworks had already started. We wormed our way onto the Ponte Vecchio, for what would be known as the longest display of fireworks we have ever seen. After an hour, the crowd was clapping for it to finish, but the firework master would start up again – a larger display of fireworks, which he would then pause, the crowd would applaud and then they would start again. It got to the point where people were sighing and screaming for them to finish. 90 minutes later and it was done, we followed the thousands of people home for some late night pizza.
Piazza de Michelangelo looked relatively attainable on the map and we were told it was a must do as you can see all of Florence from the top of the hill. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the bottom of the piazza, before taking a 20 minute uphill hike to the top of the piazza. It is here that stands a replica statue of David in it’s bronze form and awesome street vendors selling bottles of iced water for one euro. The view of Florence from the top is amazing and a very worth while attraction to visit while in this town.
Michaelangelo’s statue of David, is still considered THE piece of art to go and see while in Italy. It is housed in La Galleria L’Accademia and you must reserve tickets if you don’t want to miss out or wait in line. The ticket office is across from La Galleria and for 12 euro each, we were are assigned a time and date of when we were able to visit. We got there a bit early and we just waited outside the door until they called in our time. There was no need for a line, they will let you in if you’re ticket signifies the correct time. The statue of David is impressive, not only because Michelangelo managed to carve it all out of one single piece of marble or the fact that it towers over you at eight feet tall – but because of how Michelangelo captured each contortion of David’s body and defined the extension and tension of muscles and veins – making it seem almost human. He was the first artist to understand and translate the anatomy of the human being in a sculpture. It’s amazing what you’ll pick up with a little eavesdropping from a tour guide next to us – we don’t know if there is any truth to it, but it sounds impressive so we’ll just roll with it for now. Just beware, you can’t take photos of the Michelangelo – so you just have to settle for the fake versions outside.
Cooking class: Our mission when visiting this amazing city was to of course see the sights, but to also get into a cooking class. As cliché as it sounds, a number of our friends had recommended we do one and well…when in Florence! The first thing we realised when we looked up Trip Advisor for cooking classes were that most of the ones rated highly were 300 – 400 Euro for both of us. A bit over our budget, we kept looking and found a class that was 80 euro each. The tour was via a company called the Florence Cooking School and included a visit to the market for some olive oil and balsamic vinegar taste testing.
Our chef Giovanni was great, very funny and was happy to answer all our “Foodie” questions. He took us to his dungeon in the middle of the city, where we started with the Tiramisu (just because it takes a good hour in the fridge to be ready), then moved onto the Bruschetta, melanzane parmagiane and finally the fresh pasta with a Ragu sauce. To date this has been the best pasta we have had on the trip. Nothing beats fresh pasta and now that we know how to cook it, we’re going to masterchef it up at home. We got some great tips here and our highlight of Florence, so definitely recommend it to anyone who would like to experience an amazing Italian meal that will keep giving.
Venice: We decided to take the train to Venice on our last day in Florence. It was a three hour ride and again got to see the country side pass by, all be it very quickly. Venice is bizarre. As soon as you exit the Santa Maria train station you are faced with the canal. We knew we wanted to get to the Piazza San Marco, the Piazza famous for its beautiful square covered in pigeons and of course San Marco’s Basilica. The Basillica is beautiful, but again make sure you take a scarf if you plan to go in, as a lot of churches in Italy won’t let you in with exposed shoulders. I made this mistake.
We caught the ferry to the Piazza San Marco’s for 26 Euro each. The ferry ride was great, all kinds of boats everywhere. Ferry’s, gondolas and vaporettos – each with it’s own purpose. The Ferry will take you across to both sides of the canal and is used for longer distances, the gondola mainly for tourists to take along the main canal or the back streets and the vaporettos take you from one side of the canal to the other. We explored the Piazza and went to sit down for a drink in the square, when we saw the price of coke was 10 euro. We quickly got up and decided to take a gondola ride down the back streets of the canal, it was divine. We got a great gondolier who explained the significance of the buildings to us, the history and culture of Venice.
Venice is beautiful; we loved the back streets, the little boutiques and unique shops. It can be a massive tourist trap – especially if you don’t know where to go. We didn’t, so we were lucky we only had the one day there. If you do go to Venice, maybe get some tips on where to stay and where to go for lunch and dinner.
Overall, Florence was a great central spot for us to stay. Immersed in culture and so close to other main cities in Italy – it’s definitely a must see while you’re here. There is always something to do, some holiday to celebrate and glorious food and wine to consume. Onto Rome…