Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy
Currency: Euro, exchange rate is roughly 1 Euro = $1.30 USD
Weather: Summer
Population: 370,000
Language: Italian, but everyone also speaks English

I apologize for my late posting.  I got caught up with so many other trips and seeing old friends that I neglected to review this amazing, authentic, beautiful, unpretentious little city.

Its been so long since I left Florence, so I am excited to get to relive it through this blog as I upload.  Florence was amazing.  The only thing that I remembered from when I was there in 1998 was that there was amazing street shopping that allowed you to haggle for goods.  15 years later, that market still exists but there is a richness in this city that I was not mature enough to have experienced, or remembered.

The most magnificent of all of the touristy things in Florence is obviously the Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo).  It is magnificent in the sheer size of the building, but also the details encompassed in its facade. It amazes me that they had the architectural capabilities to build such a magnificent structure in the 13th century.

They actually began building this monstrosity in 1296 and didn't complete it until 1436. The area around the Cathedral is a haven for tourists and thus pickpockets, so after my Barcelona debacle, I steered clear of the area.  However, the Duomo was a great landmark for finding my way around town.

One of the best parts of exploring a new city is when you have conquered all of the touristy stuff and you have time to tap into the local market, go where the locals go and eat where the locals eat.  After suffering through the most boring free walking tour possible, some new friends and I decided to grab lunch at a local farmers' market that was hidden behind the bustling canopies of the leather market.

Bilan and Emily, plus some big fat photo bombers at Palazzo della Signoria
The colors, the colors... beautiful produce everywhere
Stopped at a butcher and had him muscle me up a sandwich

After lunch, Bilan, Ariel and I parted ways for the afternoon and made plans to meet up later for the sunset and dinner.  This wouldn't be my blog if I didn't find a park to nap in during my downtime.  I had intended on writing a blog post, but obviously I didn't get to it...(since there wasn't a post for nearly 2 weeks).
Blog Nap break in the park
I had agreed to meet my new friends, Ariel and Bilan around 6:30 at the Ponte Vecchio bridge.  I picked up a new friend, Rosie, at My Friends Hostel (myfriendshostel.com) and we headed to the bridge.  It was Fashion's Night Out in Florence and there were kitschy fashion promotions throughout different corridors.  High end stores would stay open late serving appetisers and beverages and little did we know, we were about to stumble upon an amazingly fun evening.

Fashion Night Out street promoters
At the end of the Ponte Vecchio bridge we walked down the river bank to Piazzale Michelangelo to have a bottle of wine and watch the sunset.

View from Ponte Vecchio bridge

The river banks are well kept and not dirty at all.
Ariel, Bilan, Emily chillin

Sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo

This sunset is ridiculous!
They have erected another replica of the Statue of David for all to enjoy in the Piazza dedicated to Florence's most favored artist.  As if you would expect any less, tom foolery was had at Michelangelo's expense.

a pinch to the booty...

a tap on the shoulder...

and a little somethin' somethin' for him to remember me by

An amazing collaboration between the Gods and the architects of Florence

Left Clockwise: Ariel, Rosie, Marcela, Emily, Bilan

I didn't realize that nightfall could trump the sunset until now

Bilan, Rosie, Marcela, Ariel, Emily
After the sunset, we all decided to grab dinner at a local restaurant in Piazza San Spirito just southwest of the River.  We were truly a table of united nations.  New Zealand, Spain, Chile, Argentina, and of course, America.  Dinner was lovely and the company was stellar.

Our rogue wooden table amidst a cluster of steel
When we got to the restaurant, we did not have reservations and thought it would take forever to get seated, but we were sat right away despite it being full.  We hadn't realized until a liter of wine later that our table was not the same material as the metal tables surrounding us. And, it occurred to us  much later that our table was literally situated in the middle of the square.  Collectively we came to the consensus that they borrowed a table from somewhere and just plopped it in the middle of the plaza for us which was so, so nice, and so, so awkward and we so, so didn't care. But we did get a good laugh while we were leaving.  We were an eclectic group that deserved the extraordinary and we got it.

This restaurant had the oddest toilets also.  It was like a defiance against women.  See the "Defiance against hoverers" post.

After dinner, upon heading back to the hostel, we literally stumbled upon a street party.  All of the shops had their doors open to the public well after 10:30PM and there was music playing and people dancing in the street.  Patek Philippe was playing an amazing selection of Motown classics, EuroPop and 90's sensations.  Despite Rosie having an early wake-up call, we danced and danced until nearly 1am.

Patek Philippe party

Wall to wall people on Ponte Vecchio bridge

Photo bomber and I doing our best Miley Cyrus impression....Wouldn't that make Rosie the photo bomber then???
Rosie and I actually met some really funny Italians that spoke minimal English.  We shared a bottle of wine that I had in my purse while dancing and pantomiming since neither of us could understand the other, then ventured off to Karaoke together. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos or video from the tail end of our evening.   However, not surprisingly, I rapped Baby Got Back by Sir Mix A Lot while the non-English speaking Italian danced his ass off. I don't even remember their names despite them driving us home afterward, but they were good fun and Rosie still woke up in time for her big presentation.  Love that girl!

New hairdo for Rosie Posey!
With her conference presentation finished, it was time to celebrate.  Rosie and I decided to have a girls date night at Perseus Restaurant. It was authentic to the core.  The restaurant was very rustic inside.  The tables were garnished with fresh-ish vegetables (they were a little soft and wilted but still tasted okay).  All of the vegetables and fruit they were using to cook with were on display and since we were seated by the kitchen, we kept seeing the cooks come out to snag the ripest tomatoes, pineapples, garlic etc. that I've ever seen.

Edible table garnish....those radishes didn't stand a chance

Kitchen supplies in plain sight
The meat was being chopped right in the middle of the restaurant by the butcher.  He was just hacking away with a giant cleaver right near the host station.  Giant Bistecca dangled behind a glass curtain for customers to see what was literally just chopped for them to indulge in.

Obviously, I got a giant steak....cooked rare, the only way they prepare it
Rosie opted for a traditional Tuscan vegetarian dish,  Panzanella

Fried Basil = Delicious.  How do you take something healthy and destroy it???  Fry it.  It feels so good to be bad.
Can't go to Florence without seeing a museum.  So, I bought a ticket for the Uffizi Museum where I hung out with Botticelli, Caravaggio and two of the great Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rafael and Leonardo (da Vinci).  While waiting in line, I met a really nice woman from New York named Karen.  She and I decided to tour the museum together, then had a walk through the city, some lunch and wine together and parted ways. It was really pleasant to have a partner in crime.

A street artist's chalk drawing

Emily and Karen at the Uffizi

The poor woman, though, had no idea I would ruin her from all future museum visits.  While touring the gazillion museums I have encountered around Europe, I realized that painters from the 14th, 15th and 16th century have no ability to paint babies.  They all look like creepy aliens or fat, chubby creepers.  I have no idea why.  They do beautiful masterpieces of adults, wars, horses, dogs, fantasy paintings, but the second they put a child or a cherub in it, it's like they freak out and put a lifeless face with almond eyes on a rolly-polly, chubby body. I pointed it out to her early on in our adventure and she said that unfortunately, she now sought out the babies in paintings and concurred.  She's ruined for life...and now so are you.

Not even Da Vinci can get it right.  Virgin and Child (courtesy of Google images)

I spent nearly a week in Florence and loved every moment of it.  I stayed at 2 amazing places while I was there that I would recommend highly.  The first is for those of you on a budget, My Friends Hostel (myfriendshostel.com).  It is conveniently located just east of the main train station - only a 5 minute walk away, and only 7 minutes to the Duomo. It was amazing.  The owners, Nadina and Elion were the most accommodating, friendly people I have met in Italy.  The hostel was so clean and they took such good care of the property.  Nadina was always cleaning.  She even steamed the mattresses between guests to make sure there were no bugs or germs left behind.  They bleach the walls every couple of months to clean up dirt or mold spores or whatever, breakfast is included and they have a cute little outdoor patio that you can enjoy as well.  I actually found myself going home halfway through the day so I could hang out with Nadina and go get gelato or sit and have coffee and pastries.  She and Elion are amazing.  If you go to Florence and are in the need of accommodations ranging around 30-40 Euros, this is your place.

There are 6-bed rooms, 2-bed rooms and private rooms

Semi-private rooms

Private Rooms

The second is for those of you willing to splurge.  I stayed at a bed and breakfast called Be One (http://www.b1florence.com/index-eng.html).  Its about 250 Euros a night and is located right outside of the Piazza della Repubblica, just southwest of the Duomo.  All of the bedding and furniture is outfitted by Fendi.  The location was grand, the rooms were amazing and the service was stellar.  Check out the amazing furniture in the lobby.

Lobby seating area where we were met with Prosecco
The Library
Amazing Fendi Chairs....I want these so bad but they wouldn't fit in my backpack
Since this trip is about indulgence and exploration..... I did go back to a second bistecca to try my hand at another giant steak.

His half of the bistecca....

my half of the bistecca.... I was served at least 20 ounces easily, his must have been 40.
 I did get some writing done on my book at this amazing little tea room on Via de Cerretani.  I found it on accident while looking for a different coffee shop, but they had free wifi so I gave it a shot.  It was amazing...I had my first cappuccino EVER there.

Coffee Bar
They had a really cool mezzanine that I sat and wrote in for 6 hours on two different occasions.  The wifi was flawless and the staff was super friendly.

My table is upstairs on the left

They even gave me free pastries...yum.  Oh, by the way, those croissants are filled with marscarpone.
 After writing, I decided to bring back some pastries for Nadina and I to enjoy at My Friends Hostel.  We had a really nice time and it was a lovely way to spend time with her before I left for good.

Its not all steak and pasta for me.... I did have a day where I ate veggies!

Avacados, tomatoes and barrata cheese "salad"
The locals played a tune on my way out of Florence...I love street performers
What I absolutely loved about Florence was that it felt like a city but it also still felt quaint.  There were tons of things to do and tons of things to see, but I didn't feel overwhelmed by tourists.  I thought the locals were friendly and the culture was rich.  They were proud of their town and of their food and of the things that make Florence so special.  Homelessness was not flagrant and in your face, although there were gypsies that approached you while you were eating looking for food.  But the people were genuinely and generally friendly.   The city was clean and it felt clean which is amazing considering its history is so rich.  The food was affordable and the leather markets are undeniably the best in the world.  Above all, It felt safe.  I felt safe at night, I felt safe during the day and I felt like people in general, were honest good people.  I loved it there and would absolutely consider its application as a potential for me to live there.

Arrivederci, Florence. It was lovely and I promise I'll be back.  To all those I met in Florence, thank you for making my trip so fulfilling and rich.  I hope to see you all again some day...especially you, Rosie, Nadina and Elion.


  1. Hey Emily! Great post and pictures of Florence, I had a really nice time with you guys. I laughed a lot when we realized that we were in the middle of the square! :-) Tchüss!

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