Falling for Florence
Our next destination, Florence, is now one my favorite cities to visit in Europe. London and Paris were both fairly cool in temperature, so it was such a relief to finally arrive in a warm city where it actually felt like summer. We immediately embraced the warmer, sunnier climate. Our easyJet flight from Paris Orly flew over the French and Swiss snow covered alps, which quickly descended into rolling green mountains tumbling into the rugged coastline of northern Italy.
We landed at Pisa Galileo airport, which provided the easiest airport experience I have yet to encounter. The airport is small, had no lines for customs or immigration, and has an amazing view of the Tuscan countryside. I've never been to an airport where they sell handheld to-go pizzas and where the restaurants offer outdoor patio seating.
To continue our journey to Florence, we took the shuttle bus to the Pisa train station to catch our train to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. Train tickets are really easy to buy online via Trenitalia or RailEurope, but usually you can only find your journey about six weeks in advance. Also the train schedules change twice per year to accommodate the high season.
EURail is another great site for planning your journey because it includes train schedules from multiple European rail carriers. If you buy your rail ticket at the train station, be sure to validate (time stamp) your ticket at the provided machines. If you bought your ticket online, it will most likely be pre-validated, and listed on the bottom of your ticket or receipt.
Our train ride to Florence was a quick relaxing one hour journey. The sun had already set when we arrived, so we walked along the lighted cobblestone streets towards our boutique hotel. We loved how safe and warm the city felt.
The next morning we woke up early and enjoyed a quiet breakfast and cappuccino with an incredible view of the city and the Tuscan hillside. Our goal for today was to go see the statue of David at the Accademia Galleria, and unfortunately I did not buy tickets for this museum online and you totally can.
Instead, we arrived early (maybe 8 AM) and stood in line for FOUR hours. I am not even exaggerating. The line alternated between letting in some people from the no ticket line and some people from the pre-bought tickets and tour guide line. I believe the pre-bought and tour group line is shorter though, or maybe they let more people in at a time, so that's why you can get in faster that way.
Please, learn from my mistake and buy your tickets online. I also recommend going to see some of Florence before you hit the museums. It is such a gorgeous city with fun shops, restaurants, and architecture around every corner.
Now, the statue of David is totally stunning. I already told you how amazed I am by sculptors, but Michelangelo really set the bar high with the David. The guy stands twenty feet tall in the nude without the slightest sign of embarrassment because he knows he is perfect. There is a lot of other Renaissance art in the museum if you are into that sort of thing. However, I was feeling impatient, so after paying my respects to the marble man, we hightailed it out of there for some lunch and to finally see the city.
If you haven't heard of Rick Steves, he is known for his useful travel guides throughout Europe, including very detailed walking tours of each city. We set out along the recommended path, which took us past the famous Duomo, the tower of the Palazza Vecchio, over the bridge for a view of the Ponte Vecchio, and up a very steep hill to the Piazzale Michelangelo, which provides a stunning view of Florence.
You may be unfamiliar with these significant places and wondering why you should go see them, and all I can say is that they are a beautiful representation of the history and architectural achievements of medieval times. For example, the Duomo is the subject of intense rivalry and major achievements in gothic and medieval architecture, and the Ponte Vecchio is a bridge that has been around since the Roman empire, even reportedly spared by the Nazi's because of its artistic allure.
Since I am not a historian, though, I highly recommend picking up Rick Steves' far more interesting guides. He covers many more attractions in Florence, too, such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Boboli Gardens.
The Piazzale Michelangelo is a popular place to see the sun set over Florence. It can get crowded, but there is plenty of space for everyone. You can also find vendors selling gelato, cold drinks, and souvenirs. Dan and I were grateful for these refreshments after our walking tour, because that day it was over 90°F and we were both sweating.
On the way back to our hotel, we grabbed dinner at a place near the Ponte Vecchio and browsed the many shops, including several offering beautiful leather goods. The following day we had booked a tour online with Walkabout Tours for their Best of Tuscany tour, including a wine tasting at a local vineyard!