When we left Switzerland, we boarded the train to head down south to Italy. Just a note about our train travel: this point is where I was extremely glad that we used backpacks rather than large luggage. Ian helped several women hoist their heavy, bulky suitcases on the upper racks of the train. Having backpacks only was a true lifesaver.
We were really excited about this trip as it took us through the Swiss Alps. Gorgeous!
We arrived to Florence in the evening and checked into our hotel, the Orto de Medici Hotel (here). The room rate was good and it was in a very nice location, easy walking distance to everything we wanted to see. And oh my goodness, the breakfast was the best -- freshly squeezed orange juice and a VAT of Nutella for their croissants were the standouts.
For dinner that night, we were pointed to Pepo (here) by a fellow American couple who had dined there the night before and loved it. It truly was the perfect spot -- small, cozy, good service, and amazing pasta dishes.
The next day we hit the ground running, taking in all of the big sites -- the Accademia that houses David and the Duomo. We didn't enter either ... amateur moves on our part by not booking a tour for the Accademia (and not wanting to wait in the massive line), and not having any Euros with us to enter the Duomo. When we returned later to the Duomo with Euros in hand, we were met by another massive line. We decided to skip both as our time in Florence was limited and we wanted to spend it taking in the culture. Part of me felt really guilty for coming to Florence and missing some of the big sites, but after the let-down that was the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, I figured there was a chance that this could be a similar experience with huge crowds all vying for one good iPhone shot.
So ... our trek continued!
I received some awesome advice from a college friend (hi AC!) who told me that we absolutely had to visit the Scuola del Cuoio (here) which is a leather school. This was a definite highlight of our time in Florence. You can stroll through the building and see true leather artisans at work, learning the ins and outs of the trade. The leather they work with is the best of the best, and you really feel like you are in the presence of artists. There are photos on the wall of celebrities who have been there. And, it's completely free to enter, which is refreshing when you are on a two week trip where everything, everything, costs money.
We walked past the Duomo again and then walked across Ponte Vecchio, a very old and beautiful bridge that is lined with shops.
From there we made our way up the 26742 steps (or maybe it just seemed that way) to Piazzale Michaelangelo (here). There was a cathedral up at the very top where we stopped to sit on a bench and just take the glorious view in. If I had it to do again, you better believe I'd go armed with a book and a bottle of red.
Before we left the States, my Aunt Karen had forwarded me an article about the top ten places to get gelato in the world, and right on that list was Perche No! in Florence (here). And let me tell you, I see why it made the list! I had a scoop of lemon and a scoop of canteloupe, and it was every bit delicious as you'd expect. From a place that has been around since 1939, you know they've got something good going on.
That evening we sort of hit a wall. We were feeling a bit drained -- physically and financially. We found a supermarket and headed straight to the back of the store and picked up salami, prosciutto, two cheeses, a loaf of salted bread, pesto and olives. We ate our picnic dinner right on the bed and watched a movie on the iPad. It was exactly what we needed to recharge.
If you've been to Florence, I'd love to hear your two cents.
Up next ... Rome!