I cannot think why I have been putting off writing the last posts of this travel series because even those final days of our holiday were amoung my favourites. Although for the record, it is an impossible task to choose a favourite between the cities we visited, each one being so unique and appealing in its own way.
We had used the rail service to travel from Munich to Venice, and then again on to Rome. This leg was no different. We navigated Roma Termini with great success the second time around and after a short journey of only one and a half hours rolled into Florence in time for lunch.
From the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence we needed to take a bus across the Arno River to the San Frediano area, traversing a mere 1.5km to our accommodation. Finding the correct bus provided those watching us with much um…entertainment. To give you an idea there are no less than five bus stops around the station through which pass about a million buses. Once safely on bus number 13, the ten minute journey was scenic and took us right through the old worldly streets of Florence.
We then enjoyed the opportunity of seeing those quaint streets up close because we missed our stop and had to back track on foot about 1 km from the next one, luggage in tow. Mostly on this trip getting lost felt like an imperative initiation into each new city, and it was one which we quite liked to get out of the way quite quickly.
Of all the accommodation which I had booked for this trip, our Florence stay was the one about which I had worried the most. I had booked a self-catering apartment called Appartemento Cristina via Booking.com. It promised a bedroom, a bathroom, linen, towels and a fully equipped kitchen all a 15-minute walk from Florence’s historical center. It sounded like a good fit for our purposes. Appartamento Cristina turned out to be the shining jewel of our trip. We absolutely loved being able to cook again for ourselves and finding the pasta, wine and biscotti we wanted for dinner, required only a ten minute walk to the local grocer.
The apartment was pristinely clean and Cristina a wonderful host. Through very broken English Cristina did her best to answer our questions and point out the places we wanted to see on the map. She even offered us dinner on our first night. Cristina’s thoughtfulness to her guests needs are apparent all through the apartment. Should we return to Florence we would stay in that little apartment with its glorious bed linen without question.
But time was not in our favour and we needed to see as much of Florence as we could. All settled in our apartment we opted to test the promised 15-minute walk into Florence’s historical center. Walking through the quiet area of San Frediano making our way back to the Arno River, we felt like intruders; out of place tourists defacing a typical Florencian Sunday afternoon.
With our nosy and quizzical stares we were an unwelcome interference in the regular business of living; the washing of laundry; the playing of soccer; the chatting with friends. We almost appreciated the sight of gelato wielding tourists making their way up to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and we soon fell into step with these fellow outlanders, leaving their Florencians to their peace.
The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval stone arch bridge over the Arno River and it is quite something to see. The afternoon’s cloud gave it a rather solemn and dreary air on our approach. As we got closer and later again on our return we did walk across it and it came as somewhat of a surprise to us to see the endless stores of expensive jewelry shops which line its ancient sides. When I looked at that bridge from a distance again on the way home, it almost seemed to bear itself up with the same long suffering the old sometimes display when forced to accept bizarre notions from the youth. A forced and grudgingly given acceptance of the way things are now.
We headed up Via dei Calzaiuoli towards the Piazza del Duomo, to see the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower the main cathedral of Florence. The queues to enter the Cathedral were exceptionally long and uninviting and we chose not to go inside, taking time to walk the perimeter and enjoy instead the breathtaking façade. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe the intricacies and details of every inch of the cathedral, but just know that to sit on a bench in that piazza and stare up at the cathedral dome is a moment where you feel completely tiny and aware that every artistic and creative endeveour you have ever undertaken is, by comparison, preschool art and crafts.
The most amazing thing about Florence is that the center area around the Piazza de Duomo has free public wi-fi. We were able to FaceTime our kiddos from the square and show them the cathedral in real time. It was such a special moment for us.
Florence, Italy is known for its leather and I had been waiting to get to Florence to buy something special. We headed off in search of the legendary leather markets and two were easily found and not disappointing.
The first market we visited is on the south side of the Mercato Nuovo on Via Calimala near the Piazza della Repubblica. Under magnificent arches are leather stands and stalls selling anything that is anything that is made out of leather as well as scarves and silk pashminas. On the outside of this market stands a bronze boar fountain with a very shiny snout. The boar is known as Il Porcellino (which I believe is Italian for “piglet”) and not unlike the Trevi fountain in Rome, he is a tourist magnet. Apparently he brings good luck to those that rub his snout and put a coin in his mouth.
The second market and my favourite of the two we visited was the San Lorenzo outdoor leather market which you will find on the streets around San Lorenzo church. I loved the stalls that lined the streets. In fact many of the stalls are actually just extensions of the stores behind them but we stuck to the tented aisles, retaining that market atmosphere and meandered our way along. The smell of genuine leather is one I have always loved and I unashamedly sniffed my way along. We were looking for a special leather handbag for my mom as a gift for looking after our kiddos and we left rewarded with the most gorgeous one for her. Dear Husband managed to expertly haggle down a seller and treated me to a beautiful grey leather belt. It was absolutely worth waiting for the Florence markets.
Shopped out and walked out we returned home to our apartment and a welcoming glass of Chianti while Dear Husband cooked us a pasta dinner that would make any Italian mamma proud.
On our final day in Italy we join a Wine Tour through Tuscany and I share my top tips for visiting Florence.