Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Italian Tale Part 2: Florentine Living

On Day 8 of being in Bella Italia we hopped on a train to Florence. No big deal. Our hostel was a 47 minute walk away which wasn't that bad, I really don't mind walking. I often prefer to walk somewhere than get the bus, especially when I am in a different country you really get more of a feel for the place that way, in my opinion. We stayed at Hotel Toscana, again another hostel and it was perfectly fine, it wasn't The Yellow but it was clean and the people were nice, it would take about ten minutes to unlock the door though. I hate keys, cards are so much easier and much less frustrating, the vibe of the hostel was more eerie but I guess that adds to the experience. And of course, most importantly it was cheap.

Now, this post will follow the same format as the last post with me detailing my favourite places and things to do, but first I feel the need to share one of the biggest highlights of my trip, which was meeting a 70 year old lady called Lisa, she is Finnish and lives in Boston very comfortably as a retired doctor. She is so inspiring and she taught me so much in three days, that I actually feel sad writing about this because I really miss her. I don't think you can encapsulate a person in a few sentences but I'm going to try, firstly the fact that she is a seventy year old unmarried woman who is successful and living a fulfilled,  beautiful life speaks volumes. You can be anything as long as you have the determination and maybe a bit of money. 

When we met her she was eating shrimp from a fish market in Venice, just getting off the train a few hours before us and drinking wine in a cracked mug. She threw herself into travelling and soaking in the city, as a massive art lover she would spend all day walking around galleries and museums and churches. She went to the opera in cheap clothes uncaring, she is sharp, witty and wonderful. She made me realise that it's up to you to make your wold beautiful and no-one is going to change it for you, it is your life, at the end of the day. I'm aware that I am gushing right now, but just feel the love, ok? I really miss her. She was the coolest person I have met in my life thus far.

Something Lisa and I both have in common is that we wrote down everything we did as each day went by, she had an old school exercise book in which she had maps and notes and suggestions written all over the place. And me, like the current generation, stored all my thoughts on my iPhone. Typical. The first thing I wrote about her was: 

'I am sharing my hostel with the coolest Finnish woman, she is 70, lives in Boston in a place with three floors and travels three times a year to wherever the hell she likes. She rocks. I love her. She is my third grandma.'

Now that's over let's move on to actual Florence outside of our grotty hostel.

Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza itself is awesome with some great shops and gelaterias, but the cathedral itself is stunning. It is constructed out of white, green and pink stone.It's the fifth largest cathedral in the world, according to my guidebook, it took almost 150 years to complete and was completed in 1436. You're allowed inside but you have to pay extra for the museum otherwise it is free and well worth a look. The interior is dark and peaceful, surprisingly empty in a way that only churches can be. There is some beautiful and most likely famous artwork inside. It boasts a good gift shop down the stairs as well, where I made friends with a crass Scottish woman. 

River D'Arno
The river that cuts through Florence is perfect to walk alongside, eat gelato by or even sit and drink wine while you contemplate all the future places you want to see. I love the sound of water and find it really refreshing to hear it, it's atypical for me to hear the sound of crashing water or cross beautiful famous bridges so I really enjoyed that. It's a great river and one of my favourite places in Florence. There was writing on path by our favourite place to sit near the river it said: l'amore spesso prende ma poi non restituisce. Which means 'Love often takes but does not return'. Graffiti artists are really deep in Italy, I wouldn't expect anything less. It's actually really quite amazing to see the sky turn dark above the river.

Ponte Vecchio
It's old and has a lot of history but I really just think it's a cool bridge. It photographs well and looks so quaint it's quite simply adorable. A joy to walk past, or cross, or simply stare at for a few moments. So pretty.

Trattoria Da Giorgio
This was a fantastic find only an eleven minutes walk from our hostel. It's essentially a small nondescript tavern that will serve you two courses, bread, water and a carafe of house wine, red or white your choice, for €14 each, no cover or service charge which makes a nice change. It was very tasty. I had penne with creamy meat sauce and stuffed eggplant with meat. Italy has definitely taught me that eggplant is utterly underrated, it's delicious!

Arnold Coffee
Admitting this is quite shameful but being abroad the one thing I do miss deeply is tea, just a good cup of tea and occasionally I miss being able to pop into a Starbucks and drown my tired eyes in a chai latte. So Arnold Coffee is my hero because it offers the American Coffee experience which means I can swim in a chai latte the size of my face whenever I feel like it. It's just over four euros for a large which I believe is about the same price as a Starbucks drink here. Their styrofoam cups are lacking though, as they aren't thick enough in my opinion because it burns your hand initially. That took some time to get used to.

Basilica San Miniato al Monte
This is probably at the top of my list after meeting Lisa, because it's not just a church oh no. It's a church you have to climb thousands of stairs to get to (I exaggerate of course) but it is most definitely worth it. There is a garden en route where you can sit with a bronze man on a bench and catch your breath whilst staring at strange but cool fountains and of course admiring a fantastic view. Which only gets better as you reach the church.

 The church is of course massive, the inside feels empty and echoey but it is beautiful. You can walk around the raised choir and pulpit. Again, the churches in Florence seem to have a strangely Arabic style to the buildings in that the colours are primarily green and white but I like it, it's different and definitely eye-catching. Their are tombs on either side that just break your heart because some of the graves are for children, but you can enjoy a breathtaking look at Florence while contemplating the brevity of life.

Uffizi Gallery 
Obviously, when you think of Florence you think art because there are some serious gems in these museums that even I have heard of. In Uffizi Gallery, which costs €5.50 for a member of the EU and a student (i.e. me), you have Birth of Venus by Botticelli which I recognised, and also paintings by Caravaggio, Da Vinci, and Van Dyck and many more. It was worth the money but the queue took about two hours, I had earphones and an audiobook to keep me company though.

Galleria D'Academia
One word: David. 
That must be the only reason anyone ever comes to this gallery because at first you're ambling around pretending to know what you're looking at and surreptitiously snapping photos to look cultural on Instagram and then you walk into another room and just see this looming white marble statue that is so much more impressive than you ever thought it could be. Michelangelo really outdid himself. It never occurred to me that all these statues of David were of the David from David and Golliath, I don't know why this didn't occur to me. I explained to my friend that for all this time I thought it was just some celebrated athlete. But you learn something new every day. Some interesting facts about Dave (the sculpture) the proportions are slightly off kilter (the head is bigger than it should be) because it was originally designed for the facade of the Duomo; the eyes boast heart shaped pupils; it was famously rejected as faulty by other artists but Michelangelo didn't care he knew he was fabulous.

There is other art work around and a room full of sculptures that are really lovely and heartbreaking at times. In particular, a statue by Luigi Pampaloni which was a monument to Maria Radzwille to commemorate the death of his wife and his son's witness to it, so sad and masochistic. I couldn't believe it when I read the plaque to that sculpture.

Nearby, thankfully, because I was starving when we got to La Galleria D'Academia, is a great little place called Pugi's and they serve hot food per slice or kilo. So it s cheap, cheerful and convenient. I got what is basically a ham and cheese lasagna and it was so damn good, nothing will ever taste the same again. It was quite simply the best thing aside from gelato that I had ever had in Italy, it knocked socks off every other slap up meal being served in Tuscany. So so good. The pizza, apparently, is delicious too.

Backstage is a bar, it's busy and has live Italian music, they serve cocktails. I had a Cubano which is rum, coke and sugar from what I could glean. It was delicious, they had snacks and comfy places to sit and listen and talk. There was a room further away from the live band if you wanted to engage in a real conversation where you could hear each other. I really liked this bar, the music was fun even though I didn't comprehend a word, and the people were great, a good mix of Italians and tourists. We came back here again because it was inexpensive yet good fun.

We went to the hotel with the roof top bar but you can only get to the bar via the elevator which we couldn't use. So we spent our time checking out the gorgeous decor and swanky chandeliers it was so pretty and fun to do. It gives you a kind of weird rush when you realise that no one really knows who you are you could be anybody and that's liberating especially when you're tresspassing. You'll be surprised what you can get away with as long as you look confident, it helps you blend in for a start which is really helpful when you find yourself in a tunnel with a crazy Italian man shouting what I can only guess are obscenities at the top of his voice well past midnight. Just act like you're not about to break into Usain Bolt style sprint and you will be fine, believe in yourself.


 I was sad to leave Florence, at first I was unsure why as there's not as much to see, in comparison to Rome, but it's just a feeling you get that you're in the heart of something and even though it's not always pretty and beautiful and the streets are a lot narrower, there is a great range of shops (cough Tiffany's); gelaterias; a beautiful view within walking a distance wherever you are; fantastic street food and kind people. You could come here for a week in summer with nothing but a book and a toothbrush and you would have a wonderful time. I met the most amazing and inspiring woman here: Lisa taught me that if you want your life to be enjoyable it's up to you no one else is going to make your world it's yours. So do it, if you have the determination and the means then you can there is no excuse and laziness is an excuse, you're only holding yourself back. If you want it get it. She helped me realise a lot. She is amazing. 

Here is a Flipagram summary of our four days spent in Florence, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, leave a comment if you have any questions or want to share your experiences, I would be more than happy to read them. My links are below as usual.

Next stop: Venice.

Kiran xxx

Here are my links: 


1 comment

  1. Oh, how much I'd love to live in Italy for a few months at least... Lovely post Kiran!


    Tamara -


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