Florence was absolutely pure magic.
That’s it. It’s that simple. I had heard from various people that they just loved Florence, but I didn’t really understand why until we got there.
Speaking of getting there, we traveled from Venice to Florence via high-speed train. This was both of our first time on a high-speed train. Even though I did live in Europe for 3-months, I had never taken one before. We either took buses or planes to get to one place or another. It was fun to take the train! Ryan liked looking at the screen that said how fast the train was going and then trying to convert that to MPH. This train had free WiFi, so that was nice as well. The ride was about two hours and it was beautiful. We didn’t really realize that Italy was so…mountainous. So we loved looking at the mountains as we flew through the countryside to our next destination.
We made it to Florence with ease, but figuring out how to get from the train station to our Airbnb was another story. We found a place for lunch and WiFi and messaged our host to let her know that we were trying to figure it out because she was waiting there for us to let us in. We took a local intercity bus to get close to where our Airbnb was located (shoutout to the Moovit app. Moovit is a local transit app that tells you exactly which line/bus you need, where the closest stop is to you, tells you how many stops it’ll take for you to get to the one you need, and it even shows you a map and has the various stops marked so you can watch the bus get closer and closer to your stop.) We got there (eventually) and checked in with our host. She was nice but definitely…different. And the apartment itself was very different than the previous one we stayed at. This place had walls of all different colors and different decor that just screamed “Christa!!!” to me because if my best friend Christa had an apartment in Florence, that would definitely be it. It made me smile and made me feel more…at home. It was almost like she was there with us. The WiFi didn’t really work there though and we had to retype the password in so many times that I will probably how the random password memorized forever.. (KPOM3ILJ6B in case you were wondering what it was).
By the time we got there and got settled, it was about 4 PM, not leaving much time to go do much because sunset was around 6 PM. So we decided to climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sunset. On our way up to the plaza, we watched a “street performer” (if you can call it that?) make BIG bubbles. He did stop his music once while we were watching him to remind everyone “don’t forget, this is my job” aka asking for people to give him money. We didn’t give him any, but it was fun to watch for a little bit.
Then we climbed and climbed, or so it seemed, but we finally made it and the view did NOT disappoint. I had read that this was the best place to watch the sunset and so that’s why we went when we did. It was kind of cloudy that day so the sunset wasn’t spectacular, but the sky turned a nice pink and purple color. We apparently weren’t the only people who thought going there to watch the sunset was a good idea because the place was packed and we had to wait our turn until some people who had a spot on the wall left to get our photos of the view.
We enjoyed the view for a little while before going to a food truck to get something to drink. Ryan wanted a beer because open containers are legal in Italy and I wanted something lemony, so I ended up with a lemonade beer that was very similar to my favorite kind in Spain. I asked the food truck man “does this have alcohol in it?” because I couldn’t tell from where I was standing and he responded with a very quick and firm “yes.” So I said, “it does? I want one of those.” Which makes me sound like an alcoholic, but hey, I was feeling the vibe of just grabbing a beer and watching the sunset over one of the most magical places I’ve ever been, with my husband. What’s so wrong about that? I’ll tell you, nothing.
As we were walking around the plaza, we happened to walk past this man who….decided to pass gas openly in public around that many people and it was a LOUD ONE and he had absolutely no shame about it. Lol, we could not stop giggling after that! What age are we? Who cares, it was funny and another one of those memories that we will have forever of our honeymoon trip to Italy!
After a while, we started to get hungry and were ready to find somewhere for dinner. My feet were killing me so I was not up for walking a ton to find somewhere. We walked down a street near us that was supposed to have some restaurants. We walked all the way down that street and back up it before deciding on a place for dinner. We went to this really nice, modern, almost kinda fancy restaurant where I had tortellini with ham and a cream sauce and Ryan had his favorite meal of the trip, shrimp gnocchi with broccoli and a spicy sauce.
After dinner, we decided to keep up our tradition and try to find some gelato. We found a place that was on our walk home and it was the BEST gelato we had the entire trip. The shop was a coffee/gelato shop and it was great! The gelato was homemade (which I had read that I needed to find homemade gelato as opposed to the high, colorful “mounds” of “fake” gelato that you find in touristy areas. They weren’t wrong about it tasting better, but I didn’t think the “fake” stuff was all that bad either. We went to a couple of other “real” gelato shops throughout our trip and they didn’t even begin to compare to this place. This stuff was just REALLY good. We got caffé (coffee) (which was made with their coffee, mind you) and chocolate. We sat and enjoyed our gelato and took in the shop around us, which was empty except for the people working. And that’s when I noticed it. They had bags of coffee beans for sale…and their logo had a TURTLE ON IT. With a coffee bean as it’s shell! I gasped so loud that I think I scared Ryan a little bit but I was so excited that I couldn’t help it! I wanted to buy a bag of their beans but they were 12€ and Ryan kind of made a comment that made me think that I shouldn’t buy them because they were kinda pricey. So we didn’t buy any. But we got to thinking about it later and we wished we would have. We had intentions of going back to get some before leaving Florence but by the end of each day, we were tired and hungry and just wanted to eat and go back to the Airbnb and relax for a little bit before going to bed, so we never made it back there.
The next day was our first full day in Florence. Our host had an espresso maker like the one our other hosts had in Venice so Ryan made us some for “breakfast” but he accidentally put salt in it instead of sugar. He took one sip and about spit it right back out. We dumped our cups out and poured some new espresso into them and found the sugar to add this time. Then we got ready and went to find a cafe for actual breakfast. We found one near our Airbnb that was super cute and super cheap. So we went there each morning after that! For two cappuccinos and two croissants, it was 4.40€ as opposed to the 7 or 8€ we were paying in Venice.
We walked toward the Duomo and my heart was racing. I’m not sure why but just the sight of it peeking at us from the side street that we were on made me very excited. Once we got to the Duomo, we purchased tickets for the next day. We did this mostly so we could climb to the top of the Duomo, which is “free” but you have to buy a ticket (which includes entry into the crypt, museum, baptistry, and belltower) and then you use that ticket to make your reservation/book your time slot to climb to the top of the Duomo. We had to purchase them for the next day because all of the Duomo climbs were booked for that day. The tickets we purchased for everything else were good for 72 hours after the first use but we decided we’d rather do all/most of that stuff in the same day if we could, so we waited until the next day.
We left the Duomo and just wandered around for a little while. We decided to go to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the famous Statue of David. We waited in a line that moved at a decent speed and then all of the sudden we were inside…for free! Unknown to us, it was free museum weekend in Florence and so we got in for free (another financial win for us)! David is a lot bigger in person than I was expecting. I can’t imagine how long it took Michelangelo to carve him. There are various “statues of David” throughout Florence, but this David was the real David. After looking at David for a little bit, we wandered through the rest of the museum, and through the museum of instruments.
Then it was lunch time and we were starving. I got 4-cheese gnocchi and Ryan got these spinach and cheese balls covered in a red meat sauce with some cheese on top. He was kind of disappointed because he thought they were going to be meatballs but they weren’t. I tried limoncello for the first time and OH MAN, it was strong. Limoncello is lemon liqueur and Italy is known for their lemon trees and their limoncello. I didn’t order any more limoncello the rest of the trip, but hey at least I can say I tried it.
After lunch, we walked to Palazzo Vecchio (the Vecchio palace) and waited in line for tickets to climb to the top of the tower but after we waited about 15 minutes, a lady from the palace came out and told us they were completely sold out of tickets for the day. Just down the street was the Uffizi Gallery (another art museum) and I had read that the first Sunday of every month was free entry so I wanted to go because it was indeed the first Sunday of the month. But since it was also free museum weekend, the line was huge and the screen outside said that there were no more tickets available for the day, so we didn’t get to do that either. We probably should’ve gone straight there first thing that morning, but we didn’t. Oh well.
So now what? Everything was busy or sold out… We walked around the palace plaza for a little while and then we heard what sounded like a drumline. We were curious and we didn’t really have anything better to do, so we followed the sound until we found a group of people surrounding a marching band. We had no idea what the band was for, but we watched them play the drums for a little bit and then we left. But as we headed back toward the palace, we stopped for gelato and espresso and the next thing we knew, the parade was coming our way. We have no idea what it was for. We thought it was maybe for Carnival but there weren’t any costumes or puppets (which are a part of Carnival in Florence). There was just a band and some flag carriers and twirlers. Again, it was cool to see but I wish I knew what it was for. We tried researching it but couldn’t find any information on it.
Not long after that, we were walking near the Duomo and there was a protest going on. They had a police escort and a bunch of police following them. We don’t know what that was for either. They had signs and they were chanting but we don’t know Italian so we couldn’t understand. I wanted to ask a local but my social anxiety made me too nervous that I would seem like some dumb American so I never did. Ryan tried looking it up online to see if there were any news articles about it or anything but there weren’t any that we could find so I guess we will never know.
We did find the infamous lucky pig statue though! They say if you rub its nose, you’ll have good luck. Which is why the pig’s nose is so shiny. We definitely rubbed it! After the rough start to our trip, we figured it couldn’t hurt. Ryan also was researching social norms in Italy because we saw a LOT of dogs and he wanted to pet them really badly but we didn’t know if that was frowned upon in Italy like it is in Spain and he found out that it is considered good luck if you accidentally step in dog poop……… guess who accidentally stepped in dog poop not long after he told me that….. that’s right, Ryan did. Which is hilarious because if you know Ryan, you know that sometimes he’s not very good about being…aware of his surroundings. So this was a classic Ryan thing to happen and I couldn’t help but laugh at him because he would be the one to step in dog poop. The good news was, now we should have TONS of good luck throughout the rest of our trip!
We got to Ponte Vecchio which is an old bridge crossing the river in Florence. We didn’t cross the bridge, but we did find a nice spot to sit on the wall next to the river right near Ponte Vecchio. Tons of other people were sitting on the wall so we figured it was okay if we did too. We sat on the wall for a little while and just relaxed and took a break from walking. My feet were killing me again and it was nice to just sit and relax for a little bit in the sun. Ryan and I talked about how this trip was a lot more relaxed and laid back than our previous trip to Rome when I was studying abroad or our trip to Ireland last May. We had a list of things we wanted to see and do but we didn’t have any specific reservations or times we had to be anywhere or do anything (except for our reservation to climb up to the top of the Duomo). This meant we could wander around and really take the cities in for what they actually were and we were still seeing things we wanted to see and crossing them off of the list but we were rushing around the cities to try to get everything done in 2 days like we did when we were in Rome. It was nice to just take our time and relax and to not stress out about having to be somewhere or making sure to only spend small amounts of time at places so that we could see everything possible in 48 hours. Granted we had over 48 hours in both Venice and Florence, but we just didn’t feel as rushed as we did on other trips. I think God was teaching me that sometimes I really do need to take a step back and just enjoy life instead of being stressed out all the time by trying to make sure that everything gets done, whether its things around the house that need to get done or freelance projects I have to work on or meetings to go to or family members who want to see us. Sometimes it’s okay to just take a step back and just enjoy life for what it is.
Soon it was dinner time and we were both starving. We had gone back to our Airbnb to use the WiFi to find somewhere good for dinner (specifically somewhere that was close to our Airbnb) and we found one about 5 minutes away with rave reviews on Trip Advisor, so that’s where we went. One of the reviews said they had a great steak and I was craving a hearty meal. By this point, I was sick of pizza and pasta all the time. So, I ordered a steak with roasted potatoes. The waitress told me that 800 grams was the smallest steak they offered. Like a silly American, I didn’t know how much 800 grams actually was… what was I supposed to do, the conversion in my head? I couldn’t Google it because I didn’t have any internet. So I just said “ok that’s fine” and ordered it. Little did I know that 800 grams is basically the equivalent to 29 OUNCES. I ordered a 29-ounce steak!! The thing was HUGE! But it was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever had in my entire life. I was slightly skeptical because they cook their steaks rare in Italy, but Ryan asked if it could be cooked to medium instead and they said yes, so that problem was solved… but I was also nervous because like in Spain, they leave their meat out of a fridge/freezer most of the time. Granted, they’re cured with a lot of salt to keep the meat from spoiling, but it still freaks me out a little bit. I don’t want to get sick (again) on my honeymoon. But the steak turned out to be amazing. I guess Florence is known for their steaks and so I’m glad that I got one so that I can say that I had one! And those roasted potatoes? They were INCREDIBLE. I could hardly fall asleep later that night and I think that is because I finally had some meat in my system and the carbs from the potatoes and my body was feeling rejuvenated and ready to go, but it was bedtime.
(PS- I definitely did not eat all of that steak… Ryan helped me eat part of it after he finished his pizza (that had hot dogs on it!) but between the two of us, we still couldn’t eat the whole thing. If we would’ve known how much it was going to be, we probably would’ve just ordered the steak and shared it but we didn’t so oh well! I loved it a lot and it wasn’t too overly priced. It was 32€ but for a 29-ounce steak…that’s a really decent price.)
The next morning we went to our favorite cafe again. We stopped on our walk to the city center to look at the espresso makers. We picked one out that we wanted to buy but we were going to wait until the next morning to buy it so we didn’t have to carry it around all day.
We went to Palazzo Vecchio first and waited in line to climb to the top of the tower. When we got our ticket, the wait was about an hour…we waited almost two hours for our turn to go up the tower because they were only letting 35 people in the tower at a time and there was no time limit so people could be up there as little or as long as they wanted. Finally, it was our turn and we climbed the 414 steps to the “top” (it wasn’t the top top but it was as far as we could go). We got some pictures with the Duomo which was really exciting for me because I wanted a photo like that. It’s really difficult to get a good photo with the Duomo, so the night before I had been looking at getting a reservation at a rooftop bar or restaurant so we could get some photos like that, but we ended up not doing that, so I was really glad we could get these photos with the Duomo in the background.
After we climbed down from the tower, we found lunch because we were hungry after the climb. Ryan got seafood gnocchi and I got ham and mushroom tagliatelle (fat flat spaghetti) and a plate of roasted veggies because I felt like I should eat some veggies after all of the pizza and pasta I had been consuming.
Then we went to the Basilica del Santa Maria del Fiore which is the cathedral part of the Duomo. That part is free, so we had to wait to get in. While we were in line we met a couple from Ohio. It turns out that the husband was actually from Cedar Rapids! What a small world. Talking to them while we waited in line definitely made the time go faster.
Finally, it was time to go inside. We had to go through security and we had a lock on our backpack so I asked the security guard if he needed me to open it and he goes “no, I trust you…..wait, you don’t have a bomb in there do you?” I chuckled and told him no and he let me go on.
The church itself was super meh compared to the other cathedrals we had been to. There was hardly any decoration on the walls and even though the place was huge, it felt very empty and underwhelming. We looked up at the famous painting on the inside of the Duomo but we couldn’t really see what it was because it was so far away. We went downstairs to the ancient ruins they had excavated from Roman times. It was cool to see but it’s not really anything to write home about so I’ll just leave it at that. I did take some photos but not a lot.
We thought our Duomo climb reservations were at 5:30 and it was 4:45 so we decided to go to the museum for a little bit before getting in line to climb. The museum was full of history about the cathedral. The coolest thing we saw in the museum (in our opinion) was the giant choir books. They were huge! Ryan loves choir music so it was fun for him to see them. I just couldn’t believe how large they were.
We left the museum and pulled out our ticket to climb to the top of the Duomo and it turns out our reservation was at 6:30 PM, not 5:30. So we had a little over an hour to kill yet. So we decided to climb the belltower. (The bad ideas continue…) By the time we got to the front of the line and got to climb the tower, it was 6 PM. We did get to hear the bell ring at 6 from the inside of the bell tower so that was cool! It was very loud. We finished climbing the 414 stairs around 6:15…which was just in time to take a photo and then climb back down to get in line to climb to the top of the Duomo.
Finally, it was time to climb the Duomo! (We only waited a day and a half for this). We thought the stairway in the belltower was narrow…the stairwell in the Duomo was even more narrow and 2-way traffic SUCKED. We had to be with our backs flat against the wall so that people climbing down could get through.
After climbing some of the stairs you come to the inside of the Duomo with a perfect view of the painting on the ceiling. It is INCREDIBLE. You really can’t appreciate it from down at the bottom. I definitely recommend climbing up the Duomo just to see the painting better. I can only imagine how they painted it and how long it took them to finish it. I mean, it took them over 200 years to finish the cathedral in the first place so I wonder how long the painting took!
We made it to the top of the 463 stairs eventually and got to view Florence from above. Normally I’m not afraid of heights but since we had climbed 2,119 stairs already that day, my legs were very shaky and tired so I was a lot more anxious about being up there than I normally would have been. We took some photos and then climbed back down. That made for 2,582 stairs climbed in one day. We are insane. If you want to climb the three of these in the same day, never (and I can not stress this enough) skip leg day because otherwise your legs and your feet will kill you. Trust me.
For dinner, we went back to the same restaurant from the night before. Ryan ordered his hotdog pizza again and I ordered some of those roasted potatoes and carbonara. Ryan ordered a 1-liter beer and I ordered some wine because we deserved it after climbing all of those stairs!
Florence will forever have a special place in our hearts. We absolutely loved every minute of it (except for when the WiFi wasn’t working at our Airbnb) and we would go back in a heartbeat. The atmosphere was just…different than Venice but in a good way. Florence made me feel alive but relaxed and I can’t wait to go back someday.
Cinque Terre is next!