The trend for starting this continuous travel adventure and closing out the last couple of months of the year was highlight destinations with an emphasis on Italy. So I thought a couple of weeks to explore Florence and some nearby cities would be a great way to spend Christmas and slow things down a little. It was my first time in the area, but one I had wanted to see for quite a while, so there was some excitement building for this stop.
I’ve always heard great things about this area, so it wasn’t too surprising that my first impression of Florence was pretty magical. I was walking in light rain to my Airbnb from the train station when I rounded a bend and saw the Duomo glistening from the rain with a little sunlight giving it a glow, just stunning! I’d say it’s a bit similar to Verona; there’s a quainter feel with a lot of beautiful sites, and plenty shopping for those that like sort of thing. For me though, it was getting just a little outside of the center that I enjoyed most. There’s more of a small-town vibe that I like.
I knew I had booked a good location, but wow! It was just a couple blocks from the Duomo and about a block from Piazza della Signoria. It might seem odd that I liked this location so much since it’s in the very heart, but it made getting around really easy. This is because Florence doesn’t have an elaborate transit system running throughout the city (another similarity to Verona), mainly just buses, taxis, and two train stations. So, as I was told before booking; it’s good to stay in the center. There was also one bicycle share company operating in the city, but I wasn’t able to download the app, which was disappointing. That would have been a nice way to get around. Luckily the center is only about a 15-minute walk from the train station I was using though (I’m sure there are buses too), so walking there for day trips is very easy.
It’s easy to get around the Tuscany region (and beyond) by train; I arrived by train from Rome. Having a car to see some of the smaller villages would be kind of nice though (this is pretty much always the case for me in Italy)… I would have loved to get some pictures of those rolling hills; it sounds like a good reason to go back someday to me. I did, however, get in day trips to Bologna, Lucca, Pisa, and Siena. My favorite of these I’d say was Siena. I liked the layout of the city, it’s a maze of winding streets around a big square where they have an annual horse race in the center, and I also had some incredible pastries there. My second favorite is a tough call between Bologna and Lucca. They’re very different; Bologna is much larger with unique architecture. A lot of the sidewalks are covered by the building above, like an open hallway on the ground floor. I’ve seen buildings like this, but not as the main building style of a city. Lucca, on the other hand, felt like more of a small town. It has an awesome path around the city on top of the old defensive walls. It’s a nice wide path where you can walk, jog, bike, etc. (rentals are available too). Great for getting a little exercise while taking in the views. Pisa to me was just too touristy. The area around the leaning tower and cathedral is rather small for the number of people that it draws, and getting there felt like running the tourist gauntlet. I veered off the primary path, as I often do, but didn’t find cool local spots like I usually do; I very well could have just missed the best streets or maybe locals frequent places on the touristy areas here. If you know, leave a comment below.
With so many restaurants to choose from in Florence, I was lucky to get some very good suggestions from my Airbnb host. They provided what turned out to be a great list of recommendations; I’m glad I took a little time to mark some in Google maps. I happened to be by one of their recommendations when I started craving a steak and was very pleased. The restaurant is L’Osteria Di Giovanni if you want to check it out. One thing to note, and I forgot about this until the restaurant replied to my review, the bread in Tuscany is very different than other places. They don’t use salt to make it, so it’s a little bland for my taste on its own, but some olive oil with some salt will help. Not a big deal with all the other great stuff anyway. Some other favorite food spots for me in Florence were Gustapizza (this quickly became my go-to pizza spot), Vinaino Fiorenza (good sandwiches), Istanbul Doner Kebap (I tend to eat a lot of these because they’re so convenient on the go), Salsamenteria De’ Ciompi (great take away fresh pasta), and Mercato Centrale (great for shopping to cook or eating there). There’s even a cooking school inside of Mercato Centrale; that might be the best reason of all to go back!
I would definitely like to make it back to Florence someday. I really enjoyed the city, and also feel there’s so much more to the area worth exploring. Have you ever been to the area, any suggestions for me on a return visit?