Unlike last time, I’d planned ahead and booked two nights in a highly recommended hostel located just north of where I had stayed during my previous stay in Florence. This time around my 2 nights turned into 4 as I relaxed and enjoyed the hostel. Compared to the stark, poorly operated ripoff hostels I had been dealing with in the North of Italy, the one I found in Florence was incredible. No lockout, clean rooms (though the ceilings and walls were decorated with guest graffiti – it was part of the ambience), great location, fair rates, free 30 minutes of internet and a breakfast that blew my mind. It’s amazing the difference a real breakfast makes and this place had it. Two eggs, a piece of ham, toast, then a buffet style table with fruit, pasta and other things. In addition to the facilities the crowd was fantastic. Every night was an intense party full of friendly faces and new adventures.
One of my primary reasons for returning to Florence was the Uffizi. I had missed it due to a strike and a long line the two times I had tried to see it previously. Based on the hype that surrounded it, I felt inclined to give it a go. After another failed attempt to view it (it was closed on Monday when I tried to go) I finally got in to see it. After an hour standing in line I gained entrance and started to wander through the Museum. Without going into great detail I was immensly dissapointed. Beyond the Boticellis there were perhaps 3 pieces I enjoyed. The marbles and one or two of the frescoed ceilings were interesting. The rest were either ugly pieces of art or religious, gilded art from various cathedrals or what struck me as other museum’s scrapings. To make it that much more annoying, for the 10 Euro I paid to get in, they could have at least cleaned the museum occasionally. The renovations they were doing aside, it was a dump. The Boticellis however were incredible. His forms are truly incredible and the art itself is captivating. The differences between his various pieces was exciting to see.
In addition to the Uffizi, I spent 2 of my evenings in Florence at the Piazza De Michelangelo which is up on a hill overlooking the city. There a group of us formed up and relaxed as the sun set. The sunsets both evenings were incredible. With spectacular red hues painting everything red as the city stretched out before us. It was a gorgeous site as day gave way to night and the city bathed in red began to light up and come alive. The night time view was equally impressive with the various towers, bridges and the duomo lit up.
The rest of my time spent in Florence consisted of spontaneous wandering. Exploring the city I did loops and took random alleyways. One particular memory is of a beautiful square with a small fountain where I paused one day and read for a while. Beyond that, the thing that stands out was the entertaining adventures with the hostel group and the day trips.
On that note I’ll share – as much for my own memory as because I think it’s a funny story…one of the evenings mis-adventures. The hostel had a great terrace area where we typically would all sit around and socialize. We welcomed the new arrivals and mingled with the others who had been there the night before. Typically, we would then pick a bar or club and make our way to it enmass. One evening someone had the idea that if we all chipped in we could make Sangria. They set off, picked up the supplies, and we all chipped in our 3 Euro. We then set to the task of trying to figure out how to make it. The end result was a large tub full of sliced fruit and a liquid closer to jungle juice than Sangria.
A few hours later we had polished off the tub, which is only relevant because the Australian guy, who ended up being the center of the story, finished it off by lifting it up (keep in mind it’s a decent sized tub full of fruit slices still) and drained the last cup while getting a face full of wine soaked fruit. After a good chuckle, we set out for the bars and had a great night. Fast forwarding to the end of the evening, I got back in around 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. In the common room, which was a large cafeteria area, I found 3 of the guys still up…Two sitting and talking about the third who was laying passed out on one of the tables.
The one passed out on the table was none other than the Aussy that had drained the last bit of punch earlier in the evening. The other two guys – also Australians – and I sat around laughing and telling stories for a bit, before deciding to harass the passed out guy. Before long, he had what we thought was a rather entertaining message written across his stomach in pen. After a good laugh, I decided to turn in for the night leaving the other two still drinking and chatting. Though as I turned the corner I heard an odd commotion. Poking my head back around the corner, I saw that one of the guys had a semi-shocked look on his face, one hand on a fire extinguisher (still attached to the wall) and was surrounded by a small puff/spray of foam. Despite the fact that it had been an extremely quick burst, there was still enough foam in the air to briefly set off the fire detector (about a two chirp burst) which sent us all scrambling. As it turns out, he thought the fire extenguisher would have water in it and had been planning on spraying down the other passed out Aussie.
The next morning I woke up at 9:30 for breakfast and walked out into the cafeteria. The passed out Aussie from the night before and a bunch of the others who had gone out were sitting at a table. After wishing me a good morning they asked if I had been responsible for getting him home. Not positive it had actually been him passed out the night before, and without missing a beat I scratched my head and told him to lift up his shirt. Everyone at the table was expecting to see some big bruise or something from where he’d run into something or we’d dropped him carrying him back. Instead, in an eruption of laughter they read our brief note. The look on his face was priceless…During my stay in Florence I did two day trips. One to Siena and another to San Gimignano. The trip to Siena was gorgeous. The city, perched on the side of a set of hills is full of character and has a wonderful ambience. With streets that dive off the side of the hill it reminded me in many ways of Edinburgh and the Royal Mile. The cobblestone streets wound their way down the hillside and at times offered incredible views of the surrounding countryside. At other times they offered views back towards the city itself, which was incredible with the occasional church tower or palacial tower spiking above the rest of the city. It looked exactly how one would picture a medieval Italian town.
The large seashell-shaped square was beautiful. Gently sloping down toward the old palace, it has a uniformity and style that sets it apart from most of the other city squares I’ve been in. The palacial building is also a beautiful thing, with the northern Italian parapets and large tower. It stands vigil over the square and part of the city…Beautiful, cold and watchful with incredible gargoyles and painted coats of arms.
The main Duomo is also incredible. Done in the same striped marble as the Duomo in Florence, it is every bit as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Which, given the quality of the marble mosaics, frescos, sculptures and artwork on the inside is no small feat. The floor is covered with large beautifuly inlaid marble works which depict coats of arms, scenes, emblems and other similar designs. The walls – showing the same multi-colored marble banding as the outside of the cathedral, are also heavily decorated with beautiful artwork.
During my time in the city I spent a stretch at both of the major attractions I just mentioned and then the reminader of my time wandering aimlessly. At one point I got completely lost and found myself outside of the city wall, looking down over the countryside as the sun began to set. It was incredible. I’ve found that for me, wandering aimlessly through a city without any concern for where you are, or where you are going can be an experience on par with the grandest cathedral. It allows you to experience the city and get in tune with it.
San Gimignano was also beautiful, though less impressive. Perched on top of a hill, it’s known for it’s multiple sets of towers. The city has a beautiful medieval conformity to it but is so touristy that it loses a lot of the soul I think it might otherwise have. The towers themselves are amazing in their height and the oddness they add to the landscape, but are rather boring. The city also has a large ruined castle, which while interesting, is so ruined in places it is difficult to tell it is a castle. The city was interesting and worth the visit – but next time I’d probably choose a different destination.
After returning to Florence, one of the girls was looking for anyone interested in going to Rimini. I had initially planned on exploring Ravenna (located an hour’s train ride to the north) and elected to join her. One of the other girls also decided to join up and together the three of us booked our hostel and made our way there. The train ride was an adventure. As luck would have it, the train strike which had been going on all day ended about 5 minutes before we arrived to buy our tickets. Which, while resulting in packed trains (VERY packed trains), allowed us to get a ticket, reserve seats, and make it to Rimini without any real issues. The whole adventure was tiring and a bit annoying. The more I travel around Italians the more amazed I become at their incredible ability to make simple things inefficient. It seems a number, especially while traveling, lack that certain realization that paying the slightest bit of attention to your surroundings and other’s needs can actually be to your own benefit. Everything takes twice as long, is twice as inefficient, and typically consists of various tantrums or arguments which further slow things down.
On a current note – I’ve met up with Lander (one of my close friends) and he and I will be traveling together for the next month. We’ve just finished up an incredible stretch in Rome and are preparing to head toward Pompei before catching a ferry from Brindisi to Greece.