21.07.2014 - 24.07.2014 17 °C
We had an early morning train at 7:05 AM from Rome to Florence and had requested the B&B to book a cab to drop us to the train station. We had booked the tickets online in advance. For more information on the train bookings, please refer to my other post: Summer 2014 - Italy and Switzerland. It was supposed to be our first experience with the Italian rails and we were a little sceptical as to what to expect.
When we reached the train station, we went straight to the information counter to get more information on which platform our train would arrive.
However, it is pretty straightforward; there is a big screen which displays the train number and the platform on which every train arrives. The train journey was extremely comfortable and we reached Florence at 8:35 AM. After this first experience, all our other train journeys in Italy were a piece of cake.
The biggest disappointment on reaching Florence was that it was raining. We took a taxi to the hotel - Hotel Casci and were met with our second disappointment with the rooms not being ready. We left our luggage at the hotel and set out to explore the city. The location of our hotel was fantastic, just 300 mt from the Duomo and 800 mt from Piazza della Signoria. All the major attractions were within walking distance and gave a fantastic feel of the local way of life. Since the rain played spoilsport, we thought of whiling away some time in a cafe around the corner from the hotel. Having a hot cup of coffee while enjoying the rain is always an awesome feeling. Of course, we were wasting our precious time which could have been utilized for touring the city, but as it is said...sometimes it is important to slow down and enjoy the small pleasures of life
We headed to the Duomo protected by our umbrellas, but to be frank it was no fun especially with Isha. The queue for the Duomo was quite long despite the rain. We thought of coming back to it later and walked to the San Lorenzo market which is just a few meters away. It is one of the oldest and largest markets in Florence. It is famous for its leather market outdoors selling leather products like jackets, scarves, belts, gloves etc, some pretty decent stuff actually. The only problem is in distinguishing the real from the fake and that was the only reason I did not purchase a jacket which I had set my heart on.
Next, we moved on to the food market indoors. There is a variety of foods, meats, veggies, cheeses, oils, mushrooms, flowers etc here. Everything was so colourful and bright. For someone who loves to experience the local’s way of life and local products, this place is a paradise. Visiting this market made up for the disappointment of losing out on time because of the rain.
By the time we were done with roaming around in here, the rain had stopped and the climate had become very pleasant. We had lunch at a trattoria close to the San Lorenzo market. Unfortunately I am unable to recall its name.
By now we were glad that it had rained in the morning, the weather was just perfect to explore the city. We started walking back to the hotel and crossed the San Lorenzo Church and Duomo on the way. The queue to enter the Duomo was almost non-existent by now which was as expected as most tour groups visit the Duomo in the morning. We thought of making the best of this opportunity and queued up for it.
Duomo, also called the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiore is the biggest church in Florence and is famous for its cupola or dome by Brunelleschi. It has some very beautiful paintings and stained glass. But to me, the exterior of the Duomo was one of the most fascinating ones that I have ever seen.
Just opposite the Duomo is the Baptistry known for its bronze gates of Paradise; unfortunately it was closed for restoration work. Next to the Duomo is the Campanile or Giotto's bell tower which is known to give incredible views of Florence. However, we could not make it to the top of the bell tower this time because of shortage of time.
We went back to the hotel where our rooms were ready for us. The rooms were clean and had all the basic necessities. However, of the two rooms that we had booked, one was extremely small.
After relaxing in the room for some time, we left the hotel for a walking tour of the city. Our first stop was the famous and beautiful Santa Croce church which houses the tombs of several famous Italians. The exterior of the church is covered with marble and is very impressive. We had not planned on entering the church this time, but it would surely be on our list if we happen to visit Florence again.
Fourth day in Italy and we had committed the grave sin of not tasting the famous Italian gelato. Finally, while going from Santa Croce church towards Piazzale Michelangelo, we had a taste of our first gelato...yummm....
We walked across the Ponte alla grazie across river Arno from where we got a great view of the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence surviving from the medieval days.
After crossing the Ponte alla grazie, we climbed uphill to Piazzale Michelangelo. The walk, though a little tiring was rewarding considering the view from the Piazza. You can see the entire city from here. The piazza also has a replica of Michelangelo's David and since we were not planning to visit the Accademia Gallery which houses the original, we were happy that we had at least seen the replica.
I had read that Piazzale Michelangelo is a must visit place for sunset. However, since we still had to visit the rest of the city, we left this beautiful place with a promise to ourselves of visiting it on another day. We definitely could not leave Florence without watching the sunset from here.
We walked downhill and back to the hotel, this time crossing the river Arno over the Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio is Florence's most celebrated landmark and means the "old bridge". It was very crowded, for the obvious reason that any person who visits Florence would want to walk across this famous bridge.
After reaching the hotel, we freshened up and left for Piazza della Signoria, the most famous square of Florence. I would like to mention here that the streets of Florence are very beautiful and the city is best seen by foot.
We crossed the Piazza della Repubblica which is another important square in Florence. But to be frank, I did not notice anything else at the Piazza except the Merry-go-around, more so because it caught Isha's attention. When travelling with kids, you have to make several such unplanned stops so as to keep it interesting for them, and very soon we found ourselves watching Isha squeal with joy on the merry-go-around.
Very close to Piazza della Repubblica is the Piazza della Signoria which is the political and historic centre of the city. At Piazza della signoria, is the grand Palazzo Vecchio, headquarters of the city government as well as museum. We did not have enough time to enter the palace this time. At the entrance of the palace is a replica of David.
Also at the Piazza is the beautiful Loggia dei Lanzi with wonderful statues. There were some musicians playing here as well which added to the beautiful atmosphere and we spent some time soaking it all in.
I had read about this amazing Panini place near Piazza della Signoria called All'Antico Vinaio. We picked up a take away from here and returned to our rooms. The Paninis were good, though there was not much choice in vegetarian.
We went to sleep early looking forward for our next full day tour of San Gimignano, Chianti, Monteriggioni and Siena which we had booked through the hotel.