I have to start with a disclaimer – I only spent 6 hours in Florence. For a city with as much culture and richness as Florence, this is not remotely adequate. I didn’t spend the night, walk along the river by the moonlight, eat dinner, or drive into the Tuscan countryside. Normally when we visit a new place – especially a large more popular destination – we like to go by our typical 3 night minimum rule. But we were in Europe with students, and we wanted to give them the option to experience what I would call a “snapshot” of something they interested them. They were able to choose between Florence with Sarah and I, Pompeii with Sue, or staying in Rome for a food tour with Ray. And so 17 of our group joined me on a short adventure from Rome to Firenze. So please note that though my experience in Firenze is true, I don’t believe it to be a full pictures of Florence in any way.
And I give you this disclaimer because I didn’t really like it.
In fact, my brain knows I need to give it another shot, but my heart is like “no. just no.”
We took the train from Rome to Florence, which is about a 1.5 hour ride on a direct train (if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars for the high comfort fast connection). We met up with our guide at the train station, just before 10 AM, and headed out for our tour. We toured through Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie, down towards the Ponte Vecchio, past the Medici family home before walking past the Uffizi towards Duomo. Those are all pretty amazing sites with big names. So here was the problem: Our guide was BORING. She assumed we were all masters in Renaissance history and art, and knew things we didn’t. We spent little time in each location, and didn’t really get a sense for what Florence was all about. I did learn the downtown was relatively condensed (not too much walking), but didn’t get much more of a sense for it. The Ponte Vecchio is pretty looking, but crowded on the bridge itself, and full of jewelry shops. We walked past the Uffizi, but didn’t go in, and stood in front of the Duomo, but our headphones cut out, the guide had her back to us, and the square was so crowded that I couldn’t really tell you much about it.
Then we got to the Accademia. This is where the David is located, and was the one museum included on our tour. However, with typical Italian “organization”, even though we had reservations, I had to stand in line or 30 minutes, show the guide every single passport in the group to prove they were students (for student rate), and 45 minutes later we were allowed to enter (meanwhile, my group is standing on the side of the road waiting). The museum was awesome. The half-completed Michelangelo sculptures are gorgeous and intriguing, and I would have loved more time with them. The David is more impressive than I anticipated, and the wing of old musical instruments just felt inspiring. However, our visit was limited to 30 minutes, so we didn’t get much more than a few selfies, and highlights.
And that was it. 3.5 hours of touring all wrapped up, with little to show for it. Given how incredible out tour/guide experiences had been on this trip, it was a big of a sad ending, but sometimes that happens. Can’t win them all. If I was going to pick one highlight I enjoyed from our walk, it would be all the street art and street artists. From what I knew of Florence before our travels, it is a city of artists – and that is evident. I wish I had more time to see and explore that side of Florence’s culture.
After our tour wrapped, we had time for lunch, and shopping in the leather market. I am a big fan of European markets, though this one was a little overwhelming. 100-200 stalls, down a variety of alleys, with aggressive sales people. They are not made by the locals, but are local to the area. It’s possible to find the same item at 30 different booths, so hard bargaining is necessary. A lot of them try to convince you to “see more” items in the shops behind the market – which we learned quickly is where you can find the more expensive stuff. At the end of our 2 hours of food and wandering I had myself a nice leather purse and wallet (as did Sarah), and wallets for the husbands. I can’t say it’s the amazing authentic market experience I’ve ever had – but it was an experience.
So there it is – 6 mediocre hours in what I am sure is a more amazing city than what my single experience could show. Sometimes it only takes but a moment to fall in love with a city (I’m talking to you Ieper, Rothenburg, Venice, and pretty much all of Holland), and sometimes you cross a city that just isn’t your vibe (sorry Brussels). Right now Florence is going to have to do a little work to earn a place in my heart. But I’m certain I’ll give it a second chance once day. Truth-be-told Paris was not my favourite of cities the first time I visited, but by my third visit it had a strong hold and now it’s one of my favourite places in the world.