Arriving in Firenze (Florence)….
Unfortunately, our flight from Toronto to Munich was delayed, and given we had a tight connection, we missed our onward flight to Florence. Fortunately, there are a few Munich-Florence flights during the day, not like to some other destinations, and by the time we arrived at the Lufthansa service desk in Munich, we had been booked on the next flight. After contacting the relevant people in Florence – those meeting us at the airport and our accommodation – we settled in to wait the 3 hours before we were eventually on our way to Italy.
After an uneventful flight, our bags were retrieved quickly and we found our driver. All pretty easy! The only challenge came when we arrived at the doorway to our apartment building to discover – via the driver – that our checkin guy was 20 minutes away. So with four big suitcases and our cabin bags, we sat down on the steps leading to the building and waited it out. Not too long before we were in the apartment, contracts were signed, keys exchanged and bags dumped.
Our apartment turned out to be somewhat bigger than expected. It’s so hard to judge from photos online. Whilst we knew there were two bedrooms and bathrooms, the floor area is quite large, particularly by European / Italian standards. The bathrooms are also nicely renovated with a good size shower in the ensuite. No bath – they are hard to come by in this neck of the woods. The main room with ensuite is upstairs – nice but a bit warm during the hot summer months. Hopefully our electricity bill is not too high from running air-conditioning all night!
As part of our settling in process, we trundled off to Un Caffe, a favourite place from our previous stays. Targeting the student population, they have huge panini for an awesome price! And it’s less than 1km from home!
When we arrived back home, whilst we hadn’t planned to do so, we decided to haul our bags upstairs and unpack. With the air conditioning on! This turned out to be a great idea – not only did it mean that we felt quite settled by the time we went to bed, but this meant that when we woke up the following morning, we could hit the ground running (almost literally).
Our first Italian Parkrun ….
Parkruns are free, weekly, timed 5km events across the world, organised by local volunteers. We started doing them intermittently a couple of years ago when Glenda was recovering from DVT/PE. Until now, we had only done them in Australia – Sydney, Brisbane & Canberra – and across the ditch in Auckland. Having spotted that someone had managed to get one up and running in Firenze towards the end of last year after our visit -no mean feat given the Italian red tape – we were keen to be a part of it.
Waking up just after 7:30am our first morning, knowing we had more than 5km to walk to get there, we had to make a quick decision whether this was to be the day. In spite of the heat – already 25 degrees – we decided to seize the moment! We managed to follow our noses and get to the start before the 9am start, only to be given a warm welcome. It was a small but friendly crowd and in true Italian style, they even had water and fruit on hand at the end. We were so glad we’d made the effort – although Walter less so as he ended up with a calf strain.
Homeward bound, we stopped off for our first of many cappuccini and brioches – 4 Euro / AUD6, significantly cheaper than the CAD18 we’d paid in Canada!
Eating & drinking ….
In general, eating and drinking in Italy is significantly cheaper than Australia. It is even more so than Canada, particularly as there isn’t the expectation to give an exorbitant tip. Eating out is a regular occurrence that doesn’t require a mortgage to be taken out to pay for it.
As already mentioned, it is normal to pay around 4-5 Euro (6-8 AUD) for a simple breakfast of cappuccini and pastries for two. Although this requires some clarification. The Italians will order at the bar (counter) and in most instances will eat and drink there too. There is often some angst when tourists want to enjoy the romance of sitting at a table overlooking the piazza and being served on a silver tray – for this experience, they are more than likely to be charged closer to 15-20 Euro for the equivalent.
Bars in Italy serve coffee during the day and alcohol at night. Antico Caffè Torino is a bar / pasticceria about 200m away from home. After just one breakfast visit, we were remembered and since then have been welcomed and treated like locals. Unfortunately, they will be closed for a couple of weeks in August so we have to venture further afield. 15 August is Ferragosto, possibly Italy’s most significant public holiday, and a large number of businesses close down before and after “Ferro” (a bit like Christmas in Australia).
Farino 00 is a pizza restaurant just past the bar. Having read a few reviews saying “the staff won’t bother translating the menu into English” we wondered whether we’d have some challenges there. But we decided to try it anyway given its proximity to home. Great decision! Yes, there is only an Italian menu – but Helena, our server, couldn’t have been more helpful. Unfortunately, they are also closed for a couple of weeks and Helena has gone home to Perugia, but we’re sure to return for their huge, tasty pizzas when they’re back. Although this time we’ll share!!
Meeting up with friends ….
When we arrived at church our first Sunday, it was so good to see Malle again. She is an Australian-Estonian living in Florence and we’d met her last year when we were here. The three of us were joined for a light lunch by a young Swedish girl recently arrived to study interior design. Malle took us to her local where they know her well – and we even managed table service at bar prices!
Walter wanted to go to a sports outlet that we had found last year whilst staying out of town, so we decided we’d catch the bus. We’d been in touch with Andrea, the owner of last year’s accommodation, so thought we’d see whether he was available for a catch up as he lives relatively close to the sports shop. Lucky for us, he was in Florence for the morning – so after joining us for breakfast at our local, he gave us a lift. It was so good to see him and we’re hoping we’ll get to see he and his wife again sometime soon.
VIPs at Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi (Uffizi Galleries) ….
The Uffizi Gallery (Italian: Galleria degli Uffizi) is a prominent art museum located in the historic centre of Florence. The Gallery occupies the first and second floors of a large building constructed between 1560 and 1580 and designed by Giorgio Vasari. It is famous worldwide for its outstanding collections of ancient sculptures and paintings (from the Middle Ages to the Modern period). The collections of paintings from the 14th-century and Renaissance period include some absolute masterpieces: Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. It also boasts an invaluable collection of ancient statues and busts from the Medici family, which adorns the corridors and consists of ancient Roman copies of lost Greek sculptures.
After the ruling house of Medici died out, their art collections were gifted to the city of Florence. The Uffizi is one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public, formally becoming a museum in 1865.
Today, the Uffizi is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Florence and one of the most visited art museums in the world.
In spite of the fact that the Uffizi Is top of every visitor’s must-do list, we had never visited in our more than 40 days in the area. We had never been able to bring ourselves to book a week in advance and/or stand in a queue for hours to get tickets. When Glenda discovered the “Passepartout” ticket – an annual pass for the Uffizi Galeries which includes Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens (which we love), it was an opportunity too good to refuse.
We just needed to book in advance, stand in a short queue to get the pass, that was it. There was one obstacle on the day we’d booked – Glenda had left her ID at home – more than ½ hour walk away – and with just over 30 minutes to our allotted time slot, Walter had to charge back to get it. All’s well that end well – we’re now VIPs and will never have to queue again.
We enjoyed strolling around the corridors, admiring the artwork and the amazing views over Florence from the giant windows – whilst knowing that we didn’t have to see everything as we can go back.
Our second drama for the day came when we wanted to leave. The heavens opened and a thunderstorm hit – pouring rain, roaring thunder, flashing lightening and pelting hail. So we sat bunkered down in the bowels of the building, missing our dinner booking and unable to get reception through the solid walls to be able to contact the restaurant. We eventually made our escape and resorted to a little wine bar near home for a drink and some food.
One reason Florence is so pedestrian friendly is because the historic centre is closed to traffic except for residents, taxis and buses – special permits are required. Great news for walkers, not so great for drivers. This area is known as the “zona a traffico limitato” or ZTL, meaning it is a restricted traffic zone.
When in Florence the first time in 2011, we were right in the centre of the ZTL. Apart from the taxi dropping us off and picking us up, we walked everywhere. Last year, as we were staying about 7km outside Florence on a farm, we had a car. Apart from a couple of bus trips in and out (not always reliable) we drove in. We had to park outside the ZTL – either in a parking station or in the special “blue” parking spots at times of day, night and weekends where parking was free – and walk around.
Our current home is just outside the ZTL in a primarily residential neighbourhood. There is a ring-road between us and the ZTL, and this goes most of the way around. There is a bicycle path running alongside the ring road. We had considered buying second hand bikes or even new ones and offloading them when we left. This would enable us to travel the 2km to the Arno River a little quicker than walking. Instead, we discovered Mobike – a bikeshare facility that allows one to use a bike by the minute. Whilst the bikes are by no means great – solid wheels, heavy, difficult to steer and often with no gears – a deal that allows us 30 days of bike share up to 2 hours a day all for Euro7.50 was worth trying. What we did discover is that cycling in Florence is not as easy as one might think. The cobblestones make for a rough passage (especially with the solid wheels) and the one way roads that run all over the place mean that it’s easy to end up going in circles. That’s why the Florentines just go the wrong way or charge up the pavement.
So our verdict has been. Given we’re already doing more than 20,000 steps each day walking, it’s good to have the option of picking up a bike sometimes and using it. The bike is a good way of getting to the Saturday Parkrun – rather than walking 5km for a 5km run. The cycle path along the ring road is easy and we can use that, drop off the bike and move off from there. Glad we didn’t buy bikes as this gives us the option to pick up and drop off whenever we like.