Saturday, 25 October 2014

Tales of Florence

As promised, here are the details of the trip Mum and I took to Florence last weekend! Watch out, it's a long one...

We were up around the time I have to get up Monday-Wednesday for lectures - Horribly-Early AM (I have lectures that start at 8.30am, shudder) but since this was so that we got the whole day in Florence it wasn't so bad. We got the bus to the train station and then went to buy our tickets. The train we had wanted to get (a slower, but cheaper train) apparently went to the furthest away of the several train stations in Florence, so the ticket guy advised us to get a different one. For some reason that I couldn't quite grasp we couldn't buy the return ticket, so just figured we'd do it when we arrived in Florence.

The train journey was only about half an hour and unfortunately we were in tunnels for most of it, so Mum didn't get to see any of the countryside as she had hoped! I can only assume it's because we were on one of their really fast trains, but I'm not sure. When we finally emerged from the tunnels closer to Florence, the world outside was grey and misty and I was feeling a bit silly in my summer dress, as we'd been promised good weather! Luckily it burned off (as Mum said it would, naturally) and it ended up being an unbelievably hot day, yet again!

Fresh off the train, we had a look at the tickets for a return train to Bologna but, since we couldn't decide what time to go back, we thought we'd just buy the tickets when we got back to the station after our day out. So instead we headed for the tourist information office across the road from the station in order to find a map and, once armed with one, we headed straight for one of the main attractions - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (cathedral) in the Piazza del Duomo.

We couldn’t actually get inside to see the place properly until 1.30pm, so first we just took a stroll around the outside of it. A pretty impressive sight, seeing as work first started on it in 1296 and (I’m reading directly from the guidebook we bought later on, by the way), along with the baptistery outside that faces towards the front of the cathedral, the green and white marble used in the geometric design of the building is in the 13th century style, despite being worked on throughout the Romantic and Gothic periods. Good work, chaps!

The piazza itself was filling up with tourists despite being relatively early (I think we arrived not long after 10am), so after having a good look at this we decided to head south to find the river. Before we reached it, we came upon the Piazza della Signoria, where you can find the Palazzo Vecchio and the Galeria degli Uffizi (which we were going to later on). Standing in the brilliant sunshine something caught our eye...

...that's right, the GUCCI museum!

It turns out it's a limited time exhibition that showcases the brands history in the form of bags, clothes, etc - so we thought we'd check it out, and we weren't disappointed.

Inside it was dark and cool, and completely empty (save for the bouncer-style security guards who did seem to be following us around...), so it was nice to get away form the otherwise quite busy Florence.

The classic red and green stripe on their luggage..

 That's right, a Gucci car! Their logo in gold on the hubcaps, and the interior was a classic Gucci pattern. There was only a certain number of these babies released back in the (if I remember the poster correctly) eighties.
 Some of the more famous Gucci gowns worn on the red carpet.

This one was worn by Blake Lively a few years ago (I know that's not Blake Lively on the wall, I didn't manage to time my photo right with the projection!). Many sequins. Wow.

Safe to say we were impressed!

Back outside, Mum had spotted a sign pointing to Casa di Dante (Dante's house!) so we decided to follow it, down narrow and very un-touristy streets. We only ended up having a nosey in the little gift shop attached to it, where we bought our guidebook. Following this, I decided that I could navigate us to the river from there using just the map. Eh. And so I did, sort of. I mean, we did get to the river, it just took us a while and we got a little bit lost...

...and by the time we reached the river, it was lunchtime and naturally we were both starving, and quite tired from all our walking around. So after admiring the river from the Ponte alle Grazie (I am checking all these names on my map, just for you guys) we crossed to the other side in hopes of finding some lunch.

Me posing like a true tourist on said bridge, that's the big famous Ponte Vecchio in the background too!

For lunch we shared a really good tuna pizza and a caprese salad (tomatoes and mozzarella, mmm) at a place that we deemed not to be too touristy (Mum's code is 'nowhere with pictures in the menu' which I think is a good one), although later the surrounding tables were filled with American tourists, so perhaps not.

From here we wandered back across the river via the Ponte Vecchio. It was packed with tourists and people there to sell things to tourists - phone gadgets, little paintings, caricatures, so not particularly interesting. The bridge itself is lined with little shops however, like fancy jewellery shops, silverware places and that sort of thing, so we had a good peek through all the windows.

We carried on down the road once turning off the bridge so that we could get a good view of the other side of it, then headed back towards the center of the city. The street we ended up on turned out to be one lined with all the designer brands - there was Gucci, Prada, well just about everything! Eventually we were led back to the Piazza del Duomo which was now absolutely heaving with tourists, but we still queued to get inside the cathedral. It was enormous on the inside and much cooler than the hot day outside, so after wandering around we stopped to sit for a few minutes and then headed out again. Still exhausted, we took a little street off the piazza and sat down for a gelato in the shade - I had mango and lemon and it was just perfect. Here we made our plans as to what we would do next. There was just over an hour before we were due at the Galleria degli Uffizi (you have to book a time slot in order to get in) so we planned to wander over slowly and have a look around anywhere we found. 

The route we took ended up going through an 'antiques zone', which meant we got to look in more gorgeous shop windows and we even went in an open studio of a designer who made the most beautiful clothes from vintage fabrics (Mum was very taken with this place). It didn't feel like this route took ages, but by the time we reached the Piazza della Repubblica, a small but very famous piazza in Florence near the Uffizi, I realised that it was 5 or so minutes before we were due to collect our tickets so we had to hurry a little to get there but we made it no problem.

Upon actually entering the gallery after picking up the tickets, we headed up to the cafe to grab a Coke because it was still so hot out! The cafe also has a rooftop area from which you can admire the tops of the surrounding buildings, including the top of dome of the cathedral.

The gallery itself is in a large old building, and the second floor (same floor as the cafe and rooftop area) is made up of one long corridor that winds round with windows to the outside on one side and the gallery rooms on the left. This is the view from one corner of the corridor that looks out to the Ponte Vecchio.

Golden hour already?! The day had quickly slipped away from us, it seemed. We spent a good amount of time wandering the gallery and upon finishing there, we decided it was also time to end our day in Florence and we made our way back to the train station as it began to grow dark (why does it get light so late and dark so early, already?!).

So you remember earlier I said that we hadn't bought our return train tickets yet? Well, that turned out to be a big mistake. Using the self service ticket machine, it quickly became clear that you could only buy tickets for seats on the trains and that you couldn't just buy a ticket and when the seats run out, the tickets run out. This is what happened to us. No 2nd class, no first class tickets left on the next couple of trains - so we ended up having to buy 2 'executive business' class tickets! A little pricier than our morning tickets...yet, as Mum put it, still cheaper than having to stay the night in Florence and get a train the next morning, so we went for it.

It turned out to not be all that bad. I asked a guy who worked at the station if we'd get anything included in our ticket, and he said we'd get complimentary food and drink - when we took our seats (big, leather recliners, mind) on the train, the (hrrm, I think this would be the right word) attendant handed out sweets to us and offered us a drink. We took this a cue and asked for glasses of prosecco, of course! There was something quite hilarious about the situation at this point, and we just giggling away at the back of the carriage (which only had 6 seats in, too!). When I asked we also got given some snacks (foccacia bread and some cracker things), and the guy brought us the only English magazines he could find (wonder how he figured out we're English...). Success! After a long day the comfy seats were very welcoming and when our stop came half an hour later it was hard to leave!

And whew! Finally we were home, I think it was probably 9.30pm by the time we were back at the apartment, so it had definitely been a looooong day. Our verdict on Florence is that it's, of course, lovely - however we definitely prefer Bologna. Florence seemed very touristy and the place was absolutely crowded, whereas Bologna is not. This could be due to the fact that we went on a Sunday though, so perhaps it's not all bad. That's one more thing to do ticked off my list, anyway!

Well done if you've made it this far with me! It's been a long post today, so I'll round it off now with a quick overview of what I've been up to this week and what my plans for the next few weeks are. Mum left on Tuesday morning, and for the rest of the week I've been in lectures and doing various things, like going to the Giardini Margherita, a tandem evening and to the shops. Wednesday and Thursday it was actually cold which made a nice a change, it was even windy! It felt properly like autumn for the first time. That changed yesterday and now it's hot again...

...and as for the next few weeks, well in one week I'll be heading home for a few days, as we've a week off lectures! I'm very much looking forward to that little trip. Two weeks after I return, my boyfriend is coming out for a visit (yay!), the weekend after that I'll be visiting a school/uni friend who's out on her Erasmus in a little town in Germany, and then not long after that an old friend is hopefully coming to visit me before I go home for Christmas. So I'm going to be busy! I will keep you updated, hopefully more regularly now that I've got back into this blogging lark.

Ciao ciao!


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