Italy by Train part 2 – Florence

We're really on a roll now!
We'd left Venice that morning in one of the nicest and cheapest trains I've been on. Combined, the three trains from Venice to Florence, to Siena and finally to Rome cost £37, which is amazing. This one in particular was £12 for 'super economy' which ended up being nicer than first class on most British trains.

Our hostel in here was PLUS Florence and we paid €20 each a night in an 8 bed room. It was one of the more expensive places we stayed on our trip, but it was worth it with a restaurant, bar, and the only one that had a pool. It was also right near the centre of the city, only a five minute walk to il Duomo.

A friend and I split the planning between us, Florence was my passion so I tried to find the best way to spend our 80 ish hours there.

Day 1 - Galleria dell'Accademia

When we arrived in the evening we got our bearings and went for a walk to go pick up our Firenze Card, these were €72 and once activated lasted for 72 hours giving you free priority entrance into 72 museums. It was, in my opinion, a great purchase. Most of the museums cost €10-15, so you only need to go to a few to make it worthwhile, and some have hours-long queues so the priority means you can get to more places in less time.

Even though we knew we were close to the centre of the city it was still a shock to walk around the corner and be greeted by the Duomo.

We didn't have a full day so we chose just one museum. The Accademia, host to Michelangelo's David. The museum was crowded and it was difficult to get close to any of the famous artwork, but it was definitely still worth going to. Along with David, there were a host of other sculptures and paintings but he was definitely the most impressive thing there.

Day 2 - Tower Day

Our so-called Tower Day included climbing il Duomo, the bell tower next to it, and the Palazzo Vecchio, actually I'll admit I didn't climb the bell tower, we split into pairs and I and a friend went to the Basilica de San Lorenzo instead.

We started with the Duomo since it's queues are very long, even with our priority entrance. We arrived before it opened, and waited for about 15 minutes, not too bad. I must admit I found the Duomo a little disappointing inside. The outer facade is so beautiful and intricately decorated but inside it's pretty dull. Our first walk round we didn't realise there was a section underground with sections of the original walls and flooring, but we went back a second time to see it after climbing the cupola (dome).

The climb was long, 463 steps through long narrow passages. Some of it overlapped with the climb down. It can definitely get claustrophobic for some people, and at the top you're very high up with just a small fence to protect you. It was an amazing experience, but if either small spaces or heights bother you, I wouldn't recommend it. I'll be writing about the climbing the cupola specifically in a later post so don't forget to check back.

Instead of climbing the bell tower, I went for a walk to the Basilica de San Lorenzo and the Capelle Medici, the Medici Chapel where many of the Medici family, as well as Donatello, are buried. Inside the chapel is a reliquary, the first I had seen and home to truly bizarre things. Mainly slices of the dried skin and bones of saints. Creepy, but kind of fascinating. (Photo of the basilica from the bell tower kindly donated by Zoe Weeks)

Whilst I was seeing the weirdest collection of artefacts in the basilica, two of my friends climbed the 85m tall  Giotto's Campinile. The photo of the Duomo from the bell tower is again donated by Zoe Weeks, and shows the beauty of the Duomo's outer facade. Another 414 steps to the top, the bell tower was designed to counteract perspective. Each of the top three levels is progressively larger than the previous in every sense so from the bottom it appears to be equal in size.

Then we went to the baptistery of St John, one of the oldest buildings in Florence. It was built between 1059 and 1128. It's an octagonal shape to represent the seven days of creation and the day of recreation through the Sacrament of Baptism. The inside of the dome is covered in golden mosaics depicting Jesus, and surrounding him the rewards of the saved, and the punishments of the damned. The poet Dante, and many of the Medici family were baptised in this baptistry.

After the Baptistry, we walked to the Uffizi Gallery, famous for containing many works by Botticelli including the birth of Venus. The Uffizi is one of the oldest modern museums and during peak season (July) the wait times can be as long as 5 hours. The Firenze card helped massively with this, but you can also book online to secure your place if you prefer not to use the card.

By this point we'd seen about as much art as we could handle and had been walking around museums and historic sites for about 8 hours, and we still had one more museum to visit (+ an extra little trip for that evening) and we decided to just have a bit of fun! Sadly we couldn't get any of the very serious adults in the museum to take a picture with all four of us so it's just these three beautiful babes.

Our last scheduled stop was the Palazzo Vecchio, and the final tower to climb. The Palazzo is now Florence's town hall, but the upper floors have been left as medieval apartments with portraits and art. The picture here is the view of the palace from the terrace of the Uffizi. We climbed the first three floors of the palace, through the apartments of Eleonora of Toledo. On the third floor Saturn Terrace, they had set up a beautiful garden for the summer where we rested amongst citrus trees and herbs on our way up the tower.

We went back to the hostel and had dinner with a new friend who we were sharing our room with. One of the best things about staying in hostels is you get to meet a lot of new people. After dinner we went to la Festa Della Rificolona, Florence's festival of lanterns. It wasn't quite what we expected, but a very interesting experience all the same.

Day 3 - Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

The view of the Pitti Palace from the Boboli Gardens

We got the bus out to the Pitti Palace the next morning since it was a little too far to walk.

The Pitti Palace was bought by the Medici family in 1550 and became their home until 1743 when Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici died, and left the contents of the Medici collection to the state of Tuscany on the condition that it can not leave Florence. These works now make up a lot of the Uffizi museum, and the 6 museums within the Palazzo Pitti.

The museums were the Palatine Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Costume Gallery, the Porcelain Museum and the Museum of Carriages. I found the costume gallery particularly interesting because some of the clothes dated back to the 1500's and it's amazing how long they have lasted.
It was incredibly hot and dry during the two weeks we were in Italy, and reached 33ºC while we were walking around the gardens. We were especially thankful for Italy's abundance of drinking-water fountains. I rested in the shade and watched a fountain while the others perused the statues.

On our way back to the Hostel, we stopped for an amazing ice cream at Gelateria Santa Trinita and ate them sitting on the wall of the Arno, looking across to the Ponte Vecchio. We had crossed the bridge the day before when we were going to the Palazzo Vecchio, but it was very crowded. Perhaps going earlier in the morning or later in the evening would have made it quieter?

That night three of us got the bus to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over Florence before we left the next morning. Unfortunately, my phone doesn't take particularly good photos in low light because the view was absolutely stunning. Hopefully I'll get a chance to go back with a camera to try to capture the city's beauty.

The next morning, we woke up early and went to catch our train to Siena. I'll be sharing that in the next few days so check back soon

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