Having only booked our accommodation in Florence the night before we left Pisa, we weren’t expecting much in the way of luxury. We had only planned to stay for one night, so we clearly weren’t expecting much from the city itself either. How wrong we were.
The journey from Pisa was a short one and we soon found ourselves amongst the hustle and bustle of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. It was here that my Italian skills were first put to the test. We had faced no linguistic challenges in France. I am comfortable enough in French now that it rarely causes any problems. While my Italian is catching up, I have had less experience with it and my visit to the bureau sent the butterflies fluttering. However, as I have always said, it is in these situations that you just have to go for it. Don’t panic, don’t think about the mistakes; just do it. That’s exactly what I did and, though there may have been mistakes, I didn’t let them bother me. We now knew the address of the hotel, which bus to catch and how much we would have to pay. An invaluable conversation that gave me a real confidence boost.
Like a lot of European public transport, Florentine buses are paid in time rather than distance. A 90-minute ticket will cost you €1.20 and will undoubtedly get you to where you need to go. I challenge any British bus company to charge so little for such a long distance. It didn’t take us long to reach the hotel – in fact, we later realised that we could have walked, but at this point we were glad to have arrived – so we made our way to the reception of Hotel Savonarola to check in. Little did we know what a gem we had found.
The receptionist was incredibly helpful, showing us where to go and what time to visit various attractions. The wi-fi was good, the drinks reasonably priced and the room was extraordinary. It had one of the highest ceilings I have ever seen, single beds and a nice bathroom. It didn’t have all the luxuries that we had in Nice, but it certainly delivered in its style. The only shame was that there had been a thunderstorm the night before and the rain persisted even now. How could we enjoy Florence in the little time that we had if it continued to rain? It was at this point that we made a joint decision to skip Venice and stay an extra night in Tuscany. While I’m sure Venice is a tourist’s paradise, I have always been told that it’s busy, expensive and a bit whiffy in places. We were happy to sacrifice that for what we could tell was a beautiful city.
We explored the local area once the rain had subsided, but we did most of our sight-seeing on our full day. The skies were blue, the Duomo was stunning in the sun, as were the views from Ponte Vecchio. Once again, we reached all of our destinations by foot. There are plenty of buses to get you around, but we enjoyed exploring the city on our own steam, something which I highly recommend.
Taking the advice of the receptionist, we later headed to Piazzale Michelangelo where we were to expect some great views of Florence. The heat was intense and the climb to the top was quite a challenge, but this is a must-see for any visitor. The panoramic views were breathtaking and I could have spent the whole day at the top. We each bought an ice cream for some respite from the heat and took a more relaxed route back down to the centre. Nothing that Venice had to offer could beat that view for me. We had definitely made the right decision.
We had planned to see Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Academia, but that wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. The receptionist had told us to visit at 4.30pm when the crowds were smaller and the gallery welcomed its last group of visitors. All I can say is that, if the 4.30pm crowd was small, I dread to think what it must be like at peak time. Both queues (one for ticket holders and one for those without) were far too long to warrant the visit, even for us British queue connoisseurs. Perhaps art lovers will think differently, but for us David was the main attraction and we couldn’t really justify the wait. Do let me know what it’s like if you go and see him.
Since my return, I have been asked several times which of the places that we visited was my favourite. This is a difficult question to answer since every city was different, but deep down I think Florence comes out on top. Other places might have been on a par, but those are the cities that I knew were going to impress. I didn’t know what to expect in Florence and was blown away by it. I will definitely have to return one day, perhaps even to the wonderful Hotel Savonarola.