Postcards from Italy — 36 Hours in Florence

Okay, it’s taken me far too long to get this post up. But I am on break from school this week, and am currently in a hostel in Paris — so I am finishing writing it now that I’ve got time. Sorry in advance for the length!

Anyway…for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to make solo traveling a big part of my life.

Even at home, I love driving by myself and taking day trips to nearby towns and cities. First, because it’s exciting, and finding my way through a new place is both satisfying and invigorating. And second, because I can stop to pee when I need to, I can stop to eat when I need to, I can go home when I need to, and I can listen to whatever music I want with nobody to worry about, and nobody to complain.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to travel with friends, but being alone is refreshing and is often a catalyst for inspiration. It gives me time to reflect and be alone — really alone — with my thoughts, which is (usually) a good thing. It is difficult, though, and this has become clearer to me since I began my second solo trip to France.

Before this weekend (in late October), the only traveling I had ever done by myself was within the USA and within New England. Since I got to Rome, I’ve been bogged down almost every weekend with essays to write and plenty of homework to do, so up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t left the city.

(This is partly because I’ve had homework and partly because I love Rome and have already made it like my home in various ways.)

Earlier that week, I looked at my schedule and remembered that it was a long weekend (because the following Monday was All Saints’ Day). My school also gives us Fridays off, so I figured I may as well spend half of it seeing something new. Alas, I planned a very quick and last-minute trip to Florence!

I booked a night at a hotel, and then I booked two train tickets. I began doing research on classic Tuscan/Florentine food to try and must-see museums and churches to visit. By Thursday night, I had created an entire rough itinerary, and on Friday, I left my apartment at around 8 to catch a 9:02 train from Roma Termini.

Here I am waiting for the bus to take me to the train station. Since I left high school, I have noticed myself wearing this color combination (my high school’s colors) way too much, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s some unresolved feelings about not finishing high school properly that are seeping their way into my wardrobe.

I had never taken the train from Termini before, so I made sure to arrive twenty minutes before my train took off. I was this close to stopping at a bar and getting an espresso before leaving, but I’m so glad I didn’t, because the platform was literally the furthest away from the station, and I probably wouldn’t have made it.

I booked the cheapest tickets possible, which meant that the train ride was longer than usual. It was about four hours, but the ride there wasn’t too bad or crowded. I’m used to the 2.5 hour ride from New Haven to NYC, so an extra hour and a half was nothing.

I admired the Italian foliage, and even though it isn’t New England foliage, it still made me happy. Also, one of the stops the train made was in Orvieto, which is a city I visited when I was in Italy in July of 2019! It’s home to one of my favorite churches, the Duomo di Orvieto.

I arrived at the Santa Maria Novella train station around 12:45 and walked 15 minutes towards my hotel which I was able to check into at 1. (I was quite proud of myself for this perfect timing.)

I stayed at Hotel Principe, and the moment I stepped inside I knew I had made the right choice. I found a pretty good deal on it, and I was only going to be in town for one night, so I figured a hotel made the most sense. It was so beautiful, the staff was exceptionally kind, and its location was perfect. I will absolutely stay there again next time I visit — and I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Firenze!!!

This was the view from the balcony in my room.

After putting my things away and resting for a few minutes, I decided to check out the roof. The concierge told me all guests get roof access and that there’s a really nice view from the top, so of course I had to see it for myself.

And yeah. WTF. This is the view from the roof of the hotel. I don’t think it can get much better than this. I didn’t feel the need to seek out any other views this time around, cause this was just a few flight of stairs above me.

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After enjoying the view for a few minutes, I headed out into the city. I had bought tickets and made a reservation for Galleria dell’Accademia earlier that week for 2:30 p.m., so I left the hotel and began walking there, since was only a 15-20 minute walk.

I got there a few minutes early, so I had coffee and a cornetto at a bar across the street while waiting to enter.

Some amazing plaster busts by Bartolini.

This was one (or, two, since one is a replica!) of my favorite sculptures I saw — Juno by Bartolini, circa sometime between 1823 – 1830. They are both unfinished, supposedly, and were originally in Rome, in Prince Borghese’s gallery.

The Pietà from Palestrina, by Michelangolo, another one of my favorites, depicting Mary holding a dead Jesus.

And the thing that eeeeeveryone comes to Galleria dell’Academia for: David! Not gonna lie: it was smaller than I thought. I know everyone says it’s bigger than they thought, but I thought just the opposite. Kinda weird. But nevertheless, it was incredible to see in person. The hand veins alone are just unreal.

This one’s a seriously accurate representation of my mood every time I have a new essay to write. (Yeah, I’m an English major, but I can still complain.) It’s Cyparissus by Francesco Pozzi, circa 1818.

I took way too many photos at the gallery, so I’ll only share these for now. I’d love to share some of the paintings I saw, but I feel like the photographs really don’t do them justice.

After buying a couple of things in the gift shop, I began to walk back to my hotel to drop off my bag. I took an alternate route to get back and stumbled across what might be one of the most glorious Duomos in the world.

I think I just love Gothic style architecture, cause the Duomo di Orvieto is awfully similar. (As is the Duomo di Milano, and although I’ve not seen it in person, I know I will cry the first time I do.)

This gorgeous Dome, designed by Brunelleschi.

Across from the Duomo sits a Lindt chocolate store. My roommate loves Lindt and raves about their gelato, so I decided to check it out — and it did not disappoint.

A view of the Arno I just stumbled upon while walking back to my hotel room. Like, come on!! Florence is a total show-off.

Too beautiful. I’d move to Florence just for this.

Self-portrait in front of the Arno.

I got to my hotel and realized I had nearly two hours to spare until my dinner plans, so I decided to relax a bit. I talked to some friends on the phone and then got antsy, so I left early and found a bar across from the restaurant I was meeting my friend at.

Here’s the aperitivo I had: a Spritz with some potato chips and peanuts.

Then I met my friend Julia for dinner! She and I went to high school together, and she also went to Sicily with me a few years ago. She’s studying in Florence, so I told her I was visiting and we made dinner plans on Friday night.

We ate at Osteria Pepó, and it was a lovely meal. As I mentioned, I tried to find authentic food that served classic Tuscan/Florentine dishes, and my research seriously paid off.

Here is the first thing we ordered, which we split: pappa al pomodoro. Oh, man, it was so good! I wish you could taste it. It’s a classic Tuscan bread soup of tomatoes and basil (among some other ingredients), and I think I could eat it every single day. It’s light but so flavorful, and I guess it is a particularly popular baby food!

And for the secondo piatto, this is what I ordered: tagliatelle ai funghi. Porcini mushrooms were in their peak season when I was in Florence, so I knew I needed to taste them. And they did not disappoint! I love tagliatelle, because even when it’s cooked al dente (which this was, of course) it’s one of those pastas that I find doesn’t sit in your stomach like a rock, lol.

Sometimes I feel the need to pat myself on the back when I have a particularly good food experience. Surprisingly, it can be really difficult to find a real, authentic, and delicious place to eat. It’s Italy, so it’s rare that you’ll find anything awful, but much of the food here is catered to tourists! So when I find a legit place like this, it makes me so happy. This restaurant was lovely, both food-wise and service-wise, so this is just me patting myself on the back for that. Research really pays off when you’re traveling!

Of course, we had to get gelato afterwards. It was quite cold, though — something I am not used to in Roma — so we just went to the nearest place, which wasn’t the best, but oh, well. (To those who have never been to Italy, yes, it is possible to get bad gelato!!!) But alas, at the very least, it satisfied my sweet tooth.

I walked Julia back to her apartment, and after saying goodbye, I called my friend Jordyn and we chatted as I found my way back to the hotel.

I must say, it was so nice to have an evening to myself. Plus, my bed back in Rome is so creaky and I cannot stand it sometimes… so having a night of no creaking was delightful.

I did a face mask and wrote in my journal and read some of my book, and then slept soundly until my alarm went off at around 7.

I didn’t intend to wake up this early, nor did I need to; check-out wasn’t until 10 a.m., but I wanted to get a head start, since it was my last day in Florence. So I reminded myself about the rooftop balcony and prayed that there was a sunrise so the waking-up-early was worth it, and…

It was totally worth it!

This was the first photo that I took when I first got upstairs. I almost cried, cause it was so unexpected and so beautiful!!!

On the other side, you can see the dome of the Duomo.

Not the best photo, but the light was hitting these orange trees perfectly, so I tried to capture it from the view on my balcony.

I packed up my things, showered, and checked out of my hotel room. Because check-out was at 10 a.m., I had to carry around my backpack all day. This was annoying, and my shoulders hurt like hell by the end of the day, so I ate very well to make up for it…

I first stopped at Caffe Gilli, the oldest bar in Florence, circa 1733. It’s huge and gorgeous inside — almost as gorgeous as these pastries that were in the display case. I decided to grab a seat inside, though, and have a sit-down meal rather than stand at the bar. It was Saturday, so it was quite busy.

This is what I ordered: To drink, a cappuccino, which, frankly, did not impress me too much, but the caffeine was necessary for the long day ahead.

And to eat, I had a classic cornetto and a bombolone. The cornetto was great, but the bombolone is what I will remember from this breakfast. It was light, warm, and sugary. I initially ordered the small one (bomboloncine!) but the waiter insisted I try the large one, and I’m so glad he did.

From there, I had to walk to the Basilica di Santa Croce, which wasn’t too far. I had booked a ticket for 11 a.m., so I found myself with about 30 minutes to spare.

Beautiful street art // a nice break from the omnipresent graffiti in Rome!

Then, I stumbled across Piazza della Signoria and spent some time looking at the statues. This was one of my favorites: Gianbologna’s Abduction of a Sabine Woman, circa 16th century. It’s incredible: this was sculpted out of just one piece of marble, similar to Davide.

After that, I walked towards the Basilica and sat outside until they started allowing people in for the 11:00 time slot.

I absolutely loved this church. There are few churches that have topped Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio in Rome for me, but this one definitely comes close. The colors were remarkable, and the sun shone through the stained glass, producing rainbows that danced on the frescoes.

Like this!

The colors blew me away. I’m not sure how much of this has been restored, but regardless, it is still so impressive.

I wish you could see every inch of this Basilica. I spent almost an hour in there walking around and resting on the pews. The churches in Italy are one of the things I love most about the country, and they simply cannot be compared to the ones in America. There is also a never-ended supply of them here, so I know that I’ll be discovering new ones as I continue living here.

After the Basilica, I walked around a bit and decided it was time for lunch.

There’s a sandwich in Florence called the lampredotto. It is made with the fourth stomach of the cow and is classic Florentine street food. Everyone knows that I’ve been a vegetarian for all of my life, but in my last post, I mentioned that I’ve begun eating a bit of meat since arriving in Italy. I decided that if there’s something I believe I simply can’t miss and can’t get anywhere else, I will eat it, no matter what.

So when I began reading about lampredotto, I decided that I had to try it.

I found this place, Il Cernacchio, which sits on Via della Condotta. It’s a small restaurant; there’s seating upstairs and a few tables up front, but it seemed like most people got their sandwiches to go.

There were only two guys working up front: one taking orders, and one making the sandwiches. I waited in line for about 15 minutes, and when I got to the front, I ordered the lampredotto.

I took it with me and found a spot to sit about a block away, and then – without really thinking about the fact that I was going to eat cow stomach – I ate it. And it was delicious. The bread was warm and very tough, but my teeth grew stronger with each bite. The meat was covered in a green, slightly spicy, salsa verde-like dressing. I’m so glad I tried this, and honestly, I’d get it again next time I’m in Florence.

I also got a piece of castagniaccio from the same restaurant. Castagniaccio has been on my must-try list for a while. It’s a pretty famous dessert in Tuscany: it’s almost like a nutty, spicy, and savory brownie, but it’s technically a cake, and it’s made with chestnut flour. Even though I despise raisins, this was so good, and now I want to learn how to make it! It’s the most perfect fall dessert.

And because I am me and I can never have enough dessert, I went to get some gelato.

I went to Bar Vivoli, a pretty well-known gelateria in Florence. And I am not kidding: this was the best gelato I’ve had in my life. I got strawberry and pear/caramel. The only way I can describe this is by saying it tasted like I was eating a melted strawberry and a melted pear. You know that very specific, kind of grainy texture that a pear has? It was literally that, but in gelato form. Mind-blowing. I need to go back!!!

After that, I really didn’t have anything else planned, and I still had about five hours to spare in Florence. Part of me wished that I had booked an earlier train ticket (and you’ll see why very soon…), but looking back, I’m glad I had some time to just wander.

I walked over Ponte Vecchio (here’s the view from one side of it). It was definitely cool to see, but it was so touristy that I’d honestly recommend looking at it from afar if you’re ever in Florence.

After walking over the bridge, I checked out Florence from the other side of the Arno. I was so tired at this point, and I just needed to sit down. So I found Piazza Santo Spirito* and people-watched for almost 2 hours.

*note to self: in Italy, when in doubt, just go to a piazza. You will find something to do, whether it be people-watching or eating.

I wrote in my journal, too, and watched as locals and tourists walked by. Since arriving in Italy, I’ve been so inspired, and I feel like I could write a book about every person I see and their entire life. This people-watching session was really therapeutic, and I found myself thinking about the world in brand new ways.

I just saw so much beauty in everyone that walked by in a way that I never had before. I realized that conflict only happens when people communicate — if we sat and watched each other more often and saw that we’re all just human beings, maybe we’d love each other more. Super emo, I know. But it was a nice realization.

After that, I decided to get back out and see a little more of the city with the time that I had left. This is Ponte Vecchio from afar. See? It’s so much cooler when you’re looking at it from a distance. When you’re on it, you can’t actually see it!

Song lyrics on the bridge facing Ponte Vecchio. I just found out that it’s a 1978 song, A mano a mano, by Rino Gaetano.

Little by little, you realize that the wind blows on your face and steals a smile.

I bought a few things to take home, visited the 99 cent store (which does not exist in Rome!!!) and picked up some snacks for the train ride home.

In the train station, I picked up a poetry book at La Feltrinelli, and then I found my train.

The train ride was loooooong. It felt even longer than the ride there, cause it was dark and I couldn’t see anything. But eventually, I got to Roma Termini, at around 11 p.m., and then the fun happened:

That weekend was the G20 Summit. Joe Biden happened to be in Rome, so right after I left, the entire city had pretty much shut down. Streets were blocked, busses weren’t moving, and police were everywhere.

When I got off the train at Termini, they had blocked all the exists. I finally made it outside, but the street I needed to get to was closed. I told the police that I needed bus 75, and he said that the busses weren’t running.

At this point, my phone was at 10%, it was nearly midnight, and I had no cash. I couldn’t get a taxi — I even asked a taxi driver if he took cards, but he said no. Uber had totally crashed because everyone needed one, and anyway, it was wicked expensive. So I really had no other choice but to walk.

I used up my phone’s battery to figure out where Piazza Venezia was from Roma Termini. It was dark out, so it was really hard to figure out where, exactly, I was. Once I got to Piazza Venezia, though, I knew how to get home.

I walked for an entire hour from Roma Termini to my apartment, with my huge backpack and my awful boots that are most definitely not made for walking. When I got back, my feet felt like they were about to fall off. I ate dinner (that my roommate Martina prepared for me!:) ), took a shower, and soaked my feet. I walked 46,223 steps that day. I had never felt more exhausted in my life.

Thanks, Biden.

Haha. Just kidding. Kind of.

You see why I wished that I’d booked an earlier train, though? That’s why. But alas, had I done that, I wouldn’t have this story to tell. So in the end, I guess it was worth it.

I will certainly be back to Florence, though! I loved it, and it was a nice break from Rome. It’s a city, but it’s not nearly as big, so it was refreshing to be in a quieter place for a little while.

I leave Paris for Rome tomorrow, and I purposely chose a train from the airport to a much closer train station (not Termini!), just in case something similar happens again :)) But regardless, I’ll have more stories soon, when I write about this trip, so stay tuned!

Au revoir… arrivederci… byeeeeeee!