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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Firenza (Florence)

Firenza is one of the top 3 cities to visit in Italy, along with Rome and Venice. So it was a must to visit for me. I love visiting small villages and towns which are very authentic and Italian, without a tourist in sight. However, I also love big cities as they are really magical. Down every street there is something new and there is a lot of amazing architecture and historical sights in a small area. Florence is no exception to this with a treasure trove of Renaissance Art. 

So Friday night I read 'the bible' as I call it - The Lonely Planet Guide to Italy. I decided what I wanted to see and then looked up places to eat. Now I sound a bit like an OCD traveller who plans every moment of her trip, but I assure you I'm not! From experience I have discovered that if you don't do this you walk away from a place realising that you forgot to visit so and so or you end up walking around for hours trying to find somewhere decent, cheap and non touristy to eat lunch (sounds easy but trust me it isn't!). Being the budget traveller I am, I also looked up the cheapest way to get there; which was to train to Pisa and then take to the bus to Florence - saving me €2.90 each way! One last thing was to check the weather forecast - it said rain, rain and more rain. So I set out early Saturday morning, wearing wellies and a rain jacket with my trusty umbrella in hand (it has seen a lot of rain!), the bible in my backpack and a general itinerary in my head.  

Arriving in the city, the first thought in my mind was breakfast. I know this sounds awful as I was in an amazing city and the first thing I did was search for breakfast. But in my opinion part of visiting a new place is experiencing the cuisine of that area. And you can't appreciate a place if your tummy is rumbling away! I didn't have to search far luckily, as I had read about this fantastic little bakery a short walk from the station. Here I bought a delicious croissant filled with Nutella and it had melted chocolate on top - my idea of heaven as a  chocoholic - for only one euro. Interestingly, in Italy the croissants are a lot less buttery then the ones in France. One reason for this is that for Italians breakfast is a simple, on-the-go affair and therefore croissants are usually pre-filled with a custard cream so they can be bought and eaten straight away (with a cappuccino, of course) and therefore a buttery croissant would be too sweet. Whereas the French usually have theirs with butter and jam so a buttery croissant compliments this. It also goes back to the roots of Italian cooking as they don't use butter that much, with a preference for olive oil. 

Now that my tummy was satisfied, I retraced my steps back to the Santa Maria Novella Church and admired the beautiful marble facade. Linked to this church is an old pharmacy and perfumery (Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella), which was next on my list to visit. Inside it was amazing with different rooms for things like herboligist,  perfumery, soap, museum and tea shop, little had changed since 1612 when it was opened. I then headed off for the area across the river. I had read that this area was filled with little artists shops; making things from picture frames, to lampshades to jewerily. And I wasn't disappointed, there were some wonderful little shops and in many you could go in and see how they were making various things. 

Once again my tummy was rumbling - time for lunch! Another aupairing friend had told me about a fabulous, family run pizza shop, called Toto'Atto II.  Pizza is a must in Italy and even though I had eaten it for dinner the night before, I was still up for more! The restaurant was small with only about 4 tables and one side of the restaurant you could see the chef making the pizzas and there was also various different types of pizza displayed. You could choose one of the pizza slices that had been pre-made (and they popped it into the oven so it was pipping hot for you) or order a whole pizza which the chef would make for you right before your eyes. I opted for a slice of the vegetarian pizza and some fizzy water (beware that in Italy coke, fanta etc are extremely expensive at restaurants and fizzy water is the same price as still water) costing €4.50. A perfect lunch in my opinion - tasty, filly and cheap! 

Once again stuffed with food, it was time to hit the Uffizi Gallery and admire all the renaissance artwork. Personally, I don't find galleries and paintings that interesting, however the inside was spectacular; my favourite part was one hallway where the ceilings had intricate paintings, there were statues along one side and then large windows looking out onto the piazza on the other. Also, the roof (where the expensive cafe was gave beautiful views of the city). If like me your not that interested in painting I would go in for the amazing architecture - it only cost €3.25. With the rain still holding off, I then walked into the Piazza Della Signoria to see all the statues, including the famous David replica. 

In need of a snack after all the heavy afternoon of museums, I returned to the bakery from the morning and bought a delicious cherry and chocolate cake. With the rain still holding off, I grabbed a takeaway coffee from Arnold's and sat in the square of the church Santa Maria Novello. I munched away whilst people watching, with a lovely back drop of the church. Even though I'm in Italy, I still love to have a big American coffee and none of those mini cappuccinos (although they are value for money at a mere €1.30 in La Spezia). Also as I was in a city the price of a simple cappuccino is much higher ... One cafe I walked into was selling them at €5! I walked out if there quickly! 

With the sun setting I headed to the North of the city to visit the markets. I wandered around here and the Piazza Della Santissima Annuzista, where there is another beautiful church and the Hospital of the Innocent.  Finally I ended  at the 'Duomo'. Throughout the day I had seen the 'Duomo' popping up from behind buildings or peeking out down streets but now it was finally time to see the magnificent church and my was it magnificent! 

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