I feel the need to warn you, my loyal readers, that of all the cities we’ve visited Florence is the one I have enjoyed the least. I was quite surprised by this as I know several people who have traveled or studied abroad there and loved it. Perhaps if I were to return it would be different.
We arrived in Florence before lunch, and checked in at our hotel. The hotel (not hostel, that means no sharing outlets, listening to people snore, or having to pack and get dressed in the dark!) was a cheaper sort owned by a grandfatherly old man. The experience, while having its upsides, was a little more solitary and definitely made me glad that I will be living in a residencia (instead of a homestay) in Salamanca.
My options for housing during the semester were a homestay (living with a host family), or a residencia (similar to a dorm). Many people recommended the homestay option, but I had several concerns about living with a family sight unseen. I also realized that joining a family, and in part becoming “one of them” – living with them, interacting on a daily basis, eating, etc. would make me very uncomfortable. These people never would be my real family, and unless the space is entirely “mine” in some sort of fashion, I am not particularly comfortable. In the hotel, I felt as though I was impeding upon the old man’s house, and felt bad leaving the room, making much noise, or being there in general. While this wasn’t a terrible hardship for three days, it would have added unneeded stress if it was for the entire semester.
The first afternoon we visited Piazza di Duomo (the large Cathedral/Duomo,Baptistry and Bell Tower in the center of town) as it was Monday and everything else was closed. The outside of the building was cool, the inside was … not as ornate as the many other cathedrals in Rome to which we’d recently been. The climb up to the top of the cathedral dome (the cupola, I believe it is offically called) was really cool. The dome is made with and inside dome and an outside dome (read about it here), and to climb to the top, you climb in-between the two. It makes for a steep, slightly scary, quite aerobic climb, but the view was definitely worth it. One note of interest – unlike in the US, where I can imagine there would be many warnings for those with heart problems, asthma, pregnant, etc. there was no sort of warning, and we were quite surprised by the intensity of the climb as we conquered it.
On Tuesday, we saw the David at the Academia. Several things I had read speculated that wait in line and ticket price were not worth seeing the original, as there were two good copies elsewhere in the city for free. I disagree. The original had a unique feeling of massiveness, intensity, and beauty that I didn’t experience with any of the copies. It was probably my favorite thing we did in Florence.
On Wednesday, we went to the Uffizi Gallery. They are constantly at the top of most to-do lists for Florence, but I must admit that I was underwhelmed. We had decided to reserve tickets the day before (the line can be 3 or 4 hours long), and the man gave them to us for a significantly reduced price as we were “kind-of” EU citizens (so many people are stumped by the 6 month visa and whether or not it qualifies us for EU citizen prices). The galleries themselves were fairly stifling, the air conditioning seemed to be on, but on “very low”, and there was no airflow in-between the rooms. The other part, I must admit, is that I am not a huge Italian art fan – I much prefer other time periods, and there were so many religious altarpieces and paintings that they all ran together. The Botticellis cool, and I am glad to have seen them, but it isn’t a museum to which I would necessarily feel the need to return (unlike, say, the Louvre).
Other sites in Florence from which we partook: Santa Croce, a large church where many famous Italians are buried or have monuments. It was cool, but not a whole lot different from the many other basilicas we’ve visited over the trip. Ponte Vecchio (a very old and famous bridge). This was definitely the “nicer” area of Florence, and we enjoyed walking around the river as it was very picturesque. The bridge was very cool, very crowded, and very expensive (the shops on it are all gold jewelry shops). The leather markets – all of the leather goods were beautiful, if only I had an extra 500 euro or so with which to buy a nice coat and purse! Many piazzas, we saw both of the David copies in Piazza de Michelangelo and Piazza della Signoria. We also spent quite a bit of time in Florence “wandering around” – the city was much smaller than I had realized, and while some of the buildings were cool, it wasn’t nearly as picturesque as many of the smaller towns we’ve visited, and there was lots of graffiti and trash all over.