In November 2013, my husband and I decided to visit Venice, Florence and Rome in a two week period. I have recently written about Venice, which we fell in love with, and now I would like to relate our experience of Florence.
I feel that I will probably disagree with many of the reviewers here, but we really did not like Florence at all. Of course there is amazing churches and outstanding medieval architecture, but the atmosphere and identity of the place is lost somehow.
Let me explain our trip in detail. We arrived in Florence via the new Italo train service, which I can highly recommend for effeciency, customer service, and quality of staff. The train ride from Venice to Florence cost around 20 euros (tickets bought on line in advance) and took around two hours.
Our arrival at Florence''s santa Maria Novella train station, coincided with what we thought was rush hour and our 15 minute walk to our hotel was a fraut business trying to negotiate three or four lanes of fast traffic with our luggage, whilst reading our map. After the elegant traffic-free tranquility of Venice, this came as quite nerve-jarring shock.
Things didn''t get much better when we arrived at our hotel. We always try to book small family run places, and Relais Carmen, booked via booking.com, was no exception. Unfortunately even though the staff were friendly and helpful and the whole place was exceptionally clean, they had decided to model themselves on the big chain hotels. So the room was completely without character, just a square magnolia box, with burgundy covers and curtains (much like an old peoples home).
We spent as little time as was humanly possible in the room, but when we were in it we were plagued by mosquitos from a neighbouring derelict building site, with no way to avoid them other than shutting up our windows tight and sleeping in an airless box.
Anyway, bad hotel choices aside, we set out the next morning to explore Florence. Once again the traffic was overpowering and there seemed to be no let up night or day. Once into the older part of town the traffic was much less, but the powers that be seemed to have taken no consideration of their heritage and tourism potential, and allow cars and buses to travel down the narrowest medieval streets, with the result that for a lot of the time it is impossible to walk side by side, and many times we had to flatten ourselves against a building while a bus passed us with both wheels scraping the pavement.
The upside, however, is the gems of architecture to be found in Florence. Largest and most stunning is the Duomo or to give it its proper name Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. This is a cathedral on a massive scale, dominated by the huge Dome and, as with all cathedrals and basilicas in Italy, is free of charge to enter. But the real spectacle of this building is from the outside as it sits in brooding beauty in the the Piazza del Duomo virtually filling this small piazza. to one side of the cathedral is Giotto''s Bell Tower, built in the same style and with the same colourful materials. It is possible, for a small fee. to climb both the bell tower and the inside of the dome, but we are too old for so many steps.
For our spectacular views of the city, we instead took a bus ride ( 1.20 Euro per one way ticket, purchsed in advance from any tobaconnist) up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Amusingly the bus driver began to channel his inner F1 driver on the winding road upwards, throwing all of his passengers this way and that. One old italian lady had a blazing row as she got off the bus, saying ( as we understood it in our limited knowledge of italian) "you''re driving a bus you know, not a ferrari!"
Once we had arrived, more or less intact, the Piazzale did indeed have spectacular views over the city, though not much else except the obligatory copy of Michael Angelo''s David, and a few stall selling ice cream and tourist trivia. But as we wound our way back down the hill on foot, we discovered a beatiful rose garden open to the public with many original sculptures set tastefully amongst the plants. Even in November this was a little gem. This south side of the River Arno we found to be a much more peaceful, calm place, and with hindsight we wished we had booked a hotel in that area.
On our walk back, we found ouselves crossing the famous Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge which is interesting because it is still to this day lined with shops along both sides, much as it was when built. This does not make for an attractive looking bridge, by any means, but you do feel that you are experiencing a bit of history. The original shops, I believe were all butchers, but these days such presitgious locations have all been leased to jewellers and all the shop windows display a dazzling array of gold and diamonds.
Our final day was spent once again on the the north side and this time we headed to the Palazzo Vecchio, with the Logia dei Lanzi nearby. Although the Palazzo was beautiful, it was the statues in the loggia that enchanted me. Set of to one side of the Piazza della Signoria, with its beautiful four sided fountain, and another copy of Micheal Angelo''s David, this covered raised area housed over a dozen magnificent carved marble statues, all in a classic style.
Although Florence has a lot to offer, we were overall disappointed by our stay. The place seems to have lost its identity somewhere along the way, and unlike with Venice and Rome, I did not leave feeling that it was I place to which I would ever return.
Florence (or Firenze in Italian) is the largest city in Tuscany, and is home to a wealth of famous art pieces and incredible architecture. My review of the city is based on a recent day trip there as well as a previous visit a few years ago.
On both occasions we arrived into Florence via its main train station, Santa Maria Novella. This is a huge station but it's only five minutes walk to the first main sights of the city, and if you were on a whistle-stop tour, only 10-15 minutes to the Duomo.
The city is very navigable on foot, the main tourist sights all within about half a kilometre of each other. Across the road from the station, the "Hop-on-hop-off" Sightseeing buses were boarding, if that's something you prefer for city visits. To me, these seemed very expensive at 20 Euros per person, albeit for a 48 hour ticket, considering that most of the "main" sights are in pedestrianised areas. It would be a good option if you were staying within the city and would take you to some of the less-visited areas of the city.
The Duomo is Florence's most iconic building - this cathedral with its dome and campanile dominating any skyline image of the city you are likely to see. The façades of the buildings are every bit as captivating and memorable, with striking panelled stonework, and a pair of incredible bronze-pannelled doors to the adjacent Baptistery.
Entrance to the Duomo is free but be prepared to queue - we queued 20 minutes to get in, my parents queued 15 minutes on a different day. To access the Baptistery, the crypt, to climb the dome and the campanile, a ticket is required which costs 10 Euros.
Inside, we purchased an audioguide which cost 4 Euros each. The commentary is number-coded and can be replayed as often as you like, so one between two would actually have sufficed. I also needed to pay 1.50 Euros for a disposable poncho to cover my shoulders and legs (I'd gone in a vest and shorts, and forgotten to take cover-ups.) Women are required to cover their shoulders and legs in places of worship in Italy, and men are also supposed to cover their legs, although most shorts for men, and long shorts for women seemed to be fine here.
At the time of our visit some areas inside appeared to be cordened off, and for me the outside was a far superior sight than the inside. The painting on the inside of the dome was very interesting, though, especially with the audioguide explaining its meanings and what was being depicted. The audioguide was supplied with a leaflet indicating which items were being described, and highlighting some points which would add up to making a one-hour visit. In total, our visited lasted a little over an hour without visiting the crypt.
The Piazza della Signoria
This Piazza is home to a replica of Michaelangelo's statue of David as well as other famous scupltures, including The Fountain of Neptune and Perseus with the head of Medusa. These names meant nothing to me until I saw them and realised that I recognised them. Everyone in the square is trying to compose their own perfect photograph of David, so it makes for a pretty hectic scene, but it's something you just can't help doing yourself! There are cafes and bars on the square to take a breather.
Just off that square is the Uffizi gallery. We visited the gallery as part of a guided trip on our previous visit to Florence. It's essential to book, but in my memory it is well worth doing, with many recognisable and incredibly famous works. Our visit lasted less than an hour and cost us 6 Euros each, representing something of a whistle-stop in truth, but looking online and doing a quick price calculation it is showing 15 Euros per person plus an online booking fee, so certainly something to check out first. Judging from the size of the gallery and considering the amazing works we saw in our short visit, that price would actually represent good value if art is something you enjoy - it would be easy to spend a long morning or afternoon there.
This bridge over the Arno river is edged on each side with fine (very expensive!) jewellery shops. The buildings are ancient and the path is cobbled, this is really an enchanting bridge although incredibly busy. At the top of the bridge it is open on both sides giving great views up and down the river, a lovely photographic opportunity.
Aside from the main sights, we spent several hours exploring around the streets following routes in our guide book. This took us all around the south side of the river, a little more off the beaten track, where it was far quieter yet no less enthralling in terms of the hidden churches, palaces, squares, streets and buildings. If you have time in Florence then the south area is well worth an explore, there are also some attractive looking parks/gardens there, which we didn't really have time to fully appreciate on our visit.
The one other building which I would definitely recommend a visit to is the Church of Santa Maria Novella, near the train station. The stained glass in there was breathtaking. Entrance cost 5 Euros (3.50 for concessions) so we were 'umming and ahhing' whether to go in, but I'm so glad that we did.
Bars and cafes are plentiful although we decided to stay on the go in order to see as much as possible. We bought pizza from one of the many "Forno's" and chose badly, that was the only unpleasant thing I bought to eat during my week in Tuscany, but that's the luck of the draw when there are so many to choose from, I guess. Nevertheless, pizza slices were only 2 or 2.50 Euros and beers and coffees were not extortionate (4 and 1 or 2 Euros respectively from what my parents reported back) - Florence doesn't feel like a city where they are waiting to "sting" their visitors.
Public toilets were few and far between, but the ones we used in the ticket office for the Duomo and next to Santa Maria Novella were staffed and spotlessly clean, costing 1 Euro each.
The downsides of Florence are very few. Silly things like a lack of places to sit within the city centre (apart from bars/cafes), and there being few public toilets would be the only things I'd really pick up on. Overall the city is very clean and feels safe, with the main sights all relatively close together making it a great "day out". It's just that it's so incredibly busy with huge organised parties following their respective umbrella'd guide milling through the narrow streets, something you can't get away from in such a fantastic city which everyone wants to see. I would love to visit Florence for an overnight stay or short break to be in the city when the crowds (such as me!) have returned to their neighbouring towns or cruise ships. Seeing the artworks, statues, buildings, Piazzas and River illuminated is something I'd really love to return to do.
~Summary... Plan your trip!~
Florence is a gorgeous city to visit with sights and buildings that will take your breath awawy. Its airport is served by all London airports as well as Southampton, Cardiff, Dublin and Edinburgh - although as far as I can establish, this is only via major airlines rather than budget airlines. Otherwise the city is on a direct rail line from Pisa which would take around 1.5 hours, Pisa being served by most UK airports and budget airlines.
Florence is the centre of Renaissance culture, a stunning city with plenty of personality in the heart of Tuscany.
With its wealth of history and culture combined with stunning art galleries, churches, museums and Baroque architecture, Florence is a city not to be missed when visiting Italy.
No one could accuse Florence of being understated! Indeed, standing next to the dome I was overwhelmed by the architecture! They were definitely being very fancy and lavish with their designs, emphasising the wealth and importance of Florence as a city.
I'd actually love to live in Florence for a while, the main drawback being how expensive it all is! We stayed here for five days and it was definitely a "whistle-stop" tour, as if you love culture, there is so much to see and do! If you find museums and galleries boring, you may enjoy the beautiful buildings and relaxed Italian living.
From the UK, we flew to Pisa, spent a night in Pisa then caught the train service to Florence, though you could do this in one day without the overnight stay as we wanted to see some sights in Pisa too! It is expensive to fly direct to the airport of Florence as it isn't a huge airport like the one in Pisa, so it definitely works out cheaper flying to Pisa.
The cathedral with its striking dome is the landmark icon of the city, the huge dome was engineered by the famous architect Filippo Brunelleschi.
Inside, you can climb up to the top of the dome for a view! This attracts immense queues, so I would recommend going in the early morning to skip the crowds. Inside, the dome is just as beautiful and decorated with religious artworks. Whilst I was in Italy, I was trying to learn Italian, so I enjoyed reading the information in English and Italian side by side inside the cathedral. At the top, there is a stunning view of the city and this makes for a photo moment if you are a tourist!!
It is very steep to climb to the top, only go up if you have the energy, there are no lifts!
To climb the dome it will cost you 8 euros, however it is free to wander round the cathedral itself. The dome was a later addition to the cathedral and was not in its original design. It was built in the 15th century.
This translates to the "old bridge". This would sum up this traditional landmark of Florence.
This bridge is packed with jewellery shops which is what it is primarily famous for, so its great for window shopping but if you just don't have the funds, its nice to wander over as it's a pedestrian bridge. It's very beautiful and there are nice views down the river.
This piazza is slightly above the main city centre which means it is a beautiful place to watch the sun set. Picturesque, this piazza can be accessed on foot which is what we did, though I understand you can also take a bus.
This is a famous art gallery of Florence, featuring many of the greats including Botticelli, Michelangelo and Giotto. This can take a whole day to go round, though it is recommended to pre book tickets. I spent an afternoon here as my friend wasn't bothered about the artwork as much as I was. It also has a rather nice café with a roof terrace.
I didn't manage to go to this museum as it was closed, but Dante was born in Florence so it is probably worth a visit!!
Piazza della Signoria
This piazza has always been the heart of Fiorentine politics, with the palazzo vecchio. I can remember having a lovely evening listening to a busker here, he had drawn quite a crowd with his mixture of Italian and English hits and he played a rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's sound of silence which suited the atmosphere perfectly! There are often buskers in the piazzas in the evening.
Florence has many street markets selling products such as leather bags which it is famous for, jewellery, sunglasses and tourist items.
You can eat out in Florence and get pizza and pasta everywhere, there are many lovely restaurants in the piazzas and on the outskirts where we were staying.
My friend and I shared pizzas for the most part, as we were on a budget!!
We stayed in a hostel, which I have reviewed over on Ciao as jojo92. It is generally quite expensive to stay in Florence, but there are hostels available for those on a budget so it is possible!
I had a brilliant holiday in Florence, and would definitely want to return, despite the scorching heat in July!
Just got back from a mini-break in Florence! Loved it. Start of September so still pretty hot but not unbearable. Rented a lovely apartment just round the corner from the Ufizzi, so much nicer than staying in a hotel, air-con is a must in the summer I think! Left it till quite late to book the apartment so got a pretty good deal. Flew Ryan-air which I know means you fly to Pisa but for the price it was no hassle, the train takes an hour and is only 6 Euro from the airport to the centre of Florence or hop on the Ryan-air bus for about 10 Euro.
We did a bit of culture but couldn't really face the queues so we were pretty selective. The Ufizzi is def worth a visit, it opens at 8.15am and we got there just before, still had to queue till about 9am but that's not too much hassle. The other highlight was climbing up out of the city to see the views, amazing.
We ate pizzas the size of our big heads and drank lots of lovely wine. The food market is great, another highlight, lots of amazing fresh fattening food, yum!!
The shopping was pretty good too, save some pennies for the jewellery, lots of beautiful unique silver and gold pieces. We tried to track down a few vintage clothes shops but they were all a bit ex-designer pricey stuff.
All in all I loved it! It depends what you're after from a hol, I know we could've spent hours queuing to get in places and ticked off all the galleries but to me that's not really a holiday.
Since the last time I wrote an opinion on this site was back in 2001, some of the veterans out there might be wondering where I've been. Well, one of the many places where I've been hiding has been Florence, or Firenze, as the Italians call it.
Firenze is one of Italy's bigger cities (population of over 400,000) and attracts over a million tourists every year. It was originally known as the city of art (much of the renaissance took place there) but these days, is more well known for being a tourist hot spot. If you avoid the dodgy district (San Lorenzo), walk in pairs and refuse to respond to comments made by sleazy Italian men when you're out and about, it's fairly safe. Here's my mini-guide to the city - I hope it's of some use or interest to you.
WHAT TO SEE
If you try to see everything in Firenze, you'll go mad. Like every other big city in Italy, it has approximately a billion churches (okay, that statistic is slightly made up) and similar interesting old things. The most famous place of interest in Firenze is probably the Galleria degli Uffizi. It's located on Piazzale degli Uffizi, surprisingly enough. It's open from 8.15am to 6.50pm and is closed on Monday. Normally it costs 6,50 to get in, but the queues are horrendous. If you really want to visit the Uffizi, either go first thing in the morning or at around 1pm, when Italians are eating their lunch. If you go at any other time, it just won't be worth the effort. You'll queue for hours (and here, I am not exaggerating).
Like the Uffizi, the Duomo is equally famous. It's in the centre of town, on Piazza del Duomo and is open from 10am until 5pm, except on Thursdays when it closes at 3.30pm, Saturdays at 4.45pm and on the first Saturday of every month at 3.30pm. On holidays and Sundays, it's open from 1.30pm until 4.45pm. It's actually free to go into the Duomo, it just costs to go up the tower. Queues are horrendous though, and the architecture from outside is equally impressive. I'd recommend going to Piazza del Duomo and 'joining' the back of a tour group speaking a language you understand and wandering around the square. You appreciate things more when you're not in a stressful situation, i.e. queuing!
There's not a lot in Firenze you can do for free, but I recommend going to Piazzale Michelangelo for the best (and free!) views of the city. It's a bit of hike, so I'd recommend getting on the bus from Porta Romana (we're talking 1 max per person here) and getting off at the top. The views are amazing and there are public gardens up there, which are absolutely lovely if you're not allergic to pollen;) Entrance is free of charge. You can also walk up to the Basilica di San Miniato from there (not far, but it feels like a million steps!) which is free to enter. One part of the Basilica is closed off unless you pay, but it's a tiny fee and it's not essential to go in.
Apart from these things, I recommend just wandering around the city (with a map!) and stopping at buildings that interest you. If you get sick of all the other tourists, head over to Oltrarno. It's the non-touristy side of the river and the prices are much lower for most things. In the summer, there's music over in Piazza Santo Spirito (in Oltrarno) for free and plenty of outdoor seating. I like Bar Ricci for a good coffee and if you want an ice cream, the gelateria over at Ponte alla Caraia (also Oltrarno) is super cheap. I think it's about 1 for a small cone.
You cannot hail a taxi from the street. You must order one, and to do so, you need a landline number. If you're staying at a hotel or hostel, ask the receptionist what that is, or better still, to book the taxi for you.
Try the following phone numbers for a cab:
(+39) 055 4390
(+39) 055 4499
(+39) 055 4798
(+39) 055 4242
Before calling, make sure you know the time you want to be picked up, the address (number and street name) and the landline of that address. Most taxi firms will be able to muddle through with English if you don't have any Italian language skills - Florence is used to English speaking tourists!;)
For taxi journeys within Florence, the following charges apply:
2,64 fixed fee for just getting in the taxi
5,70 fixed fee between 10pm and 6am
4,48 on public holidays and wekends
0,62 per item of luggage (4 max.)
0,10 every 117m or 16 seconds of travel time
The average cost of a taxi ride betwen the airport and the centre of town is about 15 or 20 euros. You can get a bus to the airport, but the only way out is by taxi or car, so chances are you will need a taxi at some point. The charges are always displayed inside the taxi on an A4 sized card, in both English and Italian.
Remember: the 'real' airport is called Vespucci or Peratola (same place, two names). Many airlines (especially budget ones) will try to get you to go to Pisa which is a different town altogether. If you're not used to travelling around Italy independently, don't bother. Fly straight to Peratola, it'll make your life much easier. It's a false economy going to Pisa anyway.
Bus tickets are not particularly expensive. You can buy a basic 1 ticket on the bus, but generally speaking, you buy tickets from bars and those little corner shops where you can find cigarettes for sale. Once you get on the bus, you insert the ticket into a little stampy machine and it validates your ticket. If you "forget" to validate your ticket, I think you're liable for a huge fine or something, but no one checks.
1,00 for a ticket that's valid for an hour
1,80 for a ticket that's good for three hours
4,50 for a 24 hour ticket
3,90 for a ticket that's valid for four journeys of up to an hour each
7,60 for a two day ticket
9,60 for a three day ticket
16,00 for a weekly ticket
10,00 for 12 of the 1 tickets that are good for an hour
20,00 for 25 of the 1 tickets that are good for an hour
4 for a one way ticket on the airport bus (get on at the train station)
Florence is full of tiny designer boutiques, so if you've got money to burn, shop til you drop! There's a Zara over in Piazza della Repubblica, but that's probably the cheapest you're going to find unless you consider buying clothes from one of the markets. There are daily markets in various places as well as markets which take place at the weekend at certain times of the month. Ask for information in a tourist office (look for the letters APT which stand for "Azienda di promozione turistica"). Probably the most central one is off Piazza del Duomo, on Via Cavour. Staff do speak fairly good English there. Free maps are also available and they're better than most of the ones you can buy ;) Pick up several because you're bound to lose at least one!
If you're on a budget and can't afford to eat out every night, why not consider purchasing your own groceries and cooking for yourself? The supermakets you're most likely to find in the centre are "Conad" and "Standa". There's even one near the Duomo. If you're prepared to go further, over in Oltrarno you can find "Penny Market" and "Esselunga". Penny is great for groceries if you're on a budget and Esselunga is fairly reasonably priced, but of a superior quality to the other shops.
Eating out wise - if you look for food near the Duomo or the train station, it's bound to cost you more than it should. Walk around and go in when you find a menu that appeals to you. Be wary about "menu turistica" - I always feel the options on this are limited and there's a greater chance of getting frozen food heaten up rather than proper Italian food. An "osteria" or a "trattoria" is usually cheaper than a "ristorante".
There are lots and lots of internet cafes in Florence, most of which are aimed at the American tourist. There's a large chain called "Internet Train" which will charge you extortionate prices, even if you're a student, so avoid it like the plague. A reasonable rate to pay as an average person without discounts would be around 2,50 an hour. Anything more and you should walk away.
I particular recommend AS Internet Center and Phone Point over in Via de' Serragli as I'm friends with the owner. Students buying a block of 10 hours in advance pay 150 an hour, which is pretty cheap for Florence. Lots of other small internet cafes run similar offers, so if you're going to be in Florence for a while, it's worth looking into.
Most internet cafes are hooked up with webcams, headsets and Skype. Calling from an internet/phone centre is also fairly cheap - it's generally only 10 cents a minute to fixed lines in the UK. Easy to keep in touch with those back home and stop them worrying!
SAFETY TIPS FOR WOMEN
Do not make eye contact with an Italian man. Do not even look in his direction. "Ciao bella" is the Fiorentine man's way of hitting on you. By saying this in the street, he expects you to stop what you're doing, run towards him and beg to have his babies.
It's fairly easy to ignore a "ciao bella" here and there, but do NOT ever get into conversation with a random Italian man as he will regard this as an invitation to stalk you. Now, it is fine to talk to OAPs if you see them wandering around public gardens and they try to strike up a conversation with you, but any Italian man betwen the age of about 15 and 50 (and possibly older!) will try to jump you, if you're not careful.
Whatever you do, do NOT walk through the quartiere (district) of San Lorenzo at night, especially by yourself. In fact, if you're a man, don't do this either. Florence is not a particularly dangerous city, but San Lorenzo is where all the nastier crimes are known to take place.
As with every Italian city, watch your bag with your life. Hold onto it firmly and if you set it down on the floor at a restaurant, wrap the strap round your foot.
If you feel threatened, make it obvious that you're clutching your mobile phone. The dodgy types think that because you're foreign, your phone doesn't work in Italy. That's normally not true, so visually show that you can call the polizia should you need it. Just remember the international emergency number of 112.
Do not give them any money. They are not real poor people - they are Italian con artists out to get money from the tourists. Plenty hold signs saying "I cannot walk" and later, when they're done for the day, get up and run home. I'm not being mean - it's the honest truth. Most beggars are fake in big Italian cities and commonly found at churches or places of touristic interest.
There are currently two free Italian newspapers in Florence - "Il Firenze" and "Il Leggo". If you don't speak Italian, try looking for "The Fiorentine", an English newspaper produced by an American/Italian journalistic team. It has an excellent events listing at the back. The obvious source of info is one of the tourist offices - as I said previously, the most central one is off Piazza del Duomo, on Via Cavour.
Firenze is a deeply interesting place to visit, whether you're interested in a short trip or longer stay. It can be expensive, but with a little assertiveness and know-how, you can avoid getting ripped off and get a lot out of your visit. I'd recommend going now rather than later, as there are talks of introducing a "tourist tax" to pay for the extra policing and cleaning staff required because of the high touristic presence.
PS I have ticked "yes" next to recommend, I don't know why it's showing up as "no"!
I went to Florence last week and didn't go to a single art gallery. Some say that's a sin. I say, bugger that - I'm on me hols. I'll do as I darn well please. And you know what? I had the best time ever. We were naughty right from the start... We stayed at a friend of a friends right in the heart of the old city so I avoided the high hotel prices and paid her around £20 in a converted church with arched ceilings as high as the building. We ate pizza 'til the cows came home and our own body weight in ice cream. We didn't climb the famous Duomo (Cathedral) but instead paid slightly less to climb the equally high tower beside it and as a result had the famous Duomo dome in all our pictures from the top - rather than having the view from it without the Duomo itself. Clever eh?! We ate in, but cooked with local ingredients bought ridiculously cheaply from the supermarket and covered markets. Mozerella cheese is about 30p a pack instead of £1 in Britain; fresh bazil and parmezan is a quarter of the price and ten times as impressive to the tastebuds and pasta tubes are sold the size of toilet rolls. A good bottle of wine will set you back £1.70 so there's no excuse not to sink truckloads - there's plenty of time to sober up when you get back to Blighty. It's not sacriledge to do it yourself - if you use the original stuff and cook with gay Italian abandon - it can be a truly liberating experience - for a quid a piece! Don't miss the famous bridge (Ponte Vecchio) and if you fancy a visit to the stunning gardens of Florence - try going on sunday - when we went, entry was free that day. At another friends recommendation, we took a bus to Fiesole - a tiny village on the hilltop overlooking Florence. Take a No.7 bus from the central station. Buy your ticket from one of the newsagents nearby. It's about 65p for a ticket that lasts for
1 hour from start of journey. Stamp the ticket when you're on the bus in the machines to validate it. The trip to Fiosole os about 30 mins so you'll have plenty of time. Food and drink is priced like gold there - expect to pay up to £5 for a bottle of Becks - Italian Beer is very hard to find as they pride themselves on their imports! We took a picnic - our supermarket bought wine and cheeses, and had the most amazing time exploring, ending up on the viewpoint at sunset - an unmissable experience. Back in Florence - you can't miss the markets selling leather goods, but also do search out the giant foods market as it's nothing like English markets - massive swordfish, ten types of olives, mushrooms that look positively dangerous and a buzzing atmosphere. Take courage and at least come away with some of the cheeses if not enough for a five couse gourmet dinner... If you have ever wanted a leather jacket - buy it here - there's almost nothing else for sale in Florence boutiques and stalls and the quality is very high. If you fly from Pisa airport (we got a Ryan Air deal for £11.95 plus taxes return from London!) - take the train . Tickets are only £3 or so for the 1 hour or more journey and the sights are a treat - whisking you through vineyards and little towns full of character. My only other advice is do what you want and only use a guide book as just that - not a set of rules. But most of all - Florence is a night-time city. Lots of shops are closed in the morning and the character of the place comes alive after about 6.00pm. By all means take advantage of the city at its least crowded state in the early morning - but have a siesta rather than turning in at 9.00pm. Early nights are a trajedy!
Everyone has a favourite church in Florence. It is easy to be a little overwhelmed by the endless onset and overload of the renaissance wonders which have made this city so famous and given her the reputation of being the most beautiful city in the world. I'd come out unashamedly for Santa Croce as a favourite. I know it's not an especially inspired decision, but we are talking personal preference! It isn't likely that many visitors to Florence will miss her, but after the vast depths of Santa Maria Novella, the grandeur and space of the Duomo itself, Santa Croce sits a little further back, just as large, just as impressive, closer to the Arno and the equal of any. The Piazza Santa Croce is a larger open space than the Piazza del Duomo, making it a little easier to sit in and drink in the atmosphere and enjoy the churchs' facade (which I learned was a 19th Century addition - if you look at old pictures of Santa Croce, her facade is as bare as the San Lorenzo). The Piazza is bordered by touristy shops, but it doesn't detract from the sheer mass of church as you enter. Inside, lie the tombs of Michelangelo, as you first enter - as my guidebook said, this was because on 'Judgement Day' he wanted his first sight to be Brunelleschi's Dome! Also there is a memorial to Dante (he was actually buried in Ravenna) and on the opposite side, one of the more impressive, is the tomb of Galileo. Towards the end of the church are a series of frescoes in different chapels. These were quite spectacular. You have to pay 200 lire a minute to light up some of them (about 5p) and it is definitely worth the investment but if you are feeling particularly aggrieved, there will always be someone coming along soon enough who will be willing to pay! The frescoes were, in my somewhat uneducated, but 'likes a picture that looks pretty' opinion, some of the more impressive in Florentine churches, which is q
uite a high standard, unsurprisingly. There is a small museum attached to Santa Croce, but I didn't go into it, and didn't honestly know what it's like. It contains some of the treasures taken from the church through time, mainly because of the great Florentine flood of 1966. It is easy to say everything is unmissable in Florence. Personally, I'd advise, for church buffs and anyone who finds themselves in Florence, on the Duomo and Santa Croce first, then perhaps, San Lorenzo and Santa Maria Novella, after than Orsanmichele and Santo Spirito (if it's open!), and that's just the churches! But the wonder about it is to discover your own list of preferences and enjoy!