Thursday, June 6, 2013

Florence Italy

I really didn't know what to expect from our visit to Florence. Diana was super excited about going back (I think she's been everywhere in Europe) and that the city was pretty amazing. In spite of my lack of expectations, the visit was kick-ass and way better than I could have imagined.

We arrived to our airbnb-rented room (more about that below) just north of the city about 8pm after having visited Pisa and Siena earlier in the day. Our host gave us the name of a local Tuscan restaurant to try. It ended up being a family-style place with no menus and a 100% local clientele. They weren't really equipped to handle non-Italian speakers but our kind waitress was exceptionally patient. Let me just say that the food was awesome and that I'd eat there all the time if we lived nearby. Olive Garden this was not!

Our only full day in Florence started with visit to the Uffizi art museum in the city's historic core. On the way there from the train, we passed by the starting line of a marathon that was just about to begin. We immediately thought of our friend Victor who has run in marathons all over the world.

Our visit to the Ufffizi, where we got to see work by relative-unknowns by the likes of Michelangelo and da Vinci, took about three hours or so. I didn't take any pictures of artwork inside the museum (it's mostly prohibited) but I did sneak a shot of the nearby famous medieval bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, from one of the museum's windows. It's the only bridge in Florence to not be destroyed by the retreating Nazi forces at the end of World War II.

From the museum, we headed over to and just made the twelve o'clock mass at the city's cathedral. Mom, are you watching???

After mass, we climbed up the tower to see the city from above. The weather cooperated for our entire time in Florence and it made the city even that much more appealing.

The downside being such a great city is that it's full, Full, FULL of tourists like us! Barcelona is similar in that it's always packed with tourists but, for some reason, I don't notice it as much. I was thinking that the tourists might be different types of folks but I really have no idea.

Random architectural scene in the streets of Florence. How many different designs, materials, and perhaps, eras are present in just this one photo?

We wandered all over town that day and eventually ended up at the Basilica of Santa Croce. This mostly-nondescript church is the home of the funerary monuments for many famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo.

Here's Diana in front of the Galileo monument along with one of my pet peeves - people taking photos with their iPads...

We hung out in the city until about 6pm when we took the bus back to where we were staying. It's worth mentioning some details as we were super lucky on this trip. See, Diana and I generally use airbnb when we travel to a place where we don't know someone that we can stay with. It tends to be way less expensive (than a hotel, for example) and, many times, it's a great way to get to know some locals who are interested in sharing their place with people from far-away lands. We've been using it for about two years, including for family to stay in during our wedding, and have never had a bad experience. It's definitely not for everyone but we recommend it. Oh yeah, it's also how we ended up meeting our awesome German roommate when we moved to Stuttgart last year!

While in Florence, we stayed in the lovely spare bedroom of Chiara and Francesco who are big travel fans like us. Francesco's brother was moving to the Canary Islands (not to Lanzarote - but one of the other islands) the next day so they were having a dinner for him. The invited us to join them and proceeded to win our favor (in reality, not too tough to do!) with a local organic Tuscan wine, an amazing homemade risotto, and incredible hospitality and friendship. It reminded me a lot of when we met Lena and Toni through couchsurfing a couple of years ago.

Anyway, dinner was SUPER WOW!!! Thanks to Francesco (standing) and Chiara (between me and Francesco) for your hospitality and beyond-airbnb friendship.

If you haven't picked up on it, our visit to Florence was really great for a bunch of reasons. I can definitely understand why so many tourists stop by the city while in Italy. Oh, and in case you're wondering if there are American restaurants in Italy like we have Italian restaurants in the United States, yes they do! The "American 1950s Diner" was about a mile from where we stayed. We didn't get to check it out but our hosts, who are big Americana and Canadana (just made that one up) fans, said that it was great. Next time you're at Olive Garden eating bread sticks with your family, think about your Italian counterparts slurping down milkshakes half a world away!

Thanks again to Chiara and Francesco for having us at your place. Diana and I can't wait to hang out again!

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