As an Arts student, I’ve heard about Florence several times. I studied the city’s great artistic life and influence, learned about renowned artists who lived there and remarkable works of art commissioned for this city. Visiting Florence was kind of a dream for me. So, when I finally got the chance to make it come true, I was radiant. Specially because my boyfriend could join me for this trip.
Making the dream come true
When I arrived in Italy for an Erasmus semester I had a list of places I wanted to visit and Florence was in the “absolutely must not miss” category. But along with it, there were many other amazing cities I ended up visiting first due to convenience. As it turns out, I’m glad I waited.
My boyfriend was also doing an Erasmus semester in Germany and was coming to meet me when it finished in the end of June. After his arrival, we had a couple more weeks to ourselves in Italy before going back home to Portugal, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to show him some amazing Italian cities. I just needed to decide which.
It was all a matter of planning ahead.
Halfway through my Erasmus, more or less, I decided it was time to make decisions about visiting Florence. I started looking for transportation and places to stay and realized that if I delayed the trip to those final weeks not only would the prices be cheaper, because I would be booking with lots of time in advance, but also my boyfriend could come along.
In this trip, I also wanted to try and Couchsurf. I had already couchsurfed before and wanted to share the experience with him. It is a great way of meeting locals and learn some interesting things that you won’t find in tourist guide books. But you’ll need to be very patient while trying to find someone who can host you, especially if you want to do it as a couple. Be prepared to get a lot of negative responses until you finally find someone who is willing to host you. I think the key is to send personalized requests to each person you contact. Try to find people you can relate to and mention what you might have in common in your message.
I started looking at profiles and sending messages and requests more than a month ahead. I also made reservations in a hostel in case I couldn’t find someone to host us. But fortunately, someone finally told me “yes”, and we arranged to stay in Florence for four days.
For transportation, I booked with the always reliable Flixbus. They have very affordable prices, their buses generally leave you near the city center and are very comfortable. We bought the round-trip tickets for 10€ per person and it took 4h30 to arrive in Florence, leaving from Brescia.
Arriving in Florence
In the beginning of July, we finally arrived in Florence (probably not the best time of the year if you don’t do well with very high temperatures). The bus stopped right next to the Santa Maria Novella Train Station and from there it was very easy to find the tourist information point to get a map. In Florence, everything is relatively close and not so difficult to find.
We arrived around 2h30 pm and had arranged to meet with our Couchsurfing host in Piazza San Marco an hour later. We had lunch in a place nearby while we waited.
When our host arrived, she showed us how the bus system worked in Florence and took us to her house outside the city center so we could leave our things.
She lived with her family and we met her brothers and mother although we interacted mostly with her. They prepared a sofa-bed for us and we felt very comfortable while staying with them.
What to visit
After leaving our luggage, we went out to start exploring the city. The first day we just strolled around to calmly get a sense of the place and enjoy the views. We passed by the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, near the train station, went on our way until we got to the river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio just for the unique experience.
We walked a bit more on the other side of the river before going back to visit the majestic Piazza della Signoria.
What a sense of grandiosity! There were so many gigantic and important sculptures of famous artists scattered across the space with such great theatricality, that I felt that the fame this square has is well deserved. I wasn’t even disappointed by my own extremely big expectations!
Afterwards, we went to a bar called Kitsch near Piazza san Marco recommended by our couchsurfing host for an aperitivo. We paid 10€ each for our drinks and had access to a whole buffet with lots of different dishes including a typical Tuscan salad called panzanella.
The next day was all about crossing museums and tourist locations out of our list. We woke up early to get to the line for the Gallerie dell’Accademia where is Michelangelo’s David. We waited for 5 hours before buying the 4€ ticket. To be truthful, it’s only worth it if you either really want to see the original sculpture of David and the unfinished sculptures of the Slaves by Michelangelo, or you really appreciate some other less known artist they may have in exhibition.
Later we entered the Duomo for free and took a glance at Vasari’s frescoes in the dome (to have a clear view you must enter a restricted paid area).
In the same day, we also visited a section of the Palazzo Pitti for 5€, including the Giardino Boboli with its amazing views. On our way out they offered us free tickets for an exhibition of Jan Fabre in the Forte di Belvedere and after this we decided to see the sunset in Piazzale Michelangelo.
There are breath taking views from Piazzale Michelangelo. We were exhausted from climbing seemingly never ending steps to get there, but it was completely worth it when we reached the top. Fortunately, there were benches and places with ice cream to help us refresh.
After the sun went down, we sat outside in a restaurant with the Duomo right there next to us and had a lovely meal while watching the football match of Portugal vs Wales for the European tournament. What an unusual situation!
The third day of our stay we woke up early again to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi. This line was a shorter wait and much more worthwhile. For 6,25€ this enormous gallery was definitely one of the high points of the trip (and highly waited for).
The number of works of art and artist represented in this gallery is unbelievable! We saw Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Tiziano, Botticelli, El Greco, Bronzino, Parmigianino, Caravaggio, and many others. I was beyond myself with amazement!
In the afternoon, we decided to catch the train and visit the nearby city of Pisa. It is a lovely small town. While eating delicious ice cream, we followed the main street to the Torre de Pisa. When we got there, we joined the crowd taking pictures “holding” the tower and after laid in the grass in front of the Duomo of Pisa. Before going back to Florence, we bought some souvenirs and had dinner in a small restaurant with views to the tower (but the pizza of Pisa wasn’t so good…).
In our last day in Florence we visited the Biblioteca Laurenziana. The ticket costed 3€ and there wasn’t anything very extraordinary to see, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of visiting it, since I had studied the architecture of the library before.
Later we still had time to visit what I consider a much more interesting gallery than the one of the Accademia. It was the Bargello gallery located in an old prison. It only costed 2€, there was no line and had several works (mostly sculptures) by renowned artist such as Michelangelo once again, Donatello (finally the last Ninja Turtle), Giambologna, Benvenuto Cellini and Verrocchio.
Before saying goodbye to the city, we did a quick review of the main nearby attractions just to squeeze some last memories into those final moments we had to enjoy Florence. I will forever miss it. The overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by living examples of such great history and being able to share this with someone I love is unforgettable and irreplaceable. I went back to Brescia feeling fortunate and accomplished.