The next stop on our Europe itinerary was Florence, Italy! When we first arrived in the city by train, we couldn’t find a taxi anywhere, so we wandered around looking for the hotel before we finally found a free taxi. Our hotel was called Hotel Cardinal, a small, Italian-style hotel that was really cute! From the roof you could see the Duomo really well, there was free breakfast everyday, and the staff was really friendly and helpful.
Our first full day in Florence, we set out to go see the famous Duomo of Firenze in the morning, but not before stopping at an awesome coffee shop along the way! We waited in line to go up the Campanile (bell tower), from the top of which were both incredible views of the Duomo itself and views of the city. Next we actually went inside the Duomo, but before I could enter, I had to buy a scarf to cover my shoulders. I totally hadn’t remembered, but a lot of times when you enter churches in Italy, you have to cover both your shoulders and your thighs. But anyway, I was saved by my 5€ scarf which I hastily draped over my shoulders, and could then see the inside of Brunelleschi’s incredible dome! The Duomo is just huge, stunning, and so intricate.
For the rest of the day, we basically just wandered around the city, which is pretty small, and easily walkable – although the heat was crazy! We bought some souvenirs and leather bags at the outdoor markets, strolled around the Piazza della Signoria taking pictures with the Neptune Fountain, & did some retail shopping. For lunch, I had ravioli with a truffle cream sauce – so yummy! In the afternoon, we crossed Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in the city, along which are tons of silver and gold sellers. After walking around a little on the other side of the Arno River, we stopped for gelato (Italian gelato is to die for!) and recrossed the river on the Santa Trinita Bridge.
We did some window shopping at the Gucci & Ferragamo stores, chilled in the Piazza della Republica, and had a really nice dinner at a place called La Giostra. Florence is such a gorgeous city!! I love all the old buildings and the stone roads with all the cute outdoor restaurants. It’s just a really beautiful city. After dinner, I went to the Piazza della Republica, where I met up with one of my Italian AFS friends from China, Giovanni. We chilled around the city, got gelato & a beer, & went to Pizzale Michelangelo, which has a great view over all of Florence.
The next day my mom and I took the train to La Spezia, from which we went on to visit the cute Mediterranean towns of Cinque Terre, which are perched in the steep cliffs overlooking the sea. Since we had bought Cinque Terre Cards, we were able to take the trains connecting all the towns as many times as we wanted, which was useful because although Cinque Terre National Park is known for it’s hiking trails connecting the five towns, many of the trails were closed the day we went. Although a little bummed, we were still able to see every town. Each of them is so unique. The first town we visited was Riomaggiore, where we had a nice breakfast before exploring the town’s harbor, full of the bluest water, little boats, and a great view of the colorful little buildings.
I felt like the colors of the buildings here were the most vibrant. Next we visited the town of Vernazza. Walking down the steep hillside to the sea and harbor, we passed so many merchants selling goods on the sides of the street. Once we reached the harbor, I completely fell in love with the town. The blue water crashed up upon the big black rocks and cliff faces, but inside the harbor it was gentler. People were swimming and laying out on the rocks, and my mom and I soon joined them. The cool water was a refreshing respite from the blistering heat, and from our spot on the rocks, all we had to do was turn our heads to get a great view of the little town. After our turn at the sea, we decided to have lunch in this town as well. We had an amazing lobster tagliatelle that was to die for. After lunch, we went to Monterosso al Mare, and waded in the water a little along the sandy beach, with all the brightly colored and patterned beach umbrellas behind us.
I think that’s probably the best beach spot of the five towns, unless you prefer rocks. Next we headed to the town of Corniglia, the steepest of the five, and the only town to not have direct sea access. To get there, we had to climb up over 300 stairs. The town was up so high & had amazing views of the sea. The last town was Manarola, my favorite along with Vernazza. The town was bright, and had great focaccia and gelato. The water was picturesque with big rocks sticking up from the sea, and a bunch of people swimming, and even cliff jumping. It was a long, hot day with so much to see, but it was awesome. Just so beautiful. I wish I could have spent more time there just taking it all in.
Our last day in Florence we went to some more leather markets (where I finally found my perfect Italian leather bag), and then we went to the Uffizi art museum, which was incredible and huge. Our hotel was nice enough to book tickets for us online so we didn’t have to wait to go in. There were some amazing works like “The Birth of Venus”, which I recognized from my classes at school. My mom & I are quick art museum people though, so after two hours there, we left to go eat. After a nice pizza, we gathered our things from the hotel, took a taxi to the train station, and headed to Rome! I was really sad to leave Florence. There’s so much history there – crazy to think people like the Medici’s & Michelangelo walked around there at one time.