Beautiful Firenze

On the weekend of October 15th and 16th I took my first real trip since arriving in Italy.  Myself and a group of friends spent the weekend in Florence, and had a crazy, wonderful time! We began our journey Saturday morning at six when we boarded the train to Firenze.  It was kind of hard to sleep on the train, but I’m so thankful I was awake to see the breathtaking views of the sunrise.  There were tiny towns scattered all throughout the countryside and in every hilltop town you could see the churches rising high above the houses.  Through the trees at one stop along the way, we could see the striped tents of a circus that just added to the dreamlike feeling of everything we were seeing.  It would be truly impossible to put into words the beauty of what I was seeing, so instead of continuing to try I’d like to make a request to whoever is reading this that you pause, open up Itunes or Youtube and turn on John Mayer’s song 3×5.  As I sat on the train I quickly pulled this song up on my iPod realizing that it was exactly what I was experiencing.  To say I had a moment would be an understatement … I couldn’t have described what I was seeing and feeling any better if I tried.

View of the Italian countryside at sunrise, as seen through the train window

We arrived in Firenze at 10 a.m. and met up with the rest of our group, some of whom had arrived the night before and stayed at the hotel we were going to be staying at that night.  Friday night I received a phone call from my roommate Fran who was one of the two who arrived in Florence early, warning me that our “hotel” was not exactly what we would have hoped it would be.  The thought of staying at a gross hotel really freaked me out, but the good thing it turned out, was that her phone call made me imagine the worst possible scenario, so when I got there I was … I won’t go as far as to say pleasantly surprised … but it was much better than I expected.  As we walked up to the dingy building my friend Mary turned to me and said, “Liz, it will be fine, the hotel has two stars!!”  Unfortunately, that was the hotel next to ours, our hotel was the one that was proudly displaying its single lonely star.

After we put our things down in the room, our rather large group split up, and myself, Mary, and Kaitlyn began exploring the main part of Florence.  All of the vendors were just beginning to set up their stands, and at the first one we stopped at we were given free friendship bracelets, by our new friend Omar.  Mostly I think he just wanted us to buy something, but it was nice nonetheless.  I couldn’t have asked for more perfect, crisp fall weather to explore the city in.  Florence is known for its incredible leather, so I went into the day with no real expectations, but secretly hoping to find a really awesome jacket or pair of boots, to be my big Italian souvenir.  Not ready to commit to anything before I had a chance to really see it all and figure out what I was looking for, I kept browsing store after store.  When I came across this delicious soft, charcoal grey, fitted jacket I knew that it was the one I had to have.  So with the help of my friends we began to try and haggle to get the price down from over 200 euros.  The grumpy men in the store were having none of that, and refused to lower it below 180, so I had to walk away.  Depressing.  But I wasn’t ready to give up … it surely couldn’t be that hard, in a city known for leather jackets, to find one just as good, if not better.  By mid-day it seemed nearly everyone in our group had found “the one.”  It was so interesting to see everyone as they pulled out their beautiful new jackets, because they were all so different.  Unintentionally everyone had chosen a jacket that was distinctly unique to them and their personality.  They had all also had the luck of finding jackets that were 120 euros or less.  Very long story short, I’ll cut the suspense and say, that after spending all evening and some of the next day searching, as well as a trip back to the original store to haggle some more, I walked away from Florence sans leather jacket.  I simply couldn’t find any that lived up to the perfection of the other, so I didn’t want to settle.  I guess I’ll just have to go back to Florence someday and try again!

All of these little tents and shops that we were seeing are in the center of Florence, right in the midst of some truly incredible architecture.  The Duomo, which is probably what everyone thinks of when they think of Florence, is great in photos, but absolutely awe-inspiring in person.  The massive Cathedral  is made out of white, green, and a pinkish-orange marble, all put together in intricate patterns.  It was probably one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.  After doing lots of sightseeing and shopping I met up again with several of the other girls in our group for dinner.  As always, we chose a restaurant completely at random, and ended up having an interesting experience.  Not only was the waiter visibly annoyed with us, but the two women at the table next to us made no attempts to conceal their stares or their disgust with us, for no other reason than the fact that we were Americans.  Needless to say, we tried to eat pretty quickly and get on with our evening.  Our night in the hotel was also very interesting … with seven of us in a room for five, it was quite cozy.  Small issues with the hotel room aside, it was a really fun night, full of lots of laughter.

The next morning the majority of our group departed, and I spent the day with Bethany and Kristin.  The three of us went into the day with no real idea of anything we wanted or needed to do, which ended up being perfect.  We spent the entire day just roaming aimlessly, going away from the central part of the city and off the beaten path, ending up down at the Ponte Vecchio bridge.  We took in the view, then grabbed lunch at an adorable little hole in the wall panini shop on some random street.  Thank goodness we wandered in there, because it was probably the best panino I’ve had to date! Keeping with our laid back approach to the day, after lunch we decided to climb up a massive hill and see what we could find.  The winding streets ended up taking us through the old city center, up and down hills which were more residential than commercial.   We came across a really cool looking, tree lined staircase and decided to take it up to wherever it would lead us.  Good life choice.  I’m not exaggerating in the slightest bit when I say that with each step up, the view of the city became even more beautiful than the last.  Eventually we arrived at a terrace in a rose garden, which overlooked the whole, gorgeous city.  Even now, when I try to write about these things it seems too good to be true.  We sat on some benches taking in the view and the lovely fall weather, before making the final climb to the top of the hill.

Arriving at the top I was once again floored by the picturesque scene before me.  In one direction there was the full, gorgeous view of the main center of Florence and the river, and in the other direction was a more quaint looking area of town with all of it’s brightly colored stucco houses with their bright terra cotta roofs.  The view was framed by the mountains, endless countryside, and the bright blue sky. It was magical.  After taking as many photos as possible, trying somehow to capture the moment as well as I could, we began our descent so we could grab some dinner and check out of the hotel before catching our train home.

I couldn’t have possibly asked for a better group of people to spend my weekend with.  By the end of the train ride home my cheeks hurt from laughing so much, which is a great problem to have.  Both days in Florence provided completely different experiences and views on the city, and have left me with memories I will cherish forever.  We just arrived back in Rome from our Southern Italy trip and this weekend I head off to PARIS!  Expect blogs on both very soon. 🙂

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