Author’s Note: The final blog detailing my trip to Rwanda and Italy in 2020. See links below for the rest of the series. “Winning A Trip to Rwanda” features a more comprehensive introduction. I may have a couple more Travel blogs in the near future. Hopefully you enjoyed, thanks for sticking with me.
Florence served as home base for our five night stay in Italy and proved a most worthy spot.
You can visit all the major cities by speed train from Florence and the city has a very rich history rivaling (I think) that of Rome and other notable areas. Just like everywhere else, Florence pretty much works as a living museum even if you don’t actually set foot inside a museum.
Our first day in Italy began and ended in Florence as we took in this very unique town and absorbed yet another place on earth so different from the United States, and a place we did not imagine ever visiting. The narrow alleyways held centuries of history though everywhere you looked our modern way of life filtered in.
Thankfully our hotel was pretty much in walking distance of all the major areas of Florence so we took in a guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery which holds major artworks like “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo’s “The Holy Family,” Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Annunciation” and Rapheal’s “Madonna of the Goldfinch.”
Oh! We learned one interesting tidbit. Many painters of the Renaissance-era included themselves in their paintings and often identified by the one character tuning back and looking at you. Also, “The Annunciation” was da Vinci’s first painting without his mentor and many thought he erred by making Mary’s right arm too long, however, when viewed from the right side, the arm appears natural length.
The Accademia Gallery holds Michelangelo’s “David” an extraordinary sight and credit the curators for placing “David” down a long hallway where the sculpture stands in all its glory as you enter. Busts, paintings and full body sculptures – so many you can’t possible absorb and take them all in – fill these museums.
Even if these works of art do nothing for you, taking time to simply see the intricate detail put into them and crafted hundreds of years ago boggles the mind. I didn’t bother reading every placard for every display because without a photographic memory I won’t recall much the next day let alone five minutes later.
We spent a second full day (our last in Italy) in Florence which covered additional ground as we did a bit more homework than we did the first day. Brunelleschi’s Dome at the Florence Cathedral offers breathtaking views if you can stomach the tight confines on your way up and the heights once at the top. I did consider backing out because of my fear of heights, as my wife did because of the small spaces. But I powered through and got to the top. The guardrail was enough to relay most of my fears but I hovered near the back and got my photos. Giotto’s Bell Tower also provides some cool views plus the opportunity to climb up this more than 500 year old structure.
Lastly, the San Miniato al Monte offers some of the best wide angle views of Florence and most people head that way for sunset. We took probably too many photos and both agreed the camera cannot possibly do justice to seeing the views and cityscape in person. Feel free to take your wine and cheese and crackers for the occasion.
Restaurants in Florence
Restaurants abound in Florence and you will have trouble deciding where to eat. Hole in the walls, moderately priced and high-end establishments offer plenty of opportunity to enjoy local cuisine based on your budget.
Italy is Expensive to Visit
However, when visiting Florence and Italy you will need more money than the Medici family. The country is extraordinarily expensive and after brushing off the initial extra expenses as the cost of visiting a foreign country, day after day of paying for this and for that starts to wear on you. Generally, expect to spend a significant amount of money and drop more than you feel comfortable.
In Italy, you pay for water. When eating at a restaurant you do not get free water from the tap. Even though tap water in Italy is safe to drink you will spend several dollars for a bottle of water. Public restrooms, a.k.a. toilets, cost between 50 cents and a euro. Yes, you pay to use public bathrooms. You can use the bathroom in a restaurant for free or a convenience store assuming you have purchased something.
A basic plate of spaghetti costs probably 15 euros (about $17 or $18) and a glass of wine sets you back a minimum of 15 euros. No such thing as fountain Coca-Cola so don’t even think about free refills. You get bottled Coke at a premium. The last straw for me was at Move On – Italian Pub and Record Store. Yes, upstairs is a record store but downstairs features a decent bar and restaurant. My wife ordered two bottles of Peroni, I got draft beer. Do you know what Peroni is?
Peroni is basically Italian’s version of Budweiser!
My 16 ounce draft beer cost 6 euros. Each 12 ounce bottle of Budweiser, I mean Peroni, cost 7 euros (more than $8 USD). What the… Add financial insult to injury, we also got nailed for a cover charge of 4 euros. Say what? I first noticed the cover charge thing at the rooftop restaurant atop our hotel.
This rooftop restaurant added a 6 euro cover charge to an already excessively priced menu. Think Morton’s. I assumed they were cashing in on the view and elegance you feel when stepping off the elevator. The Porsches and Maseratis outside our hotel certainly indicated the clientele who hung out in this establishment.
But this cover charge was levied on customers by many restaurants.
So, what’s the deal with the cover charge? As it turns out the cover charge supposedly offsets the cost of salt, bread and oil or something or other. Depends on the website you find. Well, screw that! Yes, by now we have reached Day 5 (Friday) and paying for bottled water, to urinate, overpriced beer, overpriced gelato and now a cover charge takes some of that salt tax and rubs it in the financial wound.
Therefore, if you take your time, ask before entering and be willing to walk the extra alley to find places that don’t tack on excessive charges. You can enjoy Florence (and Italy) without feeling like someone stole your wallet. We found a local convenience market that offered more than reasonably priced bottled water and other snack foods.
Keep in mind that Italy doesn’t demand tipping like you get in the United States. You can tip but you don’t have to tip. The only time a tip was mentioned occurred in Rome where I got sort of swindled. When using your credit card, the wait staff gives you the diode to slip your credit card into. Never once did the tip line appear. So my advice: DON’T TIP.
Tips for Visiting Florence
1. Spend an entire day or two in Florence
2. Do your homework on what to see
3. You don’t necessarily need a paid museum tour
4. Buy tickets ahead of time and skip the line (especially at Uffizi Gallery)
5. Prepare to spend a significant amount of money
6. If excessive fees turn you off, review menus for the hidden cover charge before entering or ask
7. You can go on the somewhat cheap if you bypass most restaurants and buy deli meat, etc at local grocery stores
Start from the beginning: