We arrived in Florence mid-afternoon via the train. As we were with my parents, we got to ride in Premium Class where we got snacks and stuff, which was very exciting for us. A lot of the historical centre Florence is pedestrian only, so it was a bit of a hot walk dragging our suitcases along cobblestones to our rental apartment. There was a bit of a kerfuffle upon arrival since multiple hosts were waiting for guests, and we were initially brought to the wrong apartment, but all was sorted out in the end. The apartments were in a fancy old building with giant entry doors (Fun fact: The reason these real old European homes have huge doors is because people used to ride their horses inside since the stable was on the bottom floor). My favourite part of the apartment was the cat that frequented the bathroom window and scared the crap out of Ed one night while he was peeing hahaha. My least favourite part was this low hanging beam by our bed (it was a loft-type bed arrangement) that I beaned myself on while trying to get a glass of water in the middle of the night. Anyways, our first night we mostly wandered around and ate gelato, in preparation for an early day tomorrow.
We were up early to head out on a guided tour of Cinque Terre. We had originally been planning on taking a day trip to Pisa, but my parents had changed their minds at the last minute solely because my mom’s dentist told them Cinque Terre was nicer. We took the train to La Spezia with our guide, then transferred to a different train to head up the coast.
Cinque Terre is a series of five little fishing villages along the coast, famous for consisting mainly of adorable rainbow houses clustered along the seaside cliffs. You can hike from town to town if you’re feeling spry; we took the train because Ed would have probably had a stroke in the heat.
The towns are quite tiny, consisting of one or two main roads and maybe a beach, so they can be visited quite quickly. The first one we went to was Riomaggiore, where you could take a short hike up the cliffs to get some nice pictures.
The second one was Manarola, which was just a quick stop off on the tour.
We didn’t visit the third town and instead took a longer trip to Vernazza, the forth town, where we had lunch and discovered that fresh Genovese pesto is superior to all other pestos. We also had trofie for the first time, a pasta I had never heard of before. We finished it off which some very photogenic gelato for dessert. Chris had basil gelato and it was actually good!
Our last stop was Monterosso, the fifth and largest town. This is the only one with a “real” beach, by European standards. In Europe, beaches are filled with private clubs and only MAYBE have a small public section. Most people pay to go into one of the private areas, where your fee gets you a lounge chair, umbrella, shower access, and often beachside restaurant service. It is annoying to those used to beaches being free, but on the plus side, all the matching umbrellas look really cute. We opted to take a stroll through town instead, where Ed and Rita bought some souvenirs, and Chris and I bought some granita and also sweet matching octopus shirts.
That night back in Florence we discovered this crazy food court thing above a food market with basically every type of Italian food. Chris was really excited because he got to try Lampredotto, a Florentine sandwich made from the fourth stomach of a cow. There was wine and everything there, which Ed enjoyed. Very civilized.
Highlights of Florence
The next day we went on a private tour of Florence. Our guide Chiara had a PhD in Art History, a useful thing to have since almost all the major attractions in Florence are art-based.
We started off the tour at the Duomo (officially the Santa Maria del Fiore, duomo just means cathedral), of course. The Duomo is a beautiful building but impossible to photograph properly because annoyingly the Baptistry of San Giovanni is about 20 meters in front of the main doors. So there is no way to get it all in one frame unless you use a super wide angle lens and deal with the fisheye effect.
Anyways, we took a look around and inside the Duomo, where there is of course lots of religious art. Apparently the reliefs on the front doors may be the first ever three dimensional art.
Next we walked over to the Ponte Vecchio, and iconic old bridge full of shops selling expensive jewelry.
We also of course went to see Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Galleria d’Academia. We got to skip the enormous line with our tour guide, and I was pleasantly surprised inside to find out that they now allow you to take pictures of David (when I visited years ago photographs were forbidden and I got yelled at when I ignored the rules). The statue of David, unlike the Mona Lisa, is actually larger than you expect, I think because the majority of Roman/Greek-style sculptures you see are life-sized, whereas David is larger than life. David is depicted before his battle with Goliath, with intentionally overly large hands to represent his youth.
There are also several other unfinished works of Michelangelo in the hall, called the “Prisoners” because they are imprisoned in their marble blocks. Hilariously one of them was later deemed “not good enough” to be a Michelangelo, so they now attribute it to one of his students.
The gallery also has tons of important paintings to see, including the first ever use of perspective. Kind of weird to think that that idea had to be “invented”. The Galleria d’Academia’s other famous work is Boticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”.
Possibly the most important thing we learned during the tour was about the existence of Florentine Steak. Once Ed and Chris discovered that it was basically just a really big steak, they immediately decided that’s what we were having for dinner. The steaks are so big you share them between two people, which actually worked out perfectly since Ed and Chris can eat a lot more steak than Rita and I. Chris was super excited because this was the first time he got to have real steak on this trip (because Ed was paying).
The next morning, it was time to catch the train to Bergamo! There was a bit of a near catastrophe when we checked out, leaving the key inside, then realized we had also left Chris’s and my custom made Hong Kong garments inside. Ed majorly twitched out, but we managed to get someone to let us back in and still make it to our train on time!