We have visited Florence a number of times, but mostly in the Spring or Summer. This is the first time we’ve been in Winter! The obvious choice to get there is by plane, which is what we have done most times (except for one time when we drove from London, but that’s a different story altogether). Our trip in late November/December 2017 was a little different.
Tip: Normally, direct flights to Florence are quite expensive, since it is so popular with tourists. Flights to Bologna instead (100km from Firenze/Florence) were half the price, and besides, we had been to Bologna before, and wanted to go and spend some more time there. There is a very fast train (300 km/h!) which runs regularly between these two cities and will take you between them in half an hour. You also get the added bonus of experiencing Italy’s amazingly fast trains!
We bought our train tickets to Firenze two days in advance at Bologna’s train station. You have three options: buying them online, through an automated machine or at a counter. What we found was that not many people bought tickets from the machines and I wanted to practice my spoken Italian anyway, so the choice was simple. We ended up with two return tickets for £47 (€53, $63) which we felt was a fair price. You could probably book it well in advance and pay even less.
One of the reasons for visiting Florence was Sylwia’s appointment with a hairdresser, following a recommendation from a local friend. This meant that I had about 2 hours’ time to spend on my own. I wasn’t in the mood for crowds of tourists, so I decided to take a little detour, which is how we usually do things! I decided on a direction, and just went for a walk. The weather was great and I ended up finding a beautiful route on the surrounding hills. The view was spectacular and the Florence away from the “centro storico” felt very different. Peaceful, quiet and fresh. The amount of green at this time of the year was also beautiful.
Tip: How to get there: Go to Basilica San Miniato al Monte (also worth a visit) and follow Viale Galileo (street name) up the hill. Return using narrow streets towards Ponte Vecchio. Or the other way round, which is how I decided to walk.
After that, it was our favorite time of day: time for food! It was just after lunch (Italian: pranzo) but not late enough for a dinner (Italian: cena). Normally, it is quite tricky to find somewhere open and not too touristy at this time of the day.
Tip: Restaurants are open for dinner after 7:30pm and lunch up to 1pm or 2pm. Times between 1:30pm and 5pm are normally “siesta time” for shops and restaurants. When desperate, bars are your best bet for long operating hours.
Nevertheless, we found a place, Caffe Michelangiolo. It is in the centre of Florence but surprisingly very affordable and felt very Italian. At the time when we entered we certainly were “a feature” for all the locals there. However, once again, speaking Italian helped us to fit in, and everyone returned to their food soon enough. We were probably half the age of most of the locals there, but in some way if felt more like a family meal than the centre of Florence in a busy cafe. When the lady brought us pasta from the kitchen which she had just prepared, it was impossible to tell whether she was working there or was one of the customers. When we left, we felt as if we’d been there forever, and were saying goodbye to family! Saying goodbye (Italian: arrivederci), it was as if we were their best friends — everyone said something.
The rest of the day we spent visiting Christmas market, enjoying local snacks and indulging in some people watching. We found another cafe in the very center of the city, where we prepared to head back to Bologna. We were quite tired as we had spent the entire day and some of the evening here, so I used Google Maps to find the quickest walk to the station.
Tip: Google maps is an excellent tool. Apart from driving directions, it is very good for walking, checking opening hours for places or most importantly for us, marking where you have parked your car!
During our walk we had a conversation about our day and for the most of the way, we were almost oblivious to our surroundings! Only closer to the station we found it a little strange, as we didn’t recognise the way. We have been here so many times, and we feel that we know the place, but Google sometimes finds us shortcuts- so we didn’t think too much about it. We were very close to our destination and finally we arrived… But as you probably have guessed by now, we had arrived at A station but not OUR station!
Needless to say, that complicated our plans a little. Our train was leaving in 25 minutes and according to Google, we needed another 37 minutes walk to reach the right station. The streets were full of people, so running would prove difficult, not least because we were so tired.
So I decided to catch a taxi. I am quite proud of myself, as I managed to stop one “New York movie style”! We found a busy road and stopped a taxi. I opened the passenger door and asked Sylwia to get in. However, as Sylwia was trying to explain to me at the time, I misunderstood the driver — he was on his way to pick somebody up. That didn’t stop me though, as I was convinced that he had also said that there is a taxi rank, right round the corner. Well, when we went there and found nothing, I started to doubt my Italian language skills! Long story short, with a mixture of unusually fast walking and elements of running, we arrived 3 minutes before our train departed. The only problem was that our train was an hour late.
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