Frolics in Florence 🇮🇹
It seems a little late to be writing a blog post about a holiday I took almost two years ago now, but what the heck, there's still a pandemic on so a little trip down memory lane is very welcome. It was one of those holidays that stays with you afterwards, one where you find yourself mentally drifting back to that place time and time again.
It all started back on Saturday 30th June 2018, with a 01:00 am car ride with two strangers, from Florence Airport (Aeroporto di Firenze-Peretola) to our hotel in central Florence. Our departure from Gatwick was significantly delayed for one reason or another (as they often are), and as we were supposed to be arriving at just before midnight, we knew this meant that we were going to be getting to our hotel very late. There was an Italian man sitting next to me on the plane who seemed, on first impression, to be quite irritating. He was having some intense discussions with the air hostesses about wanting a particular drink, which they didn't seem to have, much to his annoyance. Quite early on I decided he wasn't someone I wanted to get chatting to, not that I'm the sort to getting chatting to strangers on public transport anyway (hey to any fellow introverts 👋🏽). To my dismay, he did attempt conversation with me, so I grudgingly obliged.
Turned out he wasn't annoying, but actually very pleasant, and we chatted at length about London (we were currently living in Greater London), Florence, and travelling in general. He made the point that Florence wasn't the buzzing metropolis that we may be used to in London, and that we'd really struggle to find a taxi at that time of night that wasn't pre-booked. Eek. For some reason he didn't have cellular data on his phone, so I shared mine via hotspot so he could contact his potentially worried girlfriend who was picking him up from the airport. He then offered a lift to our B&B from the airport, meaning a significant detour in his and his girlfriend's journey home. Was I glad he persisted in chatting to me! 😅
Flash forward to the car drive across Florence at 01:00 am, with the lovely man and girlfriend, giving us a mini city tour as we went. We tried to offer them money as thanks when they dropped us off, but they were not having it. They said instead that we use it to have a lovely time exploring their city. What a lovely experience with which to start the holiday! ❤️
By now it was around 01:30 am. We walked up to our B&B (after walking in circles for about 10 minutes), worried about getting in at this time of night, to find the owner sat outside a restaurant chatting to some locals. He was waiting outside to greet us on the street. Not something we were expecting at all! Flavio helped us upstairs with our cases, briefly showed us around, and then to our room. At this point, we realised that 'B&B' wasn't doing Canto Degli Aranchi any justice— boutique hotel would be more accurate. I was more than ready for this bed.
We woke up the next morning to swifts screaming past our fourth-storey window. It was a stunningly beautiful day outside already, although we were thankful for the AC unit humming away quietly in the corner. It was the time of the 2018 summer heatwave, where temperatures were reaching well over 30ºC in the UK, and even hotter in Tuscany at around 35ºC. We headed for breakfast, being greeted with the smell of fresh Italian coffee and pastries. Flavio had even sourced me some vegan chocolate and hazelnut spread (not Nutella), which he knew about as he's lactose-intolerant. What a sweetheart. I hadn't even been able to find any in the UK at that point! I merrily accepted a fresh ground coffee steamed soya milk, which was delightful. However, I very rarely drink caffeine, and when I do drink (decaf) coffee, it's usually later in the day. Italian coffee ain't messing about. Over an hour later I was still sat on the toilet. I know, sorry.
Once I'd recovered from my coffee-induced complaint, I headed out into the bustle and heat of Florence. Waheed was busy at a conference, so it was the first time *in my life* I was left to my own devices in a foreign city. I was a little daunted, especially as I speak no Italian—typical British tourist. Now, looking back, I realise that this solo exploring was what made the trip so special. It gives you the stillness and quiet that allows you to notice things beyond your own little bubble—I heard, saw, touched, and smelled so much more without the distraction of conversation.
Dining alone was also a revelation. I took time to enjoy my food, having no distractions apart from people-watching from my tiny tables tucked inside the doors of the restaurants. The Italians are masters of minimalism—everything is done simply, but incredibly well. The same goes with the food. It was sublime. Plenty of vegan choices to explore as well.
As I explored the city, I noticed one very aesthetically-pleasing constant that I loved. Nearly all residential buildings that held flats/apartments had brass intercoms. They were all so beautiful—I had to restrain myself from pressing the buttons simply to hear how they sounded.
Another thing I noticed as I walked around the city was this incredibly loud grating noise emanating from certain trees. I'd never heard anything like it before. I thought at first it might have been birds, but after a little research, I realised it was cicadas! I know they're supposed to be noisy, but I hadn't realised just how loud their song is!
While in Tuscany, it was obvious that we had to indulge in the gelato tourism. We visited three gelaterias in total, all of which claimed to be the best gelateria ever to have sold gelato. I won't argue with them. Perchè no! had particularly delightful vegan choices.
The queue to get into Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano...
More clichés—we visited stunning cathedrals around Tuscany, with Siena Cathedral taking first prize in my opinion. It was also wonderful to get out of the heat.
These crescent moon tiles in Siena Cathedral that made me swoon. I still have the very unrealistic expectation that we'll source some tiles as similar to this as possible once we have our own house. I can dream... 🌛
Then we went to Pisa. We took some suitably cheesy photos which I won't be sharing here... We paid extra for a ticket to climb to the top. It was amazing to see hundreds of years of wear on the steps up. It was also a really weird sensation climbing the steps, as because the tower is leaning, half of the stairwell you feel you're about to fall forward, and the other half backward! Quite a vertigo-inducing experience, but I'm very glad we did it.
And to top it off, wine-tasting. It was absolutely sweltering, almost painful to be in the full sun. I made sure to keep hold of my glass while on the vineyard tour, despite everyone else leaving them at the dining tables after our lunch—when it's that hot it's important to stay hydrated! 🍷
So there's our virtual holiday photo album! It's lovely to relive some of these wonderful moments two years on. It's also nice to put these photos all in one place, as we so rarely bring photos all together, often leaving them on our phones/laptops/in the cloud somewhere.
If ever you do get the chance to visit Florence or Tuscany generally, I couldn't recommend it enough. 🌞