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    by ibobi Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 20, 17 at 01:24 PM
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Trip Report Florence Trip Report -- Long!

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This was intended to be a Florence/Venice trip report, but we had to return home 4 days early due to the passing of my grandmother, the logistics of which is a story in itself, the telling of which I hope will help others in a similar situation. Sadly, this is the rescheduled Florence/Venice trip which we had to cancel last year when my Dad got sick, so I think we?re destined not to make it to Venice!

Thursday, March 18 ? Traveling with my dear mother (DM) we departed Boston for CDG at 8 p.m. on Air France. Flight was uneventful (but for the man behind us who vomitted repeatedly with 2 hours left in the flight and the person who required medical help and a defibrilator at one stage.)

Friday, March 19 ? Actually arrived early. I had fretted that if we arrived at 8 a.m. we wouldn?t make the 9:55 connection to Florence, but we would have handily. The transfer took all of 25 minutes, 15 of that in passport control. Instead we sat for 3 ? hours waiting for the 12:10 flight. The flight from CDG to FLR left 40 minutes early but still arrived on time in Florence at 2 p.m. We were at our hotel by 2:45. We chose the Pensione Alessandra on Borgo SS Apostoli, an alley-like street wide enough for only one car, but barely! What an excellent choice. The hotel is on a very quiet side street and overlooks the river. To give you an idea of the location, if you walked to the top of our street and turned right, you were on the Ponte Vecchio and if you turned left and a quick right, you were in Piazza della Signoria, but surprisingly I heard no noise whatsoever in the overnight hours. Our large double bed room opened onto the Arno for €175 a night. It has beautiful high ceilings with molding and artwork. The bathroom was immaculate and large as well. All in all an excellent choice for us. All of the staff were amazingly helpful and courteous, and right off the bat offered to reserve our times at the Uffizi and Accademia for Saturday, which we did.

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    Our plan for combating jetlag is to shop and eat and stroll, which we did in abundance once we dropped our bags at the hotel. As a sidenote, I had called the fraud department of all of my credit cards prior to my departure (as I have on all of my 17 trips to Europe) and after my first purchase on the Ponte Vecchio, MBNA shut my card down. Then the collect number on the back of the card didn?t work. They got an earful from me when I finally got through, but I had no problems with the card after that. So be warned that just because you let them know you?re going, doesn?t mean that you?re in the clear.

    Our only meal that day was at a small eatery overlooking the Ponte Vecchio which we realized later was written up in Rick Steves? guide called the Golden View Open Bar. There, we split a quattro fromaggi pizza and I had my first experience with pappa al pomodoro soup...heaven!

    Saturday - March 20 Wonderful breakfast included in the price of the hotel, so convenient not to have to leave for it. I am in heaven with brioche and nutella or cherry jelly and cereal. DM loves the coffee. We head out early and walk to the Accademia for our 9:30 reservation. I remind DM that we?re going to pass a lot along the way and want to stop, but we must make the reservation. The Duomo caught us offguard. I hadn?t expected it to be so darn beautiful and that gigantic. In preparation, I had read Brunelleschi?s Dome, The Feud that Sparked the Renaissance and Vasari?s Lives of the Artists, so to finally be standing here in the heart of it all was just mind-blowing and magical. At that point I had decided the Duomo was the most beautiful church I?d seen in my travels (that would change a few days later).

    The walk from our hotel to the Accademia at DM?s speed was about 20 minutes, though I could?ve done it in 10 or so. There were 2 people ahead of us in the reserved ticket line, and maybe 20 people in the unreserved line. We were let right in and there were all of 50 people in the hall to see David. This was the second time this morning I had found myself breathless, because David was just incredible. I am always surprised when I?m caught offguard and delighted with what I?m seeing, especially something like this, because you?ve seen it so often in pictures, but nothing, absolutely nothing, can take the place of seeing it with your own eyes. Even with the scaffolding up his right side, he was still beautiful. The way the anatomy was captured, the dimples on the knees and ankles, the way he looks as if he?s about to turn to you as he realizes you?ve just stepped into the room. Michelangelo?s Prisoners truly looked as they were emerging from water but even in their brilliance, they pale in comparison to David. It was a memorable visit. This was when I first realized I was finally in Firenze!

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    From here, we walked to San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel. We both noted that the exterior of the church was quite bland but the interior, with its Donatello vaults was quite pretty. The Medici Chapel was something else. The Old Sacristy, in all of its overdone garishness, was something to behold, even with the heavy scaffolding of renovation. Dark, busy, gaudy seemed to be the bylines of its day. Compared to Michelangelo's New Sacristy, with its bright clean lines and gorgeous marble statues, it seemed totally overdone. Michelangelo definitely was turning a page in the chapter of art history and the results are amazing.

    After a bit of shopping around San Lorenzo we walked to the Santa Maria Novella church and nearby pharmacy. The pharmacy was quite a letdown, especially since we?d already found a natural skincare products shop on Piazza della Signoria that had a much better and more reasonably priced selection. We almost wonder if we missed something (another building? More rooms?) at the pharmacy. It was definitely not worth the walk had the church not been nearby. We purchased our train tickets to Venice for Thursday at the train station. We both had a caprese salad at a self-serve for lunch as we weren't terribly hungry and were holding out for dinner. We killed some time on the Ponte Vecchio while waiting for our 3 p.m. reservation at the Uffizi. The reservation line was about 25 people long, the line for unreserved maybe 100 tops. Making our way around the museum was quite comfortable, and not packed like other museums I've been to in Europe. We encountered absolutely no lines anywhere else. Here we followed Rick Steves' guided tour, and learned just enough to keep it interesting and not too much that we felt bogged down. The Botticellis were, to me, like seeing David; I had seen them in books and travel guides for so long, I thought I'd be underwhelmed, but quite the contrary. They were beautiful. As a Michelangelo fan, I appreciated the tondo he painted, knowing it was his only easel work.

    After winding our way through this wonderful museum, DM was tired and headed back to the hotel for a quick shut-eye. I walked to the Duomo and opted to climb the belltower for a view of the city. It wasn't a terribly painful walk and I was well-rewarded for the views. I found Perche No! gelateria (sampled: white chocolate and creme caramel) on the way back to the hotel, and sampled a few flavors all in the name of research, of course!

    Dinner tonight was at Da Pannello, which was written up in both Frommers and Cadogan, located off Via Cazaiuoli. I had spaghetti carretiera, which was in a spicy tomato pepper sauce and salsiccia and fagioli, which were both hearty and delicious. The total meal cost was €55, including a carafe of house wine. Another stop at Perche No! for mascarpone and tartuffo. We ate this while strolling around the illuminated Duomo.

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    Sunday, March 21 ? Off first to the Duomo, where we saw Mass being said. We didn?t linger as we felt it inappropriate while others were trying to worship. We then went to the Duomo Museum which I think is completely underrated by all of the guidebooks I?d read and stories I heard. It was probably the most informative and interesting 2 hours we spent all week. We followed Rick Steves? guided tour of the museum and learned quite a bit. Michelangelo?s Pieta was the highlight for me, with its heaviness and sadness that is in such a contrast to the Pieta in Rome which we saw 2 years ago, done when he was younger and not struggling with his own mortality. DM?s highlight was Donatello?s Magdalene. I was also impressed with the equipment and tools and models from the construction of the Duomo.

    After some clothes shopping and a toasted mozzarella and pomodoro panini for lunch, DM and I split up and I walked to the Brancacci Chapel to see Masaccio?s frescoes. They only let 30 people in at a time for 15 minutes, so it is best to know the history before you go in and not spend your time reading the guidebooks. The frescoes are indeed quite beautiful and well worth the 15-20 minute walk from Via Calziaouli. I am amazed (and feeling quite unaccomplished) that Masaccio was only in his 20s when he did these. From there, I walked to Santa Croce (covering extreme ends of the city I knew DM wouldn?t have the energy for) and visited Michelangelo?s tomb, among others. Today we found Festa del Gelato, off Via Calziaouli, on Via Corso. This, by far, had the largest selection and best gelato that we had all week. I had Snickers and Profiterol on this visit.

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    We enjoyed drinks on the Piazza della Signoria tonight before dinner, as it was finally warming up after high 40s and clouds the first couple of days. We then headed to Il Latini, which was written up in Rick Steves, Cadogan and Frommers, as well as seen by DM on the Food Channel. Our hotel warned us to get there well ahead of opening time to be ensured a table as they do not accept reservations (which is only partially true, I think it depends on who you are or who calls on your behalf). We arrived at 7:15 and the line was already about 35 people long. Not knowing what the capacity of the restaurant was, I had decided we would not wait for the tables to turnover, because certainly no restaurant was worth that! I was also horrified to see that the only people who did not obey the queue were my fellow Americans, who would show up at whatever time and weasel in close to the door. However, once the doors opened, the staff took one party at a time and filled the family-style tables in an orderly manner. We were seated with a Sicilian couple, two business travelers (Spanish and Italian) and two Japanese tourists. Thankfully, I speak Italian and Spanish, so I could translate between the business travelers, the Sicilians and my DM. The meal started off with crudite and pate on toast. There were plates of salami and prosciutto for everyone. There was endless wine on the tables. The first course choices were ribollita (my choice, and excellent), ravioli or pappa al pomodoro. The secondo were veal chop, Florentine steak, sausage and beans, a steak done in tomato/wine sauce and garlic. I had the veal chop which was just massive and very tasty, but I could barely finish it. Every selection looked wonderful and DM said the sausage and beans was great. This was followed by sweet wine and biscotti, grappa and either tiramisu or strawberries and cream. The entire meal for the two of us was €70. The atmosphere was worth it, and we enjoyed our dinner companions.

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    Monday, March 22 ? Today we planned to hit the Bargello, since it had been closed on Sunday, the third Sunday of the month. My brain did not compute, however, that today would be the fourth Monday, meaning it was closed again today. So we headed to the bus station and took the express bus to Siena sort of spur of the moment. The trip was only 1 hour 15 minutes and the bus leaves you off about a 10 minute walk to the Campo. We headed straight for the Duomo where I realized that this was the most beautiful church I?d seen. I think it was a combination of the location and the black and white marble both inside and out, but I loved this cathedral. Everything about it excited me, how it was wedged onto a cliff, supported by its own baptristy. The Piccolomini Library and its Pintorecchio ceiling were beautiful and the story behind it quite interesting (followed Rick Steves? tour again). We visited the Duomo museum which wasn?t nearly as interesting as the one in Florence, but the view from the panorama was well worth the climb. We could see for miles and the duomo and campo from up here were most impressive. Today was a beautiful sunny day in the mid-60s so we sat in a café on the Campo in the sun eating gelato sundaes with amaretto poured over them! How decadent! Return trip to Florence at 4:00. There isn?t a lot of shopping to be had in Siena, but for a couple of nice ceramics shops. Both of us were a bit overstuffed for dinner from our cappuccino and sundae, so our cab driver from the bus station recommended Gusto Leo behind the Piazza della Signoria where we both had a mixed salad and split a gorgonzola pizza. We capped the meal with a limoncello and walked it all off on the way to Gelateria dei Neri, where I had amarone (cherry) and galak (white chocolate).

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    Tuesday, March 23 ? Today we were awoken early by the news of a death in the family back home. Arrangements were awaiting our arrival. Today we had planned to take a tour with Tours Around Tuscany, so my first order of business was to apologetically cancel our plans. Gianni was most understanding, and offered his Italian skills to help us get flights back to the US. Our hotel recommended going to a travel agent rather than trying to work with Air France on the phone. We stopped first at American Express, realizing that even by the time we received the call, there was no chance of getting home today. The American Express agent was passable useful, calling Air France direct and getting nothing in the way of a changed ticket home until Friday, which wasn?t good enough for us. She offered a Bologna/Amsterdam/London/Boston route, but that would take nearly a day and a half to get home, and we weren?t up for that. So we went on to another agency. Vieri at Intertravel across from the main post office asked us to leave it to him and return at 3 p.m., and he?d have it all worked out.

    True to his word, we returned to find 2 British Airways flights out of Rome the next morning which would have us home Wednesday night. Since the European airlines generally do not have compassionate or bereavement fares, he purchased us roundtrip tickets for €870 each, which was obviously an exorbitant expense, but better than the €1795 the AmEx agent quoted us for the two day trip home! At this point, we were in no position to argue price. During the time he was working on the tickets, we visited the Bargello for the most excellent Michelangelos, Giambolognas and della Robbias. We also had lunch (again at Golden View for my tomatoe soup and pizza one more time) and did some shopping at the markets.

    Once the tickets were arranged, we took a ride up to San Miniato for vespers, where we listened to the monks chant for a while. It seemed appropriate and cleared out our heads. The downpour we arrived at the church in had just passed and we came out to a beautifully sunny and misty view of Florence. It was stunning. We ate at the well-touristed Il Cavallino on Piazza della Signoria, mainly because it was nearby and open early and we were mentally beat and had to get to bed early. I had ribollita and 4 cheese gnocchi, both of which were really good, but the atmosphere left so much to be desired. We ended our trip at Festa del Gelato again and were heading home.

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    Wednesday, March 24 ? Eurostar to Rome, Leonardo Express to the airport. Check in for flight to LHR and lo and behold, I have been upgraded to business class on BA for the flight to Boston. I have no idea how this happened, and just to me, but who was I to say no? The flight from Rome to LHR was wonderful in a roomy 767. The flight for me to Boston was exquisite, I actually slept fully inclined on a plane! The food was tremendous and the service impeccable. I?m not sure how it happened...if anyone has any ideas as to if they do random upgrades or if my travel agent was just doing me a favor (but not DM??) I hesitate to say it will be mighty difficult to head back to coach next time?.

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    Miscellaneous notes:

    My only regrets were that we 1) didn't get to do the Tuscany tour or go to Venice as planned, but that was beyond our control 2) didn't see Orsanmichele, Palazzo Strozzi (for the Botticelli Exhibition), Casa Buonarotti were all on our list of things to do on Wednesday, but we didn't get to it. We tried Orsanmichele several times but it never seemed to be open; 3) that we didn't get to try any other restaurants. I had taken Ira's suggestions with me, but just didn't get to them.

    You have not lived unless you have tried the following gelato combinations: mascarpone and tartuffo (dark chocolate) and kiwi and strawberry. Total flavors sampled, 21. Favorite shop: Festa del Gelato.

    Just when you think a Florentine street isn't wide enough for a bus, here comes one, hug the wall!

    I am a born and bred Boston driver, and have even drive in NYC, but even I was aghast at the number of times our taxi driver almost added another human hood ornament to their collection, or the odd shortcuts they'd take us to get us where we were going (through the Uffizi Courtyard!)

    The prices on the Ponte Vecchio are not bargains, but you can find some pieces you?ll never be able to buy at home, and those are what I focused on, such as Etruscan gold filigree.

    Florence will see me again, once this credit card is paid off. It was a delightful, if short, time spent. Ciao!

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    Great Trip report amyb, so sorry about your grandmother and about venice. I have the same trip planned in may, florence and then venice. You're report really got me giddy with anticipation. I hope you make it to Venice soon!!

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    Hello AmyB. Great trip report. I was in Florence just prior to you. We left Florence to head to Rome, March 17. Fortunately our weather was perfect. Next time you must visit the perfumery at Santa Maria Novella. Oh my gosh!! I read about it on this site but never imagined how beautiful and exquisite it would be. I will write my trip report in a few days. I am too jet-lagged right now. Welcome home and sorry about your loss.

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    Hi Amy. I'm very sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for your trip report. I'll be going to Florence soon, so it's good to get a preview on what I'm going to experience. Good news on the business class upgrade. I can only dream I'll get that for my trip. :)

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    That was a great report! I love your encounters with the great art icons. It is hard to put into words and you did a really good job.
    Sorry about your loss, or course. i guess maybe we should consider trip insurance...
    Thanks,
    j

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    Thanks all for your kind words. I have discovered that Air France will at least reimburse us for our unused ticket home, which is good. They do have bereavement adjustments if the trip originates in the US.

    I know Venice awaits...something to look forward to!

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