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Some Scathing Comments About Florence - We Would Like to Hear Some Other Perspectives!

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Mar 12th, 2008, 06:20 PM
  #21
 
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Love Florence! Hate the crowds (and the heat in summer). My solution? - stay away from the crowds. I visited the Academia and Uffizi in January; the Museum d'Opera in June. No crowds either time. We were the only people in the church where Dante's wife is interred (June). We were the alone both times we visited the del Sarto frescos. The disadvantage of the less visited times is there isn't always anyone to ask questions of but there are usually brochures of explanation available for a small donation. We ate in no restaurant that we found in a guide book listing and had amazing food. We found them by asking shop people in the neighborhoods we were exploring.
It is a super walkable city.
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Mar 12th, 2008, 06:27 PM
  #22
 
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I've only been to Florence one time, spent a week last April. I was unsure at first, but every day I grew to love it more and more. The longer I stayed the more I loved it. I definitely want to go back someday, in January or February, for as long a time as possible.

It does get extremely crowded. The streets are very narrow, the buildings are densely packed, there is a lot of traffic and all the noise echoes off the buildings and gets magnified- the streets can be like tunnels sometimes.

One thing is, the crowds all stay on the extract same streets in the exact same areas at the exact same times. Florence gets A LOT of daytrippers, and they are all there to see the same things- the Duomo, the Accademia, and the Uffizi. I found it wasn't too difficult to escape the crowds by walking on alternate streets; don't always take the most obvious route to your destination. Going for walks in the early morning and at night is wonderful, when the crowds are gone.

Getting to museums first thing in the morning, right at opening, made a big difference too. We reserved an 8:30am entry for the Uffizi. It was busy for sure, but not enough to negatively affect our visit. We did one corridor, walked down to the rooftop cafe for an early lunch, and then doubled back to complete the second corridor. We ate at about 11-11:00am, and we easily got a table outside, without having to wait.

The Bargello and San Marco were virtually empty first thing in the morning, and we really enjoyed spending time in the courtyards, when the air was still fresh and cool. By noon these museums are quite busy, though not approaching Uffizi and Accademia levels. The Oltrarno, across the river, is a great neighbourhood to explore to get away from the crowds. I would love to stay in that area next time.

We had the Piazza della Signoria to ourselves at dusk, plus it was beautiful seeing it in the sunset. On another day, coming out of the Uffizi at about 1:30pm, it was a literal sea of people, I don't know how anyone moved. So time of day does make a huge difference.

As for the Ponte Vecchio, it can't be taken seriously. To me it looks like jewelry shops in Little India, or like dollar stores that are fancy and flashy. Chav heaven, my sister called it.

I didn't notice anyone littering. Streets with a lot of restaurants certainly had a fair amount of litter by late in the evenings, but trucks came by collecting garbage and cleaning the streets every night. I found Florence to be as clean as any city, nothing remarkable I can think of in terms of litter or dirt (I though England had more litter, actually)

Don't think I saw any gypsies. I saw typical gypsies panhandling and singing in the metro in Paris several years ago, but not Florence. The African street vendors are there, of course, you'll see plenty of threads about them. My experience was they just leave you alone if you walk by. Sometimes things get crowded- I had no qualms about (carefully)stepping over the stuff displayed on the white sheets if there was little room to go around, or squeezing between vendors, etc.

People's tolerance for that sort of crowding varies, of course. I live in a big city and it doesn't bother me that much, I'm used to dealing with things like that. I think people used to smaller towns might find it more difficult to shrug off or adjust, depending on temperament, etc. Don't be afraid to be assertive (always polite of course) and don't get freaked out by it, there is always way to move through a throng of people and get somewhere else.

As for safety and pickpockets, I am usually pretty aware of myself and my things anyways, so I was just the same in Florence as I am at home. Never had any problems, in fact it never really entered my mind that I needed to especially worry about pickpockets or thieves. I carried my purse like I do at home, I don't use a moneybelt or anything.

Oh, and the most we ever paid for gelato was 3 euros. Most places charge 2 or 2.50 euros. Don't buy from a place that doesn't have its prices clearly marked on a sign. If you don't see the prices, keep walking. My favourites for gelato were Carabe and Gilli's, both 2.50 euros if I remember correctly.
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Mar 12th, 2008, 06:28 PM
  #23
 
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Having been to Florence many times, and stayed for a week or so on some of those trips, I can say I love it and will go back at the first chance.

Some of the things I love are the opportunities to see people living their lives in ways so different from my own: a festa for kids in costumes in a small piazza; a Renaissance foot race and cheering young men.

If you really want to enjoy yourself, go off the beaten path. If there are special exhibits, definetly go to them. The Strozzi often has special exhibits. Stroll the Boboli gardens, don't miss San Marco, the Mercato Centrale, get across the river to the various churches, markets and chapels. Spend time in the cloisters and gardens at Santa Croce.

There is so much to see. Research pays off. Oh, I saw the suggestion above to get out and walk in the hills around the city: that is a favorite activity of ours.

I have on a pair of earrings right now from the Ponte Vecchio. I didn't see anything there but fantastic, if expensive, jewelry stores. No one selling crap.

I think the food is fantastic, and will happily make recs, and the shopping is my favorite.

Yes, it is an ancient and somewhat crowded city.
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Mar 12th, 2008, 06:34 PM
  #24
 
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We visited Florence in May 2004 – unfortunately, a cold and rainy May, but loved the city. Yes, lots of tourists, but not more than in other big European cities.
Yes, I have to agree with Bryson about the gypsies – probably the town where we saw the most of them, or the most aggressive ones (never been to Rome, though). There were long lines to the Academia and Uffizi, but that was also because the rain, when people probably wanted to be ‘inside’.

In any case we loved Florence, the food was great (I still remember a papardelle dish with rabbit meat, and a glass of wine, maybe two, in a restaurant by the river), and would go back in a heartbeat, hoping for nicer weather
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Mar 12th, 2008, 06:45 PM
  #25
 
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I love Florence. I have had the fortune to be able to visit it 4 times in the past 12 years. Not one single time was I disappointed. In fact each time I find more to love and appreciate. My husband and I were there for 4 days in the middle of May in 2007. I hate hot weather and don't do well in it at all and I was not uncomfortable at any point. Crowded, yes but I don't think nearly as crowded as summer. We did not see one single gypsy...and we walked everywhere. Florence, in my belief, can handle large numbers of people. We didn't visit the Uffizi this trip but every other "sight" we took in was very manageable crowd-wise, in fact I would say the crowds were not huge at all. At sunset the Ponte Vecchio was indeed quite crowded as everyone wanted to get a photo. But it was festive and fairly orderly - we had no problem getting our photo op.
I can't imagine someone paying 9 euros for a gelato???? We endulged at least twice daily and I would say never paid over 3 euros.
Never waited for a table at a trattoria.
No doubt Florence is a popular destination - it is a big city - but if visited in months other than June, July, August, I cannot imagine someone not absolutely falling in love with this jewel.
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Mar 12th, 2008, 07:30 PM
  #26
 
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We paid 9 euros for a gelato on the Ponte Vecchio, as we weren't paying attention to what we were doing. I would have waited if I'd bothered to look at the price list! However when I got over the shock, I consoled myself by thinking "what the hell, I'm on the Ponte Vecchio!!" Later in the day we had fab gelato at Vivoli which I would thoroughly recommend.
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Mar 12th, 2008, 07:42 PM
  #27
 
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I've visited Florence in March when we had it to ourselves; in July when it was wall-to-wall people; and in October, when it was crowded, but not insane. I've had different experiences in Florence, depending most of all upon me, and where my head is at when I'm there. I could certainly never wave my hand dismissively about a place as extraordinary & as artistically rich as Florence. In fact, I don't see how anybody who has any aesthetic sensibility at all can not like Florence. In any case: never, ever let one person's opinion -- even that of a "well-respected" writer/observer -- discourage you from an experience. (And Bryson seems to be a bit of a control freak, anyway...not the best quality for a traveler in Italy!)
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Mar 12th, 2008, 07:52 PM
  #28
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Wow! We went out with friends and came back to all kinds of interesting responses.

Thank you all for your thoughts - we've discussed it at length and feel better about the whole thing. We had already decided to spend lots of time in gardens and areas outside the center. We also have at least one day trip planned (San Gimignano) and wouldn't be heartbroken at all to head to Orvieto for the day if we feel overwhelmed by the crowds.

Its interesting to hear the diversity of thoughts!

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Mar 12th, 2008, 08:45 PM
  #29
 
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I absolutely loved San Gimignano and hope you do too. It wasn't as crowded as Florence when we visited in May 2006, busy but not too bad.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 02:06 AM
  #30
 
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Florence is the one Italian city I really didn't care for, and it had nothing to do with the points in Bryson's writings. I even prefer Naples over it, and that's saying something. However, the surrounding hillsides and Tuscany beyond are lovely. If you find that you don't care for Florence, the good news is that you can easily escape to something more pleasant.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 03:36 AM
  #31
 
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I'm sure you'll enjoy your visit and I would agree that some of what he says seems pretty realistic..the crowding, etc., although I'm not sure I agree about the "Gypsies" since sometimes it is hard to tell them apart from travelers doing their utmost not "to look like a tourist."

Venice is the same way in terms of crowding...but people flock to certain locations for a reason (which is usally a good one)....going out in Florence as at the dreaded (by some folks here) San Marco is often more magical in late afternoon and in the evening when many of the others have vanished.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 05:25 AM
  #32
 
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I visited Florence for the first time in the Summer of 1980. Since then I have visited it 5 or 6 other times, the last one in 2006. Each time I found the city dirtier, more crowded, chaotic and less enjoyable. Of course , it still houses the same treasures. But I don't find the city in itself to provide the atmosphere and quality I look for.

It does not draw me in anymore. I was lucky to see its treasures under better circumstances.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 06:12 AM
  #33
 
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As St Cyr said, remember that Bryson is a humorist, first and foremost.

Also, remember that most conventional travel writing is schlock, generally overstating the merits and glossing over the shortcomings of a place.

That is why it is so open to satire. PJ O'Rourke did a wonderful job in Holidays in Hell, especially the devastating essay "Among the Euro-Weenies." (You'll never look at Europe in quite the same way again after reading it.) Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad may be the ur-text for this sort of thing, and is still hilarious today.

We all travel with preconceptions. When you get past those and the see the place for what it is, the contrast can provide fertile ground for both humor and dismay.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 06:15 AM
  #34
 
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Sorry, that is of course StCirq -- apologies.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 06:16 AM
  #35
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Hi N,

Well, I looked up the book.

It seems Bryson visited some places in 1972-73 and then went back in the 90's.

Guess what, things had changed.

Our last visit, we spent 11 nights in Florence - 6 of them devoted to the city.

We loved it.

The tour buses arrive about 10 and leave about 4:30.

Schedule yourself accordingly.

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Mar 13th, 2008, 10:57 AM
  #36
 
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You're right...9euros gelato on one of the most famous bridges in the entire world...absolutely worth it!!
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Mar 13th, 2008, 11:03 AM
  #37
 
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Florence was my favorite place that I visited in Italy. It was not nearly as crowded and big as Rome. Florence is very artsy and the architecture is amazing. I left Florence saying “this is somewhere that I could live.” It was so easy to get around and you could walk everywhere.

I did however go there in early March which is not peak tourist season, so that could have made the difference.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 11:24 AM
  #38
 
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Florence could be better with less tourists and longer museum hours, it's true. However, it's still an amazing city with sights and experiences unlike any other. There is an ongoing Catch-22 with popular tourist places. They're popular because they're beautiful, historical, etc. A hell-hole of a town might remain unspoiled, because who'd want to visit there?

Several years ago I was in Florence with my parents, and my mom (athletic mid 60's) and I still talk about our climb up to the the Duomo's dome together and the view from the top. We'll never forget it.
I think you'll love Florence, and you're lucky you're going in May instead of mid-summer when there's even MORE tourists!

After visting different parts of Italy, I find myself drawn to smaller towns and villages, and perhaps B.B. is the same way. That doesn't mean that a large city like Florence isn't worth seeing, though.
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Mar 13th, 2008, 11:54 AM
  #39
 
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I love Italy but must admit that Florence is not a favorite of mine. Actually of all the places I've had the opportunity to visit in Europe Florence is one of the few that I have no desire to return to.

I'm not sure what it is. It is a beautiful city, and many love it. I guess we failed to get to that point. I found it so very crowded (and we were there in late February) and congested that I felt claustrophobic. We are more into history than art, so perhaps that had something to do with it. We then went to Rome and fell in love, so the trip ended on a happy note.

Tracy

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Mar 13th, 2008, 12:02 PM
  #40
 
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What history did you miss in Florence? Just curious because I can get dizzy from all the historical sites there.

I do think people either love or hate Florence, more than the other cities. I wonder why.
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