Thursday, June 9, 2011

First Day of Sightseeing!

After a cheap dinner in the hostel, getting to know my awesome new roommate a bit, and feeling out our immediate surroundings, I crawled up to my bed- the bunk closer to god- managing not to fall. I did this with the full intention of getting a good night's sleep. But although I set my travel alarm, I woke up at 4:30 AM with the panicked belief that I had overslept, the alarm was broken and I HAD to hurriedly dress. The fact that it was still dark outside only registered after I was finished getting ready. ;P

Needless to say, I went back to sleep.

After napping/passing out, I ate my left over Margheurita Pizza for breakfast and my roommate and I checked out of our room and went to stow our luggage in the communal luggage room (check out is 10AM- check in is 3 PM).


After hearing ALL the warnings about theft in Italy and knowing that theft in a youth hostel is likely, I operated out of a paranoia that is quite comical in retrospect. I put double locks on my two suitcases. One through the joins of the zipper and one through the zipper loops. Next, I wrested the bike lock I bought from Target free of its packaging and proceeded to crawl behind the luggage room shelves to lock into place all four of our bags. It was dark behind the shelves and it took quite a bit of time to finesse the bike lock shut. At some time during this adventure a few of my fellow young guests (also stowing luggage) exclaimed that they thought there was "an actual human back there." That'd be me. Safe and not sorry. It was no easy feat to crawl between metal shelves and lock up luggage in the dark, but I felt safe to explore the city without being robbed.

However, not everything got stowed. This little contraption I'm writing to you with, for example. I can clearly and emphatically state that a netbook at home is not the same as a notebook about town. I carried mine in a backpack as though it were a baby: front and center with my arms securely around it. Throughout the day it got more and More and MORE cumbersome. But what a day it was...

We started out on a mission to find the university where we would be taking classes and could pick up our Florence Museum passes.

On our way we passed the Piazza della Libertà

Triumphal Arch  

Detail of the Fountain
After that we went hunting for a restaurant/evening entertainment venue that Sasha and Nora (my awesome aunt and uncle who lived near Florence several times) had highly recommended, stopping first for a lovely lunch. I ordered a traditional Florentine dish called Panzanella. Panzanella is a type of salad or cold dish made from day-old bread, red onions, tomatoes and fresh basil. The dressing is a heady combination of olive oil and vinegar. Here are pictures!

This entire neighborhood is dominated by students, and the majority of the eateries are cheap, fast and good. In the middle is a permanent farmer's market. It was lovely to be able to sit, people watch, debate about where to eat next, and just take a moment to let the the reality of living in Florence sink in.

After lunch we heard church bells start to ring and walked down some narrow streets taking pictures:

This is a view of the Duomo

 A Truly Tiny Truck

Various Streets

Various Streets

  Pinocchio Shop

Eventually, we even came to what we were trying to find. The restaurant  and musical venue, called "Teatro del Sale." It has an old-fashioned wood paneled interior. To dine you must become a member and outside the door are the rules of this very traditional 'club.' The lobby is filled with counters and shelves stacked with  pickled vegetables, jams, Florence touristy knick-knacks, all types of books and miscellaneous treasures. The kind woman behind the bar showed us the stage and the buffet of food that was being served for lunch. I'll upload stories and pictures when we eat dinner and see a show there.

Next we came upon Santa Croce. This was a moment in which Florence truly gripped my heart . A glimpse of the facade of this church flamed the feeling that I had had the night before in looking at the Duomo from the 5th floor terrace of our dorm. That was a glimmer compared to the magic of seeing Santa Croce in the daylight. We came upon the church from the back and took many pictures of its spire and apse.

Spire of Santa Croce from a distance

Walking towards the spire

Spire and apse

Spire and Apse Again!

 Facade of Santa Croce- Statue of Dante Aligheri

 Facade of Santa Croce

It is ancient and integral to the history of Firenze. Behind the church is the Florentine School of Leather Workmanship. A profession whose products fill the streets adjoining the church. The owners of various leather boutiques stand in the streets enticing customers with discounts and a spiel about the quality of their products- much like I imagine their historical counterparts did.

The front of Santa Croce looks nothing like the medieval brick building in the back. The facade is detailed like the Duomo and very Renaissance in style. Impressions: The Virgin over the central door. Tourists lining up on the steps taking pictures. People eating gelato. Possible pick-pocketers. Across from the church- modern ampitheater seating is being installed.

We window shopped around the area. Scoping out the wares and then headed further into the neighborhood of the Uffizi on a search for what is reputed to be the best and most famous gelateria in Florence. Tucked in an alleyway street across from a Russian Orthodox church and just down the street from a building with a plaque stating "here lived Michaelangelo" is this small ice creamery.

Gelateria Firenze Vivoli

Street with Michaelangelo's plaque: We Crashed a Guided Tour by Taking Pictures and Eavesdropping

Plaque for the home of Michaelangelo

View in the Opposite Direction: This way for incredible gelato!

It most certainly lived up to its advertising. Customers walk in and pay to the right at a wooden counter where the woman behind the register, in her sixties, regards you with a slight level of impatience and takes your money according to the size of your order. The customer then proceeds to the counter behind which are all the magic colors and flavors. Here you can sample, order and be handed a little piece of heaven. Italians of the city come here as often as tourists.

I ordered raspberry sorbet, which tasted soft, sweet and naturally tart like the raspberry cream my Mama made when I was small, "Festiva de Lente" a creamy gelato with candied ginger, and pistachio. Here is a picture. This place was amazing!

From here our tired feet and boundless hearts carried us to the Uffizi, the Palazzo Vecchio, and eventually the Duomo on our way home.

Facade of the Duomo 

Duomo Tower

Duomo from the side

Baptistery facing the Duomo facade

Altogether it was a marathon of an amazing day. My feet hurt and my heart sings! Ciao.


  1. great first day, thanks for sharing it with us. Yum, Italian food!!

  2. I suddenly have a craving for visiting Florence after reading this!

    Is it possible fore you to try every possible flavor of gelato and share that with us too?

  3. YUMMM Gelato! Am trying not to be jealous right now... just thinking well I don't understand Italian anyways.. Go find some cute Italian boys!