(I have to offer a brief apology…. The last six months have been completely chaotic for me, and unfortunately this blog paid a bit of a price for that. Between moving to a new apartment, computer issues to end all computer issues, several family members being hospitalized, health issues of my own, starting and ending a tumultuous new relationship, and plenty of visits from out of town family and friends, I just haven’t had a chance to really sit down and return to this post which I started all those months ago. But I’m here now, and will do my best to be better! So sorry!)
We bid a fond farewell to stunning Assisi, and I can assure you that one day was simply not enough for me. I longed to sip wine from a bistro overlooking that gorgeous view, but alas, one of the main issues with a group trip is not having your own time frame.
We arrived in Florence and went almost immediately First Hotel, not too far out of Florence’s city center. Nearly ten years after being there, what I remember most about my overall impression of this hotel was that it had a beautiful grand piano in the lobby. I can’t vouch for the state of the hotel nowadays, and if I’m completely honest, nine years ago I cared only that we were in Florence, not the specifics of where we stayed.
Our night improved from there as Fortuna took us – via walking – out to Space Club, a two-floor club that featured a different style of music on each floor. My friends and I ended up dancing on the upper balcony-style level of the upper floor, and had an interesting experience in which two young guys attempted to wow us with dance moves that looked similar to those floating guys with the waving arms that you tend to see in car dealerships. On the first floor of the club was a karaoke set up. Most of my group joined together to sing Paradise City and Stop by the Spice Girls. I remember the club patrons within earshot all sang and danced along to Stop. The Spice Girls continue to bring people of all walks of life together for a nostalgic shared experience!
We also had the chance to tour an authentic leather-making shop, but didn’t get a chance to try to make anything. From there, we explored Piazza Duomo, home to the breathtaking Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.
The cathedral is the fourth largest in the world, and construction was begun in the 13th century by Arnolfo di Cambio. The iconic dome was added in the 15th century based on a design by Filippo Brunelleschi. The interior of the dome is as stunning as the exterior, and I spent a lot of time wandering around in stunned silence. If you only see one cathedral in Florence, this is the one to see.
Our free time in Florence was later that afternoon, so my friends and I wandered the streets, shopping in the markets, and eating individual pizzas that regrettably tasted like sewage. A highlight of my time in Florence came when we entered Piazza della Repubblica and saw a carousel. Three of us decided to unleash our inner child and have a blast while our other embarrassed friend took our picture and tried to pretend she didn’t know us.
Brit and I decided we wanted to split off from the others and find stamps to send a postcard home while everyone else continued shopping. Considering we are both “directionally challenged”, it came as no surprise to either of us that we walked around Florence for two hours looking for stamps. Our only consolation was that no one else seemed to know where it was either, even though we asked tourists, locals, and even two police officers. When we finally did find the store everyone kept telling us about, Tabacchi (which for the record is also the name of a bar in the area which does NOT sell stamps), it was to discover they had run out of stamps only minutes earlier. Story of our lives, really.
I know Italy is known for its wonderfully delicious food, but we had all sorts of bad luck with food on our trip. Dinner that night seemed likely to leave us changing our tune as we arrived at the restaurant to discover it was completely elegant. I actually felt mildly under-dressed in my jeans. We climbed three flights of broken down escalators, but the stunning table settings complete with crystal chandeliers that greeted us felt like more than enough reward for our trials. Our happiness at a seemingly improved dinner situation disappeared faster than ice cream on a hot summer’s day, though; Fortuna, our tour guide, had inadvertently taken us to the wrong restaurant. Our real dinner that night had peas, meat and potatoes that seemed to form one mass, and which actually slid in one very slow-moving chunk when the plate was tipped on its side. The meal came complete with frostbitten gelato for dessert.
Perhaps it seems like too much complaining, but when you visit a country where people rave about the food and your experiences are nowhere near it, it makes for a very disappointing situation. Of course, I didn’t know at that point in time just how much worse my Italian food experience could get!