Interrailing: Florence and Pisa

My love for Italy continues.

My blog begins like a dramatic action movie. 3 girls on a mission to get from Venice to Florence. The scene starts at 7.30am waiting at the wrong water bus stop. A man approaches. He tells us to go on the other side where we can already see the boat we want, waiting. We run. Fiona and I with heavy rucksacks, Ammun with a wheelie suitcase. We make the 7.51 water bus and head on our way. 30 minutes later we see what we think is the train station and worry; are we going to catch our 8.37 train to Florence?! The boat attendant man tells us it’s another three stops. Our hearts start beating faster due to how tense the moment was. 8.32 we arrive at the correct stop and push past an old man and run. The camera cuts to a slow-mo clip of three young girls running up steps with massive turtle shell rucksacks. It’s not meant to be a comedy, it’s an action film remember. We don’t see our train on the screens but we run to the platforms anyway. We run some more, checking all 14 platforms to look for our train but don’t find it. I look at my phone. The time turns 8.37. The dramatic music ends while we talk to a man at information to ask if we can change our reservation (compulsory in Italy) to the next train in an hour and he delivers the breaking news; “you are at the wrong station”. He tells us to get the train to Bologna which leaves in two minutes and get off at the next station which is the correct one. We then realise he was the villain of the story as he told us it was platform 14 when really, it was platform 13! We only just got the train despite the doors nearly shutting on me. At the next train station we went to information. The time is ticking and it is 9:07. The man breaks some more devastating news to the young protagonists of this tense, action packed story; “all the trains are full until 12:47”. However, the hero in our story tells us that we can get an intercity train at half nine and we don’t need to worry about reservations. We run to McDonald’s. McDonalds is shut. We run to the train and sit down. Half an hour after its scheduled departure, the train leaves. After three seat changes due to people having reservations and being split up, will the girls ever make it to Florence? And more importantly, will they get their first mcdonalds since Brussels?!?!
Best McDonalds I’ve ever eaten. Oh, and Florence is pretty nice too!
Our hostel was weird. We arrived and no one would answer the bell. Eventually the people from the restaurant next door said we had a code to open the door but I couldn’t find the email so they had to ring for us to get it! Eventually we got in, found a map, our keys and a note for me explaining what all the keys are and explaining that we have to pay when the check in is open on the next day! Most unwelcoming hotel ever! After a rest we headed out in the 27 degree heat to see our new city.

We first went to Piazza de San Giorgio to see the Cathedral. Sadly we weren’t let in because our skirts were too short! So we continued on a saw a big clock tower thing with a replica of the statue of David by Michelangelo.

We then moved on to Ammun’s favourite thing in Florence; the Vecchio Bridge. We’ve discovered over the last month that Ammun really loves bridges. This one was very impressive though as all along it are little jewellery shops and it’s so cute to look at! (Sorry mum, I haven’t got you a souvenir from there!) our next stop was the Piazzale Michelangelo. We started our hike around half six. When I say hike, I’m really not kidding! This hill is more like a mountain and it’s so steep!! Eventually we reached the top and it was so worth it! We watched the sun setting over beautiful Florence and from where we were we could also see all the main points of interest which was great! We watched it for a good 40 minutes or so and then went for some dinner and home because we were shattered from a rubbish nights sleep the day before!
My yummy carbonara and a glass of prosecco!
The next day when we woke up, Fiona was feeling really ill. Ammun and I still went for a free walking tour like we’d planned and Fiona had a good lie in to try and recover. This walking tour was mostly based around the art and architecture of the Renaissance era. I don’t know much about art but luckily it wasn’t too heavy going! Sadly, it rained. It rained a lot! Although the sky was grey and gloomy, my camera is waterproof so I could still get some good pictures!
Florence was first discovered by the Romans in 15bc and they gave it the name after the word for flower. Nowadays, if you dug downwards, you would find the remains of the Roman building 2m below current Florence. Unlike Rome, you can’t see any of the ruins nowadays as Florence has been completely rebuilt twice over the years.

We started at the Church of Santa Maria Novella which is decorated with a typical Floentine design. It’s one of the four most important churches in Florence and also has Florence’s first cemetery. The square infront used to host horse races but is now a pretty park.

 We made a quick stop outside a bar where the man showed us a little door that used to be used when people wante wine to take away (before they discovered coffee). It’s not in use anymore but there is still a sign saying that it’s open from 8am to 9pm. I think it’s a great idea!
Then we moved on to one of Florence’s many palaces. They’re not anything like Buckingham Palace, they’re more like really big houses. We looked at Palazzo Strozzi which was one of the oldest and set the standard for all other palaces around. He told us about the architecture (which was kinda boring) and then we went inside to a big courtyard. In the past, one family would live here and would own a bank. They would also have the rest of the downstairs open to the public to see their private art collections like a museum. The family would live on the first floor and then the servants would live on the top floor. However, the servants were actually the army and over 100 of them would live inside the palace!
Our next point of interest was the very centre of Florence. It is built over the old Roman Forum and is still the crossing of two main roads that are original Roman roads. It looked a bit rubbish in the rain so you have no picture. I’m sorry.
We then walked to Piazza de San Giorgio which is the religious centre of Florence as it contains 3 very important buildings. The first is the baptistery. This was built during the 10-13th centuries and is important because people had to be baptised to enter the church. Sadly for us, it was completely covered in scaffolding so we couldn’t see it at all! Although we were told that is decorated in the same Florentine style as the church of Santa Maria Novella and the other two buildings in the square.
The next one we were told about was the bell tower that was completed in 1359 and is 85m high. You can climb to the top but obviously, there is no lift so you’ve got to be good at walking up stairs!
The most impressive of the three is the Cathedral of Florence (also known as il Duomo). It is currently the 3rd largest cathedral in the world although it was the biggest when it was first completed in 1436. Construction work began in 140 so it’s impressive they made something so impressive from the outside so long ago! At the top of the dome there is a ball and a cross. The top of the cross is 150m high and, although it really doesn’t look it from the ground, the ball has a room big enough to fit 6 people in!
Our next stop was in Piazza della Signoria where we saw the clock tower again. Turns out, this is also a palace and is called Palazzo Vecchio. It was built on 1315 over a Roman theatre and used to be the home of all the government officials who were guarded away from the people to stop any decisions being influenced by what was going on outside. It’s now the town hall and a museum and is surrounded by an open air statue museum. The tour guide explained each of them to us but I was bored after the first few and switched off! Oops! He told us about the replica statue of David by Michelangelo and the statue of Hercules that guard the entrance. The original David statue was done in 1504 and is a symbol of freedom to the Florentine people. (No, not just because he’s let his weiner be free!) Hercules, on the other hand, was heavily criticised by the florentine people (who are apparently known for being critical) as he was considered ‘too muscular’. One artist described his muscles as looking like a sack of watermelons.
We then walked to Michelangelo’s first house where he lived until he was 12. It’s situated in one of the poorest parts of Florence. At 18 he moved to Rome to work for the pope and once he’d made enough money, he returned to Florence to buy his dad a better house. It is now a museum of his early work and private collection of Roman statues.
Our last stop was a church (can’t remember the name) that was founded in 1211 by Saint Francis of Assisi. It is also in one of the poorest parts of Florence but still has the same Florentine decoration. Inside, there are many tombs of famous people such as Gallileo and Michelangelo.
After the walking tour we went back to see how Fiona was doing (and brought her an orange which made her face light up). She was feeling well enough to go out to get some lunch but while we were faffing the heavens opened up and made a crash, bang and a flash as it did it!! We swapped our metal umbrellas for anoraks  and trudged out into the rain in search for paninis. Wasn’t even worth it, mine was gross.
After lunch we (and our sexy anoraks) decided that what we all really wanted to do was go shopping! Florence has pretty much everything. From high street shops like h&m and zara to fancy pancy shops like Gucci (first one opened in Florence) and Prada. One of the first shops that caught our eye was playing a dubstep version of my little pony. (For my grandparents, dubstep is the music Dan listens to that may just be described as ‘noise’). Imagine a shop that was a love child of my little pony and expensive fashion week. It was weird.
We also went in a shop called Brandy Melville which I first discovered in Valencia (thanks Beth!) and love! I found a cute black crop top that was also on sale so I’m happy! I feel I need to break some news to people who know me. I have found a light brown trench coat in Zara that I love. This means that my beloved red coat has seen its final winter. It’s had a good 8 or so years!
We went back to the hostel for a rest (and Ammun’s THIRD nap of the day) before heading out for dinner. Fiona found a restaurant online but when we arrived, we realised it was quite expensive so we walked to find another one. We found a restaurant called Lorenzo De’Medici and whilst we were looking at the menu the waiter came up and asked if we were studying in Florence. We said no but he gave us a card and said, if you say you’re studying here, you’ll get 20% off. We were sold! I had some really yummy gnocchi with a tomato sauce and we shared some bread and salad too. I love how good Italian tomatoes are – I will miss them!
On our final day in Florence we went back to the cathedral one last time and as it was colder, we were dressed appropriately enough to go in! Considering how pretty the cathedral is on the outside, I was slightly disappointed by the inside. It was very plain and simple. Although, the inside of the dome was very pretty and it was paintings of heaven and hell with everything in between.
After the cathedral we went to the Leonardo Da Vinci museum round the corner. It mostly showed his inventions and adaptations of other people’s inventions but also had replicas of his art and some inventions with cogs etc that you could play with.
Playing with panoramas in the room of mirrors:
 After a really yummy panini for lunch, we got an hour train to Pisa for our last night!  We arrived quite late so only had time to go out for dinner. We stumbled across the cutest spaghetti house and had some really yummy pasta!! (Although the only mussel I had was closed and I was sad because I love mussels!)
19Our last day arrived and we trotted off to see the only decent thing to see in Pisa, the leaning tower! On our way we saw a few interesting things like the Mureal for Keith Haring;
Piazza dei Cavalieri;
And then the cameras were out for the best bit!!
 According to Wikipedia the Leaning Tower of Pisa is on one of the many lists of the 7 wonders of the world so I got the same photo that I’ve got infront of the Taj Mahal and Collosseum (list will grow in the future!)
Well Europe, it’s been a blast. I’ve had a lot of fun, eaten a lot of weird foreign foods, visited a lot of new countries, learnt a lot more about the effects of world war 2 on Europe and made some amazing memories with my girls. I’ll miss sharing a room and never being alone, I’ll miss eating out all the time because it’s cheaper than England and I’ll even miss Fiona’s Jesus sandals.
Despite how amazing this month has been (apart from when I was ill) I am looking forward to relaxing on my own sofa and putting my feet up!! We’ve done an average of 16,000 steps a day (and remember, we’ve done quite a few long train journeys!) so I’m ready to relax!
IBTC take Europe: done.
Annalise x