Tandem Travel Tales: Florence

WELCOME TO FIRENZE

Oh, Florence. Coming from Rome where there are plenty of tourists, but also bountiful space, Florence confronted us with situational claustrophobia. We were hopeful that the end of September was just late enough in the season that we could dodge crowds and squeak our way into some of the famous sights. In retrospect, we severely underestimated the amount of preplanning that needed to happen in order to ease the tension of the crowds and navigate Florence smoothly. However, if we were to do it again, the only thing I would change would be the not-so-forgiving stomach bug.

An aerial view of Florence from Giotto’s Bell Tower.

PLAN AHEAD, MY FRIENDS.

Rewind to February when Stephan and I were formulating ideas for this grand adventure. The first plans we solidified were in Italy because we needed to ensure that we had reasonably-priced, nice accommodations, and an itinerary. All of this was important because we wanted to give grandma piece-of-mind that we had the skills to make this crazy trip happen and that she would not onl survive our companionship, but enjoy it.

Do you think we look alike?

I immediately reached out to Kerry, my best friend since childhood, who had recently visited Florence and whose parents had lived there for a year or so. She sent me the most thorough travel advice that I’ve ever gotten; she gave advice on when to buy tickets, what routes to take, how to navigate the city and advice on many tricks and trades. We used many of her suggestions along the way, but the piece of advice that I should have paid more attention to was pre-booking.

A few days prior to leaving Rome I looked at train tickets and decided I needed to consult with grandma and Steve to see when they wanted to leave. Then guess what I did? I totally forgot about them. So fast forward to the morning, we’re set to leave for Florence, we’re standing in Termini Station, and we have no train tickets. And guess what? If you buy them the day of, they might set you back $170 for three people. AHHAHA! Really, though, not funny. We could have flown at that price.

A look at the colorful bridge known as Ponte Vecchio.

Poor grandma and Steve just watched me have my little fit of a panic attack in the middle of the train station after realizing my mistake. I think this is when their true bonding began. We then started throwing around the idea of renting a car and driving. Thankfully, they were totally sold out of cars for the day. Because of course, they were. But we snugged ourselves into our assigned seats, the last row in the last car, and zipped up to Florence.

HOME OF THE MACCI

I’d like to say that we arrived in Florence and made a friend in our Airbnb host, Lapo. But we did not. Retrospectively, I think working on his communication and check-in directions would really benefit his business. But a few months later, we now know that there are far worse situations you can find yourself in when it comes to Airbnb. We ended up in a sparkling clean, perfectly located, steal of an apartment with an unfortunate host, but not everything can be perfect. For about $70 a night, grandma was happy and therefore we were happy. The kitchen was spectacular, too, allowing us to cook a few meals together and enjoy a bit of downtime. I would do it again, but would be prepared for the lack of directions at check-in.

A group selfie on the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower.

WHAT TICKETS?

There are plenty of things to do in Florence, as it is considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. The art is extensive, architecture is ornate and bountiful, and the fashion will make you feel like a total scrub unless you’re strutting around in leather stilettos. All of that aside, remember that some of these attractions that people travel around the world to see require tickets. Most likely, these tickets should be purchased in advance.

A look at the crowds outside The Uffizi.

Some of the famous sights include:

The Florence Cathedral from Piazza del Duomo.

We ended up purchasing a ticket for The Duomo without realizing that a visit to just the cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, is entirely free. For 15€, ticket holders have 72 hours for one-time visits to each of the 5 different components of The Duomo, including Giotto’s Bell Tower and Brunelleschi’s Dome. We didn’t book this ahead, so all of the reserved visit times for The Dome were reserved through the following week. We instead opted for the 400-step climb to the top of the bell tower for a look at the dome. It was beautiful, but I would recommend anyone reserve their spot for the dome ahead of time to make the most of their money.

Additionally, we missed visiting Uffizi and The Academy because skip-the-line tickets were sold out and the lines were hours long by the time we arrived. What can I say? You can’t win them all.

The ceiling and oculus of The Baptistery of St. John.

GELATO

Now let’s get to the good stuff. As we mentioned in our last post about Rome, Italy has an endless amount of creamy, delicious gelato. The flavors are endless, but you’ll often find us scouting out pistachio, tiramisu, coffee, chocolate, and mango. Below are our two favorite gelaterias in Florence. Steve preferred Neri, while I think Carraia edged Neri out by a hair. Regardless, you’re not going to make a bad choice.

Grandma getting blow away on Giotto’s Bell Tower.

Gelateria la Carraia

We recommend: Tiramisu Mousse, Pistachio, Coffee, Coconut, and Chocolate Hazelnut

Filled with endless options, Gelateria la Carraia offers their gelato in a cup, a waffle cone, sugar cone, as a semifreddo cake, or by the kilo. Honestly, I would buy it by the kilo if I lived in Florence. My favorite thing was the small, 1€, one-flavor tasting cone they offered. A few of these helped with the overindulgence guilt.

Gelateria dei Neri

We recommend: Il Moretto and Cremino Ricotta e Pistacchio

One of the most traditional gelaterias in Florence, expect long lines and a bit of chaos from the customers. People flock to Neri for a delicious cone, especially after leaving the Uffizi, which is just around the corner. Be sure to look at the back wall when visiting. You won’t believe the number of fresh pans of “on call” gelato just waiting to be enjoyed.

She’s a dancing machine.

GRAB A BITE

I’m starting to think that maybe we should have just named our blog “All of the Food,” because we love to share our food experiences. Florence is a great place for a bit of food exploration; unfortunately, we were not able to break out of the tourist-heavy areas to enjoy much of the southwest side of the river. That being said, we did experience a spectrum of bites while in Florence, many of which we would love to taste again.

The rolling hills of Tuscany filled with vineyards.

Trattoria La Madia

While in Florence grandma had two requests. One was to go on a Tuscan wine tour. The other was to have dinner at La Madia.

With a menu loaded with Italian and Florentine classics, there is a bit of something for everyone. We went for a family-style spread consisting of broiled, salt-cured sea bass with vegetables, spaghetti Bolognese, veal steak, red table wine, and limoncello. A true wine and dine experience.

We stopped in H&M for a bathroom. Grandma and Steve made me try on a beret instead.

Overall the food good, but it was not spectacular. It was also very expensive. Our server was wonderful, sharing that she looked forward to one day doing a motorcycle tour of North America. While I’m not sure that I would return, I was happy to see grandma giddily soaking up the experience. At the end of the night, we were fat, happy, and ready to be rolled out the door.

Rubicondo in Santo Spirit

Rubicondo was an accidental discovery during one of our many daytime bathroom pursuits. If there are two things that do not go together in Europe, they’re hydration and public bathrooms. We snuggled into Rubicondo for a quick lunch in the hopes that they had a toilet. Hallelujah. With a bit of a late-night speakeasy feel, and complete with the community table full of locals talking business in the back, we were happily surprised by the quality of our lunch.

A beautiful view of the landscapes in Tuscany.

A bit pricey, but we were all three able to find something delicious. Steve got another carbonara, while I followed up on my tradition of eggplant parmesan, trying to get my vegetables wherever possible. Great portions, rich and flavorful, and they even threw in some complimentary limoncello to top it all off.

Ghibellina Forno Pasticceria

Ghibellina is definitely on our lists of favorites from Florence. Located just around the corner from our Airbnb, we visited daily, sometimes two or three times. Grandma and I know each other pretty darn well, and something important to both of us is caffeine. When you mix caffeine with a cute barista, she becomes a return customer.

Just hanging out in front of The Medusa.

We were there for the espresso and cappuccino, but we also tried a loaf of bread and a few other tasty baked goods throughout our stay. Clearly a neighborhood favorite, there is constantly a line of local customers popping in and out all times of the day. They are definitely doing something right, having been in business since 1890.

All’Antico Vinaio

We Recommend: La Favolosa, Inferno, and La Dante

If I had to name three Florentine specialties, they would be gelato, wine, and sandwiches. And if you’ve ever read up on Florentine food culture, you’ve definitely heard of All’Antico. There really aren’t words to describe their sandwiches. Having listened to travel podcasts for the last few years, it continues to pop up on the must-visit lists. Kerry also made the recommendation, so we knew we had to go.

A brief representation of the line that can form in front of All Antico.

If you’re looking for variety in location, it’s a little confusing. The internet will tell you that they have three locations, but on the map, they all seem to have the same address. It didn’t make any sense at first, but then we realized that they do have three separate stores. In fact, there are three separate counters, at three separate locations, all serving an identical menu, they’re just within arm’s reach of one another. I imagine that they do this because they can afford it and the line would be unmanageable otherwise.

Now that we’re far, far away from Florence, Steve still talks about All’Antico regularly. At just 5€ per sandwich, they’re a steal. Your taste buds will explode and the bread will shred the roof of your mouth like a wood chipper, but they are absolutely worth it.

The All Antico sandwich counter.

Our first visit was mid-afternoon, around 3 PM, when essentially no one is eating. Too early for dinner and too late for lunch, it was the perfect time to have All’Antico. Lucky for us, there were no lines whatsoever. So we popped in, grabbed two sandwiches, and moseyed outside to sit on the curb and eat the handheld, divine creations. Be prepared for hefty portions of meat and garlic, as these are sandwiches to write home about.

Malborghetto

This was another gem around the corner from our Airbnb. We enjoyed a few sandwiches at Malborghetto while waiting for our host to update us on check-in. It has a cozy, rustic feel. And it’s absolutely a tight squeeze for fools with luggage. The sandwiches here are reasonable, and far more manageable than those at All’Antico. At 3.5€ each, they’re well-balanced with delicious fillings and quality bread. You can also get pizza and other goodies if you’re not in the mood for sandwiches. But check the hours before visiting. Like many places in Italy, they close in the afternoon between lunch and dinner.

The beautiful service counter at Pastificio Morioni.

Pastificio Morioni

Tying into our love for eating, Steve and I also love to cook. I have great memories in the kitchen with grandma as a kid. Whether it was helping with dinner, or making grandpa’s favorite cinnamon roll-up butter cookies, I was always a participant. So in this tradition, we made the most of our lovely kitchen in Florence and went on the hunt for freshly made pasta one evening.

As it turns out, artisanal pasta makers are slowly becoming archaic in Florence. Fortunately, Steve steered us straight to Morioni one afternoon, and we were elated by the quality of the pasta. A simple, straight forward space, the pasta counter has no bells and whistles. It’s a small nook at the front of the store adjacent to a showcase full of vibrant, yolk-yellow pasta. You can also see the pristine clean kitchen in the back, filled with all of the necessary pasta making appliances. We opted for a few kinds, fettuccine and the extra large ravioli.

Grandma modeling one of the many bottles of wine we tried while in Florence.

After Steve’s addition of red gravy, we had an indulgent meal. We poured the thick sauce over both the fettuccine and the ricotta filled ravioli and fell in love. Morioni knows what he’s doing and I would highly recommend paying a visit for a bit of fresh pasta. He also sells red sauce and pesto if you want to simplify the process.

A DARK PART OF TRAVEL

Something that is by no means transparent in our travel, but that poor Steve has to watch me struggle with often, is my body’s inability to adjust to different food cultures. It’s something I have always struggled with, and at this point, I’m just prepared to deal with. For some reason, this kind of self-care is not easy to manage on the road.

Steve snapping photos in Giotto’s Bell Tower

The evening after our meal at La Madia I found myself in a whole new realm of miserable, spanning far beyond self-care. As it turns out, I had contracted some sort of 24-hour stomach bug. I stuck to the story of food poisoning initially, but poor Steve and grandma ended up sick a few nights later. I quickly became thankful for the cool and incredibly clean bathroom floor, because it was a nice, long evening of no sleep and constant sickness.

Fast forward to the morning, Steve and grandma are on a tag-team mission at the pharmacy trying to find a cure-all. And much to my horror, we all went on a twelve-hour wine tour of Tuscany after about two hours of sleep.

It was a hard day for me.

Rich grapes on the vine in Tuscany.

THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES

Grandma booked this wine tour six months before our visit, and she was so excited to taste Chianti wines. I giggle thinking about it now because it was easily the most Midwestern-tourist thing that we’ve done on the trip. But it ended up being really enjoyable once we were able to find the bus.

Steve and grandma’s enthusiasm for the wine tour. Don’t mind my face.

Listed as the meeting point on our ticket, we walked to the train station. It turns out, we misunderstood and the meeting point was actually almost a mile beyond the train station. So the 30 minutes we had afforded were definitely not enough time and we were instantly shuffle-running across Florence. To say that I was a pathetic excuse for a person that day would be an understatement, but that’s just part of the story.

A short information session during our Tuscan wine tour.

We made it to the bus, crawled into the back, and I kept up my personal depiction of misery for the next few hours. Needless to say, Steve and grandma ended up getting a little drunk because there was no way I was drinking wine.

We accidentally made friends with the friendliest bus driver ever.

CHIANTI CLASSICO

Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, Chianti wine region is a series of rolling green hills filled with an abundance of vineyards and intermittent castles. While Chianti is a wine commonly consumed around the world, Chianti Classico requires a certain set of production standards to ensure it’s elite classification. Distinguished by its black rooster seal, Chianti Classic must be made from 80% Sangiovese grapes grown within the boundaries of Chianti and aged a minimum of one year. I’m not a sommelier, so I’ll leave you to do a bit more research, but the flavors between the Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva were drastic.

The hustling, crass sommelier of Poggio Amorelli who is a professional at awkward eye contact.

WINE TIME

Unfortunately, I can’t dredge the name of the first winery that we visited from our archive of photos, but I can tell you it was everything that you would expect a Tuscan winery to be. We made a few stops in Medieval towns along the way, including Castellina in Chianti, and also made a stop at Poggio Amorelli. While the wine here was great, the sommelier was really what set this place apart. He was brashly charming and you immediately saw credit cards flying out of people’s pockets left and right. The man could sell wine.

Grapes in the masher being processed and destemmed.

When it came down to it, we actually preferred the first winery’s wine. Poggio, however, had house-made balsamic vinegar and olive oil that I would get behind any day.

Our final stop was a family-style dinner with other tour participants at a typical Tuscan restaurant. It was cute and enjoyable to engage with the folks we had been traveling with all day. Everyone was from a different country and ended up having plenty of stories to share.

Details of The Florence Cathedral.

TO THE RIVIERA

Once we said goodbye to Florence, we headed to the Italian Riviera to stay in the highly trafficked Cinque Terre. Composed of five small fishing villages, we had a lot of exploring to do. And as an added bonus, we made sure to book our train tickets in advance his time.

Stay tuned!

Brittany

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.