Looking down over the twinkling city lights and the purple-velvet hills, I sat puzzled. I had seen people do this before, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Clare tried it, too, but had as much luck as me.
So, I did the only thing I could think of: I called my mother.
After explaining what I was trying to do, she laughed for a few minutes before getting down to business. After all, it’s not every day that a mother gets to teach her daughters how to open a bottle of wine.
The whole not-being-able-to-see-each-other thing made it a bit difficult, but I got the gist. At this point, Clare was bored with the wine bottle and had given up (especially because she wasn’t going to be drinking any of the wine), but I persevered. I really wanted that wine. Five minutes later, I had the cork out of the bottle and was pouring the dark red liquid into a plastic cup. Classy, I know.
The one-Euro wine really wasn’t worth the hassle, but I now get to say I had a glass of wine at the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking Florence. It’s OK for you to be jealous.
Every time we go to a new city, I declare it my favorite and vow to never leave. Well, this time I’m absolutely certain that Florence is my new home. It’s incredibly charming, full of amazing history and has both delicious food and a warm and welcoming feel where it doesn’t seem like everything has to move at an incredibly fast pace.
It took us a bit to get here to Florence on the train (we had to get dressed in the hostel hallway so we didn’t wake our roommates up as we got ready), and, by the time we got settled in at the hostel, it was already after 12 p.m.
We made our plan for the day and, more importantly, we used the Travel Bible (aka TripAdvisor) to find a good place for lunch. The site recommended this sandwich place
called All’antico Vinaio that people made sound just about as heavenly as the second coming. After taking my first bite of my salami and pecorino sandwich on focaccia bread that was literally about as big as my hand, I’m pretty sure I saw angels.
Because people in Florence seem to be quite content with just plopping down on the sidewalk to eat their food, Clare and I joined them. Who needs tables anyway? Clare and I were both so engrossed in our sandwiches neither of us felt like talking. Why waste precious time talking when you could be stuffing your mouth full of amazing yumminess?
After devouring our sandwiches (and seriously contemplating going back and ordering another two… or three…), we decided to find Il Duomo. Now, because it’s the biggest tourist spot in the city of Florence, you’d figure that wouldn’t be all that hard to find. But,
of course, we got turned around and lost.
We then went hunting for wi-fi and learned we had somehow walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction. At least it wasn’t like trying to find Notre Dame in Paris when it was raining.
The walk seemed pretty short, and before we knew it, we were gawking at Brunelleschi’s creation. Now, I’ve studied this dome in-depth (art and architecture books, documentaries, etc.), but seeing it up close made my heart skip a beat. After knowing everything that went into making the dome, it somehow seemed impossible that it actually exists. But after reverently touching the side of the church, I was assured that it was, in fact, tangible, and Clare and I decided to explore. The lines were incredibly long, so we decided to start off by exploring the actual church.
While it lacked the magnificence and excess of a church like Notre Dame or La Sagrada Familia, it was stunning in its simplicity. The off-white walls were adorned with frescoes in more muted tones, and the stained glass windows — although smaller than in other
churches — still shone brightly. The tiled floor’s brown shades matched the earthy feel of the décor, and the marble statues added yet another stunning visual element.
The ceiling fresco was breathtaking and, even though it didn’t quite match the simplicity of the church, it worked. I would have stared at the celling for hours if I didn’t start to feel the blood rush to my head and give me a slight headache as I tipped my head backward to look at it.
Then, we walked down to the base of the church, which was actually built on the site of a medieval church. So, as you might imagine, seeing the original church’s foundations was pretty amazing. It was crazy to think that a place already full of so much history could have even more history hidden below.
We decided it was time to go up, up, up, so we ventured outside to stand in lines to head on up. Since the line to climb the Campanile was shorter than the line to climb the Dome, we decided to do the Campanile first.
Clare and I started off our 414-step climb chirping like birds, talking animatedly as we made our way up the narrow staircase, flattening ourselves against the walls like pancakes as people made their way down. Less then halfway through, Clare and I were silent, the only sounds those of our slightly labored breathing. Okay, my labored breathing. Unlike my freak of a sister, I don’t think running eight-10 miles every day is “fun.” Weirdo.
But, when we (finally) got to the top, it was abso-freaking-lutely worth it. Looking down on all the red roofs was just magical. Plus,
from the top of the Campanile, you get a breath-stopping view of the Duomo. Brunelleschi was a master.
We made our way back down, laughing as we heard people chattering the closer we got to the bottom. Suckers. Just you wait. I was a bit nervous to put my knee through that kind of trial just as soon as it has seemingly gotten better, but I’m pleased to report there was no more pain that two or three twinges. (Knock on wood for me!)
We checked out the Baptistery next, including Lorenzo Ghiberti’s very famous Doors of Paradise, which were a thousand times more spectacular in person than in my AP Art History book. The outside of the Baptistery was
under restoration, but the inside was absolutely stunning. The gold ceiling painting of Jesus and other scenes from the Bible was truly a sight to behold.
As we walked out, we looked at the line to climb the Dome, only to decide it was much too long. Our tickets are good for 24 hours, so we’re planning on trying to come back and climb it some time tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes!
Of course, because we’re in Italy, our next stop was some delicious gelato at this place called Grom. I wanted to get a scoop of every single flavor, but I decided upon their famous Grom flavor (I forgot the official name but it was something with the word “Grom” in it) and this dark chocolate, and Clare did something similar.
A couple of friends who studied abroad in Florence recommended a pizza place, Gusta, to me, so Clare and I decided to try it. Ryan, Katie and Hillary, you guys are seriously angels sent from God. Gusta’s Pizza Calabrese — spicy salami, tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil — was the best pizza I’ve ever had. I can’t even put it into words. Clare, the bread aficionado, loved the crust, so I they obviously did something right.
The best part (well, at least one of the best parts) was that the guy we ordered from was joking around with us, so, after we ordered, he put a heart around our order’s number. When we opened up our box, our pizza was in the shape of a heart. We’ll be coming back here again night for sure. I’m currently trying to figure out a plan to bring some back to the States with me, grease stains on my clothes in my suitcase be darned.
Next, we walked around to find a bottle of wine and a wine opener so we could head up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where we came across EVEN MORE STAIRS! But the hike up the hill provided spectacular views of the sun setting over Florence, and it was a special experience.
There was quite a crowd of people up there, including a cycle class made up of about 100 people that had a drummer and American music remixes to keep tempo. Clare and I danced to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Team” among other songs.
We then opened up the bottle of wine, I had a glass (I tossed the rest because it really wasn’t all that good), and walked back down the stairs to our hostel with the really nice, helpful people at the front desk.
After all those stairs today, the bed feels nice. As in, really nice!
More photos from the day: