My friend Kevin, who has the best job in the world working for Rick Steves, was stopping by in Florence for a few days during the Rick Steve’s Best of Europe Tour. As a tour guide assistant he rarely had any free time, but saw that there was some breathing room while they stopped in Florence. It only seemed to be natural to use this as an excuse to visit a a large city and catch up with a friend.
I experienced many “firsts” in Italy. The first of which, was discovering airbnb.com. I was trying to find a hostel near where Kevin would be staying, but since I was arranging this semi last minute, it was hard to find anything decently affordable. In a cry for help on facebook, one of my friends suggested I to find something on Airbnb. I had never heard of it, but once I checked it out, I was wondering how I had never known about it in the first place. Essentially it works like couchsurfing, except you get your own room, if not, the whole flat to yourself, for hostel prices, if not better. The places listed range from extra rooms to fancy city lofts. Many of the places are unique, such as huts in Switzerland, or treehouses in Washington. These are usually the more official Bed and Breakfast or resort type places. In general though, the hosts on airbnb are regular joe schmoes who just have some extra places for people to stay and enjoy meeting people from around the world. I stumbled upon to places in Florence that looked incredible, one was right in the center near the Duomo with a rooftop patio and the host profile sounded pretty neat. Her reviews were positive, and the place offered a large room for just 21 euros a night. However, her response rate wasn’t very high, and she didn’t respond to my request. I’m glad it didn’t work out though because another host, Lilith, turned out to be much more than I paid for (25 euros a night). I could rave about Lilith’s hospitality but you can just check out her place for yourself if you’re looking for a place in Florence and read my review. I definitely made a new friend out of the experience, and can’t wait to see her again soon. Overall, I think airbnb is a great alternative to finding places to stay around the world. I was so excited about it, I started looking into where to go at the end of summer ebfore I have to be back for the harvest. So far I’ve found some AMAZING deals on whole flats or houses in Greece…
I also FINALLY got a SIM card for my phone so I could contact people. The last few days before I went to Florence were a bit chaotic and never got around to it, so I was prayed nothing happened on train until I got to Florence where I could purchase one. Well…I prayers were somewhat answered Nothing happened to me personally on the train…but I knew something was terribly wrong when I was looking out the window and saw the station sign for Rome go by. I didn’t realize I had to transfer trains about 3 hours ago and ended up in Rome. This was not as distressing as it sounds, although I was really unhappy because I had to purchase another ticket from Rome to Florence that was about 50 euros (my original ticket from Cupra was only 13 euros, and that was literally cross country. It was also HOT. I was sweaty running around trying to find a payphoen to call Lilith to let her know I would be late (she was meeting me at the station in Florence). Anyway long story short, when I finally got to Florence I couldn’t get a hold of Lilith because none of the payphones were working and all the phone stores were closed for their regular break after lunch. I ran around Florence and waited for a store to open so I could purchase a SIM card and call her.
Eventually, I was able to meet Lilith and we made our way back to her flat, which was perfect. It was how I would imagine what my place would look like if I ever moved to Italy and her dog Tomoleo, was the SWEETEST dog on earth. I instantly fell in love with the flat and never wanted to leave! Lilith took off for an appointment and I got showered and texted Kevin. They were out on a walking tour and told me where to meet them. But I was honestly so exhuasted from the heat and everything that went wrong that day, we decided to just meet for dinner.
When I arrived in the center and hopped off the bus, I suddenly realized the genius in me left my map at home and I did not write down the address of the restaurant we were meeting at. Lucky, I vaguagly remembered where I saw it on a map before I left home and I knew the restaurant name was part of the street it was on. So after a bit of wandering, I found Ristorante Giglio Rosso. After an awkward encounter with the tour group (Kevin was waiting for me at the other entrance apparently), I eventually found Kevin and we sat down for dinner. Met some really friendly people, including a couple from just outside of Seattle! It was such an incredible relief to engage in some friendly, easy conversation. I really missed having a proper english conversation. Skype doesn’t cut it since every few minutes you get an awkward delay in the conversation and talk over each other. There was much wine, food, and merriment. It was such an amazing breath of fresh air. I didn’t realize how much I missed it since I have been so submerged in the countryside.
After much catching up on our lives, I proceeded to make some new friends. Dimitri, the official tour guide, has quite the life story. With greek roots, living in Belgium, 5 or 6 kids I can’t quite remember, this multi-lingual (6 languages to be exact) guy was amazing. However, if it takes knowing in six languages to be a Rick Steve’s tour guide, I’m screwed. Chinese and Vietnamese aren’t really dominate languages in Europe, and my Italian and French are barely there.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did with the tour group. The last tour group I was on with my parents in the Grand Canyon, was so awful, it turned me off to the whole experience. Each of the people I met had a really unique story about themselves and it was so fun to get to know them over the next couple of days. After dinner, we wandered next door to an Irish pub, how happy was I to have some decent beer and access to whiskey! We made a new friend, Tim, from Australia. He was a blast. We got some gelato and beers and sat on the steps of the Duomo and talked the night away. These are the moments that I love about traveling. Meeting new people and creating new memories.
The next day Kevin and I had intended on some small sightseeing, but the weather really killed our plans. We wandered around the morning markets for breakfast and were on a mission to buy a small cake for one of the tour members who had a birthday to celebrate. But it was so hot, that we ended up settling for some ridiculously expensive coffee outside the Duomo and sat in the shade and talked of many things.
It was actually really great to sit and relax and just take in what was surrounding us (besides the hordes of tourists). I was ridiculously amazed at the prices though. There was an American breakfast menu, and cornflakes were 6 euros. You could by 3 boxes of cornflakes for that much money!
I also had my first experience of the infamous Grom gelato. It was really tasty for sure, but nothing mind blowing. It reminded me of the Ben and Jerry’s of gelato. Unique flavors, great, although not life altering. Everyone keeps telling me it’s the best gelato in Italy. If that’s the case, I still think D’ambrosio is the best gelato I’ve ever had. Finding a bakery with cakes in Florence was a lot more difficult than we thought it would be. We grew weary and by earlier afternoon, we retreated back to the air conditioned hotel for a nap before meeting up with the group again to check out the Uffizi Museum.
Visiting the Uffizi was nice, and about the only touristy thing I did the whole trip. Although I would probably rather go without a tour guide. We had a guide at the museum who was really knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but there were times where I thought he spent much too long at certain paintings. We were in one room for about 20 minutes talking about melancholy. I was getting a bit bored. The parts that I did have an interest in looking at, the guide completely skipped over. Craig, one of the tour members and I had about enough of the monotonous paintings, so we separated ourselves from the group and lingered over the fascinating artifacts in another part of the museum. I could spend hours in the hallway alone, the architecture and paintings there were amazing. The building was originally constructed in 15060 for Florentine magistrates. Uffizi translates to Officials, I think. Anyway, the amazing history and growth of the city was wonderful to learn about, although did wear me down after a while.
From the museum we could see Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. The original bridge was built in 1218, and was rebuilt after a flood in 1345. It currently houses mostly jewelry shops. After the museum, the gang gathered for a potluck appertivo. This was great fun, since many stories and laughs were exchanged. We then retreated to the Irish pub next door for their last night.
I arrived back home at Lilith’s late that night, but we proceeded to talk the night away over some wine. Love that girl.
The next day I was up early for a meeting with the US Embassy (long story of complete absurdity…don’t ever work for the government). And wandered around had lunch in the center.
When I returned home, Lilith and I continued to share our life experiences before we finally headed out. She basically forced me to do some sightseeing. Haha. But she took me to a lovely part of Florence. A small town just outside of main Florence…which I have forgotten the name of already…sorry. Lilith commented how there were no tourists at the time which was really odd, but really nice for us. I felt like we had really gotten away from the tourists. The view was amazing and we even explored a small church and museum nearby the viewpoint. Of course no afternoon would be complete without some gelato!
That evening we laughed and talked over pesto pasta, wine, and youtube videos. Lilith took me to her favorite gelataria, and I would say it was comparable to D’ambrosio. Simple and quality flavors. I had mine in the cone for the first time…I generally prefer it in a cup, but the hand dipped cone just looked too yummy to pass up. Unfortunately, the cone itself was not as tasty, so it was a bit of a let down.
My last morning in Florence, I managed to make it out to the nearby street market, but mostly spent the morning exchanging music and travel photos with Lilith. We talked so much, I ended catching a later train just because I wanted to spend more time with her. The whole experience of meeting Lilith is the exact definition of why and how I like to travel. I love meeting local people you can connect me and share your life experiences with each other. I really lucked out with Lilith as a host, but so glad I gained a new friend from the whole trip. I managed to come back to Cupra without an problems this time. So phew!