What Dreams Are Made Of - Florence 2017
As excited as we were to finally cross Italy off our bucket list, it did not come easy. Unluckily for us, the one day we decided to travel from Lucerne to Florence also happened to be International Women's Day. Yay! women and yay!! feminism, but boo to BS reasons for all the train conductors to strike in Italy.
Our train was meant to take us all the way from Lugano, Switzerland to Milan, Italy, at which point we would hop a connecting train to Florence and be there by dinner time. However, about 30 minutes into the ride, a Swiss German/Italian announcement boomed through the train and elicited exasperated sighs and anger from our fellow passengers. Speaking zero German or Italian, Shannon and I were very confused. Thanks to some friendly neighbors, we learned that the train would be stopping at one of the southern-most towns in Switzerland and we would all have to get off there. Great.
Once we got to Chiasso, Shannon and I entered the tiny podunk train station and stared at the completely-in-Italian revised train schedule, trying to figure out how the heck to get to Milan. The travel gods were clearly smiling upon us, because this cute old Swiss woman named Heidi (classic) came over and pointed at Milan on the map. She spoke no English, but we nodded and she beckoned us to follow her. She was basically our guide on our own Swiss-Italian version of The Odyssey. Several odd hallways and sketchy trains later, we somehow ended up in Milan and were able to catch our train out to Florence. Bless you, Heidi. ily <3
Where We Stayed
PLUS Florence Hostel
To be quite frank, this hostel was OK. It's an extra-large hostel, so you instantly lose that camaraderie you find in smaller, more intimate hostels. That's totally fine for some people, but it just isn't our favorite type of place to stay. On the plus side, it was very reasonably priced for Italy. The attached bar was pretty dim (not lit...get it?) and there were at least 3 high school groups there at the same time as us. All in all, not a bad experience, but definitely not our favorite hostel.
What to Eat
Anything at Mercato Centrale
Seriously, if you don't go here, you haven't gotten the true Florentine experience. This 2-story market is packed full of incredible cheeses, produce, sweets, and sandwiches. This is perfecto if you're traveling with a buddy or a few because everyone can find something different. The first floor is a food market and the second floor is more like a food court. Try the buratta sandwiches at the cheese shop in the right front corner! You won't be disappointed.
These are SO. COOL. Basically, Florence has a bunch of corporate bakeries that open in the wee hours of the morn to start crafting all of the pastries sold in Florentine cafes by day. After a long night at the bar or club of choice, the city is crawling with study abroad students and locals following the smells of freshly baked bombolonas and sfogliatelle through the narrow alleyways. A quick knock on an unmarked door and slip of a Euro or two provides you with the best drunk food you'll ever have in your life. Half the fun is finding these bakeries yourself, but I will give you the hint that there is one located quite near a popular karaoke bar called Red Garter.
Full disclosure, this is definitely more a hot spot with study-abroads than it is with the locals, but it's still worth the trip. One step into the packed-to-the-brim storefront will make you realize just how popular this pizzeria is. The pies are sizable, but I would still suggest getting one per person. Any pizza is a personal pizza if you just believe, right? Instead of eating in the restaurant, get your pizza to go and make a left out the door towards Basilica di Santo Spirito. The steps are perfect for basking in the sun and there are usually a bunch of dogs in the square, so you really can't go wrong.
OSTERIA SANTO SPIRITO
I put this one in all caps because it really is just that damn important. This place is a culinary gem and honestly I'm shocked it doesn't have 67 Michelin stars. This meal had me shook. Located in the square right past Gusta Pizza, their outdoor dining area provides a perfect view of the Basilica di Santo Spirito. The restaurant is tiny, so it might take a little bit to get a table, but it is so worth it. The gnocchi is straight up heaven on a plate and the tiramisu melts in your mouth. We are in agreement that this was, without a doubt, the best meal we had on the trip. Take a seat, order a bottle of wine, and enjoy your leisurely dinner just like the Italians do.
What to Do
This is not the place to go if you're looking for an authentic experience but damn, it's really fun. With three rooms, a loft and an extensive beer and food menu, you really can't go wrong. Plus, they have a huge elevated stage and live musician who accompanies everyone during their nightly karaoke. You'll end up hearing beautiful renditions of Italian pop songs and immediately after, hear some drunk American boys from Texas singing country. It's charming, in a weird way. Perfect for people watching and singing along, and if you're feeling risky, sign up to sing!
We trekked up to the Piazzale on our last night in Florence and it was honestly the perfect way to close out our time there. It's on the far side of the river and involves a pretty steep climb up narrow cobblestone streets and stairs, but it is so worth it. This spot at the top of the hill allows for a beautiful panoramic view of Firenze that you can't find anywhere else. Get there early and claim your space on the steps for the best view of the sunset. Pro tip: Avoid paying $20 for a bottle of wine from the vendors there by coming prepared with some wine and snacks!
If you go to one single bar in Florence, please let it be this one. It's tiny, dive-y, and dirty and it is incredible. The beer is cheap and the people are fun (read: they are not creepy pushy Italian men). It's also one of the few places you can go to escape the many study abroad students. The night we were there, the music was a mix of classic rock and 90s/early-2000s pop-punk. Honestly, I couldn't ask for anything more.
The original plan was to rent Vespas and motor our way out to Fiesole, but we ditched that plan after a new friend plainly stated, "if you value your life, you will not rent a Vespa." Instead, we were lucky enough to be invited to a barbeque at the European University Institute out in Fiesole. The view from here was unreal. It's deceptively easy to get to Fiesole on the public bus and costs less than 5 Euro. Head out here for sunset and walk through the little medieval looking town.
You guys already know that we're best friends, but what you don't know is that we're the type of friends that don't fight. We disagree often, but we never let that get in the way of our relationship. Except for on April 11, 2017. On this day, we got in our first and only fight on the entire trip. It pretty much just consisted of Brooke waking up grumpy from a nap and Shannon telling her to cheer tf up. Less than ten minutes after the minor scuffle (seriously idk if real people would even consider this a fight), we did the whole "you made me sad when you said this so please, next time, say this instead." Seriously it was pretty much a conversation out of a conflict management textbook.
After getting over it, we headed over the Lion's Fountain. This place is AS AMERICAN AS YOU CAN GET. Think of the most cliche college bar you've even been to, multiply it by ten, and you have the Lion's Fountain. Complete with Sharpied college t-shirts on the ceiling and different college branded shot specials, this place (unfortunately) feels like home. After pushing our way towards the disgusting bathroom and waiting 15 minutes for it, we decided it would be time to head home after our one, watered-down beer.
While standing outside judging people wearing crop tops in 40 degree weather, we saw this motley crew of 5 guys. They were up to some ridiculous antics and naturally, we started laughing at them. After they called us out, we decided they must be pretty cool. Flash forward 24 hours, and this group of assorted-European-doctoral-students had brought us to all the coolest places in the city and we both promptly fell in love. Whether that was with them or the city is yet to be determined. We partied till the sun came up at The Blob, got a drunken history lesson at 4 AM at the Duomo, and had paninis and wine in a random city square.
So basically, Shannon was right and Brooke was just being a wet blanket because that night turned into one of the best on the entire trip.
Check out a video of our time in Florence below: