So, here we are in Florence. Our second hitch-hike has proved that travelling using your thumb in Italy is not at all impossible as everyone had warned us before we set off. Siena is no more than 80 km from Florence so the journey took us only one lift and an hour of our time, during which we tried to maintain a conversation with the driver using a mixture of Spanish, Italian phrases and words we’ve learnt so far and our trusty fake Italian accent. It all worked pretty well.
When in Florence, we got dropped off on a popular viewing platform, located on one of the hills overlooking the city, called Piazzale Michelangelo. And it didn’t take us long to realise how beautiful the city was; in my case it was love at first sight.
Florence, like Siena, reached its cultural peak in the Renaissance and most of its sights are perfectly preserved to this day. Stunning Palazzo Vecchio, serving as the town hall, with its massive clock tower looming over a square full of beautiful sculptures and tourists crowded around awe-struck, is just one example of how skilled the architects of the Age of Enlightment were.
But in Florence you don’t have to look far to find buildings that would make your jaw drop. A few squares away, there is the Cattedrale de S. Maria del Fiore, which is the forth biggest cathedral in Europe and seen from the outside gives you goosebumps, even on a hot day.
Put simply, Florence (or Firenze, as the locals call it) is extraordinary and has already managed to reach one of the top positions in my personal ranking of the most beautiful places on this planet.
It’s a city of art and leather. Art, not only because it houses Italy’s most prestigious galleries where you can find works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael and many more, but also because you can’t get away from it. Art is present on every square where street artists and vendors try to sell their paintings and caricatures. Leather, because I’ve never been to a city whose every second shop or market stall sells clothes, shoes and accessories made of it. Leather, like art, is everywhere.
We spent most of our days in Florence walking from one sight to another, taking an infinite amount of pictures and queuing up for monuments. The only way to avoid spending between 1 and 2 hours of your day in queues is to pre-book your tickets, which is not really an option for people like us, who travel on a budget and count every cent. Italy is expensive, much more than I had expected and that’s not only because of the astronomically high entrance fees and price of food and drink, but also due to all the hidden costs you don’t really know exist before the bill is brought to you. In Florence you might pay a different price if you eat or drink while standing up or sitting down (the sitting option is more expensive, obviously); if you’re outside or inside; if the service charge is included or not. There are so many things you can be tricked into that now before we decide to sit down anywhere, we ask the waiter for the real cost. But even that cannot guarantee that you will pay a fair price. Today before sitting down we asked the waiter how much the coffee was if we sat outside. He said, in his very good English, that it was two Euros (!) or one, if we decide to move inside. Having learnt that, that is the normal price of an esspresso in Florence we decided to sit down and you can imagine how shocked we were when he demanded 6 Euros for our two tiny coffees and showed us the price in the menu. It obviously mattered very little what he’d previously said. Taking a waiter’s word at face value is a risky business in Italy so you should always consult the menu!
Repelled by the prices in bars and cafes, we decided to move our drinking to the campsite where we’re staying. Yesterday we had quite a heavy session with a group of 18-19 year old Irish and South African people. They were nice but drinking with people who are our students’ age made us feel quite old.
Tomorrow we are going to Bologna with a 100 km hitch-hike ahead of us. We are optimistic!
written by: Ania
Follow our 2 month hitch-hiking trip across the north of Italy and the Balkan Peninsula: ‘The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013’. It’s happening now!
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