Learning how to get around via train is truly a hidden gem in Europe. Tourism in Europe is nothing like it because you see things outside of the bubble and since you're away from the crowds, it gives you a sense of wonderment not blending in with the locals.
Our plan was to take the Frecciarossa high speed train from Rome to Florence from Roma Termini. This way, it would take about an hour and a half instead of taking a regular Trenitalia train. Once we had established that, it was smooth sailing from there. I would definitely recommend taking this train for any trip that takes over an hour.
You know the feeling you get when you arrive at a place that you haven't been to in a while? Then all of a sudden, everything starts coming back to you like you never left? That was my experience with Florence.
Once we pulled into the station, it took a little bit of getting used to... but it looked like things never changed. The Duomo square, the Ponte Vecchio, and all of the amazing shopping and cafes have stayed intact all of this time. It's a breath of fresh air to see things remain the same despite economic turmoil. Florence is as beautiful as I remember, despite the polluted river.
The thing you must know about Florence is that it is a walking city. What I mean by that is... the best sights and sounds in Florence can be seen and heard by discovering them on foot. Now that websites and apps like Yelp exists, it's not too hard to find a great cafe nearby. After we did a little walking and sightseeing, we got hungry immediately. Keep in mind that it took an hour and 45 minutes to get there plus another 30 minutes to get to the heart of Florence.
That's about a little over two hours of not eating anything since breakfast. Even without a map on hand, you can discover a lot of great things on your own.
If I remember correctly, after we visited the Uffizi Gallery and took a bazillion pictures, we wandered into the Duomo center square into an outdoor patio cafe called Caffè Paszkowski. Loved their simple pasta dishes and seafood plates. Their pastries weren't bad as well. My advice to travelers regarding food in Italy is that you can't really go wrong ordering any Italian dishes. If you couldn't tell, I'm a huge ravioli and seafood fan... so what's better to order than lobster ravioli???
After lunch, what's the typical thing to do? Gelato, of course. The one place that was suggested to me by friends was this place called Grom.
The problem? Florence is comprised of many small streets that make it difficult to navigate around. Even looking at a map made it challenging to find. Regardless, we managed to find it. What can I say about it? Definitely get it if you're in the area.
Somewhere that I've never been before while touring in Florence was the Boboli Gardens. It's quite out of the way to visit, since you'll need to walk across the Ponte Vecchio and a little bit beyond to get to it. It's a huge park that consists of a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries, with some Roman antiquities. It's right behind the Pitti Palace, so when you see it... you know you're close.
All I can say is that this was the most exercise that I've done all day. Walking these gardens put serious callouses on my feet, but it was worth it.
You get some pretty great views and scenery out here, and the sculptures are beautiful. They have truly withstood the test of time.
As soon as it got dark, Priscilla and I immediately wanted to find a restaurant that served the famous Florentine steak. The problem was that after we were done walking and shopping, it was only about 6 PM. Restaurants in Florence don't reopen for dinner until 7. Fortunately, we happened to come across a place around the Santa Maria Novella area that was open called La Cantinetta Wine bar. Big shoutout to this place. We really weren't expecting much, but this place came through in the clutch. Look at the size of that steak! And not only that, but their chianti was so smooth. I have to give it up for their service as well. If tips were customary, I would have no problem giving them 20%.
The train ride back was a blur. We were so tired from all the walking that we just knocked out. The walk back from Roma Termini to our hotel was nice. The weather was perfect as usual. I wish everybody could experience a night in Rome during the fall. A nice long bath and a quick gelato was the best way to end the day.