I kind of hit off immediately with Sadiki, the guy who ran the hostel in Florence. He was a second generation Tanzanian migrant running successful hostel business in Italy. But, somehow I could spot the stress line on the otherwise jovial, fun-to-be-around guy. He opened immediately when I probed him about it.
The center of his situation was the terrible breakup that he was going through. Imagine falling in love with a Spanish girl in a French cafe only to end up heartbroken because never the twain shall meet (Rudyard Kipling). The two star crossed lovers came from completely different faith and cultures and eventually submitted to their fate.
He accepted his fate and yet I could see how difficult it was for him to get over it. I broke up with her, he explained, I even flew her back home to Dodoma but it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. If he had known all along that their love was doomed to begin with, then why did he even consider it in the first place?
The hostel I stayed in was bang in the center of the city, and a quick ten minutes walk from the railway station. Proximity to railway station matters if you are planning to make day trips, and in Florence you have plenty of getaways to choose from.
There can’t be a better city for backpackers than Florence, everything a traveler needs – affordable accommodation, attractions, decent restaurants and a bazaar all there right in the center. The cozy feeling that Florence emanated felt somewhat contrary of the aloofness that Rome had.
I so hated myself as I was following a fixed itinerary, I had allocated three days to Florence which I could spend in any which way. The first thing I did was I ran to Uffizi gallery, I had the Rick Steves audio app for Uffizi installed which gave me a ‘free’ room by room guided tour.
I strolled around the city, appreciated the Duomo and the replica of David (Michelangelo’s masterpiece) installed on the central square, Piazza della Signoria. Why replica? Because the museum, academia, where the original is stored costs a whopping €8.00. That’s a fair bit of price to see only one art piece.
I was so tempted to climb up the bell tower but I suppressed the urge and found an alternate way to get the view of the city without burning a hole in my pocket. All thanks to wikivoyager I came to know I could walk upto Piazzale Michelangelo situated on a hill on the other side of the river. I crossed the river over the beautiful Ponte Vecchio, which is an attraction in itself. The bridge is lined up with jewelry shops and several high end Italian fashion brands. My walking path went through beautiful gardens.
The views of the city were stunning, so much better than what I had expected. Fun part, there was a filming of a Chinese TV soap (maybe a movie?) going on the plaza and lot of young Chinese tourists around were going all bonkers. Luckily, I got a chance to get a snap clicked with the dashing hero!
From the square I walked further up to an old church, Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte. Built in a Romanesque style the church also had a beautiful cemetery.
By the evening I was so tired of walking around, but there was still one final bit of walking I needed to do, yes I needed to have the Italy’s famous Gelato. I found one place with glowing recommendation on TA, it was located on some obscure corner on the other side of the river. As I found out even more obscure were its timings and I missed it on all three days of my stay in Florence. Damn!
I spent the next two days taking day trips, I had hard time zooming in as I was spoiled for choices. In the end I decided to go with Lucca, I can’t honestly recall why maybe it’s just the way the name sounded? Lucca turned out to be rather dud but I’d still remember the train journey I took to somewhere. That train went up the beautiful mountains with a river flowing on one side. The sunset I saw was unforgettable. It was already getting dark by the time I reached Bagni di Lucca.
I walked up to the church on the hill and sat on a stone nearby with my dinner that I had fixed for myself. Not to mention I went to the local supermarket (surprise?) and bought some stuffed croissants. It was already quite dark by the time I reached the bridge which looked magnificent in the moonlight. I was smitten by the houses by the side of the river. I wondered what it would be like to live in one of these. Ah, dreams!
I was so googly eyed that I lost sense of time. I inquired about the bus but the tickets were sold out. And I was just in time for the last train but found out that only coins were accepted at the vending machine. I ran back to the supermarket and bought even more croissants and got the coins I needed. I sat on the platform crossing my fingers that the train would come. I hadn’t seen any accommodation in this small town and up there in mountains it was getting chilly, spending the night in open station was out of question as well.
I felt a huge relief when I saw a few more passengers arrive at the station, eventually the train came and I was on my way to Florence.
Now, back to the important matter of Gelato. I left Florence without having been tasted Gelato yet! Would I or wouldn’t I be able to savor the taste of the famous Italian ice cream? Stay tuned and subscribe to my mailing list to get the updates.
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It makes sense to book the tickets to museums online if you are going in the season (summer) but again it costs €4 extra.