Last autumn, Marta and I packed our bags, left the motorcycles at home and flew from our home in London to Italy!
This is the story of our adventure, told with pictures, of the amazing time we had. For Marta it was her first time in Italy. For me it was my second time, however I was really excited by the idea of not being alone in such a romantic country.
We hope you enjoy the tales of our adventure and hopefully it will bring some inspiration for a journey to Italy of your own!
We arrived in the city of Florence and took the modern tramway to reach the city centre. Even though we were visiting in October, it was still very busy with tourists, it seems that Florence never slows down!
After a short walk to find our Airbnb apartment, and to drop-off our belongings, we headed out into the city, towards the neon-lit streets and busy piazzas.
When we first arrive in a new place, we like to freely wander around without the use of maps or technology for guidance. This way, everything you see comes as a surprise and adds to the experience.
After a couple of hours with our mouths open, in awe of the beautiful city, we were overcome with hunger and so decided to take a chance on a small restaurant on a busy junction. Straight from the get-go we felt as if we’d found an authentic place to eat, as many locals passing by the restaurant were pausing their busy lives to sit down and enjoy some lunch with a glass of wine. We always share our food so that we can both experience more. So we ordered a traditional tripe dish, a flame-grilled pork steak and some butter beans, it was a flavoursome meal and left us very excited about what other food we would get to try on our trip.
The first meal was really delicious and gave us the energy to keep on walking as we edged closer to the river. Florence seems to be the home of interesting side streets. We are easily distracted so often when we are on a main street and notice we are around other tourists, a sidestreet captures our attention and quickly we are sucked in.
When we first laid eyes on the Ponte Vecchio bridge. It was strange finally seeing it in person, after seeing so many photos of this iconic bridge. Personally, I don’t find it to be a beautiful bridge by any means, but it certainly has a unique layout and purpose.
Crossing over Ponte Vecchio, we arrived on the busier Northern side of town. Here the vibe was quite different, there were more tourists but we enjoyed the fact that areas around some of the most jaw-dropping structures were pedestrianised so that we could roam freely without the fear of being collected by a car or scooter.
It’s impossible to visit Florence and not to see the Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore. The iconic view of the cathedral and the terracota-tiled dome, often referred to as ‘Duomo’ are signature landmarks of this flamboyant city. The product of such skilled craftsmanship results in an enormously elegant building that has so much detail, you will be noticing new features and taking new photographs every time you pass.
Eventually, we shifted out focus onto one of our favourite reasons to travel – markets! All kinds of markets and they are not hard to find around the city. This photo below is a very typical scene in Florence, market vendors are always greeting you with smile as you pass, hoping they can convince you to stop and take a look at what they are selling.
After we waded through the aisles of leather market stalls, we arrived at the entrance to a massive market building. It was in fact, the oldest and biggest market in Florence, Mercato Centrale. We went inside to explore and quickly felt at home with the buzzing atmosphere and the insight it showed us into typical daily life in Florence, a stark contrast to the supermarket shopping we are so accustomed to back home in London.
Check out our video guide below for more information of what’s to expect and to see a closer look inside this amazing place.
Not wanting to pay the high prices to eat the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak) in a restaurant, we bought our own 1kg slab of meat from a butcher’s in the market and took it back to our apartment where Marta cooked it to perfection. 1kg cost us €22 and it fed the both of us! We washed it down with a lovely bottle of red Chianti wine also from the market for just €10!
The taste? Truly out of this world. The steak and the wine, what a perfect marriage.
We did some late night walking around the city and discovered a different ambience to the city. It is harder to locate the nightlife in Florence, as it is in a lot of other European cities, because it does not feature a ‘strip’ where most of the late-night places are located.
On a relaxed stroll around different parts of Florence, we stumbled on a big vintage flea market sprawled out all around the Sant’Ambrogio Market building, located in Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti on a Sunday afternoon. It really is worth visiting if you get the chance, if rare, old trinkets are something you’re interested in, you could spend a couple of hours here easily!
After sampling the vintage delights of the market we felt it was time for a coffee and a quick chance to rest the legs. When in Florence, we enjoyed seeking out the more authentic coffee shops, where tourists were nowhere to be seen and the coffee is a great price with delicious flavour! There is no need to pay €4 for an espresso! If you get a chance, try some Ethiopian filter coffee, the Italian people are quite fond of it, for good reason!
While our first apartment was located near the Boboli Gardens, on the calmer side of the river, we decided to explore what was around and ended up taking a walk up to Piazza Michaelangelo where you can see some of the best views over Florence.
Florence encourages your creative, artsy side to come out. There are plenty of interesting photo opportunities scattered around the city, just waiting for you to have fun with.
We chose to fully embrace the local cuisine, even to some of the more unusual delicacies like lampredotto. This handsome shack called Pollini offered some seriously tasty sandwiches and treats, the owner was a friendly character too. The best way to describe the taste of lampredotto? Its quite similar to ham, finely sliced, delicately layered and then smothered with a gorgeous green pesto that had a slight hint of spice, bundled into a fresh baguette. If you get a chance to try it, try not to be put off by what it is, the Italians wouldn’t love it if it wasn’t delicious!
Another kind of food that is very popular in Florence are their own kind of Panini, you could say its a sandwich with a difference. We tried a few places and tasted delicious varieties of fillings. A particular favourite was All’ Antico Vinaio. Due to growing popularity and great reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, it has acquired somewhat a legendary status. There are actually a few of their braches located on the same narrow street. It can get very busy with the line running down the street! Luckily service is fast and the line speedily moves closer towards the counter. We passed it several times and on the one time there was no queue to be seen, we dived straight in and got served right away!
Porchetta best enjoyed with a cold Birra Moretti. There is not really anywhere to eat your sandwiches so join everyone else out on the street and relax, it is quite a sight seeing gaggles of people crowded in a narrow street, scoffing down incredibly filled sandwiches.
After a few days of solidly exploring the city, we decided to take a break from the hustle and bustle and to escape the city for the delightful countryside of Tuscany. We hired a scooter for the day from a company called Florence Station Rental. Not only were they in a convenient location, they offered the best daily rates on all kinds of vehicles from Vespa’s to Limousines!
We had such a great time exploring Tuscany, there are so many pretty villages to wander around and endless views of the beautiful hills and pristine vineyards that would look at home on a postcard. It’s a lovely day trip you can make to get out of the city and experience a slower pace.
We visited the villages of Greve in Chianti and Radda in Chianti to name a few. Our favourite of them all however, was San Gimignano – a 13th-century medieval walled town just oozing charm and sophistication.
We also found, through our random exploring, that you can walk right down beside the River Arno and get lost among leafy marshlands which actually makes for a peaceful place to relax while the sun is out. From here you have a unique perspective of the city and a central view of Ponte Vecchio.
We also found a man sleeping down here by the river. We decided to talk to him and gave him a cold beer. He was very grateful, and actually a really interesing person to talk to. He is a seasonal fruit picker but has no place to call home. His name is Alpha, if you are in this discreet part of Florence you may come across him, do be sure to say hello, he is a really friendly guy.
After returning from our daytrip into the Tuscan countryside, we were met with the news that our original flight home had been cancelled due to airline staff going on strike. This meant we had catch a later flight, and had somehow been gifted a few more days in this wonderful place!
With just a couple of days left in Florence, we decided to start wandering in directions away from the touristic parts and main sights. What we found was an interesting side to Florence, most visitors don’t see. Perhaps our favourite discovery from the lesser known neighbourhoods of Florence, was a progressive little Pizza restaurant with a twist. We enjoyed hanging out there so much, I wrote an article about it that you can read here if you wish.
We hope you enjoyed the story of our journey to Italy, it sure was a memorable way to enjoy the autumn season.
During Summer 2020, we will return to this amazing country to make new discoveries and to create more super memories. Ciao!