Firenze known in English as Florence had a tremendous influence throughout Europe between 1300 to 1500 but its legacy transcends time.
Train to Firenze S.M.N.:
As our journey through Italia continues, we leave Rome behind and purchase a Eurail pass that would take us from Rome to Florence and then to Venice.
We arrive by train at the Firenze Santa María Novella station in Florence after a 3 hr ride on the regional train or you can be there in an hour and a half through the high speed train. Please note that on the electronic departure board, you will see the Firenze Santa María Novella station appear as Firenze S.M.N.
This train station is small and easy to navigate so there were not any hurdles to find the exit. Once outside, we were lucky enough to find our accommodation just a five minute walk from the train station. We stayed at the Palazzo Vecchio Hotel Florence for 3 nights and earned 6,000 miles on American Airlines by booking it through RocketMiles.
Within the city itself, you can walk to all the major tourist sites, most of them are found within a 30 minutes radius which also gives you the opportunity to soak in as much of the daily life in Firenze as you can.
As it was the winter season during our visit to Firenze, we only stayed here for 3 days but I would definitely recommend staying here at least a week to fully explore the city and its surroundings.
On our first night, we went out to find a place to eat and just walked toward the Ponte Vecchio to see the bridge reflecting different colors from a huge reflector lamps on each side of it ... and so we started:
Within the building itself, you will find an indoor market that it is just a huge indoor foodcourt hosting local cuisine. We played by the rule of heading to the food booth that had the longest line and/or looked popular amongst the attendees; so we decided on one that was serving some sort of burger-like meal.
We stood in line just to find out that first we needed to pay for our order at a specific cashier booth who upon payment would then give you a receipt that you would present at your chosen food booth to get served. So we complied and got our burgers just to later find out that we had been in line for not too long to be served a well-seasoned tripe on a bun. Hmmmm!
Our next stop by just following the crowd ended up being ...
We did come back the following morning to explore the baptistery, and make and way up to experience amazing panoramic views from the duomo and the Giotto tower; but reality sunk in when we arrived at the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (free entrance) the following day just to know that we needed to purchase our solo or combo ticket (15 euros) to all facilities at a different location (ticket office) behind the cathedral.
As we made our way around the cathedral we were just so surprised to see the long queues to get into Giotto's bell tower that we decided to start with the Duomo. The Duomo is slightly taller than the adjacent Giotto's Campanile with 463 steps but with a gradual ascend as you get to stop where the duomo begins to admire the cathedral below and the wall paintings that cover the duomo from within.
... this is the Campanile by Giotto. Here you can see the queue to get in during the day as well as another photo I took of this bell tower in the afternoon as soon as the fog sets in.
Sadly and after almost four hours of waiting, we finally made it to the entrance to the cathedral from a different side door from which once inside, you will scan your ticket to enter the staircase that will take you to the top of the duomo.
Once at the top and due to the early nightfall during the wintertime in Florence, these were my panoramic views of the city plus a photo of the korean and two korean-australians that we met on our way up to the duomo and back. For reference, it is not even 5pm.
So as we continued en route to the Ponte Vecchio, we came across ...
... and we finally made it to:
On our way back to our hotel, we stopped by ...
The Palazzo Vecchio is surrounded by several pieces of art and within at the Hall of the Five Hundred or Salone dei Cinquecento you will find a mural paintings by Giorgio Vasari as well as other very important masterpieces of the renaissance era.
To conclude, I would like to suggest you are aware of the Stendhal syndrome as you visit Firenze and its overwhelming cultural and artistic beauty seen throughout museums, churches, vendors and even food.
Nonetheless, do budget some time to go to Trattoria Le Massacce on Via del Proconsolo which opens for dinner at 7 p.m. but beware that it is a well-reviewed trattoria by both locals and visitors so you may have to wait for 30 min or so depending on the demand of that day to be seated. Once inside, it's a small but cozy atmosphere you experience as you enjoy their specialty which is the Bistecca alla Fiorentina or Florentine-style steak which is sold for 500 g minimum with increments of 100 g and it's cut from a larger slab of meat and cooked medium-rare.
My sister and I ordered one bistecca all fiorentina of 600 g for each one of us accompanied by a house bottle of chianti. It's was ... to die for!