3.2 Florence

We arrived in Florence after a long and uncomfortable train journey, most of which was spent hunkered down on our rucksacks in the hot and stuffy cargo hold of an old and alarmingly shaky train. This was completely down to our own refusal to pay ten euros for the fast, comfortable train, and if anything, it only succeeded in making us feel more intrepid. We arrived late at night and after blatantly freeloading off of the Firenzian bus network (we honestly didn’t know how to pay!) got to our hostel. It is a disused monastery turned party hostel, which means that the austere decor and prison-cell-like dorms are oddly interrupted by the sound of techno music playing at all hours of the night. Luckily, we were so tired we slept like the dead all night and barely managed to shufle out of bed in time for check out.

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Florence, is, of course, beautiful. Even the side streets and corner shops and dirty little alleyways are carefully designed and built, and the really special buildings, like the Duomo, are just amazing. I love walking around and around it, sidestepping the puddles of camera weilding tourists and bored looking tour groups, just looking at the cool mosaic tiling which must have taken a ridiculous amount of time to finish. We haphazardly joined a queue to go into the Duomo church itself and before we knew it we had paid eight euros to be sheperded up a tightly wound spiral staircase, in to the dome. The winding passages of the Duomo made me feel like Robin Hood running around in some remote castle, although honestly, if I ever achieved my dream of becoming Robin Hood, I would never get anything done because those stairs really took it out of me! It’s a labyrinth in there, a really cool ancient labyrinth steeped in history and I am ashamed to report that legions and legions of tourists have taken it upon themselves to graffiti all over it. I don’t even want to live on this planet anymore. There are many things that we at prettyvacant will overlook or even actively encourage, but, my friends, defacing a beautiful piece of Italian architecture is beyond the pail.

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Especially when you reach the top and can see the whole cathedral from above, as well as appreciate the amazing frescoes on the dome from just beyond touching distance. The cupola, up an even steeper flight of stairs, offers amazing views of Florence, and even here, the stone base of the cupola itself is crafted perfectly. The attention to detail amazes me, especially because if  I was the one there with my chisel,  I would probably reason that anyone reaching the Cupola would be a) so out of breath and, b) so distracted by the view, that nobody would notice my neat little carvings. I would most probably have knocked off early and had a spot of lunch or something, but luckily the actual artist did not, and the very top of the Cupola is just as carefully made as every other part of the Cathedral.


*EDIT: Photos uploaded!* (I apologise for the lack of photos, more problems with upload annoyingly. I know listening to me going on and on without a break can be a drag so instead please accept my apologies and the only photos I can access; Me looking slightly absurd in a silly jacket, and Wang and I doing what we have been doing all the way around Italy thus far (;  I’ve added photos to the Milan post and will do the same here ASAP)

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We have been using the couchsurfing community to contact Italian ‘couch-hosts’, and through this, we encountered Luigi, who is a native Firenzian but, luckily, speaks perfect English.* We got talking first because we wanted to stay on his couch, and then, when we discovered he was ‘fully-booked’, he tempted us with talk of the best sandwich shops in Florence, and we met one afternoon in the Piazza. It was great to meet Luigi and be able to chat to a native, and he wasn’t wrong about the sandwich shops either! We have met a lot of travellers in Florence who have all been lovely, one guy, who works at a hostel in Rome, even hacked into his own server to secure us a half price room when we get there, and we have the email addresses of several people we’d like to meet up with along the way if our paths cross. Luigi and his current couch surfer, a lovely Canadian girl, met us for dinner and once again we benefited from his knowledge of the food (and the wine), as well as the fact that he is apparently best friends with the restaurant owners (free wine, anyone?). It was a good evening, although we mainly talked about South America (somewhere that each of us had visited), and barely touched on Italy at all!

The Salsa dancing clubs were judged to be ‘no good tonight’ by Luigi and his friends, so we had mini salsa lessons in the Piazza before heading to, of all places, an Irish pub. It was a good night and Luigi had a free couch the following night, so it turned out awesome. It has made Emily and I more confident about couch-surfing our way around the country! (note to self, when happily informing your mother that you are staying with a man called Luigi, make sure to inform her that you found him on the couch surfing app, and not on the street…)

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We still have a lot more of Florence to see, including several hundred Gelateries, and the real David, up close and ever so personal, so I am definitely excited for all of that! We are going to the gym with Luigi, (perhaps inspired by the almost entirely adonis-like David) but eating lots of ice cream to compensate. Emily and I have even started our own urban gym wherein we do sit ups in the park near our hostel, (by which I mean, Emily does sit ups, and I watch the undergrowth suspiciously, in case of vipers).

I hope it’s sunny where you are! MTG, PV x

*The great thing about the couchsurfing app is that each host can be given references by the people who stay with them, and they can be verified and vouched for by other members. This means that, while you still have to be very careful (and we are scrupulously so), you can be less nervous about meeting up with ‘someone from the Internet’, and more reassured that they are who they say they are. Luigi almost constantly has someone on his couch, and he seems to love it. His job allows him a lot of free time, so he always manages to show his guests around the city, and go to dinner with interesting people from all over the world.