Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
Just last weekend, Hmsies decided to do a first and go holiday in a country we have never been to. Surprisingly, this country was Italy! Whilst Jasper has visited Spain often and Olesya has holidayed in Greece, neither of us visited that big old boot shaped country jutting out into the Mediterranean, so we decided to change that and have a little spring break in the northern city of Florence.
Jasper got off to a bit of a colourful start – as he travelled to Florence by train from Munich, he had to changeover in Bologna, where an army of gypsies and unofficial “luggage porters” were in wait, one of whom who tried to charge Jasper €20 for telling him where the correct platform for the Florence train was! In the end though, that didn’t seem to matter as the connecting train happened to be almost half an hour late and turned up on the wrong platform anyway. Moreover, despite all the signs and tannoy announcements telling people not to cross the train tracks, there were more people crossing them than there were people using the proper underpass. Having come from a very orderly Munich where you have the sort of people who obey the red man at traffic lights without question, it seemed like the Italians like to play by their own rules!
So, as soon as we arrived, our first stop was to find a good pizza place. Yes, we know, it’s all a bit typical but at the end of the day, you can’t really travel to Italy and not try out their authentic pizzas! What we didn’t know however, was that not every restaurant will serve them so we jumped into the first restaurant we saw, which actually turned out to be a “trattoria”, and after looking at the menu and not finding the pizza option, we sheepishly ordered some wine and water (those classy Brits), paid and scarpered. Just around the corner, we stumbled across a restaurant which would turn out to make some of the best pizzas we have ever had. The “O’cor e Napule”, a pizzeria on Via II Prato, made some fantastic pizzas with a really vast choice, from “red pizzas” to “white pizzas” to “stuffed pizzas” -, all for a good price and all very delizioso! Definitely worth checking out this place if you’re ever there!
The next day, and the only day it didn’t rain, we decided to do a spot of sightseeing in this city. The first spot in Florence for any tourist to visit is of course Il Duomo, the main cathedral of the city with its massive dome that can be seen for miles on end and is recognised as a site of UNESCO world heritage. It took two decades to complete and its dome remains the largest brick dome to ever be constructed! It is also possible to climb the 426 steps to the top of the dome, so if you fancy burning off some pizzas, or if you’re generally a bit fitter than we are, then this would definitely be worth a go!
Another spot we hit was the Basilica di Santa Croce, a church that is also the burial place of some of the most important Italians in history and – when you realise it is the burial place of people like Galileo, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Machiavelli and many others – it is no surprise why it has earned the nickname “Temple of the Italian Glories”.
Nearby was the Piazza della Signoria which is also the site of the Palazzo Vecchio (the old town hall) and the Loggia dei Lanzi, which is a little building with arches housing lots of sculptures depicting some pretty brutal stuff like men holding severed heads and angry looking lions! Although, all of this would already be familiar to you if you have ever played the video game Assassin’s Creed, which depicts the city of Florence to near perfection!
Of course, we had to top all this amazing sightseeing off with dashings of tasty Italian food and wine! In fact, after the pizza and lasagne meal, we went on to have a nice, Italian meat selection for umm..dessert?
Comparable to prices we know (Munich/Paris for e.g.), Florence was pretty cheap and incredibly good value. However, like any city it is worth remembering that this good value does not stretch so much to nightlife. We decided that a load of carbs gave us quite a bit of energy and what better way to burn it off than by dancing in an Italian discotheque? So, we found a nightclub really near us, called Space club (http://www.spaceclubfirenze.com/) which was rated as one of the best nightclubs in Florence. Now, we are not those cool 20-somethings that go out every night, in fact we probably go to a club once or twice a year but this time, we decided to use this opportunity and boy, was it worth it!
Inside, there were 2 dancing rooms, one being more ghetto/street rap sorta thing (Hmsies looked pretty out of place there) and another one that played the latest chart toppers mixed in with some Italian trashy pop! A fantastic mix to get you grooving and shaking about. At one point, a “maybe famous” duo came on stage and really got the crowd going with some old school 90s rock hits!
I guess, the things that surprised us the most was that it was an incredibly UNpretentious place – something very rare these days to find unless you’re of course a Berlin local. Also, there were many young people there with their parents sat in the lounge area – has anyone ever seen this before? Of course after some time, the kids scarpered off to their beds and we were left with a good mix of Italian and International students and danced the night away. Going out abroad is usually such a hard thing to get right, you can never know what to expect but from our experience, nightlife in Italy is chilled, happy and very flowing and we can definitely recommend this club in Florence!
And, in our surprisingly non-hungover state the next day, we hit the town again and we were surprised to see the city still in full swing – coming from Paris and Munich where things get much quieter on Sundays, it was great to see the city still live and kicking. Even the rainy weather didn’t dampen the beautiful city so much ..
Most of the shops and restaurants were open so we were able to peruse a bit in the stores and Jasper got his hands on a copy of “The Prince” by Machiavelli. One thing to watch out for there though is that because some of the shops are installed in old palatial buildings, some shops did have a bit of a sewer problem, so make your you have some nose pegs with you!
Afterwards, we had to of course get some more Gelatos !
and we finished the day with some poker games on our amazing terrace back at home. We stayed in a wonderful airbnb apartment, and it really felt like it was our home for those few days. Not sure we could ever go back to staying in hotels on holiday!
So, there we have it! Although the weather wasn’t the best Italy has seen, we still managed to have an amazing time in this really charming city. We found the Italian people to be friendly and helpful, the food to be absolutely delicious and the city to be a very charming and yet, lively place. If we didn’t have our day jobs to go back to, we probably would have taken the chance to stay there longer in a heartbeat – it really is a great city and absolutely worth visiting come rain or shine.
Jasper could also practice his Italian impression some more…
Have any of you been to Italy? What were your first impressions? We’d love to hear from you!