Oh yes, here she goes again, you say. Describing her perfect adventure in the land of tralala. Sipping Pinot on some Florentine rooftop, her son peaceful and subdued beside her, watching the sun set. I wouldn’t say that because it would be a bunch of lies. First, because I don’t drink Pinot, second is you can never get me to climb more than 5 steps to anywhere, third and most importantly, my son is never subdued, like ever. So, the Florence I am going to describe here is not one for the Fodor’s Travel Guide either. I will certainly do the city an injustice because I never got to know the real Florence. I made the mistake of thinking we could breeze by and understand the city and enjoy its many charms. But instead we got tourist-trapped and just exerted so much effort just to bucket list something. Like I said, a mistake.
The plan was to take the early train from Pisa to Florence, drop by Il Duomo, and then have lunch in some exotic Florentine specialty restaurant. I wanted to go to an artisan arts store and buy some souvenir watercolors or oil paints to commemorate my visit to the City of Arts. Instead, we missed the early train, was jostled and stepped on in front of the Il Duomo, ate at an Eataly franchise, and went to a Disney store instead, missing the closing time of the arts shop I wanted to visit. We got to check off the big stuff --- which is to see the Cathedral, but all the rest was a blur and a bother. There were just so many freakin’ tourists one could barely breathe. I was too tired to even be disappointed, I just wanted to be out of the city. Pisa is less lively than Florence, but I found myself craving its relative quiet.
Don’t get me wrong. Florence is beautiful. The details of the structures, the graceful architecture, the vibrancy and history apparent in all corners of the city ---- it was amazing. But if you just do all the tourist traps, you could miss out on the better experience of really understanding what Florence stands for. I thought I would feel right at home because I imagine myself an artist. Instead, I felt like I was suffocating. Maybe it was the wrong month to visit, maybe we should have stayed longer, maybe we should have just gone to Siena. One thing I know is that I will never plan a vacation as hectic as that. Asians we like cramming everything in one go, don’t we? But I swear that next time, I will plan to luxuriate in the feel of a place, to really get a chance to feel the soil under my feet, under my nails, under my skin, and into my heart.
So let me leave you with a list of what may help you appreciate Florence better, than we did with our son.
Stay a while. Don’t go for the sake of bucketlisting the place, but to really understand the place. And if you are going to stay, opt to find accommodations in the outside of Florence. The city is just too full of tourists. Florence is the centerpiece of Tuscany, if you ask me. But it still is just a piece of a large pie that is the Tuscan Region. You may find it more rewarding to range a little wider, to truly appreciate the culture.
Come early or come late. If you really want to see a famous landmark, best to come as early as humanly possible, or to schedule it a bit later when the crowds have finally thinned. The hours between 11 am and 3pm are brutal.
Get lost. We were so pressed for time that we did not have the luxury of getting lost in the streets. It would have been nice to have been able to walk leisurely and discover more alleys and little shops.
Shopping for expensive items is pointless. Believe me, we went to a Prada store to search for a bag, but the discount wasn’t really that big a deal. The prices are jacked up because of the touristy area, and I was sure we could find better deals elsewhere. But because we were pressed for time, we didn’t have the luxury to explore other options.
And finally, do not ignore the small eateries and gelato places. Sure, the big-name gelateria has some glamour, but now I can’t help but wonder all the gelato I missed because we were in such a rush.
So there. Never let it be said that I only always rave about the places we have been to. I just like being an optimist. But now and then, let it be known, we have had our fair share of travel fails as well. What’s important though is we learn from it, and become better travelers in the long run.
Smell ya later,