After Venice, I was headed to Florence, which I was pretty excited about, since I had a lot of friends who recommended I go. However, there was a problem when I got to the bus stop. The bus showed up and the driver tried to scan my ticket and told me it didn’t work.
I was so confused and asked him to check if my name was on the list. It wasn’t. He tried the ticket again. No dice. Finally, I went on my app and scrutinized my ticket and realized my mistake: I’d bought the ticket after midnight and had specified “tomorrow” in my search. Meaning I’d actually bought a ticket for the next day instead of the day I had planned to leave. I felt so stupid. I immediately cancelled my ticket through Flixbus and went over to the train station.
There were no more buses through Flixbus to Florence for that day, so I decided to take a train. They had a machine that sold train tickets so I found one going to Florence in a little less than an hour. It was much more expensive than the bus ticket I’d bought, but I didn’t really have a choice. I already had my hostel booked and didn’t want to miss the day I planned to spend in Florence.
I went to McDonald’s and got some breakfast and got on my train. It was an easy ride to Florence, and once I was there, I realized I didn’t know how to get to my hostel. I walked around the train station and eventually found some wifi and realized I could take the tram. I got a ticket and rode the tram for a while before realizing I was going the wrong way. I got off, switched trams, and got back on the one going back to the train station. There, I had to switch again to the correct tram.
Eventually, I found my hostel – Hostel Gallo d’Oro – and went up to reception. There was another guy there checking in, but they said our rooms weren’t ready and we could just leave our stuff in the locker room. They had wifi and snacks set out in the kitchen/dining area, so I sat down to figure out what I’d and to rest. The food in the hostel was really good and they had free sandwiches, fruit, and a machine that made coffee and hot chocolate.
Two other girls at my hostel happened to be leaving around the time I decided to head out, so we went together. They’d been to Florence before and had some sights in mind they wanted to see. We walked around and saw some churches and crossed one of the bridges over the Arno River. They knew a good gelato place and we walked around one of the shopping districts for a while.
Eventually, I went off on my own to explore and found an Apple Store! I sorely needed to charge my phone, as it always ran out of battery before the day was over (constantly searching for wifi, looking up things on my Kindle guide books, taking pictures and video, checking my email, and using the maps I downloaded to get around took up a lot of my phone battery) so I charged my phone while I was there. I also decided to get an external battery so I could always have a backup plan in case my phone or other electronics ran down while I was out and about.
After that, I went to the Uffizi Gallery, armed with my Rick Steves audio guide of the museum. It’s such a huge place, I had fun getting lost in there just wandering around. The views from the gallery are also fantastic, and it was cool seeing the Duomo from the windows and the rooftop.
I left the gallery hungry and wanting a real Tuscan meal, so I found a place called Trattoria Ponte Vecchio and luckily they had a table open. The service and food were fantastic! They even had free wifi (Florence had lots of free wifi, compared to Venice, which almost never did) so I was able to call my mom and show her my meal. I had bruschetta, sparkling Prosecco, and lasagna. I wanted to try everything on the menu, but the staff kindly helped me choose something that wasn’t too much for one person. It was so nice having a nice meal in a restaurant alone. Until then, I’d mostly eaten as cheaply or as conveniently as possible, but I knew Florence would be the place to splurge on good food.
I walked the streets of Florence in the moonlight and gazed around at all the lights and the buildings that were illuminated. The bridges and the Duomo were all lit up and looked amazing. The streets buzzed with easy conversation and energy but it was distinctly calm and peaceful. I headed back to the hostel and went to bed, ready for rest and excited for the rest of my stay.
The next morning, I had breakfast in the hostel and found that everyone there was really social and friendly. I sat with different people almost every day during breakfast and at night everyone hung out in the common area and chatted. Lots of people were excited to ask me questions about living in Korea and being married, and I met people from all over. There was even a Korean guy staying there, and his roommate was Japanese! One morning over breakfast, I sat with them and translated because neither of them could communicate. It was a real brain exercise!
I loved the area my hostel was in. In the mornings, it was so lovely just walking around seeing the old buildings. I popped into a library to quench my bibliophile thirst, and they had a display in there of old books and documents. They also had a card catalogue and just for fun I searched for my name. Miraculously, I found a book about the life of Santa Monica! I was stunned and it really brightened my day.
I walked around a few courtyards with statues and greenery, and meandered around the city some more. I found a bookstore and spent some time in there before heading to the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze – where the famous statue of David by Michelangelo is kept. Again, I listened to Rick Steves’ audio guide in there and it really enhanced my experience.
Then, I stopped for gelato at Perche no! and it suddenly started pouring rain! The stone streets were glossed over but soon the rain stopped and the clouds parted revealing a blue sky. I walked around the now damp city and found my way to the Church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo and many other famous Italians (including Galileo, and Machiavelli) are buried.
For dinner, I met up with the two Korean girls I first met in Venice when eating pizza. We had steak and drinks together and they recommended that I go to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a park where there are good views of the city and a good place to watch the sunset. I decided to walk there, and it was quite the trek!
I found a spot to watch the sunset and got a short timelapse video out of it. The sky turned from pink and yellow to dark blue, and all of Florence was illuminated. I took the bus back to my hostel and hung out in the common room once again with the other guests. Some of them even asked me to show them the kpop dances I’d learned in the dance class I took before my trip!
The next day was a busy one – I was headed for Pisa! I took the train as early as I could manage and got to the Leaning Tower of Pisa by mid-morning. I asked some Korean girls to help me take some cool-looking photos, and they were great at getting me to pose and angle myself correctly for some good shots! All around, everyone was taking funny pictures with the tower. It was surreal to be there looking at something I’d always seen in textbooks or on TV.
I quickly made my way back to the train station, though, because I had a day full of Cinque Terre planned. My train arrived in Riomaggiore at around 1pm and went into the tiny town for some lunch. I filled myself up on a cheeseburger, not picky and just hungry and ready to explore the 5 towns.
Riomaggiore was beautiful but crowded with tourists. I went down to the boat docks and got some great pictures. However, I didn’t stay long – I got on the train again and headed to Manarola.
In Manarola, I went to the cliffsides to take pictures and enjoy the view. There was a rocky area near the water where sunbathers and swimmers set up camp and enjoyed the summer activities. I decided to go swimming as well, so I found a place to put my towel and bag and went down to the rocks to find a place to jump in. The rocks were sharp and slippery but there were a few places that had ladders to make it easier to get in and out. I got in and swam around for a while and it was really nice. The water was just what I needed on that hot day, and people all around me were swimming and having fun.
After my swim, I dried off and took the train to Vernazza. I decided to skip Corniglia because I knew I wanted to spend more time in Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare. I assumed Vernazza would be my favorite from all the research and pictures I saw, but I was kind of underwhelmed by it. Again, the crowds made it hard to walk around, and the tower on the hill was under construction or something, so it was fenced off. Still, I decided to get some gelato and relax before moving on.
Finally, I went to Monterosso al Mare, which ended up being one of my favorite places of the day! I was surprised how much I liked it. It was bigger, and therefore the crowds were spread out more. There was more beachfront and better views of the coast overall. I was there a few hours before sunset and it was really pretty. I went to a restaurant for dinner, overlooking the beach, and it was a nice way to end the day.
The next morning was my last full day in Florence, and I decided to spend it seeing the Duomo and its related museums and sites. The cathedral is free to enter but there are always long lines, so I went in the morning when it wasn’t as crowded. I probably waited over an hour or so, but it was worth it to see the inside. I also really enjoyed the museum, as they had a lot of information about how the Duomo was designed and constructed, as well as a lot of really beautiful artwork and artifacts.
For a late lunch, I decided to treat myself to a burger at Hard Rock. I found a few more bookstores and wandered about in them before going back to the hostel. I was really tired and wanted to relax my feet. However, two people from my hostel I’d met said they were going out again to see the Palazzo Vecchio, which is the town hall and a sort of museum.
We walked around the Palazzo Vecchio and were so glad we did because every room was ornate and gorgeous. It was calm at night and we saw the moon whenever we looked out the windows or stepped out onto a balcony. Then we decided to go find a good place to see the Duomo at night. We ended up at a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the cathedral and it was nice chatting and laughing together.
My overall stay in Tuscany was fantastic – Florence really blew me away with its historical buildings, calm and friendly people, and everywhere I went, I felt relaxed and happy.
My next stop was Rome!