As I mentioned in my previous post, we were staying at a campsite in the north of Italy. Using this location as a good base to explore the north of country, we set our sites on Florence.
Catching the train to Florence
The closest train station is Empoli. It takes about 20 minutes to drive down to it from the campsite. From there, it’s about a half hour train journey to the city. The reason we didn’t drive directly to the city was to avoid having to find and pay for parking. I’m not sure if it ended up being the cheaper or faster option, but it was definitely less stressful to park at the station.
Italy really is hot
While Barcelona offers the shade of Las Ramblas and Bordeaux has plenty of park, what struck me about Florence is its lack of trees. Searching for shade became a bit of a priority while exploring the city. Italy really is hot! Try hiding in the shade of a building at midday and all you’ll do is feel the lack of a breeze, and heat from all sides. Italy cannot be conquered without a water bottle, hat and tons of gelato (don’t worry about calories, you’ll sweat it off).
The Spanish are quite good at letting you know that Barcelona is in a certain direction and that Valencia is in another, and the French also seem quite clear on railway instructions. In Italy, it felt like we just had to hope that we were on the right platform catching the right train, in the right direction in the right class (I still don’t know if there were classes or different types of trains, but I’m glad that we didn’t meet a conductor).
Exploring the city
You know you’re really travelling when the first thing you do when you get to a romantic city, such as Florence, is try to find the loo (which costs €1 to use at the central train station). Next, we made a bee-line to get our hands on a €2 500ml Coca-Cola from an African shop down a back alley where there were butchers carrying chunks of bloody meat and men unloading a delivery of fresh greens. Things are happening. I love that: the unexpected charm of real life at it’s best. This bustling and unloading was a clue that the really big, central Mercado was nearby.
We feasted our eyes on fresh local produce, sipping our caffeinated, hot cokes and pecked at an olive focaccia. We wandered to the main square and the Duomo where we learned, after milling around with a sea of other people, that the tickets to go inside the Duomo are expensive and the queue is so long that it just doesn’t justify spending your whole day in a long line, feeling poor at 36 °C.
Instead, we opted for the Boboli Gardens and the air-conditioned museums included in the ticket instead (no queues!). Later on, we indulged in a late lunch of gnocchi with blue cheese sauce and bits of pear, and then also tortelli with a Bolognaise sauce. The service was as rude as the food was delicious. With our bellies full, we wondered around until dusk, gobbling down gelato.
When our legs were properly tired, we caught what we hoped was, the right train back to Empoli (almost getting out of the train at the wrong station a bunch of times).
We finally made it back to the right station and hopped in the car and zoomed up the hill to our campsite.