Category Archives: Florence

Hotel review: A Casa di Alino

Our hotel in Florence, A Casa di Alino, was technically more of an apartment – there was a living room, bathroom and separate bedroom in the back. More importantly, it was in a great location and offered a wonderful view of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, a.k.a. the Duomo. While the bedroom was in the back of the apartment, and quite dark and scary if you ask me, the living room had a window that literally opened up onto the cathedral and baptistry.

Our host, Giuliana, was super friendly and helped us with many questions – including tracking down the Accidental Tourist folks to make sure we could get in on their cooking class. And, when we woke up in time, the staff would bring breakfast into our room, which included juice, coffee, tea, yogurt, pastries and quiches.

Considering the size of the room, the friendliness of the staff, the reasonable rate and the unbeatable central location, I’d certainly recommend A Casa di Alino for your stay in Florence!

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Not-so-accidental tourists make pasta

Our last day in Florence, we finally made it to our Accidental Tourist cooking class our in the Tuscan countryside. My tummy was not going too well, but I was armed with Pepto Bismol and a bunch of tablets of Buscopan (looking for bread??) the pharmacist had given me. And let me tell you, communicating with an Italian-only-speaking pharmacist about my stomach issues was not easy!

We were driven out to the Tuscan countryside by an Accidental Tourist guide, and arrived at an older couple’s place up in the hills. It was so beautiful and peaceful! And the couple had a cat, too. We went into a stone room on the ground floor where it was actually cool to cook pasta from scratch.

Entrance to the kitchen downstairs where "the magic happens"

I was a bit nervous at first because as we all know, I’m not exactly a genius in the kitchen (although my mom does call me her little genius). But I became more confident when our teacher said my dough was the perfect consistency. It was smooth sailing from there! Apparently, I’m quite the natural at pasta-making!

You're looking at a pasta pro!

We made ravioli, fetuccini and angel hair pasta. Unfortunately, when it came time to eat the food upstairs I couldn’t stuff my face like I wanted to. But I did cautiously eat a little bit – just a tiny bit.

Uh, oh...

Overall, I’d say the experience was worth the 70 Euros!

Viva Espana!

Even though I felt crappy, I was a trooper and went with Daniela to the restaurant downstairs from our hotel to watch the final World Cup match.

We put on our Spain jerseys and of course ended up sitting in a sea of Holland fans! We were a little scared for our lives, but they were gracious when Holland lost to Spain. Of course for that outcome, we had to wait through double-overtime (yes, 115 minutes). That’s 115 minutes of me sitting there with my poor tummy.

Anywho, we were super excited that Spain won the World Cup! And pissed that we missed being in Madrid for it by ONE DAY. Oh well, at least we had a crowd of Spaniards celebrating right outside our hotel. Viva Espana!

Florence, day 2: sightseeing with an upset stomach

Our second day in Florence, it was time to get serious. We were planning to do this Accidental Tourist cooking class that day, but since we waited until the last minute to call, they were all booked up. So we signed up for the Monday class instead, and Sunday became our officially-designated sightseeing day.

Da Vinci statue in the Uffizi courtyard

The only problem was that my tummy – sorry, I mean my crap factory – was starting to hurt a bit. Regardless, we set out to conquer the Uffizi Museum. I was worried that it would be a big ordeal, since we hadn’t made reservations ahead of time to get in, and were warned that there might be a long wait in line ahead of us.

Although there was quite a hefty line outside, we found out we could easily still get a reservation for that same day – even an hour from that moment. I have no clue why people chose to wait in that no-reservations line just to save a couple Euros!

We bought our tickets and walk around to kill some time. At this point my tummy was starting to feel a little worse, and the heat wasn’t helping.

The museum was interesting, but I was definitely in no condition to be wandering around looking at art. However, Italian art has started to grow on me – I really love Leonardo Da Vinci’s art. And pretty much everything he did. I can see why he’s so popular – he also seems to have a very distinctive and beautiful way of drawing people and eyes. I also got to know Raphael’s work a little better – these Italians sure seem to have a characteristic softness in the way they painted.

It was also interesting to read about some of the different phases and trends in the art (thank you, Rick Steves and the random pages my mom tore out from her old guide-book) so I could actually appreciate why certain pieces were important. It makes me want to learn more about art, but at least I have a basic, working knowledge for now.

It was also interesting to see Titian’s provocative “Venus of Urbino.”

Santa Croce

Even though I was really starting to feel unwell at this point, we still went to the Santa Croce church while we were in the area. It was crazy to stand in front of the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Unfortunately, I missed the crypt, which was allegedly pretty cool. But at this point I was dying quietly out in the courtyard.

Santa Croce courtyard, where I sat silently in pain

There were still lots of other sights I wanted to see in Florence, but my tummy was having no mercy on me, so I went back to the room to relax before the World Cup final that night.

Florence: stairs, stairs and more stairs

Our first day in Florence, which was supposed to be jam-packed with sightseeing, was a mild failure. By the time we got our shit together, we really only had time to visit one spot. So we headed next door to the cathedral.

The church itself is very beautiful of course, but the main attraction is really the dome (it’s nicknamed the Duomo, after all), so we decided to climb up there. Apparently, when the cathedral was being built, they didn’t yet have the technology or architectural know-how to build a dome this large, so they just left a hole for the time being, confident that someone would invent a way to build a dome that big. And sure enough, someone did!

This was by far our craziest climb so far. The stairs were never-ending (463 total). And as we got higher, the stairs got steeper, narrower and darker. I almost had a panic attack (again). The climb up was exhausting, the climb down was terrifying – it was an altogether traumatic experience!

But I must admit, the views from the top were worth it.

View of Florence from the Duomo
More views of Florence from the Duomo

Our next mission was to find an ATM because I had no cash and was getting tired of asking Daniela for money. We finally found one, but of course it was in the sun, so the metal keys were all scalding hot and you could barely read the screen. Oh, and the instructions were all in Italian. Somehow, I managed to navigate the screens well enough to withdraw some money.

After all that dicking around, pretty much all the other attractions were closed. So we just did our traditional first-day-walk-around-town.

First, we stopped by the Piazza S.S. Annunziata, a plaza behind the Gallerie Academia that Rick Steves recommended. Then we strolled around San Marco church.

Ponte Veccho

Next, we headed back towards the river to see the Ponte Veccho. It was very nice, but unbearably hot. But we did see a photo shoot for some brides and grooms. At first we thought it was an actual wedding shoot, but then there were several couples and it just seemed like a fashion shoot or something. But then again, the people weren’t all that attractive, so I deduced that it must be one of those magazine features where they spotight real-life couples who are about to get married. But that’s all besides the point.

After crossing the bridge, packed with gold shops and tourists, we walked back towards the Uffizi Museum, which has a courtyard full of statues of famous guys. You know, guys like Donatello, Galileo, DaVinci…

Just past the Uffizi, is the Piazza della Signoria which has some cool, well-known sculptures (including a copy of Michelangelo’s David, “The Rape of the Sabine Women,” and “Perseus with the Head of Medusa“) and a huge fountain.

Sculpture in the fountain at Piazza della Signoria

Florence: even hotter than Madrid

We woke up bright and early at 3:3o a.m. to catch our flight from Madrid to Florence. Needless to say, Madrid’s nightlife was still in full swing, complete with drunken tourists stumbling through the streets. Aw, I wish that was us.

Luckily, this time we were flying Alitalia, so there was no airport drama. Although it kind of sucked to have to fly through Rome to get to Florence, knowing we were just going to come back to Rome again in a couple days.

We arrived in Florence, and it was even hotter than Madrid – if that’s even possible! Let’s just say it was a very sweaty walk from the train station to our hotel.

The plus side is that our hotel was literally right next to the Duomo Cathedral. When you walked out the door, you were literally standing in front of the baptistry.

View of the cathedral from our hotel entrance

As sweaty and nasty as I felt, I was even more hungry, so we took our scrubby selves to the closest restaurant in the plaza. At least my first meal in Florence was really good – risotto with zucchini.