I have to be perfectly honest, before I met my hubby, I had never even given Italy a thought as a holiday destination. He had always wanted to go to Florence, mainly due to watching Fiorentina on Gazzetta, the Italian football programme! (we all need to get our inspiration from somewhere :0) ). I was working as a travel agent and one of our perks was a yearly concession which gave us a huge discount off a holiday. I decided to use it on a week long city break to Florence. This was our first ever 'proper' holiday and having never been before and realising it was so expensive we just opted for the cheapest option of a 2T hotel, Hotel Centro. There was also no option of a Newcastle flight so we went down to London Gatwick. This all added to the excitement as I had never been to London either.
We arrived and caught the train to Santa Maria Novella station, incidentally, the train network in Italy is superb and when we went (1999) it was incredible value for money, we made a number of daytrips from Florence and were very impressed.
The hotel was only a few minutes walk from the station but in our wisdom, we decided to walk instead of taxi and it took us about an hour of trawling up and down the most beautiful little streets! Finally, we got to our hotel, it was housed, as many of Florence's hotels are, in a Renaissance palazzo and on first sight I loved it. The room we were given was tiny with separate bathroom but as they were quiet they upgraded us to a room with use of a private bathroom. The staff were lovely, the hotel was very pretty but for future reference, I would advise at least a 3 star in Italy, purely for facilities as this one was very basic. It was however in a wonderful location on a quiet (not accounting for the bloody scooters) street just a few minutes walk from the Duomo.
Florence, for us, was honestly love at first sight. Absolutely breathtaking, even now, all these years later, I can still picture and smell it as if I were there, I can still hear the hustle and bustle in my mind. We were very much holiday novices on this trip and it was our first proper experience of Italian food and hospitality.
The holiday was perfect, we were there the first week of August and it was hot! Very hot, but not unbearable. We knew absolutely nothing about the place, there was no google about to tell us every last detail before we arrived and I have to admit that I liked it that way. The element of surprise was wonderful. I remember wandering about with just a basic map, having no idea what we were doing or where we were going and ending up face to face with The Duomo. Words cannot describe this building, even with scaffolding up (whilst we were there a lot of Italian churches were being renovated for the Millennium celebrations), it actually took my breath away it was so beautiful. It is no secret the history that Florence boasts and to be able to walk amongst it and experience it was such a privilege. We marvelled at the Uffizi Gallery, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and gazed out over the River Arno. Of course, we had to pay a visit to Fiorentina's Stadio Artemi Franchi. When we got there, it was all locked up, they didn't offer any stadium tours but a kind groundsman took pity on these poor English people staring through the gates like Fagin's kids and actually let us in to have a look.
As I mentioned earlier, we took various daytrips whilst we were there. We took the train to Bologna and Rome. Bologna was beautiful, home of the bolognese sauce of course. What a beautiful city and quite compact so it was easy to navigate ourselves. Rome was huge, we didn't have a clue where or what to do and spent most of the day chasing our tails. The city is so busy and bustling and we barely scratched the surface. They do have a very good Metro system and using this we made it to the Coliseum and the Vatican City. Vatican City is immense, we got totally lost trying to find our way around and it was boiling! Rome definitely warrants it's own visit which we hope to do one day. Little tip, keep away from Gladiators at the Coliseum, they will let you take a photo with your own camera and then charge you a tenner for the privilege ;0)
Another trip we did, this time an organised excursion, was a coach trip to Siena and San Gimignano, two beautiful and ancient Tuscan towns. This trip was worth it for the journey alone through Tuscan countryside, if I ever win the lottery this is where you will find me.
What I loved most about Florence, and the other Italian cities we have visited, is just EVERYTHING! I love the Italian La Dolce Vita, the food, the atmosphere, the promenading at night time, the people watching, the architecture, the culture, the people. I just love Italy. Infact, it was the inspiration behind our son's name, Luca, Luca Toni played for Fiorentina and we loved his name. One day we will take Luca (and Eva of course) to Lucca,