Pisa, Italy

Florence & Pisa, Italy

I woke up this morning at 7 AM with a purpose. The doors for the Florence Cathedral’s Duomo climb open early and we wanted to be first in line for the 420 step hike to the top! I got dressed via flashlight so I wouldn’t disturb my roommates, and grabbed a quick bite to eat before meeting some of the other girls for our trek to the Duomo. We waited in line for about 30 minutes and watched at least 4 or 5 brides walk by with their groom and photographer in tow to take early morning wedding pictures – hat a great idea to avoid the crowds!

The climb up to the top of the Duomo was like going back in time. The pathway up was narrow and old and you could feel how the stones had worn over hundreds of years to other adventurers. Mid-way up, you walk around the inside top of the Duomo and see the incredible paintings that line the dome. The scale of this Heaven, Earth, and Hell depiction is just mind-blowing. You can see, in the picture below, the 10 foot high fence lining the walking path in relation to how giant the whole place is.

After more stairs an a steep ladder climb, we finally made it to the most breathtaking view in Florence:

On top of the Duomo, Florence Cathedral, Italy

Since we got up so early, there were not that many people, so thankfully, it wasn’t crowded. If you can climb the stairs, and they are challenging, this is a must do in Florence!

After the Duomo, we met back up with the tour group and our Florence guide to learn about the Florence Cathedral itself, walk past the Uffizi Gallery, and continue over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence. It had a truly beautiful view of the river. We continued our walk to a local leather factory for a demo! The leather workers showed us how to tell real leather from fake leather and how they make hard boxes completely made out of leather. It was super interesting and I highly recommend watching a demonstration before buying any leather goods from the markets.

By the time we were done with the leather demo, we were starving. We picked up a bag of cherries to snack on on the way back to the hotel where our bus to Pisa was waiting.

A 1.5 hour drive later, we finally arrived at the market around the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa for a gnocchi lunch before our next tour. We walked through the gateway to the giant green Piazza where the Leaning Tower of Pisa and cathedral are.

We toured through the cathedral in front of the Leaning Tower first. The catherdal has several huge stone pulpits with intricate engravings that each took 10+ years to carve. The wealth of the church back then is truly astonishing and hard to grasp until you have toured your share of Italy’s cathedrals.

We walked into the Baptistry, the 100% marble Duomo looking building in front of the Cathedral. Every hour, a priest enters the Baptistry to sing for the sole purpose of demonstrating the amazing echo effect that the architecture of the Baptistry creates. It was unlike anything I have ever heard before. A must-do in Pisa!

After our tour, we walked to the Tower, and saw just how far down it has sunk. Apparently, architects have found away to fix the leaning issue, so the Tower will not be sinking or leaning any further.  We took a bunch of pictures (typical tourists) and then soaked up the sun in the lawn. It was amazing to relax in a place with such a view!

We packed up about 45 minutes of free time, headed back to Florence, and took a quick shower before walking to our wine tasting dinner. Our dinner was in the cellar of a wine shop. The cellar was quite large and went under the main road. It used to be a jail with lots of tunnels but, overtime, the some of the tunnels collapsed and this particular one now only takes wine as its captives. It was a very cool vibe for our very Italian, mustached wine instructor to teach us how to pair wines, meats, and cheeses in. We had very generous amounts of wine, a white and two reds, and ate a ton of parmesan cheese, and bread with balsamic vinegar.  Needless to say, it was a tasty and tipsy night!

Florence & Pisa Tips:

  • Climb the Florence Cathedral’s Duomo in the early morning for a quick climb and views without lots of other people.
  • Go to a leather factory and learn all about the leather process. They are mostly free and teach you great tips for spotting fake and real leather throughout the markets.
  • Try the fruit at the local markets. It is so delicious and a great, healthy snack.
  • Listen to the singing in Baptistry in Pisa. The echo in the marble building is not to be missed.
  • Wear sun screen and / or a hat. There is not much shade in Pisa.
  • Visit a local winery in Florence and learn how to pair wines and how experience them.

Florence, Italy

Sometimes when you are on a trip with random people you’ve never met before and you have to share rooms with them, you learn quickly if they have different tendencies than you. One of the girls in our group liked to get up at the crack of dawn, and so, it was another 6:30 AM wake up to embark on our journey to Florence!

We got a later start on the road and hit some traffic, so our journey took 2.5 hours instead of 1.5, but it gave me plenty of time to catch up on sleep and my travel journal. We drove through the spine of the Alps, but it was hard to see through the fog. Finally, we arrived at our hostel in Florence! We stuffed all of our bags into a room, ran to the front door to start our exploration, and was confronted with torrential rain!

We bought some umbrellas at a shop next to our hotel and took off through an alley way to a tiny little deli the size of a closet for a delicious goat cheese, sun-dried tomato, and salami sandwich. It is amazing how every alley in Florence is packed with little gems of stores and restaurants.  After lunch, we walked past the gigantic Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers to the Palazzo Medici.

The Palazzo Medici is a huge palace filled with amazing architecture, views, and art. The ceilings are so ornate with gold lief, intricate carvings, and paintings. We were completely in aw walking through such a place. You can see the scale of the ceiling and how ornate they were in the photos below, plus my favorite painting of the tour.

We also tried to go to the Accademia Gallery to see the Statue of David, however, the line was around the block and we couldn’t get in. I definitely recommend buying tickets to the Florence museums in advance as both the Accademia and the Uffizi (one of the most acclaimed museums in the entire world), were sold out on the days we wanted to go.

Since we couldn’t do any more museums, we went to the market to shop for goodies. Florence is known for its leather and, while there are a lot of faux-leather in the market, you can find some good deals on the real deal. I bought a beautiful leather jacket and haggled my way to a great price! On the way back to the hotel with all of our new stuff, we came across this really interesting building that, starting at about 10 feet up, was completely covered in dollar bills:

Dollar bill building in Florence, Italy

You never know what cool things you will encounter down the non-touristy path.

We walked through the cobbled Florence streets to an adorable little restaurant for a group dinner. The wine, sausage pasta, and bruschetta made for an excellent experience, but the waiters really topped if. They were young men and, with the 40 women in our tour group and our tour guides teasing, their faces were redder than my wine! The waiter’s dad even let them off duty early to lead our group, like parade grand marshals, to the bar. Hilarious!

Dinner in Florence, Italy

We ended up at a space age style club appropriately called “Space” where all of the tourists apparently go. The music was funky and we had a great time people watching the night away on the dance floor!

Florence tips:

  • Bring an umbrella and shoes that can get wet.
  • Buy tickets to the museums and tours you want to take in advance.
  • Wake up and climb the Florence Cathedral’s Duomo as soon as it opens! The stair ways are super narrow so, the less people, the better. Also, the view is so much better without the crowds and the climb will take you half the time.