The Frecciarossa fast train needed less than 90 minutes to reach Florence from Rome. 07.36 AM, Limanan and I arrived at Firenze Campo di Marte Station. It was still early in the morning, accompanied by light rain. In Florence (Firenze in Italian), we stayed at another Couchsurfing host, so we tried to find the direction to his place. Campo di Marte Station is located northeast of Florence’s centro while our host lived in the far east of Florence, hence we were lucky to have taken the train to Campo di Marte instead of Florence’s main station (Firenze Santa Maria Novella).
As a small town, Florence relies only on buses as its only intra-city public transportation. The tickets could only be bought at tabaccheria for €1.4 per ticket with 90 minutes of validity, a similar system like other Italian cities. The bus took us around 30 minutes to reach our host’s home, and we arrived at around 08.30 AM. We were expecting another old-but-classy host based on his profile picture, but instead we got an eccentric one. Yeah, learn not to judge people based on their looks.
This time, our host was Leonardo, a programmer. He also lives alone, but he has a lot of rooms which allows him to host many surfers every night. He welcomed and brought us to his unit to have breakfast. Just as what I wrote in my Rome post that Italians eat little for breakfast, Leonardo always eat cookies and a cup of coffee/tea. The cookies were delicious though, probably one of the best cookies I have ever had.
During breakfast, we settled things down because he has tons of rules based on his Couchsurfing experiences. If Couchsurfing has a worldwide rank of people with the highest number of references, he would probably be among the highest. By the time I wrote this, he has 1039 references. Not all of them were positive though (around 60 were neutral/negative), mostly because they could not stand the strict rule he applied. Here were some:
- Request must be done through email (not Couchsurfing request) with clear details on:
- Full name
- Arrival and departure date (and time)
- Smoking habit
- Dietary constraints
- Contactable phone number
- If staying for more than 1 night, Couchsurfers have to cook for dinner at least once.
- Final confirmation must be done through SMS at least 3 days before the date, otherwise the arrangement will be cancelled. Confirmation must be done by everyone, even if coming with friends. In my case, both Limanan and I had to send SMS separately to him.
- Full list here
Too many? Yes, certainly. Before my departure, I reread his page a few times to make sure I did not miss anything. It is actually understandable when we consider the number of guests he has hosted, which he must have learnt many things that he does not like.
When done, Limanan and I left his home to start exploring the city. Walking for 1 km from Leonardo’s apartment to the nearest bus stop on Via Aretina made me feel that Florence was silent and chill. The small size of the city might be the reason, as the distance from Leonardo’s apartment (the easternmost point of Firenze on Google Maps) to Ponte Vecchio at the center barely reaches 5 km. Some people were still walking around, but there was no sense of hecticness there, even compared to Rome. It felt soothing.
The neighborhood along Via Aretina
Reaching the center, however, the soothingness disappeared. A sea of tourists was filling Piazza della Signoria, the most central piazza in Florence near Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio. Half of them were queueing to enter these two places, resulting in long lines. Considering its smaller size, the piazza was actually as crowded as Piazza Navona in Rome (and so I should not have complained), however the variety of languages heard signalled that most of the people were tourists. Looking at the length of the lines, we decided to visit Museo Galileo instead. I did not understand art well enough to appreciate Uffizi, anyway.
The crowd at Piazza della Signoria
For an astronomy lover like me, Museo Galileo was interesting. We were greeted by a sundial at the entrance, giving a nice impression for me. The museum features many scientific instruments which were influential in its time, such as old clock, globe, lenses, and Galileo’s first telescope. You can even find Galileo’s right middle finger there! The museum ticket cost €9, just right price for a relatively small museum.
In front of Museo Galileo
For lunch, we only had one option: All’antico Vinaio. Most culinary options in the central Florence are limited around trattoria or ristorante. There are actually some osterias, but it was difficult to find a good one. Hence, we settled with the obvious. Why obvious? Because when you see a queue leading to a small shop at Via del Neri, then it must be All’antico Vinaio. It now has 2 stores, another one exactly at the opposite and sometimes was way less crowded than the first one. All’antico Vinaio gets almost perfect rating in many guides, and after trying it I could say it was totally justified.
First of all, the sandwiches (panini) were cheap – most options were priced at €5 and some “premium” options were priced at €7. Then probably the size was small, but I was wrong. It was HUGE. Do not get fooled by below picture because Limanan and I asked to halve our sandwiches in order for us to taste each other’s sandwiches. The actual size was the total of both sandwiches on my hand. It easily satisfied my hunger. The taste? Probably the best sandwich I have ever had in my life.
The All’Antico Vinaio’s sandwich
After lunch (and taking pictures with David), we walked around the town. It was easy to notice how squeezed central Florence is, even though it is similar to central Rome. Narrow streets are everywhere, which is actually understandable given how old this city is. Cars could not enter some parts, and buses entering the area were only minibuses. And look at Ponte Vecchio (literally means Old Bridge) and its surrounding buildings. The buildings were as dense as a slum, but pretty neat and colourful. An inspiration for Anies’ “Kampung Budaya” or Agus’ “Kampung Terapung”, eh?
Because David means legend
Around Ponte Vecchio
As said above, Leonardo had a lot of rules that Couchsurfers must follow. One of them was to be home at around 8 PM to have dinner together. This rule is not a good thing in the summer because that means it is not possible to watch the sunset in the city. The view along Arno river is a beauty when the weather is good, hence it was actually a pity. We could actually ask Leonardo for permission not to have a dinner with him, but that would break the Couchsurfing spirit to share stories and culture because we would not spend any time with him.
That night, there were also Simona and Martin, a couple from Slovakia. They brought along their cute baby. Leonardo cooked Tuscan-style dinner for us. The dinner was in 8 rounds, so it felt slightly like eating at a restaurant. Since now is already 7 months after being there, I could not remember all (okay blame on me) served food, but here were some:
- Darjeeling tea
- Tuscan bread + olive oil
- Spaghetti with gorgonzola
- T-bone (rabbit meat) served with wine
- Blackforest ice cream
- Red wine
I do not know how far do Italians believe in the separation of food, but I could not believe my eyes when I saw Leonardo preparing new clean plates every time we finished one round without cleaning the previous one. If I remember correctly that there were 8 rounds and there were 5 of us, he would need 40 plates in total. That seemed crazy, so I tried digesting that fact by remembering that he (and Michelangelo) both have many types of cups to drink wine.
Il Secondo Giorno // The Second Day
On the following day, Limanan and I went back exploring the city. Since Florence is small, we had walked around most of the important parts of the city on the first day; so this day we wanted to find hidden places. To start, we went to Piazzale Michelangelo, a piazza on a hill south of the city. Not being blocked by any trees or whatsoever, this piazza offers a spectacular view of Florence. Easily my most favourite place in Florence. I believe the sunset view from there would have been unforgettable if the sky was good, with a clear view of Il Duomo or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore as the largest church in Florence (and fyi as the height limit of any building in the city).
Florence skyline (3 tallest buildings: Palazzo Vecchio, Il Duomo, Basilica di Santa Croce)
Speaking of Il Duomo, Florentine churches deserve to have a special section here. They are based on Gothic-style architecture, though with a few obvious distinctions from other Gothic churches (e.g. Cologne Cathedral or Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris) such as white-green-pink colour combination and more abundant sculptures. For me, Florentine churches from outside look unique and rather scary. It is hard to explain why I felt that they look scary, though. Anyway, some churches have influences from Roman churches like Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.
Basilica di Santa Maria Novella
Probably the Vodka I drank on the previous night was still active on me when Limanan asked me to have lunch at a restaurant. You know, I was planning to spend as little as possible; but nevertheless I agreed to his request. So after walking a lot, we had lunch at Trattoria l’Oriuolo nearby Il Duomo.
Yep, even with that acceptance, I still tried finding the best deal. I found Trattoria l’Oriuolo after looking at Foursquare. This trattoria (like a restaurant but less formal) has a high rating and is not that expensive for a complete dine.
Well, actually still expensive for me.
Limanan and I ended up ordering:
- Tortelli mugellani al ragu toscano -> traditional pasta from Mugello (a small town north of Florence, MotoGP fans must know this place) served with Tuscan ragu
- Peposo alla fornacina -> Tuscan beef stew originated from Fornacina, a small hill south-east of Florence
- Tonno del chianti con cipolla glassata al marsala -> Tuscan pork dish served with herb + white wine soup and onion.
Sounds fancy, huh? Indonesia needs to learn from Italy on how to make Indonesian food sound fancy.
Tortelli mugellani al ragu toscano
Peposo alla fornacina
Tonno del chianti con cipolla glassata al marsala
One thing that I noticed from Tuscan cuisine that I tried was how much wine is used for their food. All menu we ordered contained wine, either red or white (how did I know? from the menu). I had no complaints though, they were all DAMN GOOD. Thank you alcohol!
To close our time in Florence, Limanan and I did what we were asked to do – cook a dinner. We had no idea what to cook, so we decided to cook Martabak Telur as it was easy to prepare. We thought so until we needed to scan the whole gigantic Esselunga Supermarket in order to find the suitable skin for the martabak. Asian and European were so much different…
Trying so hard to cook Martabak Telor with bacon
And ultimately, a group photo with Leonardo, Simona, and Martin!
Florence in my memory:
Deep inside, Florence is enchanting. It has a chilly atmosphere and charming classical buildings, capturing a perfect image of Renaissance. You may feel puzzled with its small streets and chaotic layout, but that was how medieval cities work. Florence is also surrounded by hills and small mountains, so natural beauty is abundant if you go outside the city. Tuscan cuisine is awesome and probably the best in Italy, with varieties of cheese and wine.
However, that comes with a cost. Florence is a highly tourist-friendly city, even you will easily survive without knowing any single Italian word. Public wi-fi is also available everywhere around the city center and unbelievably fast. The amount of tourist in the central Florence, ugh too much. Call me an anti-tourist, but that impacted my experience there. Nevertheless, Florence should be a must-go city if you love art (and probably science).
Questo è tutto! Turin will follow next 🙂