Accademia Florence with the crowds and the selfie sticks

One of the reasons I had always wanted to go to Florence was for the art. It is the home to some of the most important Renaissance artworks and I had studied some of them in Art History at high school. Unlike a lot of high school memories (people hiding things in my frizzy hair, wearing leggings under mini-shirts and an awkward campaign for school council) I actually liked these ones, so visiting the Uffizi gallery and the Accademia were pretty much the only things on my Florence to do list.

Mum had planned the entire trip because I was so busy at work I couldn’t think past my own nose. She had the foresight to book a ‘speed tour’ that went to both the Uffizi and the Accademia in one morning, because rumour had it that the queues to get into either were hell on earth. My god the rumours were true, for the Accademia it was ticketed but they limited the numbers allowed in AND give priority to tour groups – some people with perfectly valid tickets had to wait in the hot sunshine for two hours before they could glimpse David’s nadgers.

So tour time it was. Yes that sentence sounds like Yoda is ghost writing my blog, shut up I haven’t had any coffee yet and I’m writing this on the Jubilee line CUT ME SOME SLACK. I bet Yoda doesn’t have to put up with this crap from his readers.

We were on a tour. It was not a pleasant experience. The disorganisation of the Uffizi gallery killed me, it was horrible crowding through the gallery rooms with seemingly no restriction on people numbers. It was a noisy, chaotic, ‘run and snap’ experience. As much as I hate tours I am actually very glad we were on one because it at least we got through quickly and managed to see all my art history loves. I think groups were the problem to be honest, that many tour groups in one small gallery meant noise, no people flow and people crowding to take photos in front of art they had never heard of because the tour guide said it was famous. Oh and everyone was wearing fucking hats.

Hats in the Uffizi gallery

But I saw the art I wanted to, I stood in front of Botticelli’s Venus, Piero della Francesca’s Urbino portraits and Giotto’s altar pieces. A shitty stressful experience but some amazing art.
And it was the same story at the Accademia, except with the added bonus of two tour leaders getting into a fight as one accused the other of cutting in line. Again I’m glad I did the tour (I think it is actually the only way to go) because the one thing I really wanted to see was the statue of David, and standing in the sun for two hours would not have been worth it (no matter how tight his glutes were).

Kandinsky to Pollock at the Palazzo Strozzi

It was on this sad note that I was fairly anti art galleries in Florence. This gallery ghost wants to meander and contemplate, not be pushed out of the way by a snapchatting hat on two legs.
Then we saw a poster for an exhibition that I REALLY wanted to see, From Kandinsky to Pollock at the Palazzo Strozzi. Girding our loins we went for it, crowds be damned.

To my absolute surprise it was calm. We purchased the tickets, there were no tour groups and it was ‘art gallery murmur’ quiet. People ghosted around looking at paintings that took their interest and at no point did anyone shout “take a photo of this one it’s famous”. AND I was surrounded by some kick ass modern art, I was in heaven.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

It was with my faith in the galleries of Florence restored that we went to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Essentially they took all the good bits from the Duomo and put them into a beautifully designed (and air conditioned!) gallery that you don’t have to queue for; of the two I would 100% choose to go for the gallery over the actual Duomo because it was so fucking interesting. Anyway again we wandered round in the calm and learned about the building of the Duomo, the art, the culture and got to visit a roof terrace to see a unique view of the dome.

I wish that all of the galleries in Florence were a good experience, that tour groups were non-existent and that art was appreciated for itself not for how many t-shirts it is on. I know I sound like a snob here, but when you study something for two years from the other side of the world you begin to think about it in hallowed tones. When the crowds are there because it’s something they have to do, not want to do it grinds my gears. Florence does have beautiful galleries, you just have to find them.

Piazzale michelangelo view florence

There are many things in life that I dislike; when a new t-shirt loses its shape after one wash, coffee spilling into the saucer, the continual disenfranchisement of minority groups in current political discourse. But nothing can quite send me into a two second rage like a crowd of tourists. I realised that in most cases I am also a tourist. But I am different, I am a special little snowflake with a blog and a spirit of adventure. Ok fine, I’m a ranty hypocrite. But it does mean that I have a great tip for you on how to avoid the crowds and get the best view in Florence.

My parents were amazing in Florence, they let me revert into true teenage sleeping habits and dream half the day away. And when they did see the need to wake me up just before lunch they approached holding a double espresso and a pastry out in front of them as protection. I trained my parents well. There was however one morning worth getting up early for; the morning we went to Piazzale Michelangelo.

There are a few places to go for a view over Florence, but since my fear of heights prevents me from climbing towers of death…my options were limited. And when my crowd hatred flares up, the options are even more so. But with the grace of coffee we were going to see Piazzale Michelangelo in the early morning light, and get there before any other tourist had raised their head above the parapet.

Piazzale michelangelo walk florence

The side benefit of the hellishly early start (8am) was that it was only 30°C when we left the house, an important factor when walking anywhere in the Italian summer (Piazzale Michelangelo is only about a 20 minute walk from Sante Croce or 30 minutes with a complaining Runawaykiwi in tow). The first part of the walk was delightful, the second part with the unending steps was not so. But if I made it then so can you. And the end result is worth it.

Piazzale Michelangelo is also home to a replica of Michelangelo’s David (hence the name) and some very cool modern sculptures that look like they have been bitten and cracked by giants. The real art however is the view, you can see down all the bridges to Ponte Vecchio and see the Uffizi, Duomo and Sante Croce all in one shot. It is the picture postcard version of Florence. Because we were so early (and it was a Sunday) we almost had the place to ourselves. I say almost because we were actually sharing it with the Florence Vespa club, comprised of middle age Italian men who were 100% adorable. I have never seen a group of tanned men look so proud of tiny, tiny bikes.

We took in every angle of the view, giggled at the posturing Vespa men and then started our decent to Ditta for brunch. This was our last morning in Florence, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent it.

Carousel in Florence

OMG it’s like I’m an actual gosh darn travel blogger. If it makes you feel any better, I shamelessly stole 60% of these recommendations from the hot guy we rented the apartment from (seriously, he had foppish hair and bad tattoos, I blushed and stammered when we picked up the keys). Anyway, if you are heading to Florence for a few days these should be all you need. And I don’t have photos for most of them because I am an awesome blogger who was more focused on eating EVERYTHING.

For a takeaway lunch

Round the corner from the Accademia (where Michelangelo’s David lives) is a little lunch bar called Pugi where you can get the best cured meat & cheese, or tomato and mozzarella sandwiches. They are in this bread that is caked in salt and are exactly what you need after spending four hours on a tour of Mr David. You take a number, order inside (they have kick ass tarts as well) and then pay by the door.

For wine by the riverSignorvino is a wine shop and wine bar

Signorvino is a wine shop and wine bar with a terrace that overhangs the river. I thought this little bar was going to be a serious tourist trap but rather annoyingly it was excellent (I hate being proven wrong). If you pre-book or are very lucky you can get one of the tables outside on the terrace and get the perfect view of Ponte Vecchio.

For gelatoBest Gelato in Florence

There is gelato everywhere in Florence and I made it my mission to try it all. My favourite by far was Gelato Santa Trinita on the next bridge over from Ponte Vecchio and judging by the line out the door others agreed. Yes it is a little bit of a walk, but the flavours are subtle and the servings are generous. My must try flavour from there is melon which was as close to the nectar of the gods as I can imagine – and I don’t even like melon.

For authentic pastaBest pasta in Florence

I was only in Florence for a week and we went to Acqua Al 2 three times. THREE TIMES. The pasta was out of this world and the beef carpaccio actually made my family speechless it was so good. The couple that run it were hysterical, they were so lovely to us and managed to squeeze us in every time we turned up without a reservation but with a burning hunger for pasta in our eyes.

For cocktails and fancy food

Ok, the Fusion Restaurant & Bar is a little spenny, but if you can’t afford it just walk by the hotel to see the pinwheel art installation on the side of the building – they spin in the breeze and are 100% adorable. If you are celebrating on the other hand then the Japanese/Peruvian tapas are fantastic and the cocktails are (from what I can remember) beautiful.

For brunchDitta in Florence

It can’t be a Runawaykiwi list without a brunch option, so head down to Ditta Artigianale for your fix. The coffee is stand out, and you have to try the weird pastry they have that looks like a croissant outside but actually has rice and custard in the middle.

Ditta weird rice thing in Florence

Florence with no damn pigeons in the Sky

Here I am pretending to be a travel blogger with helpful Florence posts, oh who am I kidding I’m more of a walking disaster than a travel blogger. So forget guides and ‘top things to blah’ let me tell you about the standing on my bed at 4am pigeon thing.

In Florence we stayed in this really lovely apartment just round the corner from Santa Croce. I was beyond happy with it because I got to sleep in an actual gosh darn bed (normally when I travel with my family I’m on a couch or the floor). NB: Paris is the worst country for floor sleeping, those apartments were not build using a level. So my own room? My own room with AIR-CONDITIONING? I was living like a king.

Then came 4am on my first night.

I heard rats, big rats. That weird muffled scuffling and scraping noises that can only belong to those giant Royalist creeps from the Nutcracker. I went from deep REM sleep to standing on my bed ready to run in a split second. I didn’t want to wake my parents (I’m still trying to convince them I have my shit together, screaming to wake them up at 4am would not have indicated this), so my mouth was contorted in a silent scream that I’m sure Edvard Munch would have loved to behold.

Then the curtain moved and I almost silent cried.

Then I realised it was the air-conditioning that moved the curtain and I almost cried again.

It was a rather emotional 4am for me.

Being the big brave girl that I am I went round the entire room on a rat hunt (from the safety of standing on my bed while throwing shoes at shadows) and couldn’t find a single squeaky bastard. Figuring that they must be in the walls, which while not pleasant is not immediately life threatening, I attempted to calm my beating heart and drift back to sleep.

Then a couple of days later I was having a ‘to hot and a bit hungover’ afternoon nap when I heard the rats again. Given that it was daylight outside I felt totally justified in calling for my dad in a calm, grownup and measured way…”OMG DAD I THINK THERE ARE FUCKING RATS IN MY ROOM OH GOD HELP ME I MIGHT DIE”.

Dad walked in with a ‘fucking hell you are a nutter’ look on his face, but I’m sure that was because he had been watching TV and had nothing to do with me standing on a bed looking like Munch’s long lost sweetheart. I instructed him to pull back the curtains, because that’s where I had narrowed down the noise to, and as he did a flock of pigeons took flight.

That’s right, it was fucking pigeons.

The scary pigeon window of Florence

There was a grated ledge on the other side of the window which was apparently a hot AirBnB of the pigeon world. Nesting birds scratching against the wood were the source of all my madness. I guess they are rats of the sky so my terror was somewhat justified.

Florence Duomo

Whenever we walked passed the Duomo in Florence there were a couple of issues. The first was that I never had my shoulders and knees covered at the same time. As we all know, Jesus is particularly offended by the site of a females joints so I couldn’t possibly go into the house of god with them exposed (my dad however trotted in totally naked and Jesus winked at him on the way out). The second issue was the horrendously long line that stretched down the entire length of the church. According to online reviews the line moves quickly, but all I saw was sweaty people with screaming children standing unmoving in the line for an hour.  The third was that my favourite gelato shop was on the other side of town.

I love an old cathedral, but not enough to stand in the sun without gelato for an hour.

Then my Mum eavesdropped on an American couple who had such a good Florence hack that it actually made my trip. It was so good that we thought my Mum had got heatstroke and made it all up. We made her go and lay down for a while. But it turns out she wasn’t crazy and was possibly justified in calling us untrustworthy dicks.

Fine, I made that last bit up for comic effect, believe it or not my Mum does not swear. No I don’t know where I got it from either. #wankpuffin

Anyway the Duomo. The Cathedral is free to visit, and all you have to do is stand in a line from now to eternity. However if you are willing to spend €2 and watch an awesome movie you can skip the line totally. Just around the corner from the cathedral is Teatro Niccolini home of The Duomo Experience, the answer to all your prayers. For €2 you get to watch a 15 minute film about the humanist importance of the Duomo; a little bit on the building and the art. Then with the same ticket you can just walk up to the door of the Cathedral and walk straight in. Seriously, €2, 15min and you can waltz into the Duomo like Mary (the virgin one, not the whore one).

They will try to talk you into the €15 all access pass that covers the five Florence museums, but all you need for the Church is the cheap ass movie ticket.

Teatro Niccolini

We were expecting to have to endure the movie, we thought it was going to be like the movies you had to sit through when moguls are trying to get you to buy a time share. But it was delightful. We has the entire (air conditioned!!!) theatre to ourselves, and the presenter was a priest who reminded me of a spoken word poet. He would be the guy next to Whoopi Goldberg trying to get the kids into Art History.

SO a very interesting movie while sitting in the air-conditioning, and super speedy access into a church. YOU’RE WELCOME.