Photo by Adrian Leung
Photo by Adrian Leung

Florence: The good, the bad, the ugly

by Jessica Zen
Stripes Europe

When perusing travel blogs or articles, there is definitely one common theme amongst them all: extreme positivity. It truly amazes me that every single person has the time of their life on every single vacation. The airline didn’t lose your luggage? You didn’t have to wait for a table? It never rained? The children were absolute angels? You really want to move there? While positivity is most definitely the best outlook, sometimes it just isn’t realistic. Things don’t always go according to plan and perfection is an unobtainable goal. Let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves and our readers. Not every vacation is amazing.

Take Florence, for example. Home to the famous cathedral with a massive dome, Michelangelo’s David marble statue, numerous art galleries and so much amazing architecture you’d think a good time was guaranteed. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have traveled to Florence, wandered around this city, and decided that I don’t need to go back. Before I jump in with the negative comments, let’s begin with what was enjoyable. Only the most disciplined of Scrooges wouldn’t find anything enjoyable about the Tuscany region’s capital.

To begin, my husband and I stayed at Hotel NH Firenze Anglo American. The lobby was beautiful and the staff members were very friendly. The woman who checked us in spoke perfect English and even helped us acquire a reservation for that evening (a necessity). Though our room was small, it was clean, the bed was comfortable and the shower had hot water. The included breakfast buffet was quite delicious and a great way to start the day before heading off into the unknown.

We started our adventure at Palazzo Pitti, or Pitti Palace. Though the internet will tell you that there are museums inside that you can visit, we were not allowed inside. I even asked an attendant where to go to get inside. She said there wasn’t an interior chamber to see. Perhaps the museums were closed for renovations. However, it remains unclear to me why tourists were not allowed inside at that time. Regardless, the Boboli Gardens behind the palace are incredibly large and quite stunning.

For a delightful stroll that includes Renaissance statues, vast greenery, fountains, and grottos, the Boboli Gardens are excellent. Everywhere you turn there is something new and exciting to see. The history is evident in every strategically placed staircase, fountain and pathway. The air is fragrant with the scent of fresh blooming flowers in the spring while you leisurely stroll and take in the sights of this outdoor green museum. The best part about viewing the gardens is the space. There is plenty of open area for capturing the perfect picture.

After leaving the gardens, we headed for the Florence Cathedral/Duomo. With its Renaissance dome, marble exterior and imposing stature, this incredible piece of architecture was nothing short of amazing. To admire Giorgio Vasari’s frescos that grace the ceiling of the dome, you must climb 463 winding steps up into the dome. The work of art that awaits you is, of course, fabulous. The frescoes depict the Last Judgment and were mostly painted by Frederico Zuccari by 1579. The climb even allows you to stand on the very top of the dome in the cupola, where you can view the sweeping Florentine landscape.

Unfortunately, this is where I’m going to begin with the bad. It was truly amazing to climb to the top of the dome, however; the ascent itself was an absolute nightmare, and I imagine we were there on a day that wasn’t particularly crowded. The stairwell that leads up is the same one that leads down. It’s hardly wide enough for one average sized person, let alone two people trying to pass each other. Traffic never stops and it’s almost like you are in a battle of wills. Who will forge ahead with more confidence? If you hesitate, even for a second, the people moving in the other direction will not. Now, let’s say you suffer from even the slightest bit of claustrophobia, can’t climb 463 steps without stopping or have issues with massive tourist crowds; this experience is not for you. Once you are inside the dome and walking around the perimeter, you can’t even stop to take pictures, as there is a constant line waiting to continue moving. At the top of the cupola looking at the landscape, there are so many people you have to fight to get to the outer edge for the perfect picture. All in all, my opinion is that this was an unpleasant experience and not worth my time. I did have just one question the entire time. What if there was an emergency?

After being jostled around and wondering how we were going to get out of this never-ending nightmare, we finally made it out and headed for lunch. I was incredibly “hangry” by this point. My husband read about a great focaccia sandwich shop that was not to be missed called All’antico Vinaio. The street that this grab-and-go shop was located on was so crowded by people waiting in line that it was hard to decipher where the lines began, whilst cars and bicyclists also looked for room to move. The sandwich was indeed delicious. However, the stress of finding and waiting in line for a minimum of 20 minutes surrounded by tourists was not high on my priority list. To top it off, there wasn’t anywhere to sit and eat your food, so you have to balance a sandwich and your beverage without spilling. Not an easy task and I ended up with red wine down the front of my clothes.

Needless to say, by this point in the day, I was totally over Florence. Everywhere I looked was dirty, including the exterior of the Cathedral. The streets were littered with cigarettes, trash and dog feces. I could see the beauty within the city and at the core knew the history here was truly something to behold. It was incredibly unfortunate to see what tourists have done to this beautiful city. That being said, I couldn’t contrive any logical way to fix this massive problem as there is no reason in the foreseeable future tourists would stop plaguing this area.

When all is said and done, I certainly don’t want to deter anyone from visiting Florence. There are some absolutely amazing sights and experiences to be had. However, plan accordingly. There will be hoards of people, extensively long lines, and excessive heat in the summer months. If you prepare for these things ahead of time, your stress levels will be dramatically reduced. Most importantly, do not let my rather depressing view of the city shape your views. I know plenty of people who have absolutely fallen in love with this area. Travel to Florence and experience the culture for yourself. It could be the time of your life! 

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