Our first stop in Florence was the information office right across the street from the train station. We were pointed in the direction of a hostel a couple blocks away from the terminal and must have had the "wow" expression on our faces, as a gentleman who passed by us came back and asked us if we needed help finding something. We told him that we were looking for Ostello Archi Rossi. As luck would have it, he and his wife were staying there and informed us that it was right around the corner. While we walked with him he told us a bit more about the hostel; free breakfast and dinner, free internet on their computers, two different, and also free tours from the hostel, and nice people to boot! We got our room reserved and put our packs in the "holding" area, as we couldn't check in until 2:30pm. They assured us that our bags were safe and off we went.
Our first destination was the Piazza Duomo. Before we made it there, we stopped off at a shop and had the most amazing homemade gelato. Ah, heaven. It was delicious! As we continued toward the Duomo, I was surprised that it was right there, with shops and restaurants right next to it. But how spectacular it was!We headed into the cathedral and it was startlingly huge. It seemed to go on forever. The highlight, of course, was looking up into the dome. Amazing frescoes cover all of it, and I was speechless. Since the weather was favorable, we decided that a trip to the top of the Dome should be done right away. If I remember correctly, it was 463 steps to the top. Not hard at all, and it was also nice because there were windows as we made our way to the top. Also nice was that in the off season, not very many people were on their way up, or down, and it wasn't hot. I couldn't imagine climbing to the top with high season tourists and hot weather.
Once at the top, it was hard to take it all in. What a beautiful city! I wanted to go everywhere. While I am a bit timid of heights, this didn't bother me at all...had I been able to, I would have stayed up there until nightfall. To see the city lit up would have been incredible, but it was still very wonderful to see it in the daylight.After that adventure, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio, where all of the shops on the bridge are jewelry shops! I was in my element there, however, I didn't find a piece that I just had to have. My plan was to find an authentic Italian piece of jewelry, a search that went on for the duration of the trip without success. A wonderful idea has hatched and now I just need the time to complete it (probably after the new year).
Right off of the 'jewelry strip' as I will forever call it, was a wonderful cafe that was displaying some very delicious looking pizza. Basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella on a wonderful crust was almost hard to share with Mindy. It hit the spot, but I was wondering how to ask for honey, and if I would get strange looks as to why this silly American would want honey with her pizza.
After our pizza lunch, we headed to Galleria dell 'Accademia, the home of the original David. A bit disappointed that I couldn't take any pictures, I just took him in. I remember wondering what the big deal was about him while studying art in college, and I was very pleased to see what the big deal was in person. The scope of knowledge that Michelangelo would have required to sculpt this perfect person, at such a young age (I believe that he was 29) baffles me. I suppose without the distractions that we have now, it was a relatively easy task to find the time for study.
After some aimless strolling through the confusing streets of Florence, we made it back to our hostel and saw our room for the first time. We were sharing it with two other women, who were not there when we arrived. After making our beds and unpacking a few things, we headed down to the cafeteria for supper. I had a veggie pizza, while Mindy enjoyed spaghetti. There were a lot of people there and it did take about 20 minutes to get our meals. That was alright by us, as we had a bottle of wine to capture our attention. After dinner, we headed out for a nighttime stroll, with the soul purpose being to get more wine. Back to the common area we went, where we were looking over Lonely Planet Italy (which I strongly suggest anyone to get for foreign travels) to see what we should do the next day. A few tables down, there was a group of five young adults that were playing what was obviously a drinking game, and playing very loudly. They were having a great time and soon asked us to join them. Mary and Jon were from Quebec City, Daniel was from Australia, Olivier was from Northern Italy, and Martin was from Argentina. We stayed at the hostel for a couple of hours, and then headed out to find something more exciting. Almost all of us ended up at Rex Cafe. This place was packed! Hardly any room to move, and the place was under 1000 square feet, with people still streaming in. Late '90's American music was playing, and these Italians loved it. Everyone was singing along to tunes that we considered old news, dancing and talking all at once. I couldn't believe it...there were people here that couldn't speak a lick of English, yet, they knew all of the words, to every song. For the couple of hours that we were there, I don't recall ever hearing a song that wasn't American.
Finally arriving back at the hostel just after 3am, we were ready for bed.