My new favorite place in the world

(decided approximately 20 min after arriving)

We didn't even make it 2 blocks out of the bus station before I declared my love for the Florence. I'm not even sure what it was. Considering that our introduction to the Tuscan town was a lengthy walk through the rain, it's a surprise I viewed anything favorably. We left Rome bright and early, nearly missing our bus. Good thing Italians are nice! Even with the language barrier they helped point us in the right direction. After a couple hours on a remarkably comfortable bus (especially now that I have gotten used to eastern European ones), we found ourselves in a cloudy Florence. Managed to drag our stuff over to our Airbnb before it started raining. airbnb-1 The thing I love about Airbnb, the thing so many people love about Airbnb, is the experience of living and interacting with locals. Our host had to run an errand and had her elderly aunt hold down fort and welcome us in. The catch? She didn't know any English. And we knew approximately two words of Italian. But everything was ok. The sweet doorman (who also spoke no English) welcomed us in and took us through the maze of halls right to the door of the apartment. There, said aunt showed us to our room and gave us directions in Italian that we somehow understood. I guess between my laughable understanding of French, remnants of Spanish from high school, and exaggerated body language, the broken communication channel somehow worked.
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LUNCH @ ALL'ANTICO VINAIO

After freshening up, and failing to wish away the rain, we decided we'd rather be wet and exploring so we set off. Plus we were hungry. Several friends recommended All'Antico Vinaio for the best sandwiches in town, so we wandered our way over, trying not to get too distracted by the beautiful city around us.
sandwich-1sandwich-4sandwich-3 I guess every other tourist in the city had the same idea, because the rain didn't stop the line and people were huddled under tiny awnings with giant sandwiches. I was down. The menu was scribbled on one side of the wall, there was meat hanging from the ceilings, fresh bread laying on the counter, and a colorful palette of condiments displayed in a glass case. The assembly line moved fast, but didn't ever make a dent in the crowd of hungry customers pouring in. Because crowds and food decisions make me anxious, I'm pretty sure I just got the first thing I saw on the menu and went with it. In the end, I didn't really know what I was eating, but it was probably the best sandwich I've ever had. THE BREAD WAS TO DIE FOR.
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Due to the aforementioned anxiety with crowds and such, and because it stopped drizzling, we ate our sandwiches while walking aimlessly around outside. We ended up by the river, and fought tour groups and strong winds as we scarfed down the sandwiches. But you gotta admit, that's one photogenic sandwich. sandwich-13

DESSERT @ GELATERIA DEI NERI

Next stop, dessert. The nearby Gelateria dei Neri, also recommended by several friends. Established in 1989, the shop is loved by locals and (in stark contrast from our sandwich experience) not infested by tourists. Also, SO CHEAP compared to stuck up gelato places in America. The smallest cup was only €1,80!! Maybe it was better that I didn't study abroad here...
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PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Of course the next thing on the agenda is a poor attempt at walking off everything just consumed. It was time for the #obligatory panoramic photo from Piazzale Michelangelo. A friend assured me that a photo taken here would surely rack up likes. But it was hard not to get distracted by everything else on the way – the river, the colorful buildings against the lush green landscape...and the darkening clouds waiting to drench us.
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river-6river-8passagiata-1passagiata-2 The heavy clouds managed to hold in the downpour until we got to the top. At one point, I just gave in. To being wet, to the wind making my hair a mess and to the fact that my dress kept flying up. And accepting that it was my camera or an umbrella, and I definitely chose the camera. Which, in hindsight, I'm glad I did:
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COFFEE BREAK

I am not exaggerating when I say that we were practically blown off the hill. The wind got so strong that it didn't take much energy to get back down to the river. Once there, we decided to follow the road, entranced by the shops and cafés lining the street. Photogenic AF. walking-6 I don't think we walked more than 10 minutes before we decided to stop for coffee. Maybe because it was still drizzling. Maybe because our early morning was catching up to us. Maybe because we were just REALLY ATTRACTED TO THE PASTRY BAR. But it doesn't matter. The point is, we stepped inside, ordered two cappuccinos and selected our sweet pastry. I then proceeded to photograph our drinks and get the perfect 'grams.
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And then, two things happen. First, we decide to go enjoy our afternoon pick-me-up at a table inside by the window. So we grab our food and go. And I trip over a step and spill half my coffee. All over me, my umbrella, thank god not really my camera...but basically I was a glorious mess. Second, after finally getting into a somewhat decent place with myself and my clumsiness, we get the check. Which ends up being over double what our initial check was at the counter. Because apparently, the prices are different if you dine in. The more you know! walking-10walking-11
Florence sure looks good in the rain.
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GELATO ROUND 2

What more to do, but eat again? I mean, granted the other highly recommended gelateria, La Carraia, was on this side of the river, and we didn't want to have to come back.
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Then, we crossed the river and went back to the main part of town. Tourists were everywhere. We took a short detour, inevitable, considering we were in the shopping part of town. Eventually, we wandered toward the center of it all.

IL DUOMO DI FIRENZE

Back in high school, my AP Euro summer homework was to read Brunelleschi's Dome. It's safe to say that I hated it. Or at least I just didn't really care and found it to be boring. Fast forward seven years and I'm staring in awe at the sheer size of the cathedral, finally understanding why the architecture was so impressive.
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We didn't get to go inside, but as the saying goes, it gives me a good reason to go back. Granted, this Italian adventure proved to be such a whirlwind, I'll have to do everything over again anyways. dome-5dome-11dome-6dome-9dome-13

SHOPPING & DINNER

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The sun was setting and the leather market was closing shop. We managed to snag a few souvenirs before it got dark. For dinner, I was set on a nearby recommended restaurant, Hostaria Il Desco. But the next door Trattoria Nella lured us in. When we were finally seated, we ordered way too many carbs. Some time while eating, they started setting up a live band in the tiny dining space. Which complicated the rest of our night. It took a solid 30 minutes to get the check. By the time we finally got out, we were ready to pass out. So we lumbered back to the Airbnb and did just that. After all, we had a bus to catch, bright and early, for Milan.