Our Italian journey continues onto Florence. See how the trip started in Rome here.
This trip was a long time in the planning. My parents were born and raised in Italy and have been wanted to take their grandkids there for years. We wanted to wait until they were old enough to appreciate what they would be seeing. We were all set to travel last summer and 2 weeks before the trip we had to cancel everything because my father was ill and needed surgery. He came through nicely and the trip was rescheduled to this summer.
On Thursday August 9th we taxied to the train station and took the high speed train to Florence. Unlike Rome, the hotel we had previously stayed in here was no longer open, so I spent a great deal of time searching for the perfect place for our family. I consider it a success. Hotel Kraft was wonderful. We were able to walk everywhere and it was close to the train station. One block from the Arno River and about 10 minutes leisurely walk to the historical center of Florence.
Hotel Kraft is located on a quiet street a few minutes walk from the main train station, Santa Maria Novella and a smaller train station. With 78 rooms it is larger than our Rome hotel, but still not too large. We had booked 2 triple rooms here and they were spacious, had high ceilings and with good sized bathrooms. This hotel had a restaurant with breakfast included on the top floor. They also served lunch and dinner and drinks in the restaurant and on the large rooftop terrace. Another gem, a rooftop pool with views of all of Florence past the River Arno and the Duomo. There are very few hotels with pools, let alone rooftop pools in Florence so this was perfect for my competitive swimmer son. It was tiny, but he made due with some practice laps. It was perfect for cooling off as well, still brutally hot during a heat wave continuing through all of Europe.
In Florence I had scheduled a tour of the Accademia Museum to see Michelangelo’s David. We wandered the city, saw the Duomo and Baptistry doors (partially covered for restoration), shopped on the Ponte Vecchio which is the street of gold, Palazzo Vecchio, traveled up to Piazzale Michelangelo, saw all the fake Davids after seeing the real thing and countless statues that decorate the city.
Quick Tip: Limit museums and churches with children. Use Skip the Line entry or short tours to see highlights more easily. Lines in the hot sun are not where you want to be spending your time.
We knew our kids would have little interest in hours or museum strolling looking at masterpiece paintings so I scheduled a short, 1 hour Accademia tour which really just focused on the statue of David and the other statues he left unfinished. It also got us in without a wait in line. We could have stayed and toured the museum on our own after our short tour if we wished of course. Katy was our tour guide and it was a nice short tour.
The hotel recommended a restaurant which turned out to be another little gem of a place. We had a lovely meal at Il Parione on the street with the same name and upon leaving people were lined up outside waiting to get in. Another gem we found by accident, we were hungry and it was close by, Trattoria Armando was also excellent.
Hubby and I wandered on our own several times to shop and explore and we had the best cheese (I think it was cheese) with prosecco when we stopped in to this little place on our way back to the hotel one day. It was so good, they brought it with the wine since they cannot serve drinks without food of course. Another spot we stopped in for lunch Trattoria Nella turned out to be very good too and tiny, only like 8 tables maybe. There was a moment of confusion when the owner started eating Eric’s side order of potatoes because he had ordered some too and didn’t realize they weren’t his. We laughed afterwards once Eric had his potatoes because he is no fun when he is hungry.
Around the corner from our hotel was our favorite Gelateria! We hit B.Ice twice a day during our stay, afternoon treat and nightly dessert. The counter girl welcomed us in and laughed every time we walked in. She knew our order by the last day.
A fun thing we loved about Italy, many of the Gelaterias are also bars. And sandwich shops. And snack bar. And pasta restaurant. And have souvenirs too.
A note about service in Italy: A cover charge and service charge is normally included so if you leave a tip, it can be just a few euros extra since the majority of the tip is included. They often will tell you it’s not included. It is. Also, service in general is slow and not like America where they keep checking on you. Once they bring your food, you never see them again unless you flag them down for something. Nobody is ever in a rush in any restaurant in Italy. Regardless of how many people are waiting outside. Just enjoy and go with the flow.
While in Florence, we took a half day trip to Pisa since the Leaning Tower was one of the things the kids really wanted to see. This was the one sore spot of the tours I arranged through Viator. The ground operator in this case did not do a good job. We would have been much better off taking a train ourselves rather than doing a tour. The operator was My Tour and while the meeting location was close to our hotel and easy to find the tour itself was not run very well. The escort, Sarenna was a lovely young girl, but really said very little in explaining timelines and what was happening. She also walked very quickly since the bus stops about 1 mile from Miracle Square. She never looked back to see if the group was still with her and never slowed down for the slower members of the group. There was a local guide which took us on a tour, but we only walked around outside of the monuments. He was good, but clearly worried about what would happen next. The biggest issue we had was they lied about the time we had for our tour of the Cathedral. The cathedral has free entry, but requires a timed ticket like everything in Pisa. We later learned that they send someone that morning to get the tickets and the time they were able to get for our group was 1pm. We had to be back on the bus at 12:45pm. They told us the tour was for 12:30 and we would try and get in a few minute early so as not to rush it too much, and then pretty much sprint back to the bus. They usually will let them in a bit early. But as we tried to get in at 12:15pm they refused and said they would let us in at 12:45pm. Several tried to make them wait and be late for the bus, but the escort and guide refused. For some, including my mother, the cathedral was the only thing they really wanted to see since it is often closed and they had never been inside before. Had they told us up front, we would have gotten ourselves a ticket when we first arrived hours ago and gotten in, but we didn’t because we thought we were getting in with the tour guide. We also would have had time to get a ticket to climb the tower had we known the tour was going to be a bust. So instead we did nothing but wander around and have lunch. Because they didn’t admit the actual time and give us the option.
Stay tuned for the next stop on our trip…