Category Archives: Firenze

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

Piccolo Città, Grand Impression

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While I’ve always considered myself a city person (I’ve never quite recovered from my first year of college, which was spent living in dorm in a pig farming community where the “nightlife” consisted of going to the Timmy’s in Steinbach), I’ve never loved big cities. I guess my small village/farming ancestry goes too deep to be ever completely rooted out of my system. Traveling has convinced me and Josh that we prefer to pay homage to cities for a day, but then escape again to small towns or even smaller communities. A city has never been as beautiful, as engaging, or as connected to me as nature is.

Which was why I was astonished when the city of Florence first took my breath away, and then captured my heart.

Florence is a piccolo grande città, a little big city. It is the ancient stronghold of the Medici family, the great patrons of the Renaissance who supported (politically and financially) the careers of the artists, scientists, theologians, economists, and architects who inspired a new culture of awareness and knowledge (read more about the House of Medici). Modern beliefs of science nerds being “uncool” would have been laughable during this time: a classy night out included demonstrations of scientific principles (such as the “electric soirées” that literally shocked attendees), and scientific instruments were symbols of culture and social status. Are you starting to see why I love the Renaissance?

High society essentials: The barometer walking stick and the “Lady’s telescope” (equipped with an ivory cosmetic box)
High society essentials

This revolutionary perspective of treating science and art with equal reverence has created in Florence an incomparable tapestry of elegance and innovation that is visible even today in the graceful lines of the bridges, the talent of the street musicians, and the overwhelming number of geniuses and inventions birthed in this duchy (including Donatello, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, and Dante, to name just a few).

Galileo’s finger and thumb at the Museo de Galileo:
Galileo digits... ?!

The beauty of the first thermometers, invented by scientists and crafted by artisans:
Science & art fusion

We arrived in Florence and commenced the quest of tracking down our hostel. Josh is a travel agent extraordinaire, and put the wifi in his Gillam apartment to good use by finding us the absolute cheapest accommodations in the absolute best locations. However, these accommodations are generally not the ones known by information booths, so we are usually left to our own crafty devices in tracking them down. At first, we thought our Florence quest would be the most straightforward yet – we made our way directly to the street, traced the numbers down… and found ourselves at the entrance to a 4-star hotel. While I wanted to trust Josh’s travel agent prowess, I was a bit skeptical that two scruffy backpackers would even be allowed in the lobby of such a place, let alone afford to spend a week there. One bemused conversation with the receptionist and several phone calls later, the mystery was solved, kind of. Our hostel was not actually a hostel, but a dorm room in a language school located in the same building as the hotel.

Silly us, why didn’t we think to look for our room here?
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Clean and spacious, with lovely staff and an incredible location, Iris Florentina, aka Sprachcaffe Language School, was by far the most amazing place we have stayed. Our only complaint is that we didn’t know it was a language school, otherwise we would have absolutely stayed longer and taken an Italian language course!

Walking a mere five minutes around the corner brought us to il Duomo, a gorgeous Florence cathedral containing the largest masonry dome on earth.

il Duomo

Five minutes around the other corner brought us to Ponte Vecchio, the “Old Bridge,” the only bridge in Florence to survive the WWII bombing raids. It is also the only bridge to contain not only houses and shops, but also a secret passageway built in 1565 above the shops on the bridge. The Corridoio Vasariano (Vasari Corridor) allowed the Medici family to safely travel from the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno without running into any of their subjects. It also connected to the private Medici balcony entrance of their church, Santa Felicita, one of the oldest churches in Florence.

Ponte Vecchio

Buena sera, Ponte Vecchio

We learned about this and other gems of Florentine history from Pierro, an elderly gentleman who saw us trying to take a selfie on Vecchio and offered to take our picture. He then began enumerating points of interest and the history behind them, keeping us mesmerized by his stories for the next half hour. “This is my city and I love my city!” he declared, and this love was evident in the passion and generosity with which he shared his city with us, two strangers. Florence became alive to us through Pierro’s stories. Both the beautiful, as he proudly gestured to the green cradle of hills surrounding the city that prevented urban sprawl, and the terrible. As he pointed out the Corridoio Vasariano, I jumped in with a tidbit I had heard about treasures being hid in that same passageway to protect them from the WWII bombing. Suddenly, Pierro’s face went grim. “The war… That is a different story, a terrible story.” For Pierro was there during the bombing, a child who remembered only the terrible fear of the bombs and the Nazi soldiers who filled his lovely town.

As the sun was setting, Pierro sketched out our route for the rest of the day (“You must go to this church, it is 1000 years old, and the maker of Pinocchio is buried there!”) and gave us a handshake goodbye, which quickly turned to exuberant kisses on both cheeks for both of us. His obvious delight at finding people who wanted to love his city as much as he did was only matched by our delight at finding someone willing to let us see their beloved home through their eyes, which, after all, was our whole hope for this trip .

Enchanting San Miniato al Monte cemetery:
View from San Miniato

Piazzale Michelangelo offers the most breathtaking views of the city:
Piazzale Michelangelo

Pontes from the Piazzale

Pierro’s Firenze, cradled by hills:
Florence's high green hills

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And then a different part of Florence that equally took our breath away: The Food.

Beauty for the tastebuds

Cappuccini at the Porta Romana

Shout out to Kaya: We thank you, from the bottom of our stomachs, for introducing us to this place.

Mouth-watering foccace (porcheta and black truffle cream, where have you been all my life?) and €2 self-serve wine… Yes, we went back two days in a row.
Porcheta, tartufo, and €2 wine... Wha?!