Florence and beyond in five days

Jessica Novak
September 24, 2009

Before studying abroad in Florence for four months, I was sure to tell my friends and family to visit. But, although I knew that having visitors was possible, I was not very confident that the bank accounts, availability or courage of most of my friends and family would result in a commitment to travel to another country.


However, they quickly proved me wrong.  Suddenly I had the duty of entertaining four sets of visitors.  My playful suggestion had become a burden.


My initial reaction was a mix of excitement and fear. When my best friend since preschool, Lisa, announced that she would be here for a week in March, I both panicked and rejoiced. Honored that she would choose to spend her spring break and hard-earned money with me, I had to figure out a way to share Florence and a little bit of Italy in only five days. What began as a burden, I realized, was a blessing. Not only did I have an opportunity to see some of Italy in a short time, but I was lucky enough to share it with someone I have known all my life. Florence has become my city and Italy, my home, so sharing it was like sharing a piece of myself.


The result of this challenge is the following guide for conquering Florence and some of Italy in five days. Though it is impossible to capture the many facets of Italian culture in so short a time, this range of museums, locations, food and culture provides a nice balance for the anxious tour guide or clueless tourist.



DAY 1:  Catch the Ataf shuttle bus from the airport back to the station right beside the Florence Santa Maria Novella Train Station. This option is preferable to a cab depending on the amount of luggage the visitor needs to lug through the city.


Depending on age, home-stays are the most preferable accommodations. This living arrangement is perfect for younger visitors as it places them with other students rather than isolating them in a lonely hostel. For example, my host-family provided breakfasts and dinners, and my roommates provided directions and hair-dryers.


Use the first day to visit a few essential landmarks, such as Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte, the Duomo, Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria, and the Ponte Vecchio. The Opera dell'Duomo Museum, is an appropriate choice for any tourist as the museum gives visitors a new appreciation of the massive masterpiece. For interest and orientation, be sure to show your guests a major sight closest to their accommodations. In our case, Santa Croce was an easy indicator for ‘home.'



DAY 2:  Follow the first rule of Florence: take advantage of nice weather when you have it. For the dedicated traveler, start with an early visit to the Duomo, beating the lines, take a quick train to Pisa for the tower, baptistery and museums, and shoot up to Lucca for a bike ride around the walls to complete the cloudless day (for the less dedicated, pick and choose your battles).



DAY 3:  Start the day early to beat the lines at Museo dell'Accademia, then visit nearby San Marco, tour San Lorenzo and finish the morning with the Cappelle Medicee. You will end near the San Lorenzo market, making it a perfect opportunity for souvenir hunting and a hearty bowl of ribollita. This extremely authentic Tuscan and more specifically Florentine dish is an essential on the ‘must-try' food list for any visitor to Florence.


Then visit the world-famous Uffizi, making your way in quickly thanks to a reservation. If you are planning a visit to the art gallery, this is the best way to ensure a spot. Waiting in a much shorter line is worth the small charge for the reservation.


After five educational visits in one day, relax and enjoy some true Italian culture with a personal wine tasting lesson at Santa Croce Wine Co. on via Giovanni da Verrazzano 10r.



DAY 4:  Venture across the river to GustoPanino for a 3-euro lunch of the best panini in Florence and stop by a local fruit stand for some unbeatable apples and grapes. Then catch the 3.30 Eurostar train to Rome and be there by 6pm. After checking into a hostel, go to the Coliseum, then dinner.



DAY 5:  Be sure to get a good night's sleep before tackling the Vatican Museum early! Get there by 7.30 and wait (even if it's raining!) until the doors open, thus avoiding  the massive line that will wrap around the block only a few hours later.


After the Vatican, Saint Peters Basilica is a must, followed by Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps: all an easy walk. Take the Metro to the Forum, enjoy a walk through the ruins, savor a meal, and take the train; you'll be back in Florence by 11pm.


If you are given the opportunity to share Florence, or any city, take my advice: get up early, try to do as much as possible, but do not stress over lines, money, tickets or tourists. Enjoy every minute and take more pictures than you can count because it is not about where you go. It is about who you are with.





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