Europe, Italy, Travel

Florence – An Unexpected Disappointment

I know, I am going to get hate mail and death threats for this post. I mean, everyone loves and raves about Florence and if I complain about it, it will send people’s mind spinning out of control and cause some sort of cosmic imbalance that I prefer not to be responsible for. So, before you label me as crazy..hear me out, people!

Issue 1: Over Expectation — I was very excited about Florence from the beginning of our trip. I wanted to go to the place where people I KNEW went on their honeymoon.  I wanted to go to the place which always topped the list of dream destinations in people’s bucket list. And this is probably where the seeds of disaster were sown. I had a serious issue of over expectation, similar to one suffered by a Hangover-2 movie goer. It was bound to end in a train wreck from the start!  I am hoping that I am resetting your expectations so you might have a better experience 🙂

Troups ready to take on Florence

Issue 2:  The Hostel Fiasco — We had been travelling for quite some time and one thing we wanted was the flexibility of being anywhere we wanted without booking and committing too much in advance. It resulted in us booking hostels at the last minute quite frequently. Of course, we were also adamant on staying at highly-rated hostels so we didn’t end up in some disgusting frat house or a party shack with a bunch of 16 year olds.  We used Hostel World religiously to review and book hostels. Most of the time we were lucky that the highly-rated hostels had availability. We had no such luck in Florence.  We didn’t realize schools were out so soon and everyone in the world wanted to visit Florence at exactly the same time. When we tried to book a hostel 2 days before, all the over 80% rated hostels were booked out.  We were in a jam. We had never stayed in a hostel with a rating less than 90% and now we were going to try our luck with a hostel rated at 75%.  YES, I admit we are snobs when it comes to only wanting to stay in the best of the best, but we are still talking hostels here, bunk beds and shared bathrooms, and there was about a $5 difference between disgusting and really nice so it’s a no-brainer!

Santa Monaca hostel used to be a convent from 15th century..We thought maybe there will be interesting architectural details and history that will make up for the bad reviews on this hostel.  We checked-in into the hostel without much issue. The staff was nice and attentive. Things were looking up already.  We climbed the old, steep and never ending stairs to get to the room. As we opened the room, I got a fresh whiff of musty and soggy socks mixed with sharp smell from cleaning supplies. It didn’t help that 2 out of 3 roomates were sick and had medicines all over the place. It smelled like death. The nun quarter, now our room, had a tiny window near the ceiling and metal framed beds that creaked every time you sat down or turned. It was perfect for experiencing a prison and a convent at the same time! There was grime everywhere in the make-shift kitchen and cholera came to mind when I take a look at the drinking glasses in the sink.  Oh, and if you decide to stay there despite my valuable advice, get your own hand soap for the restroom because they left that off the list of basics. Or you could borrow a bar of soap from the guy who Dan found sleeping in the men’s restroom at midnight with all his luggage!

Image Credit: Santa Monaca – The dining area in the ex-convent hostel

Image Credit: Santa Monaca Hostel — Notice the lack of soap dispensers!

It is time for me to stop bashing this hostel. You get the point. I am not crazy. I was set up from the start!  I can say that the pictures above were clearly taken after a targeted all-hands-on-deck cleaning mission, because they are missing a few inches of water on the floor and a healthy scum lining.

Issue 3:  The Heat and The Crowd — I know, I should be ashamed of myself. I am from India. I should be an expert in dealing with heat and throngs of people but I’ve become a bit of a wuss. I don’t like standing in lines for anything…well except the gelato line.  But, I don’t like standing in lines for museums or to take pictures of statues or to ride in special elevators to go to the top of buildings.  I was not well-prepared to fight my queue phobia in Florence.

We were constantly dodging the oversized camera bearing tourists, the crazy Italian mopeds and cars, and the street hawkers. The lines to the museums felt long even after we got swindled into paying extra for the special, reserved tickets. Once we got into a museum, we had to fight for space in the room with the tour groups that always decided to congregate and carry long historical discussions directly in front of the art.  And forget about taking photos of statues in piazzas ‘cos 100s of people are trying to take a photo of their entire family in front of them. It was ruthless.  A few sleepless nights tossing and turning in our metallic death beds only added to the frustration of the billowing crowds and penetrating heat.  

“Cheese!”

Camera, phones, guidebooks prevail

crowd by Duomo

Wanna close up look of the art work on the gold door…IN YOUR DREAMS!

A line to even get inside a shoe store!

beaten down by heat and crowds

Inspite of my not-so-happy experience as a traveler to this beautiful city, there were some calming and happy moments, like these —

when I ate gelato multiple times in the day, the world seemed like a better place.

gelatomy safe place

when we hiked up above the town and went to San Miniato Al Monte church. We witnessed beautiful sunset and experienced the calmness of the church and the adjoining cemetery without the tourists.  Perched high above Florence, we could really appreciate the beauty of Florence that people always talk about.  

Dan finally enjoying some peace at San Miniato Al Monte church

Cemetry at the church

Gorgeous during sunset

witnessing the Statue of David (the real one). Yes, there are several replicas of Michelangelo’s David around the town but the real one in the Gallery of Accademia di Belle Arti is seriously breathtaking.  IT is the main attraction in that museum so a lot of people are gathered around the statue watching and sneaking in pictures from their camera (by the way, taking pictures or videos are not allowed in any museum).  But the beauty of the statue  – its physical strength, the scale, the contours – evokes such strong emotion in you that you are awestruck. In that moment, it is easy to block the people and noise around you. I don’t consider myself an art connoisseur but it is one of the most amazing pieces of art I have ever seen in my life.  

Can you pick the real David from the images below?! The fake Davids got nothin’ on the real David. Seriously!

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Ahem. The Beiber era David?

Travel Tips:

– In order to avoid our not-so-great experience in Florence, make sure to book hostels or hotels far in advance especially if you are travelling during the busy summer months. I’d recommend avoiding summer months altogether, if you can.

– Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery (where real David is) are the most popular and so have the longest lines.  If you can afford it, I’d ONLY recommend buying the ‘reserved tickets’ for these 2 museums (the rest of the museums do not have very long lines). The ticket will get you in a special, reserved line.  The access to the museums is in the order of tour groups, then reserved ticket holders and lastly, the poor folks like us with regular priced tickets.  A lot of people recommend to buy these reserved tickets online but we didn’t. We went to Accademia Gallery and noticed the extra long lines and ended up buying reserved tickets from a ticket counter outside the museum.  We still had to wait in the reserved line. For Uffizi, we went in during the lunch hour so the lines were a lot smaller and we just paid regular ticket prices.

line for ‘reserved’ ticket holders…

In line to get inside Uffizi Gallery

Take a walk up to the Michelangelo Piazza where you can witness beautiful, panaromic views of the city and another replica of David (this time in bronze). There are a lot of tour groups in the Piazza which can cause anxiety to people like me …continue to walk up the road and follow the signs for San Miniato Al Monte..it is a little hike up to the church but it is totally worth it. We only saw 3-4 people during sunset near the church. 

Some more pictures from around Florence:

Perseus With the Head of Medusa

Fountain of Neptune by Piazza della Signoria

Duomo of Florence

12 Comments

  1. Marme says

    Actually, I like an occasional imperfection…makes it real? Yucky hostel! I have wonderful memories of Florence. Late 60s. Peter, Paul and Mary songs, wine bags, steps of the cathedral , lots of hippie students…. Things change! Michelangelo was a revelation to me as a teenager! Never changes! Thanks again for beautuful pics and travelogue!

    • Yeah, true. Sometimes imperfections are what make your trip interesting and leave lasting impression (such as this one for us) 🙂
      We always read in history books how amazing Michelangelo was but when you finally see his art work in person you realize what a great genius he was! Thank you for reading and commenting as always!

  2. Nice blog story. We were fortunate to have been in a group in Florence. Unfortunately, we went on a Sunday, which meant to entry to The Duomo. It was May, but it was still crowded. Thanks for a well-written piece.

    • Thank you for reading! Yes, maybe being in a group is better when visiting cities like Florence….as they say more strength in numbers 😉

  3. Great post and nice photos. I’ve never been to Italy. Would love to visit someday. Hopefully, everyone visited when you were there and all the lines will have dissipated for me. 😉

    • HAHAHA. You wish the lines would disappear, don’t you!?
      All the best 😉

      Thanks for reading and following, Seth!

  4. Vipula says

    Interesting.. maybe there is something called the off-season and one can visit then?

    • I don’t know if Florence ever has an off-season. It is such a popular city. I would avoid the summer months when the schools are off…I think that might be the worst time to go there.

      Thanks for reading!

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