Everyone told me I’d hate Venice and love Florence, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I hated Florence and fell instantly in love with Venice.
I wasn’t an intentional honey badger on this one, I promise. In fact, we spent weeks debating whether or not to even go to Venice having heard such lackluster reviews of the place, but Florence was always on the list. It wasn’t even a topic of debate, really, it just was. Of course we’d go to Florence, we said. Because it’s Florence.
There are a lot of reasons why I didn’t like Florence, but it’s also possible that I just did it wrong. Maybe it’s because we didn’t stay there, didn’t spend any nights in Florence, opting instead to spend our nights on the outskirts of nearby San Gimignano. Maybe it was that we’d just been in Rome and were tired of the mayhem of a big city. Maybe we didn’t see the right things or make enough of a plan before visiting, maybe that’s it.
Or maybe Florence just isn’t my kind of city.
We started our Florence adventure mid-morning on a Thursday and went straight to the Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David since 1873. I knew the line to get in would be long – in 2016, the Accademia was the second most-visited art museum in Italy – but I wanted to see the David. That, like Florence itself, was nonnegotiable.
We spent our first 90 minutes in Florence in that line, waiting to see the David. You can (and should) buy tickets in advance, but we’d kept our plans in Tuscany loose and hadn’t committed to our day in Florence until the last minute.
But then we were inside, finally, and there it was.
I won’t lie. I hated that line and the people in the line and everything about that line, but when we finally got inside and when we saw the David, it was worth it. I was glad we’d done it, glad we’d waited and hadn’t given up and were able to see this incredible and renowned work of art.
After taking in the David in all his glory, we wandered around Florence.
We circled the Cathedral, but didn’t go inside, mostly because the lines to get in were all absurdly long and we were in no mood for any more of that bullshit.
Maybe it was at that point that we started to get cranky. Half a day had passed and we’d done little beyond standing in lines and staring at lines, and we were quickly growing sick of the dirty and cramped Florentine streets. I missed the wide avenues of Rome and felt like I was constantly getting jostled in Florence as I squeezed my way along the city’s sidewalks, trying to avoid getting hit by the screaming scooters that kept careening down the street.
We ate, at some point, and I took exactly one picture of my meal – on my phone, no less – of what I remember to be some quite delicious bruschetta, and then we went to the Basilica di Santa Croce.
Santa Croce is the largest Franciscan church in the world, includes 16 chapels and is the final resting place of guys like Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. Construction started in 1294 and the building was consecrated in 1443 and, according to legend, it was founded by Saint Francis himself. Best of all, seeing it required absolutely zero line-waiting.
After Santa Croce, we headed to Ponte Vecchio to check off one more major Florentine attraction before leaving. Ponte Vecchio is a very old bridge in Florence with shops built along it. Three blocks before we got there, the crowds started to thicken, my anxiety increased and I once again narrowed my eyes at Florence, pissed at yet another foiled attempt to appreciate the city. I rattled off some history facts, tried hard to salvage our adventure, but, as we walked across the bridge, we were not impressed. Yes, Ponte Vecchio is very old and you can buy all sorts of shit on it, but mostly it is packed full of people.
We crossed the street, turned left and walked a few blocks and then crossed some other bridge and that bridge was the better bridge, in my option, because it was mostly empty and included quite the view.
We stood there, taking it in from a distance, thinking that maybe that’s how we should have taken in all of Florence. We checked the train schedule, discussed staying longer, wandering more, seeing more, but the thought of pushing through more crowds or standing in more lines was just too much, so we left.
Florence was beautiful, yes, but a day felt like enough for me. By the end, I was tired of being pushed, tired of dodging big groups of tourists, tired of lines, tired of not fitting on the sidewalk. On the train back I thought maybe if we’d done it differently we would have liked it more, maybe if we’d gotten there earlier or stayed the night or visited different things.
Have you ever been to a place that didn’t live up to the hype, that just wasn’t quite what you wanted it to be?