Day 4: We’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow, Firenze…

Piazzale Michelangelo, florence, beautiful sunsetIn case you miss it, take a gander HERE and check out my suggestions and tips when in Rome and Florence.

After getting back from a full-day trip to Tuscany, I looked thoroughly at my self-made itinerary and was happy that we had been able to see quite a bit and everything was going swimmingly. The weather had been beyond fantastic thus allowed us to enjoy Florence, Cinque Terre, and Tuscany to the fullest.

However, there were several other high-priority places that had to be visited such as Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia, Piazzale Michelangelo, and Garden of Boboli. Who would want to leave Florence without seeing the real David statue in the flesh? Or catch the most glorious sunset that Florence has to offer? We surely didn’t want to miss out on those, so were quite determined to make them happen at whatever costs on our last day in town.

Uffizi Gallery is open at 8:15AM everyday. The inner tourist in me figured that not a lot of tourists would wake up really early to line up especially on Sunday, which in hindsight was such a naive and silly miscalculation. We woke up early and took our time to prepare and have breakfast. The day started off chilly and gloomily, which made me a tad anxious whether we would be able to do everything we had planned to do since some required weather’s cooperation.

It began drizzling when we were making our way to the Uffizi, so I thought “This is just perfect. We can hide in the museum until it stops raining.” Upon arrival, we were completely floored at how obscenely long the line was and even more so after learning from the guard that it’d take at least 1.5 hours to get in. I almost blurted out: “That’s a freaking joke, right? We won’t get in until 11, so when can we finish? We’re leaving Florence tomorrow and there’s a long-ass list of places we have yet to see.” Being a civilized person that I am, I stopped myself short of course and silently cursed myself why I didn’t reserve tickets at one of the most crowed places in the world.

We waited for approximately 10 minutes before impatience got the better of me.

I told my sister to wait in line as I made my way to the ticket counter and asked. Among a few pearls of wisdom that I have attained during the past 24 years of existence, one that has proved to work like a charm every single time is that every problem is solvable if you ask the right person. After a 2-minute conversation, the queue-up issue was fixed.

Here is how it works: For those who forget to reserve tickets online before you visit, there is this option of making ticket reservations on the spot for a specific time slot on the day assigned by the museum. There are different time slots throughout the day, each of which is 15 (or 20) minutes apart. You pay an additional $4 reservation fee on top of the ticket itself, which I believe you will have to pay anyway when you book your ticket online. You arrive at the chosen time and are able to get in right away without having to line up. 

We booked ours at 1PM so that we could have a proper lunch to get mentally and physically ready for the otherworldly arts inside the Uffizi. Afterwards, we quickly headed to Galleria dell’Accademia and did the same thing. With reservations at both places in hands, we felt very assured and spent the rest of the morning either wandering around aimlessly or hiding somewhere when it drizzled steadily and watching the world go by. Which was immensely pleasant. florence, italy, Uffizi Gallery, yellow cars charming florence, italy, windowscolorful bikes, florence, italycolorful bikes, florence, italy [Read more…]

Day 2: Bella Firenze (Part Two)

ponte santa trinita at sunset, ponte vecchio at sunsetBefore you proceed further, have a look at Part One and see what options you have on a bright morning in Florence.

In addition to arts, architecture and cuisine, Florence is also internationally renowned for its quality hand craftsmanship in leather goods and jewelry. It’s the birthplace of the house of Gucci (founded in 1921). Salvatore Ferragamo also moved back from America (the reason being American labour wasn’t capable of making the shoes he wanted) and opened his shoes shop in Florence (1927). Even now, a lot of big league designer houses all over the world have factories in and outside Florence. (I have something about the house of Salvatore Ferragamo to share with you in an upcoming post, so stay tuned.)

I guess before many of you visit Florence, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and myriad other travel blogs and websites direct you to many charming jewelry shops around Ponte Vecchio. I personally found them nice but not as great as they’re cracked up to be, and certainly don’t dissuade you from visiting those shops. The more, the better, right?

If you have some time to spare and are just more curious about the traditional craftsmanship of Florence than the average person, then I wholeheartedly suggest you to visit Giuliano Ricci’ craft workshop, which is located in Piazza San Spirito (Oltrarno neighborhood). His metal studio is on the first floor of a residential building just across San Spirito Church. The exact address is Piazza Santo Spirito 12.

I don’t have an accurate recollection of where I learned about his workshop. Most likely, I was just lurking around some random blogs or websites during my due diligence. However, I remember when I read about his items being stocked at places like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales and his work with Christian Dior, I promised myself that I would visit him at all costs.

Well, I did and am very content to say that it was one of the brightest spots of my time in Florence. When we arrived at the building and were wondering which buzz to ring, a man came back from somewhere with his bike and asked if he could be of any help. You can imagine my initial reactions when he introduced himself as the man I was looking for, Giuliano Ricci.

He then invited us to his workshop and inquired how we got to know about him. I’m not sure if it was because we were the only two visitors he had at that time or he was really appreciative of the fact that we trekked all the way from Vietnam to Florence and then to his place or he is just inherently hospitable and gracious like that.

Instead of only showcasing to us the final products in the showroom, Giuliano gave us one amazing individualized tour of the basement and every room on the back where he wields his magic artistic gift everyday and turn chunky, lifeless objects into intricately beautiful pieces of jewelry. From the space, the machines, the molds to the tools that he uses, everything reeks of traditions and history. We were simple awestruck!

The truth is Giuliano speaks very limited English while I speak a total of 3 words in Italian (including “ciao”, “grazie”, and “perfetto” in case you’re curious). However, arts and beauty must be a universal language and whatnot because the whole time he explained everything to me in Italian, I felt like I understood him perfectly. LOL. It was definitely not a classic case of language barrier. Or maybe it is the modern type which involves no verbal struggle or awkward nod. But whatever, that is linguists’ job. HAHA.

Can anyone translate this piece of press into English for me? My hunch is it has something to do with his work for Dior.

Florence, Italy Giuliano Ricchi's Metal Studio visit, neiman marcus, diorThis photo probably speaks 10,000 words.
Florence, Italy Giuliano Ricchi's Metal Studio visit, neiman marcus, diorFlorence, Italy Giuliano Ricchi's Metal Studio visit, neiman marcus, diorFlorence, Italy Giuliano Ricchi's Metal Studio visit, neiman marcus, diorFlorence, Italy Giuliano Ricchi's Metal Studio visit, neiman marcus, dior [Read more…]

Day 2: Bella Firenze (Part One)

florence duomo, climb the cupola, panoramic view of florence, FirenzeI have just realized (thanks to some readers. Oh God, is there anything more embarrassing?) that posting 40-plus high-resolution photos along with 2,000 words isn’t the most sensible way to go about this.

In my defense, I see it happen everyday on many other blogs and websites but what totally slipped my mind was that theirs are professional and set up with high-speed internet and all that jazz while mine is the product of…the third world (sorry, I’m acutely aware that I overuse this one but I can’t help it because it’s the cold damn truth.) For that reason, I will divide the travel’s posts into two or three parts (depending on how photo-oriented they’re) from now on so they load faster for every party involved. If there’s any recurring technical glitch, please please kindly let me know. I’m doing my utmost to improve my blog every single day.

One lesson I have learned from traveling on my own is that having a tentative plan or itinerary at hands is incredibly helpful, especially when I only have a limited number of days in a city that has a plethora of things to see and do. I’m in complete control of my schedule yet don’t have to forgo that element of surprise and spontaneity throughout my trip. Case in point: I created a tentative plan for Florence (and every other city as well) but was very flexible in terms of when each activity would happen, except for perpetually being in a military state of mind which included bed late, early rise and walking (’til you’re) dead.

The second day in Florence started off in the best possible way with glorious sunshine and light breeze. Almost instinctively, I skimmed through my papers to see which would warrant 200% corporation from the weather. A ha! Climbing to the top of the Duomo.

Normally, once we decided what we would do on a particular day, we would be out of the doors in like 5 minutes. I already raved about the location of the hotel HERE, so we took our time munching croissants, sipping espresso and ogling on runners’ toned legs. (No no no, the last part was a complete white lie. I ain’t no pervert.) After all of that, we walked literally 1 minute, no more no less to the Duomo.

Here is an important little tip for y’all: The line to go inside the Duomo is different from the line to climb up to the Cupola, with the latter being on the other side, not on the front and usually quite short. The fee is 7 or 8 euros and the number of stairs is more or less the same as that at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. C’mon, we all need to kick-start our day with a bit of cardio. I promise you will be rewarded with some marvelously spectacular views of Florence and the Tuscany region. Here’s the proof: 

florence duomo, climb the cupolaflorence duomo, climb the cupola, panoramic view of florence, FirenzeWhile Rome is eclectic in colors and patterns, Florence is all about consistency. The city’s main color palette is a mix between yellow and orange. When you see it from a vantage point this high, you basically can’t do much other than mumbling “wow, wow, wow” to yourself and with your travel companion. Oh and snapping pictures like a mad man. That was exactly what I did when I was up there. florence duomo, climb the cupola, panoramic view of florence, Firenze

You could also see Basilica of Santa Croce from here. Florence is a very compact and walkable city. Everything is within walking distances, which I absolutely love.

florence duomo, climb the cupola, panoramic view of florence, Firenzeflorence duomo, climb the cupola, panoramic view of florence, Firenze [Read more…]

Arrivederci, Roma. Ciao, Firenze!

florence, italy, duomoThree full days in Rome went by in the blink of an eye. The next thing we knew, we already had to pack for Florence. Fortunately, the departure time wasn’t until 11:20AM so there were some extra hours for us to squeeze every possible last bit out of Rome.

One thing we loved about our B&B is that it’s in close proximity to many places of interest. That really helped on that particular morning because Termini Station was just 10 minutes (of taxi) away and Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was just 10 minutes of walking. We headed down to the church right after breakfast at the local coffee shop.

The church of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome and has an opulently decorated interior– impressive intricate details on the ceiling and beautiful religious mosaics on the sides. As we were there pretty early in the morning, there were only a handful of locals and tourists scattering around, which made our visit all the more enjoyable and…spiritual. By which I mean, I did not have to get on my high horse or silently curse those who jostled to get ahead or those who obstructed everybody’s view by taking 100 different pictures at the same spot in the same pose.

For approximately 45 minutes, we really had that much-needed peace of mind before the chaos that was Termini Station.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, ItalyBasilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, ItalyThe Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, ItalyBasilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, Italy [Read more…]