Sunday, November 2, 2014

{Vacation Recap} Florence, Italy: Arrival & First Introduction to AirBnB

The ride to Florence was an easy one...once we actually made it onto the train :) There was a bit of confusion when we realized that the tickets we had downloaded and saved to our dropbox accounts were not opening.   Ah...Technology.

After some questions in my sorry excuse for Italian, we found the Italo help desk.  They assured us that it wasn't necessary to have the ticket on us - just the confirmation # would do. Phew!

I had never been on a high speed train before, and have to say: what's the hold up, America?!  Blazing fast speed, wi-fi, food, wine...we need an L.A. --> NYC (and every city in between) line stat!

It was super quick, and I loved that there were outlets to charge your electronics so that I could update my Fantasy Football lineup, hehe.  It waits for no one!

Within two hours, we found ourselves in Firenze! We were super stoked because right away the neighborhood  (Lungarano Amerigo Vespucci) where our AirBnB was located looked adorable.  It seemed like the kind of neighborhood you would live in if you ever had the opportunity to relocate to Florence. There were no large crowds of tourists to be seen, just a bunch of stylish Italians and cute shoppes. I'll take it!

We waited for the owners to stop by to let us into the cute building we found ourselves in front of. 

After about 15 minutes or so, we realized that they were probably not just running late.  Looking back at the messages in my app,  we did the math and realized that while we each confirmed the same time, we were speaking in entirely different time zones (I gave them our arrival in Italian or local time, while they thought I meant American time).  At this rate, we were going to be waiting for hours....

We decided that it wasn't worth losing almost an entire afternoon of our precious time, and that we needed to do something.  I volunteered to scout out a place with wi-fi (our phones were not working) so we could loop in the owners, and Tom would stand outside watching our bags just in case they showed up after all.

I walked around the corner, bought a frozen coffee from a cute cafe, and used their wi-fi to message the hosts.  That did it! It turned out to be exactly as we suspected - a mix up in time zones. They quickly sent over a very stylish assistant who let us in and gave us the low-down on the place.

I thought they handled everything in a super professional manner.  While I'm sad we didn't get a chance to meet the hosts personally, we definitely appreciated them moving things around to let us in despite the mixup.

The entire flat Suite Montebello - blew our minds and exceeded all expectations.  We realized that we had not one, not two, but THREE terraces on which to enjoy the Florence sky-line.  What a great find!

The bathroom was big and spacious, we had a large king in our bedroom, and the living room was super charming. We also had a full kitchen which included a washer, dishwasher, dining table, stove, and Moka (for coffee) as well as another terrace with gorgeous views.  The place had great light and was super clean without a speck of dust (I seriously tried to find a speck of dust and came up empty).

In addition to being spacious, every square inch was utilized to it's fullest.  We loved the mix of raw, exposed beams, coupled with modern conveniences (AC for the win!)....and did we mention the views?

I haven't utilized AirBnB in the States (yet), but overseas, the flats are usually bought and then run like hotels (minus the daily cleaning service).  You aren't staying in someone's home with a bunch of personal objects surrounding you, which I think is a common misconception....although I'm sure you could find that too if that is more your speed.

It's a fabulous way to save money while feeling a bit more like a "local".

"Sacrificing" accommodations in order to put money elsewhere never felt so good :)

Our rate was around $120/night (yes dollars) and that included taxes and cleaning fees. Considering that hotels of the same caliber would have easily gone for 500 Euros/night or more, we thought this was a steal.  Having the ability to wash our clothes and option to eat at "home"  (saving even more money) was also super convenient.

This setup was perfect as we definitely had some laundry to attend to before the end of our stay. The fact that they provided detergent and other necessities was great.  We cannot say enough good things about this particular rental and would stay there again in a heartbeat!  I just hope we get the opportunity to go back.

Unbeknownst to me, you are expected to review your AirBnB stay within two weeks of your visit.  I attempted to give them a great review shortly after returning home and found out the hard way that it was too late. Since I missed my opportunity to rate them, I wanted to be sure to give them props and spread the good vibes in SOME way - hence the review here :)

Sidenote: some of the links above are referral links.  If you are new to AirBnB and utilize the link, we both get a $25 credit!  You can also use code "momera".

After settling in, we were ready to explore.  There was no real game plan, we just wanted to wander around and see what Florence had to offer.  Answer:  a lot...

We walked through the neighborhood, along the river, and finally found ourselves in an adorable shopping area near the Piazza della Repubblica (the site of an old Roman Forum).   It had everything you might expect for the location, including a Zara, a Gucci and other nice retail stores.  While it was a fun and bustling place, we had something else in mind...

Prior to our trip, I had taken notes from a couple of blogs which recommended finding a great place to enjoy the legendary Florentine sunset.  One of the best spots they said, was located on top of the La Rinascente  - a department store of all places! - and based on our surroundings, we knew it was nearby.

We were definitely ready for a cocktail at that point, and when we finally made it to the top, it proved to be one of many times we would have to pinch ourselves during this trip.  

While the view you see upon entering the rooftop bar is gorgeous in it's own right...

...nothing prepares you for what you see when you look to the right:

The Duomo - so close you could almost touch it.  We definitely came to the right place!

While Florence is obviously a city that has it's share of tourists, when we sat down, we were shocked to realize that we were the ONLY Americans around.

I also couldn't get over how cheap the drinks were and how they actually came with a bit of food at no additional charge.  We would soon realize that this is pretty standard for many parts of Italy and has a name: "aperitivo".  Essentially, it's a supped up "happy hour" where anything from light chips, to an entire buffet may be offered.  One could could very easily get away with not needing dinner if you timed it right.

We ordered fruity cocktails to start, but quickly decided to switch to wine (super cheap) as that just isn't our thing.

Sidenote: I had no idea that Italian's loved boat drinks so much...they would prove to be everywhere.

We proceeded to stand out like a sore thumb (act like you've been here before, O'Mera's! Play it cool!) by taking pics of all.the.things.

He would not let me return the favor, but Tom took some great shots of me for which I'm so thankful. I love having them to remember our first sunset (and night) in Florence!  Otherwise, I might have to believe that this was all a dream :)

Pinch me

After enjoying a couple of rounds, we decided it was time to move on and do a bit of exploring.

At some point, we turned what we thought was a random corner, and there it was! The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore otherwise known as the Duomo.

I am coming up short attempting to describe what it was like to find yourself face to face with something so grand.  I suppose it's enough to simply say that we were stunned and in awe of the sheer size and beauty of the structure in front of us.  We felt incredibly small and humbled as we considered how old the Cathedral is (construction started in the 1200s!) and how many other lives have come and gone into this world since it was dreamed up. Crazy to think about...

Love the pink and green marble - how did they build this thing?!  Side question, how much does a structure made up of so much marble, weigh?  Someone out there has calculated this, right?


I loved that when I mentioned this moment to my mom, she said that she pretty much had the same experience upon seeing the Cathedral for the first time.  She was just out enjoying a stroll in the city, turned a corner and BOOM: The Duomo!  Well played Florence, well played...

After a while we realized that our fancy breakfast in Venice was no longer holding us over.  I have heard amazing things about the gluten free fare in Italy and figured that we should try to track down some pizza.   

After a quick discussion, we decided on Ciro & Sons.

I have no idea if this place is considered "authentic".  While not directly off of the Duomo, it is nearby so take that as you will.  Once inside, we found a mixture of both locals and tourists.  If you do not have to be gluten free, then I'm sure there are other great places to check out off of the beaten path.  However, for me, this pizza was hands down, the best gluten free pizza I have ever had and I was in heaven.  They also seemed to have an entire menu of gluten free options (skip the GF pasta -not worth it) so I could see myself going back.  

Tom agreed that it was an amazing pizza - gluten free or not -  and was only too happy to split it with me (he's pretty honest when this alternative  stuff falls short of the real thing).  We also enjoyed beef carpacchio as well as coffee before getting the check and moving on. 

Gotta capture the moment!  What a treat

Oh man, If I thought the Duomo was breathtaking at sunset, I don't even know how to describe just how beautiful and magnificent it looks lit up at night.  There is something about the white of the building contrasted against a dark sky that is truly striking.

Of course we had to take a million pictures!  #howtolooklikeatourist

Odd holigram outside of the Dumo #isthattupac?

We wandered around just a bit longer and then decided it was time for dessert! We tracked down gelato which was hidden in a small side street nearby and headed home with our treats.

Another random sighting (besides Tupac) happened when we were heading back to our flat:  a small American Country bar, blaring pop country songs.

Well ok then!  Can't say I expected that :)

Anyone know who Uncle Jimmy is?

A pic of fancy hotels we passed walking pack to our flat:

The view of Florence from our terrace was a wonderful way to end our evening.  I stayed up way too late soaking it in and trying to commit everything to memory....good thing blogs are a 
thing" now...

We still had two more nights in Florence to look forward to, but next up: our day trip in Tuscany!


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