Originally I had intended to spend two weeks in Florence, WWOOFing on a farm nearby, that housed forty horses. I've wanted to work with horses in Italy for some time now & the place I'd found sounded ideal & were the only ones who needed help in winter. Alas, they did not want me once they found out I was a vegan. (I know, right!) So, in the end, I decided to stay for just a few days & oh, what a few days I had!
Having not entirely realised how small Florence town center is, I paid a little extra & stayed in the Academy Hostel, as it is situated right round the corner from Florence's main attraction, the Basilica di Santa Maria Fiore. The hostel itself was nice & the staff friendly, but what is up with all these hostels & their lack of kitchen facilities!? I have quinoa to cook damn it! Don't they know how hard it is to be vegan when traveling! Pffft.
On my first day in town, having arrived quite late in the afternoon, I dropped my things off in my room & headed out, first stop being the Duomo. I almost cannot describe its magnificence. The patterned marble facade is beautiful. I'll say one thing for these Italians, they're resplendent when it comes to architecture. Entry to the building is free, so obviously I didn't turn it down. I was so disappointed at first though. The interior was so bland, so lacklustre, after the initial allure of the outer shell. Then, as I moved towards the alter, I looked up & there, beaming down from the dome was The Last Judgement. A ridiculously large fresco, covering the entire surface of the dome's ceiling, leaving me breathless.
The weather was far better than I thought it would be, even to the point, I shed my jacket & strolled around in just a sweater & jeans. Meandering around the city streets, I came across Shake Café, a gelateria on Via Degli Avelli, specialising in natural juices, along with healthy wraps & salads, including tofu filled, vegan friendly options. When I saw they did milkshakes with the option of soya milk, I forgot about my soy intolerance & marched straight in, ordering a Vanilla Sky (Vanilla, banana & honey). It was so delicious that it was gone by the time I crossed the piazza to enter the Basilica Santa Maria Novella. Which, by the by, is not free, as the internet informed me & so refusing to pay to enter a church, I didn't bother with.
Keen on visiting every market happening in the city, I headed to Piazza San Lorenzo, to take a look at the leather market. Walking down the streets, encased by stalls, it felt more like a cattle market, only with me as the goods. Every seller trying to hussle me, catcalling & trying to convince me to buy their overpriced, hideously coloured leather jackets. Be gone swines! I don't want your tat! Although, I will admit, I did end up parting with money for a small leather drawstring bag, from a mature female seller at the end of the line. I'm convincing myself it'll be great for summer & perfect for festivals, that's my justification, anyway.
With the night closing in, I made a final attempt to reach the Mercato delle Pulci flea market, in Piazza dei Ciompi. However, just as I was hovering under a street lamp, attempting to find my direction, map in hand, a voice called out to me, asking if I needed help. Sounding American & handsome, I turned to look & happily saw that the voice did in fact match the face. Only, he wasn't American, but Italian, fluent in English, with a quaint, well traveled accent. Sadly he was heading in one direction & I another, but he gave me his card. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the market, it was too late & was closed. Disappointed, I grabbed some bread from a nearby bakery & trekked off home to my hostel.
The Academy Hostel offers free pizza & wine to its guests in the evening. Obviously a margarita isn't exactly vegan friendly, so I got comfy in the kitchen with my olives & legumes, but bless the receptionist, she came up to me, mid meal, brandishing some bruschetta she'd made, just for me. I do love a good bit of customer services.
To be continued...