The day dawned in Florence after a very emotional night at the gates of Santa Maria Novella Train Station. Having spoken to Carlo (click here for the first part of the story) for 10 hours or so, it was time to go sightseeing.
Florence is probably one of the places that I know the history inside and out. Even before I ever went there, I studied art history and renaissance art is very closely related to the history of the city. Anyway, I went a bit over the top and read more and more, so being in Florence had a special significance in my itinerary. Not only did I want to walk around, but I wanted to spend as much time at their local artist’s gallery. Local artist’s gallery? I mean the Uffizi Gallery, and by local artists, I mean Michelangelo, Rafaello, Ghirlandaio, Da Vinci, De Verrocchio, Massaccio and so on… not too bad for a local museum, right?
Even though I wanted to visit some paid touristic attraction, I had no money. I had those €35 for food, of which I spent €20 for breakfast with Carlo. The €15 I had was literally the last money that I had, so I what could I do? I had to skip the museum, which was going to break my heart. I had still three full days in Florence, so that first day, I decided to walk all the way up to Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the panorama of the city. Incredible, I must say! The church of San Miniato Al Monte, which is close by, was free to enter, so I popped in for view. Very beautiful romanesque style building, but that’s beside the point. In summary, my day was full of getting familiar with the outside of places. I walked through the whole city and put my theoretical street knowledge into practice. I did not need a map to walk around! It seemed I did my homework correctly. After a very long two days, it was time to call it the day and rest. And worry about the lack of money the next day.
I woke up to a glorious breakfast at the hostel, which they offered for free only twice a week. Well, maybe that was my lucky day. I tried to decide what to do and as I was walking out, a group of tourists were gathered outside the hostel for a free walking tour. I decided to join for the first part, just to see what it was about. We waited 5, 10, 15 minutes and nothing… the guide didn’t turn up. The guy who was at the front desk approached us and said that the tour had been cancelled as the guide couldn’t make it. I was planning to go busking somewhere to get some money, when something clicked and I asked: “Can I take the tour?”. The hostel owner was a bit reluctant, so I asked around if they would be ok with me taking the tour, after all, in the worst case scenario, they wouldn’t need to give me any tips (free tour guides work on tips only).
So we set off! As most people who know me can confirm, I love talking, but as I put myself on the line, I had to try to be as coherent as I possibly could. I knew about the history of the place, but making it flow as we walked around is no joke! The beginning is terrifying, I have to say. No idea if that was going to work. So we started waking down towards the Duomo (Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore) and the Baptistery. Facts and things of interest start coming out of nowhere, thing I thought I had forgotten, but it was a cool experience. Did you know that one of the projects to build the Dome of the Duomo was to fill the entire church with mud as support? Well, now you know!
The group consisted of about 40 people. We lost a few souls along the way, but not many. We stopped a couple of times for ice cream in some hidden gems that I knew about, gift shops… but mostly, touring around and telling stories about the place, interesting facts, a few jokes, well, trying my best to keep everyone entertained. As I had my guitar with me, we sat down for lunch and I played it while I waited. I was so hungry, but couldn’t afford to eat with them. We walked around for another hour and the tour finished back at the hostel. The tour took the best part of 5 hours! I took my guitar case, opened up the outside pocket, explained the situation and asked only to give what they thought the tour was worth for them. My God, American tourists are very generous! I received about €90. A couple alone tipped me €20! And best of all, a subgroup of the tour invited me to go to the pub with them later that evening. It was great!
The next day, I had a whole bunch of friends! When I finally could afford to go into the Uffizi, a few of them joined me and offered to pay my ticket if I would give them a tour around the gallery. Well, I refused, but still wanted to show them around the place. They were so generous the day before, they could just have said no to the tour and left, but they gave me a chance. Needless to say, it was another great day! I got to see the best museum in the world (in my opinion), talked about it to people who were willing to listen to me and made new friends.
Is there a better way to travel? Now… off to Rome!
(Photos are from a more recent trip to Florence. I only turned to digital in 2008!)