Our first taste of Italy was a brief two day stay in Florence, where we were lucky enough to rent our own apartment and do quite a bit spending just under $200.
I used Google Flights to book our night flight from CDG to FLR for $55.00. We snagged a taxi from the airport for about $25 (if I'm remembering correctly).
We stayed at our first AirBnb, because it was cheaper and closer than the hostels in the area. We were within walking distance to a food market, and just about every other destination we had liked to see (but then again you can walk to just about anything within Florence). On top of that we had our very own private room, with a small dining area as well as access to a full kitchen.
Check AirBnb for available homes and apartments to rent by the night! They aren't always your cheapest option (way cheaper if splitting with multiple people), but the privacy, authenticity, and amenities may be worth checking out, just be sure to do your due diligence and check reviews and verification of renters.
For us it was $28 per night, you can check out the AirBnb listing as well as my review of the apartment here.
As I had said before our AirBnb was just around the corner from a food market, specifically the San Lorenzo Market. Leather goods and clothing were huge here, I opted for the small 1€ leather bracelets, but there were hundreds of purses and backpacks I drooled over. More importantly though, there is a ton of food. This market served as our breakfast joint for our limited stay in Florence, and boy it was good. Fruit everywhere, and some top notch breakfast muffins were simply calling to us.
From the market we started our self-guided walking tour of Florence. Our first stop was the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which was surrounded by steps to hangout and eat your goodies on. I also snagged some of my favorite sandals from a nearby leather shoe shop.
Winding our way towards the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or simply the Duomo, I came to realize that this massive structure was going to be hard to photograph. The first reason is that one will notice everything in Florence is fairly close knit, there's only so much space to back up into, not to mention the hoards of people you're going to bump into.
I finally got this shot by circling the cathedral a few times to find the right angle and a lucky opening in the crowds. In my opinion, on the ground next to it, is not a good vantage point. But with that said, the city offers a few other great options.
We toured the inside of the cathedral and opted out of climbing to the top (which would have meant buying a ticket and waiting in a winding line) but I can only imagine the views from the tower or the roof would blow any others away.
From the Duomo we set out for another close-by sight, the Piazza della Repubblica, and saw numerous street artists using chalk to recreate some masterpieces.
Wandering through the streets we eventually made our way to Ponte Vecchio, the picturesque bridge lined with boutique shops (mostly high end jewelers). It's not as neat of a view from inside, especially when you're in no way making any purchases there, as it was from the neighboring bridge, Ponte alle Grazie. We stopped on the nearby bridge for a moment to enjoy the river view and take a large swig of what I ignorantly thought was lemonade rather than a strong lemon liquor.
From the river our mission to find the Boboli and Bardini Gardens began. A €10 ticket gained us access to both gardens, though finding them turned us around more than it probably should have. The Boboli Garden was more architecture and museum oriented with buildings full of antique pottery and sculptures along the pathways, whereas Bardini played much more into the idea of a garden.
In my opinion, Bardini had the better view, but they were not the acclaimed "best views of the city," those were quite a hike up and away from the gardens. It was highly recommended to see the skyline from Pizzale Michelangelo, so we did just that.
While Google tells me that it is only a 21 minute walk from the gardens to this famous photo spot, I promise you that it definitely took our hot, sweaty, already burnt selves much longer. Though that being said we most likely did not take the most straightforward route.
Either way, once we reached Pizzale Michelangelo we weren't exactly blown away. In essence it was a parking lot on a hill, with a souvenir hut. That being said you could see just about all of Florence.
From here our sweet tooth was kicking in and the search for the best gelato we could find began. I believe we went to three different shops through out our stay in Florence but the favorite for flavor and price was definitely Gelateria Dei Neri. Across the street we found what any budget conscious, penny, pinching hungry ladies want to see, €2 personal pizzas in a shop with free wi-fi. Honestly couldn't find a better quick lunch/pre-dinner.
We had looked up many highly rated pasta joints, and our tummies were ever ready to find them. Unfortunately the rest of Florence wasn't ready to open up for dinner yet.
Different cultures traditionally eat at different times. 5:00 pm is not dinner time in Italy, and no matter how hungry you are, good luck finding a authentic high quality restaurant waiting to serve you their prized dished when its not the local dinner rush. Read up on the varying times for each destination you plan on visiting and try to adjust your schedule to fit.
Again wandering around, trying to find something, anything open and willing to serve us some pasta we were pointed in the direction of a completely empty restaurant that had a few pasta dishes on the menu. It wasn't the complete experience we were looking for but my gnocchi with gorgonzola and pear sauce was still pretty good.
Bellies full, and feeling the wear and tear of the long day we swung back to the AirBnb and put our feet up for the night.
Our second day was much looser and relaxed as we knocked off the big ticket items already. We went back to the market for breakfast and sat on the steps of the Basilica di San Lorenzo for quite some time and watched the crowds pass through. Then we moved back over to the Piazza della Repubblica, where I had seen numerous portrait artists setting up the day before.
The one thing my mom had highly recommended that I do (and shell out money for) was get my portrait done while abroad. My initial plan was to get one done in Paris, but I never saw anyone set up as we walked through the city. So I figured Florence was my chance. I picked out an artist and hesitantly asked if he would do my portrait. Instead of giving me an direct answer he started a conversation with me and asked many questions about the purpose of my trip. When I finally got the guts to ask him how much, he countered with how much I could give him. Embarrassed I told him I meant no offense but that I only had €50 in cash for our last day of the trip. He simply nodded, sat me down and started to draw.
I'm thrilled with the outcome, but I can't begin to explain how awkward the process was. He was going on and on about various things and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stay still of join in the conversation. And it took about an hour. Afterward he sent me in the direction of the post office and I shipped it safely home.
With seven hours to waste until our train took off, we meandered to the train station. Since drinking in public didn't seen like it was frowned upon here, we grabbed some liquid entertainment and snacks at a corner market and made ourselves a little picnic in the lawn just out front of the train station. Eventually it was train time and we hopped on and prepared ourselves for Rome.
Looking back, we could have used all that extra time to check out the museums and artwork (because there truly is a lot Florence has to offer). The tickets really weren't going to throw off our budget and we could have taken some entertaining photos with this David fella. I guess I'll have to make my way back for a round two some day.
Flight - $55
Taxi from airport - $25
AirBnb (2 nights) - $55
Boboli & Bardini Gardens - $12
Portrait - $50
*Not including food, sorry I couldn't keep track of how much all the noms were.