Second and final installment on my Italy holiday now; after a day and a bit in Pisa we hopped on the train to the fair city of Florence.
Florence is my favourite sort of European city; modern enough to have my much-missed Euro-high street shops (Promod here I come), but with a compact old heart rich with history and cultural stuff. I booked the hotel for this way back in February on one of the many comparison sites, it was a decent looking 3-star in a central location, which is usually top of my priority list. The ‘Hotel Centrale‘ didn’t disappoint – 5 minutes walk from the main train station and a stone’s throw from the Piazza del Duomo. It was clean with some nice details, like all the rooms named after the subject of a painting inside, and a frescoed ceiling in the breakfast room. The lift had to be seen to be believed though – supposedly limited to 4, could be mistaken for a broom cupboard and was cosy with 2 occupants!
The hotel was also on the edge of the San Lorenzo district, famous for its huge leather market. This seemed to be on every day and meanders through street after street around the main food market hall. Most of the stalls are selling very similar leather goods; bags and belts mainly but there are some other things to be found, such as gadget cases which I did muse over. Don’t expect the prices to be market cheap – not at first in any case. Most vendors we asked started at anywhere from €50 to €200 – but they do haggle down, and it seems that cash in hand will reduce your price further. Some of the stalls are just frontages for bigger warehouse-like shops behind, but we found it was almost a case of too much choice and in the end came away without any purchases.
During our time in Florence we walked over the Ponte Vecchio, strolled the Boboli Gardens, admired the painted ceiling in the Duomo and reeled at the self-important style of the Medici family in the Palazzo Vecchio. On one of the days we went on a tour excursion which was a full day, leaving Florence at 8.30am and returning at 7.30pm. The first stop was the very picturesque medieval mountaintop town of San Gimignano, which is very touristy but also quite charming. Then lunch at a local vineyard, tasting of 3 of their wines including a Chianti Classico alongside a delicious Tuscan lunch, followed by a dessert wine with the local after-dinner speciality of almond biscotti. We all got a bit of time to sleep off the wine whilst driving to Siena, another lovely medieval city which was much smaller than we thought. There are many fascinating things about Siena, not least the fact that there are 17 districts or contrade, each represented by an animal and delineated throughout the city with plaques high up on the walls and statues on pillars. The rivalries between the districts are apparently quite real even today, and most vociferous during the Palio horse race. The last stop after Siena was the fortress of Monterriggioni, but by this point we were flagging somewhat so probably didn’t take this brief photo-stop in as much as we could have.
So, to fashion. There were plenty of shoe shops in Florence with a wide range of styles, but clothes were strangely quite absent. The designers are clustered along with the big department stores around the Piazza della Repubblica, and Via Panzano which runs from the train station to the Piazza del Duomo had some high street names; in fact there’s a shopping centre under the train station itself. However, we both found that many of the fashion shops felt cheap and tacky, and neither of us bought anything other than at Promod.
Below is my lookbook for the holiday – although the jacket (Desigual) and jeans (Next) only came out on the first and last day! The cardigan (New Look) was also rarely seen in the middle part of the holiday, with temperatures averaging 35-36C! The shorts and the blue print dress were both bought from Promod in Florence; the turquoise greek print dress is also Promod, but was bought in Barcelona last year, along with the floral print one from a boutique called MOS. The striped dress is a current summer favourite, bought from East last season. The pink t-shirt was dirt cheap from a Quba Sails pop-up outlet last year, as was the loose beige blouse from H&M’s sale earlier this year. The peach sandals (New Look) rubbed me while travelling on the first day so they didn’t come out again until the last day, and I spent the rest of the time in the Hush Puppies flats, which in any case made sense with all the walking we did!