Arriving at the Plus Hostel Florence for the first time initially gave me the same feeling I had in Prague. The tall gates that were opened for the bus to drive through was intimidating. The buildings cubist appearance was not exactly welcoming and seeing the Top Deck bus in the lot once we were in made me feel as though this was going to be another ordinary hostel experience. Gladly, I was very mistaken.Once we collected our bags and went inside, we found that the staff were very friendly. I was lucky enough to get a double bed, I could finally stretch my legs, but not for long. I explored the Hostel, and found that there was an indoor swimming and a bar and restaurant downstairs. There was also a roof top bar that was awesome. it over looked Florence and you can spot the Duomo, or as its formally known, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (English: Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower.)
I only spent a short time exploring before heading down stairs. I had to get ready to join the Busabout tour and dinner. This was one of the few city’s that Busabout sells a walking tour and dinner combo. We all met up at the reception area and soon broke off into groups for the tour. Our tour guide was a local man who’s name has completely left my memory, But I remember that he had a small speaker on his belt and spoke in a mic. I often find that larger tour groups that rely on electronic speakers are less informative because you are often trying to listen intently to whats being said. Smaller groups are always better as you are less intimidated to ask questions.
Anyhoo, our tour took us through the streets of Florence to some of the most popular sights. We passed the Accademia di Bella Arti Fierenze, (Florence fine art academy) where the Statue of David by Michelangelo is housed. I decided that I would like to see the statue of David even though forewarned by my cousin that it may not be worth the wait or for that matter, the cost. Add to that the fact that there are two other replica’s of David in the city.
As we walked through the streets, there was a Gellat0 store that was pointed out to us. It wasn’t well sign posed and had it not been pointed out I probably would have missed it. Apparently it was one of three stores that were worth getting Gellato from. The tour guide added that the other two were a locals secret. The key to recognizing the good gelato stores is that the good ones don’t display their gelato in the front of the store. Also the colour of the ice cream should look natural and not florescent. I would later try the gelato and still hold the opinion that the best I’ve had was in Sorrento.
We eventually came to the Duomo. It’s coloured fascade was reminiscent of the church we saw in Orvieto. Obviously the inspiration for many other churches and cathedrals. This one is epic. The detail and outright splendor of the building is incredible even though it appears unfinished. The decoration on the dome was never finished due to the disapproval of Michelangelo. Hmm talk about a tough crowd.
As we continued on out tour we came to the Palazzo Vecchio. The home of, among others, a copy of the Statue of David and my favorite statue, the Benvenuto Cellini’s “Perseus with the head of Medusa”. Cellini’s masterpiece, although violent, to me can only be described as beautiful. The show of strength and victory over the Gorgon is stunning. Even Cellini believed it to be so good that he amended the statue to wear a sash with his signature on it. So many things fell into place for me when I saw this piece on a personal level that I was shocked and equally impressed to later find a small copy in atop the grand staircase in Buckingham Palace. Perhaps it was this moment that cemented Florence as one of my favorite places in the world.
Our tour took us through the Council building where we saw the statue of cupid. There were two Cupid’s one that represents ever lasting love, and the naughty one that represents lust, the desire that does not last. I think that’s the one with the bow and arrow… anyway as we continued through the streets and alley ways our city tour came to an end at a leather manufacturer. I believe the place was called Leonardo’s of Florence. They gave us a demonstration of how leather is Branded, Treated and used to create just about anything. Especially useful was learning how to distinguish between real and fake leather. Sure it was a bit of a tourist sales … dare I use the word “trap?”… But for those that have the money to burn, they had some brilliant pieces. Remember that there is a massive and comprehensive leather market to see elsewhere, Compare first before making a commitment.
Onward to dinner, The tour included dinner at a restaurant/nightclub. The restaurant was called The House of Sizzle. We had a three course meal with our first drink on the house. Wasn’t a bad red to go with my Spezatino. Its at this point that things started to get a little blurry… After dinner, we moved into the adjacent night club called The Red Garter. We were the first of several tour groups to arrive. There was Karaoke… “Oh yeah!”. I would need a few more drinks to get my self on stage lol. Along the tour I got to speaking with three guys from Oz. Matty, Mat and Alex. These guys were an absolute riot. I have not had as much fun in a long time as I had with them, We would continue our trip to Nice together.
As the groups came in, the place was getting very full. Our table on an upper level was a little cramped and very hot, but the group was incredible. Some had even ordered Beer fountains for the table. Like having your own gallon beer on tap! So Karaoke kicked off and I watched as people got up and performed. The place was very loud. Any poor performances were drowned out by the crowd singing along with the songs. I on the dance floor, those who know me would see no surprise there and I was singing along to black eyed peas song when the host noticed that I was actually getting the lyrics right. He asked if I knew “Lose Your Self” by Eminem. Then before I knew it I was on stage in front of about two hundred people all getting well into the song. Incredible experience!
Something to note. This night club we were in was packed with travelers. Not many locals through. No doubt there are far more authentic Italian nightclubs in the area, but there was a sense of safety here. I had a brilliant night, perhaps mostly due to the company I was in. The late night walk back to the the Hostel was interesting. especially because we were able to stop for a Kebab. The Busabout guide that stayed with the group the whole night was really helpful and friendly. The kebab stop was genius.