Firenze: The end!

The final part to my Italy adventure (February 2015).

On the Tuesday I’d flown out to Pisa and spent a day exploring the city. Wednesday and Thursday (matchday) were days 1 and 2 of my time in Firenze and now we were at the end of the week! The football was over with and it was time to go home – or was it?

On Monday evening I figured I should probably check in for my flights, given I was heading to Pisa the next day. My outbound flight was no problem but I was trying to check in for my Friday flight home and was having no luck.

“Sorry, you can’t check in for a flight more than 7 days away”.

What? I’m flying in four days! What is this nonsense? My flight is definitely on the 27th! I was baffled and kept darting my eyes between the error message and the flight details and couldn’t understand what the issue was. What am I missing?

Wait.. why does that say my flight home is in April? That’s a mistake! Let me find my confirmation email.
Looking for reassurance, instead I found despair. All that email had confirmed was that I’d somehow messed up my booking and that I was indeed flying home in two months time! My February 27th flight home was actually April 27th!!

I was light-heartedly acceptant of my fate. I guess I’ve got to stay in Italy for an extra two months then – what a pickle, right? How do I break the news to my family, friends and work. Will a postcard suffice?
Realistically that wasn’t an option but resolving it Monday evening wasn’t an option either – it was too last minute and most of my available money was in Euros by this point. I knew I’d get paid whilst I was in Italy so I figured I’d worry about the flight home once I was over there.

So back to day 3 in Firenze, my intended departure date. Care to guess what my first plan of the day was? You’re spot on! I had to book a flight home! I was supposed to be going to a gig back in England on Friday night (I’d paid for a hotel too!) but Friday flights seemed so much more expensive than the Saturday flights so in the end I decided I’d stay in Italy an extra day.

 

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As far as mistakes go, winding up in Italy for 24 more hours is a pretty good mistake to make! My next concern was that I had no accommodation for the extra night so needed to sort that out. I loved the hostel I had been staying at, it was in a decent location and the host was incredible but sadly it was a small hostel and they didn’t have space for an extra night so I had to find somewhere else.
My host did help me find a hotel though which I appreciated.

Flight sorted, accommodation sorted, time to enjoy a bonus day in the city! I’m so glad at how things worked out because Friday probably ended up being my favourite day in Italy. Perhaps that’s just because it was an unexpected bonus day but I also ended up doing a few things to top off the Italy experience.

Firenze was a different city entirely. Most of the Spurs fans were England bound and the excessive police presence was long gone, this was Italy in all its glory and without the burden of an invasion of Brits.

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My first stop of the day took me to the Piazza della Signaoria which is a large square with stunning architecture, sculptures and a few museums closeby such as the famous Uffizi gallery. I wasn’t supposed to be here so inevitably I hadn’t booked any museums. Some of the lines were far too long so I decided I’d add the Uffizi to my “next time” list and checked out another museum instead that I can’t remember the name of.

I wish I could remember the name of it because I’d recommend a visit. The museum was over a number of different floors and had all sorts of art, although the sculptures were the pieces I enjoyed most and something you’d associate with Italy / Firenze I suppose. Eventually I was content I’d seen enough and my attention switched to a late lunch.

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Inside the museum. Anyone know the name?

I do try to make an effort to eat locally and delve into the culture when I travel but one of my guilty pleasures is the Hard Rock Café (HRC), I usually try and squeeze a visit in where I can to tick off another city from the many locations HRC are based.

My waiter asked where I was from to which I replied Peterborough and most of the time I end up wishing I’d just say London because it’s easier but to my surprise he’d heard of Peterborough, better yet he’d been to Peterborough.
“Oh yes, the place with the shopping centre opposite the train station.. Queens..? “
“Queensgate! Why were you in Peterborough!!!?”

Excuse my overreaction but seriously, Firenze sets a pretty high standard and its inhabitants are visiting Peterborough? Are you crazy? It did amuse me though before enjoying my HRC experience. It isn’t the best food you’re ever going to have and it can be expensive too but I just have a fondness of them and Firenze’s was nice too.

Following a late lunch I was ready to go and explore further. On Wednesday I’d climbed the Duomo as I’d heard it had one of the best views in Firenze – the views are great. However my hostel hostess assured me the best view of the city was at the Piazzale Michelangelo and that it was free! I had to check it out and on route could see the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge!

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Ponte Vecchio bridge!

It’s a beautiful bridge to look at but the bridge itself is a proper tourist trap. Historically butchers and other merchants occupied space on the bridge but you’ll now find a host of shops selling jewellery and gold! It’s cool to look at but it’s busy so I settled for getting a few photos and swiftly moving on to escape the crowds.

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Quick photo and then I was out of there!

I continued following signs to Piazzale Michelangelo and was soon climbing my way up this hill to discover the views awaiting me at the top. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a huge square that offers incredible views over the city – my host had said it was the best view in the city and it’d be hard to disagree. The one thing lacking from the view at the top of the Duomo is the Duomo itself which is the standout piece of Firenze’s skyline.

Whilst the views are spectacular you’ll also find a replica of the David statue here, a few stalls selling food and drinks plus a few buskers which all helps create a really nice atmosphere. You’ll find plenty of people occupying the stairs to sit and just admire the views over the river and the rest of the city.

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The best view in Firenze!

It was getting late in the afternoon and I would have loved nothing more than to have picked up a beer and waited for the sun to set on the city. It was a beautiful spot to watch a sunset! Sadly I’d arranged to meet my friend Daniel elsewhere and had no way to contact him for a change of plans so he could come join me instead. I left a little envious of those I’d left behind that got to enjoy it fully.

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The perfect sunset spot!

I didn’t stay jealous for too long, as a pick-me-up I made a necessary stop for gelato. Firenze is credited as being the city that brought Gelato to the world so what better place to enjoy it? I had to buy some and see what the fuss was about. It was delicious and a good ‘starter’ before finding dinner and having a few drinks.

I’d probably been the drunker of the two of us on Wednesday night so it was nice to see the roles reversed this evening. We shared a few beers on our final night and Daniel was a bit tipsy come the end of the evening which amused me plenty. It was a great way to enjoy our final evening before heading back to England.

The next morning I had a last wander through the streets of Firenze and was sad to be saying goodbye. After the disappointment of Pisa, Firenze had really delivered and made for a memorable first visit to Italy. It’s a cracking city and one you should definitely try to visit!

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My morning flew by and before I knew it the clock read 12pm! I had time to enjoy one final meal in Firenze before I had to leave and inevitably wanted one final pizza before I said arriverderci to Italy. It rounded off the trip perfectly, I hopped on a train to Pisa and was soon boarding a flight back to London.

Italy had lived up to my expectations and the food was every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. I still haven’t been back to Italy but I’m feeling a return is long overdue!

Who’s coming with me?

Jason

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Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

All the best!

Jason

Day one in Firenze!

You may have noticed I have a tendency to ramble on a bit (“no Jason, don’t be silly. Of course you don’t!”) so I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to split some of my longer trips up across multiple blog posts.

Anyway back to Italy and on to part two of the trip! If you’ve been following along you’ll know that my trip (Feb 2015) began with a day in Pisa and that I’d be moving onwards to Firenze (Florence) the next day (Wednesday). What you don’t know is why I was visiting Firenze, nor why I’d been sceptical about going at all! First of all let’s start with why I was visiting?

Well that’s an easy answer, football of course! My love of football is no big secret on the blog and it’s perhaps the only interest of mine that surpasses my love of travel. Opportunities to combine the two loves are always a bonus!

In 2014 I lived a childhood dream when I went to Lisbon and I got to watch Tottenham play in another country – a European away trip for football – an incredible experience! I’d wanted to do a European away day with Spurs for so long and Lisbon had finally given me a taste for it. Come the end of 2014 I was itching to do another and was awaiting news of where Tottenham would be playing in the February. I eyed up all of the potential opposition and hoped for the best – in the end the “football gods” were sending us to Firenze in Italy to play Fiorentina.

 

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Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur!

Visiting Italy had been another childhood dream of mine so surely I had to go!? No, I hesitated. The news of Spurs visiting Italy was met with trepidation, was it safe going to Italy?

For those of you not clued up on football I’d forgive you for thinking I’m scaremongering but I couldn’t erase the stories or images from my mind of Spurs visit to Italy three years earlier. One night in Rome saw an ambush on an unsuspecting pub which left some of our fans in critical condition. I’d love to say it was an isolated incident but fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have all faced problems of their own in the last 15 years when visiting Italy.

It doesn’t make great reading for English football fans and sadly Italy’s reputation speaks for itself in both football violence and racism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting English football fans are angels and I’m not suggesting it’s a reflection on all Italians either. It is very much a minority but enough of a minority that you’d be naïve to not have some concern visiting at the very least!

“but you went to Italy so you are just scaremongering!”

I did go to Italy and the location was a factor. Would I have gone to Rome or Naples so easily? I’m not sure. I definitely want to visit both, particularly Rome, but I’m not sure I’d risk it for the football.
In contrast Firenze I had never heard of English fans running in to trouble so I felt a little more comfortable going over there.

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Firenze’s Duomo!

Five days before I was due to fly to Pisa news broke from Italy. The headline read something like “Dutch football fans clash with riot police in Rome”. – the worst part about it was that it wasn’t a surprising headline.
Rome has its own tainted reputation but the same can be said of Netherlands-based football club Feyenoord – stick them together in one city and it was only ever going to lead one way.. “in other news, water is wet..”

Irrespective of how inevitable it was, it did put an unwanted spotlight on Italian football again. The timing was terrible given there was going to be an imminent arrival of 3,000+ Brits to the country in the next few days.
Lots of reports and rumours came out of Italy following the trouble in Rome: 1,000 additional police in Firenze to be called upon from surrounding cities, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on local establishments and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game. It was clear that the Italian authorities would not be messing about for our visit!

So now you’ve had a little background, what actually went down in Firenze? Here’s day one!

I made a swift getaway from Pisa on Wednesday morning and was soon arriving in to Firenze. My first job was to find my hostel but luckily I’d been given directions.. “let’s have a read”.. Step one: Find the Burger King opposite the train station!
Here I was in a city famed for its culture, a country famed for its food and what am I doing? Looking for a bloody Burger King! I didn’t come to Italy for this! At least things could only get better from there, right?

My directions did at the very least take me where I wanted to go (my hostel, not Burger King!). I was soon checking in with the most wonderful host imaginable and dropping off my things in anticipation of exploring more of the city!
My host was brilliant and gave me so many recommendations for food, drinks, gelato and things to do. With that in mind I went off in search of lunch to a nearby place that supposedly had good food and good beers – a winning combination!

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Mostodolce pub/restaurant in Firenze

This bar was beautifully decorated, the bar staff were friendly and I ended up enjoying my first pizza in Firenze alongside a beer. Following lunch I went off to find the “must see” of the city – Firenze’s famous Duomo (cathedral) and it’s famous with good reason. I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do justice as to how impressive it is. The building is absolutely stunning and you could spend a lifetime admiring it. I was in complete awe of it!
I could only imagine how impressive it looks on the inside!

I should have left it to the imagination! The exterior wows you but inside it’s rather underwhelming – it isn’t anything special, Pisa’s Duomo was better. I felt so disappointed by it – if you have no interest in climbing the 463 steps to the top I wouldn’t recommend going in at all! Just keep admiring it from the outside!
If you do decide to climb the Duomo you are rewarded with great views overlooking the city once you’re at the top so it’s worth it in the end.

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View at the top of the Duomo!

After I’d climbed back down I set off to explore a little more of the city and familiarise myself with where things were. As I walked around I knew I was going to love Firenze. It was full of charm and character plus had a number of stunning pieces of architecture, Firenze won me over very quickly.

Firenze has spectacular squares that are perfect for people-watching but simultaneously is home to narrow little streets that are perfect for getting lost in and exploring all the intricacies that the city has to show off.

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Having seen a little of the city I made plans to meet up with a friend (Daniel) who’d flown in to Italy today and was going to be imminently arriving in to Firenze after a brief exploration of Pisa himself.
We went and found some food somewhere and then our attention turned to grabbing some drinks for the evening and potentially catching that night’s European football. We had a beer at bar number one but there was no sign of them showing any football so we moved on to bar number 2.

We found an Irish bar down one of the narrow side streets and unsurprisingly weren’t the only ones who’d had the same idea – the bar was full of Spurs fans creating a bit of an atmosphere before our big game tomorrow (Thursday). There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the air which was helped by the fact that they were showing the Arsenal game.

Whilst the bar was predominantly taken over by Spurs there were a few exceptions. I vividly remember being stood in the vicinity of a couple of Americans in our limited standing space who were curious who we were supporting, making the assumption we’d be cheering on our fellow Englishmen! The suggestion was quickly ridiculed – “don’t be daft”.

If they’d had any doubts about where our loyalties lied it didn’t take them long for them to realise we were all Monaco supporters for one night only. Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov was playing for Monaco and he’d left Spurs on rather sour terms so wasn’t too popular at the time. However all was forgiven as he smashed home against Arsenal and sent the pub into bedlam – a huge roar followed as we basked in Arsenal’s misery. It left our fans in high spirits and created a great atmosphere following the result.

Things wound down pretty soon after the game though. There had been rumours of a midnight curfew being imposed on all of the bars and restaurants in the city and it looked as if there might just be some substance to it – the bar was closing for the night and we were swiftly being moved on. It was probably for the best, I was a little drunk anyway.

Me and Daniel left and it took me 2-3 minutes to realise I was needlessly going in the same direction, I didn’t want to be following Daniel because I was staying elsewhere! The consequence to that was that I took a rather “scenic route” back to my hotel. A lot of the narrow streets all look the same, particularly after dark, and I obviously took a wrong turn at some point. Soon enough I was stumbling upon Firenze’s river – which happened to be my first sight of it so I was clueless as to where I now was!

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First glimpse of the river!

I tried retracing my steps which wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but then I spotted that HUGE Duomo once again. If you can find the Duomo you can find anything in Firenze and it got me back on track and tucked up in to bed pretty soon after.

Day one in Firenze had been a success in my mind but I wasn’t done just yet! Stay tuned to hear more!

All the best!

Jason