Tuscany Part One: arriving in Florence

9th August 2016

This year my family decided to go on our first family holiday altogether in seven years. When the idea of Italy came up I – probably not so subtly – suggested Florence. I’ve wanted to go since then age of about 17 when I studied art history at school and the majority of stuff we looked at seemed to be there. I’m now 24 (or at least I was when I was there – hello quarter of a century) and I can now say that I finally made it, having spent the first three days of our trip there before moving onto a town in the Tuscan hills.

My brothers and I met at Gatwick one Tuesday afternoon in August. They were coming from Kent, I was coming from South London. The trains were obviously delayed (although not too much considering there were train strikes that day – just my luck) and they managed to beat me there. This turned out to work in my favour as by the time I arrived, my brothers had gone through the check in and were at a desk waving at me to hurry up, meaning I got to jump the queue. Although, as a stereotypical Brit, skipping the queue and jumping ahead of everyone did make me feel uncomfortable. Still we passed through the airport easy enough and it wasn’t too long till we were on the plane. Since my baby brothers are both 6 foot 6/6 foot 7, they obviously needed seats with extra legroom and since I was sitting with them this meant that I got it too. It was actually a pretty comfy flight.

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Soon enough, we were landing at Florence airport. A taxi was there waiting from us and took us the 20-minute-or-so drive to our hotel: the Grand Hotel Baglioni, which sat between the train station and the Duomo. I already liked it based on the name. It reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Although it reality it didn’t look like it belonged in a Wes Anderson movie. It was actually an old palace in the 1800s before being turned into hotel and you can totally tell. The interior was quite dark and brown but it also felt very grand. Our rooms were next to a decadent dining room (no longer used as such but there was still a big table). There was wooden panelling along the walls, decorated ceilings and some very creaky wooden floors.

After meeting our parents in the lobby and a battle to get through the bedroom door (a cleaner had to use our keycard to let us in), we managed to get inside, dump our stuff and head out for our first Italian meal. Considering how hungry we were and how little we felt like walking, we wandered the short distance to the Duomo and looked for a restaurant in the surrounding square. Since we could not have found a more touristy place, this was always going to be expensive but it was our first night and we couldn’t have had a better view, as we were basically eating right next to the Baptistery of St John, with the cathedral right behind it.

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We settled on a place called Scudieri as it had a nice looking outdoor seating area as well as some tasty looking sweet treats in the window. We shared a couple of starters to begin with (which was not enough for five people) and then had to wait quite a while for our main courses. My gnocchi with mozzarella and tomato and basil sauce was nice but I could have done with more of it! I’m not sure my family were quite as happy with their seafood spaghetti and pepperoni pizzas which was a shame considering the fact we were a country famous for its amazing food and the fact that it was not cheap (€30 for a bottle of Pinot Grigio – although it was a tasty one). We were paying for the views here but at least they were very good ones.

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Despite the sweet treats in the window, we decided not to stay for dessert and instead wandered back towards the hotel. En route I spotted some amazing looking gelato at a place called Icy Dot Wine. I told the family I would catch them up and treated myself to a scoop of Kit Kat flavoured ice cream. I didn’t think it tasted particularly Kit Kat-y but I was still left pretty happy with my decision to stay behind for dessert as I sat on a bench opposite the counter until I had finished. I wasn’t sure the hotel staff would be happy with me walking into their snazzy establishment with ice cream dripping all over the carpet.

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When I was actually ready to head back into the hotel, I hopped in the lift and headed up to the top floor, where my family was having drinks in the terrace restaurant. This is the moment when I knew we had struck gold with our hotel choice. The terrace made me feel like we were sitting on a patio in a Tuscan olive garden and we had beautiful rooftop views of the city, including the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. Trust me, the view was much better than my iPhone picture makes out. I literally only included it here so that you can get an idea of how close we actually were to the cathedral. It’s not a photo I’m proud of. Anyway, long story short, sitting there, sipping on a nice white wine, looking out over the city – it was the perfect way to start our holiday and end our first night in Florence.

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