“Wow, you are with us until the end of the month?!” Davide, the front desk manager exclaimed as we checked into the hotel. We had booked a two-week stay, and he was surprised that we would be in Florence for that long.
We had heard the same thing from several travel blogs and some of Chris’s friends. You can see everything Florence has to offer in a long weekend, and that we should consider splitting our time between a few cities. Rome came up often, as did Siena and Pisa. We didn’t think too much of it, but when even the front desk manager thought it was strange, the realization sunk in. No one stays in Florence for two weeks.
In a way, it makes sense. There’s so much to do and see in Italy that you have to prioritize your travel schedule. There’s a real fear of missing out. Your inner voice starts to say, “As long as you’re in Italy, you have to see the Sistine Chapel! How do you go to Italy and not visit Siena? You’ll regret not heading to Venice for a gondola ride!” And if we wanted to fit all that in, Florence could have been reduced to a checklist of visiting the Duomo, seeing Michelangelo’s David, shopping on Ponte Vecchio, and moving on to the next city.
While some people value seeing a broad cross-section of Italian cities and culture, we took a different approach to our vacation. Instead of seeing a little bit of everything, we wanted to see a lot of Florence, and the city rewarded us in the following ways:
It took the pressure off our schedule. Being there for two weeks gave us the freedom to be flexible. For the first two full days, we kept our schedule open. This left us free to explore the city in whatever direction we chose, without having to rush to check every sight and experience off the list. Feel like getting espresso? No problem. Take a long walk along the river? Take as much time as you want. Go back and get another espresso? Why not?
The city started to feel like home. Staying in one place and just exploring for the first two days meant that by the third day, we could put down the maps and keep our phones in our pockets for most of our outings. We started to know the streets by memory. Despite the irregular layout, it is relatively easy to navigate Florence by using the bridges, piazzas, and statues as guideposts. And by the end of the first week, Florence began to feel like home. Even Chris, who can be directionally challenged, became so familiar with the streets that he probably knows Florence better than NYC! In total we walked 100 miles in the two weeks that we were there.
You start to notice things other than the beautiful scenery. For the first few days, we couldn’t help being amazed at the beautiful architecture, the view from the bridges, and the statues throughout the city. But after a few days, smaller details came into focus. By the middle of the week, we noticed a lot of moms and dads vacationing with small children. From families of five to just a dad with a 6-month old, each sighting was a great reminder that even after you have kids, international travel doesn’t have to be off-limits. If that couple with the double stroller can navigate the crowded streets and bridges of Florence, then maybe someday we can too!
You can take advantage of museum admission deals. There are 72 museums in Florence. Some, like the Uffizi gallery, will reward an entire afternoon of exploration. Other, like the Dante museum, can be browsed in less than an hour. The city of Florence offer a promotion called the FirenzeCard, which allows gives you free access to 72 museums over 72 hours for 72 euro. If you’re only in Florence for a few days, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to take full advantage of this deal and still have time to do much else. But with two weeks on our hands, we were able to set aside a 3-day period as our “museum days” and plot out which of the 72 attractions were most important to us.
We had the time to revisit restaurants we enjoyed. Our longer stay meant that we would have the time to revisit restaurants where we had exceptional experiences, without worrying that we were missing out on others on our list. In doing so, we were able to build relationships with the owners and staff, who recognized us on our second and third visits and were sad to see us go at the end of our trip. It also meant that if multiple menu items appealed to us, we could always come back for lunch in a few days (more on our dining experiences later in the week!).
It would have been easy to second-guess ourselves and worry that we would get bored or run out of things to do, especially when Davide expressed his surprise at our stay. He of all people would know what’s considered normal for a tourist in Florence! But our experience confirmed for us that you have to decide for yourself what you value in a vacation, and what kind of adventure you want it to be. And while I understand that some people like to see the highlights and move on, in the end we were very glad to have enjoyed Florence for 2 weeks.
And since we came home, we’ve been rediscovering our own town: exploring little side streets for the first time, discovering a small park we didn’t know existed, and taking walks along the river. Even now, there may be places in your town you’ve never discovered, restaurants you haven’t eaten at, and shops you’ve never entered. But that’s what’s great about staying in one place for a long time: you have time to get to know the place, whether you’re on vacation for 2 weeks or living in the same town for 20 years.
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing about our visits to the Florence museums. Find out why you might want to turn your camera off during your museum visit!