These past two and a half months have been the time of my life. Florence has quickly become a part of me, somewhere that I know leaving will be very difficult. My goal has been to explore all of the places that this place is ultimately known for, such as the Duomo, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio, and various museums, but I have also tried my hardest to take the path less traveled and see things that may not pop up on Google when you search “things to do in or around Florence.”
I found that renting bikes is a great way to see things outside of the city area. The first time I did it we got cruiser bikes and went to this giant park called Parco delle Cascine which stretches a little over 2 miles long and is filled with great scenery along the Arno and some awesome people-watching of the locals enjoying the area. More recently, a friend and I took a bus up to Fiesole (a town about 5 miles away overlooking the city) and rented mountain bikes. We quickly realized that the area we were biking in was geared more towards professional road bikers, but hey, it sure made it an adventure. We racked up 20 miles on those bikes, saw the incredible towns of Caldine, Olmi, and a few others that took our breath away with their wildflowers, vineyards, hills, and spectacular architecture.
The company that we rented bikes from let us ride down to the city and drop our bikes off in Florence, so we got to see views of the city and take paths leading to it that we never knew existed. We also got to try an amazing gelato place that my friend had discovered when she studied here, it’s called Badiani and I highly recommend it! Ask what their most popular flavor is and get it, I can’t seem to remember what the name of it was.
It must’ve been an adrenaline high or something but the day after riding those 20 miles around Florence my friend and I decided to go on another adventure (this time by foot, we were way too sore to bike again). The goal was to get to Casentinesi national park, a place that the internet deemed very difficult to get to from Florence. We figured if we city hopped closer and closer to this park we would eventually reach it, so we ended up spending the day in the towns of Pontassieve, Dicomano, and Borgo San Lorenzo. Unfortunately, we never made it to our national park but ended up having a great day exploring these cities, 15 miles by foot in total!
One thing we noticed going to these places was that they were very different from the main center of Florence in that very few people know English and they all lived up to having nothing open on a Sunday.. Our poor planning with that led us not to eat anything outside of vending machine food or gelato for about 12 hours. It was very interesting interacting with the locals though, neither of us knew Italian well and the people in these towns knew even less English, so it was basically one giant game of charades. When we were in Pontassieve my friend tried to buy an orange from a café and got a glass of orange juice instead which was pretty funny. Let’s just say there weren’t many blonde Americans found in any of these places.
I am fortunate enough to get to stay put in Florence until August so I plan on doing a lot more of what I did this past weekend by taking the road less traveled. Bring on the adventures!! Maybe I’ll learn some more Italian first…
Jenica is a current student at Colorado State University studying at Florence University of the Arts in Italy, during the Spring 2016 term.