The biggest favor you can do for yourself when exploring the world is to interact with other travelers. And the easiest way to do this, I can say from experience, is to stay in hostels. It’s no secret that budget traveling often means less than luxurious accommodation, and certainly that’s something other travelers enjoy complaining about–hence a great way to make new friends.
The train ride from Venice was picturesque as we rode south towards Florence. The route to the city was complimented by gorgeous views that could have been projected directly from the Eurorail website in all their glory. It held precisely the “European adventure” vibes you’d expect when traveling by rail through a country I’d only ever experienced on the place mats of New York pizzarias.
In Florence, the streets smelled like fall in New York. From the sequestered suburbs, the city felt less enchanting than Venice–more grounded, homey, and less of a dream. The (will remain nameless) hostel I’d booked was a renovated monastery, and was more reminiscent of a prison cell off of OITNB than any hostel I’d ever stayed in before. There were three bunk beds and I made friends with the girls in my room immediately.
An advantage to solo traveling is its inherent autonomy. You can eat where you feel like eating, and linger at your own pace, so long as your itinerary remains within budget. That first evening I wandered around the city, inhaling the poignant smell of cigarettes, and taking in the high fashion.
At dusk I sat outside Il Duomo eating spaghetti. I learned the hard way that “claro que si” is not Italian. And that my four years of high school Latin absolutely did not help me because who really needs to read the inscriptions on cathedrals, it’s the Italian menus and descriptions that were more of interest.
My experience went as follows, essentially Trip Advisor’s top ten were on my itinerary:
Accademia Gallery: See the David.
Michaelangelo’s work inspires tears to many. Standing in the gallery, the statue itself is an enormous work of art that conjures intense reverence at the ingenious design and skill involved in creating the piece.
Santa Maria del Fiore: Il Duomo Cathedral.
This is one of the most spectacularly designed cathedrals of the world. It’s a top travel destination for many and once you see it in person you will understand why.
Piazza della Signoria.
A historical plaza in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Galleria degli Uffizi.
This is one of the most famous art museums, which holds portraits by Raphael, Michaelangelo, and perhaps the most famous, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
This well-known bridge was lined in shops with solicitors selling overpriced keychains and toys for children. It’s famous reputation might have been easier to appreciate if I had a fuller wallet.
Overall, the city was spectacular for experiencing renaissance art and world renowned architecture. For the traveler on a budget, however, there are other European destinations that are equally picturesque yet more affordable . ✿