The excursion we ended up choosing was Highlights of Florence and Shopping. Our walking tour of the majestic city of Florence began after a 1.5 hours motor coach journey. Our tour guide was great, I think her name was Patricia. She was very informative and very efficient. She told us about the shortcuts and gave us plenty of tips. She was very real and had no qualms in pointing out the con artists around us. Funnily enough, she was from Pisa! We first visited the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral is the main church of Florence. It also includes the Baptistry of St. John, located across from the basilica, and Giotto's Campanile (the bell tower to the right of the basilica). The exterior of the basilica has an elaborate Gothic style facade. The cathedral is recognized for its beautiful red dome, which can be seen from a great distance as it is the largest brick dome in the world.
In the Piazza della Signoria, we saw a replica of Michelangelo's David statue. The real statue is in the Galleria dell'Accademia, but alas a trip to the museum wasn't on our itinerary and we didn't get a chance during our free time. If you plan to visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, please purchase tickets prior to your visit. We walked past the museum first thing in the morning and the line was a block long already - and the museum wasn't even opened yet! Our tour guide told us the wait to purchase tickets can be up to two hours long.
From the Piazza della Signoria, we walked past the Galleria degli Uffizi through the narrow courtyard between the palace and into the view of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Ponte Vecchio is a bridge over the Arno river; it is known for having shops built along it. We didn't have a chance to walk along the bridge, but I imagine it is similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I've seen beautiful pictures of the Ponte Vecchio lit up at night, but unfortunately we were only there during the day. From there, we walked to Piazza Santa Croce. Basilica of Santa Croce overlooks the square, but during that week, the square was set up for the annual historic soccer games. There was little room to walk around the square, especially since there were so many tour groups in the square. Aside from all the Carnival tour groups, another cruise ship was there as well, in addition to many Korean tour groups. It was a very busy day for Florence... or maybe it's like this every day!
Our walking tour ended at quarter to twelve in Piazza Santa Croce, and we were given about four hours of free time to "shop." What we really wanted was free time to explore the city! I enjoy these excursions because you still get a quick tour of the city, and the free time allows us to go back to revisit sites we are interested in. We quickly walked back to the beginning of the walking tour, to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral is the only church that didn't require an admission fee. There was about a two minute wait, and we were inside. The ceiling art in the cupola was just stunning. I stared until my neck started to hurt, but honestly, I could literally spend hours staring at it if it weren't for my neck!
We grabbed lunch in Piazza del Duomo. It was another expensive slice of pizza, but we did choose the heaviest topping (meatballs, below left)! This pizza tasted much better than the one we had in Rome (sadly, we never had pizza in Naples! They apparently make the best pizza in the world.). We chose this restaurant because it looked the most appetizing, and they had washrooms. It's hard to find washrooms in Europe. One tour guide had told us to eat at a restaurant with a restroom, that way you won't have to actually have to look for a restroom when you need to go, because you'll likely end up having to buy something a restaurant to use their restroom. We also stopped for ice cream at a cute little shoppe called La Strega Nocciola by the cathedral. It was pretty pricey, but the gelato was very delicious!
From there, we walked back to Piazza della Republica. In the middle of the square was an antique carousel (above right). Nearby was a dessert and coffee shoppe, Caffe Gilli, so we wandered inside to check it out. It was very busy as it was during the lunch hour. The sweets looked amazing, but they were pricey. There are many locals having a coffee in the cafe, so we each had a cappuccino at the bar. It definitely hit the spot!
It was also a shopping area in Piazza della Republica, so after the quick recharge, we walked back into the busy streets to check it out. There was a Kiko Milano on the next street over, so I was excited to stock up on my favourite makeup products. I discovered Kiko Milano during our last trip, and I was surprised with the incredible quality of their products. It was very affordable (even with the exchange), and the quality was comparable to brands like MAC and MUF. For all my makeup lovers out there, do give their products a try!
This is when we kind of got lost. We continued walking down the street until there were no more shops, and we turned a corner, and another, and somehow ended up back at the cathedral. It started sprinkling, so the boyfriend and I were both very frustrated. Our meeting point was in Piazza Santa Croce and we had ended up at the beginning. We had forgotten the shortcut our tour guide told us about, but I still remembered some landmarks during our walking tour, so we re-walked the original walking tour. When we finally got back to Piazza Santa Croce, we still had a little bit of time to walk around the square. We stopped by a souvenir shop and bought some souvenirs and a drink for the road. Most of the shops around the square sold quality leather items. I would recommend checking it out if you're interested in buying leather purses or wallets, there are some pretty gorgeous designs.
We reunited with our tour group, and walked to the motor coach. It was about a 10 minute walk in the (light) rain and it was starting to get windy, so we were really happy to be back on the bus. We arrived at the terminal for boarding at 5:30, and we were back on the Vista in no time. It was formal night, so we started to get ready.
Guess what I had for dinner again? Yes, that's right, fish! I honestly cannot believe I had fish every night! Tonight, it was salmon with an Asian flair (rice, teriyaki sauce, and one piece of bok choy...). I remember this being one of my favourite dishes, so I highly recommend it. As usual, I started with a soup, and had a side of pasta. The boyfriend started with crab cakes, and he had the beef tenderloin for his entree. We both had soufflé type dessert.
After dinner, we rushed to the Liquid Lounge for the show, American Rocks! It was like a high-energy rock concert of American rock anthems. It was a very fun show. I had a great time singing along to the songs!
Because we watched the show, we missed Steve White's comedy show. The night was still young so we went to check out John Dicrosta, who was unfortunately still not impressing me.
Our next port of call is Marseilles. Unfortunately, it is our last port of call, and our cruise will be coming to an end in Barcelona soon. Stay tuned for Marseilles!