5 tips on making the most of glorious Florence

So I’ve just returned from my second trip to Florence. The first time I was in Italy (with my husband), we behaved like regular tourists – spending a day in every city and running around to cover as many ‘attractions’ as possible. And seriously, it would be very hard to not do that on your first trip. But I urge you – don’t! If you have the good fortune of spending time in Florence then grab it with both hands. There aren’t many cities in the world with as much character and flavor as Florence. Take at least 3 days there and let Florence amaze you.

There are a million articles online to tell you about all the touristy things to do there. Here are my personal ‘gems’ that will help make this your most treasured trip.

1. What they say about lines at museums is true. They are long, very long. If you are one of those pre-planning types, then you must have already bought tickets online to ‘skip the line’. But if you’re like my ‘let it flow’ avatar during my last trip, you will be taking impulsive decisions. There is hope for you yet. If you decide late tonight that you feel like Uffizi tomorrow, all you have to do is make sure you’re there right when the doors open at 8.30 am. There’s a very high probability that you’re one of two people there. And it’s all good. Just get in, grab breakfast at the cute cafe on the Uffizi terrace, and enjoy the splendor of the masters.

Sadly, this isn’t nearly true for Accademia. You will have a line waiting to welcome you, no matter when you land up there. But we got there early and only had to wait about 40 mins.

2. Which brings me to The insider tip 2 – chat with the person next to you in line, no matter which line you’re in. An oft ignored pleasure of travel is discovering people as much as discovering places. Grab every opportunity. Whether it’s a fellow traveller in line, or the charming proprietor of your neighborhood cafe.

The lovely Daniella with her orchids

The lovely Daniella with her orchids

3. Relish those croissants and cappuccino. If you can’t afford a lavish breakfast everyday, just take them out – that’s not too heavy on the pocket, but just as delicious.

4. There’s a reason why Italian gelato is so famous. Have one after every meal. Don’t smirk – this is serious. Be on the lookout for those little gelaterias hidden in small streets and don’t be afraid to try each one. ‘Grom’ is the favorite of many, and it’s good, but there are many, many more. The best part is that each one experiments with flavors and so there’s an innumerable number of flavors to try! Follow this advice like a religion or you’ll regret it the moment you step out of Italy.

5. Spend your evenings on the bridge watching the mesmerizing sun set over Florence. The bridge I refer to is Ponte Santa Trinita, not Ponte Vechchio. But hang on, here comes the tip. While you’re mesmerized looking at the sun, turn around for a bit. The sight of Florence bathed in orange glow, under the watchful eyes of David in Piazza Michelangelo is unforgettable.


A little paradise called Coonoor


I had been itching to get out of town for a while. In fact, this is one of our oft-cited woes about moving back to India (the complete list is material for another post) – that we don’t travel nearly as much as we used to in Boston. So when Ankan (my far better half) casually mentioned one evening that his boss thought Coonoor is a good weekend getaway, I jumped at the idea. No literally, I jumped up and started Googling Coonoor. This was Thursday night; by Friday, I had reserved a homestay and researched enough to know that the only transport option at such short notice was to drive. And because it was a >8 hour drive, we were packed and ready to leave at 6 am on Saturday morning – quite impressive by our standards, and quite telling of our desperation to get out of Bangalore.

Coonoor is approximately 300 km from Bangalore (~20 km beyond Ooty), but single lane “highways” and mountainous terrain make it an 8-9 hour drive each way. However, the drive is lovely. We took the Nice Road to get out of Bangalore, and then SH 17 to Mysore. We didn’t pass through the city for fear of traffic (you can see what Bangalore does to folks), and instead took the ring road around the city. It was quick and painless. After this it was following the highway to Gundlupet and then Bandipur-Mudumalai. These are national parks, and you are guaranteed to see at least some grazing deer as you pass through. Quite fun. They say you can catch a whole host of animals if you make it there at 8 am. Of course, that thought was hilarious to us because of the implication that we would have had to leave Bangalore at 3 am, so we satisfied ourselves with some lazing deer.

After Bandipur you have a choice of two paths to Coonoor – you are faced with a fork in the road. The path on the right is the Gudulur highway. It is longer (by ~20 km but equivalent to almost an hour), but has a gradient climb and scenic routes. This is the path we intended to take. Of course, as in life, things didn’t turn out as we planned. We took the left path (because that’s the only one where we saw a sign), which is a “short cut” but that means it is 20 km of steep uphill climb. I wasn’t sure my little Eon would be able to make the climb, which is why I didn’t want to take this route. But the roads were fabulous, and it wasn’t as hard as I’d expected. We reached Ooty soon enough, went right through and made it to Coonoor around 2 pm.

Now I must take a moment to extol the B&B we had selected, “De Rock”. It’s run by a quirky guy called Charles who was very polite and attentive but also, um, interesting. The place was beautiful – a couple of lodges built over a tea estate, looking right over Lamb’s Rock, one of the favorite view points in Coonoor. I’m a sucker for good views and so this was heaven. Green and peaceful, with jungles to explore and trek in all around. A perfect setting for a relaxing holiday.

The lodges atop the tea estate

We got there on Saturday afternoon and left Monday noon. There really was no “plan” for the trip. We would head out after breakfast to explore nearby areas. This is where it was useful to have your car with you. The winding roads of Coonoor were a pleasure to drive on. Since we were actually a few kilometers outside the town center, there wasn’t any congestion. You were surrounded by beautiful slopes covered in tea estates anywhere you drove. We would park the car at a convenient spot and then just trek around, taking in the views. Quite lovely. Charles got quite friendly with us and so took us on some “secret” treks through the forest. On one of these we followed the sound of water to discover a tiny stream gurgling through and then disappearing behind the trees.


When I was not climbing up hills, I could be found loitering around the gardens of De Rock, admiring and photographing the unbelievable variety of flowers sprinkled about.


The weather was just right during the day, but you needed a good jacket at night. The B&B had a nice bonfire going at night. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip – we spent hours around the bonfire on both nights, gazing at the lit up valley below us and the starry sky above.

While an unstructured trip is the best way to do it in Coonoor, one must-visit place is Sim’s garden. I had read that it is a botanical garden, so went there expecting a regular garden with flowers, but boy was I surprised. It is a massive, well maintained spread with something for everyone. There are ancient trees, some over 200 years old, from all over the world for you to explore. And then there is a lake with gardens all around for kids to go crazy in. Loved it.

On Monday, it was time to head back. We stopped in town for the customary tourist shopping of tea, spices and chocolates, before heading over to Ooty. We also spent an hour in Ooty to climb up the highest peak, Doddebeta. This was a waste of time – the only disappointment of the entire trip. Cutting our losses, we decided to take the long route back to Bandipur and then Bangalore. The drive was definitely longer but oh so beautiful. The views would have been good enough, but we had little treats such as a serene lake with a lunch of yummy noodles and Nilgiri chai, a chance encounter with a eucalyptus forest, and running into (not literally) a couple of wild elephants when passing through Bandipur. The last couple of hours of the drive at night were a little painful but I can proudly claim that I was a very responsible front-seat passenger and didn’t fall asleep even once.


We got home at 11 pm, dead beat but thoroughly refreshed. What a wonderful trip!