The first opinion of Florence (Firenze in Italian, which is a far more awesome sounding name), or perhaps just Italy, is that pedestrian crossings just don't work the same way here. The typical usage anwhere else is that crossing when the man is green takes you safely across the road. Yet in our two days repeatedly it seems to be that crossing when the crossing tells you to will mean you step out right in front of a car or moped. Even by the end of our stay we still hadn't figured it out, other than the zebra markings on the road apparently meant fuck-all if you were in a car.
The first day started out finding breakfast and with a trip to the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the first tourist attraction from our hostel as we headed into the centre of town. It's a pretty nice square, with various statues, including a replica of Michaelangelo's David (the real one presumably in a museum nearby and too valuable to just be left outside).
The next stop was the city's duomo, the Santa Maria del Fiore. It's a building I've read a fair amount about in various engineering books (the Wikipedia article is also good), because the large dome was a pretty epic feat of structural engineering for its day, and it still remains the largest masonry dome in the world. THe cathedral underneath the dome is pretty darn big too, being the fourth largest in the world. You can go up the dome, but it's fairly pricy, and the queue was absolutely massive, so instead we went up the bell tower next to it, which was somewhat cheaper and had no queue.
The top of the bell tower isn't quite as high as the top of the dome, but it still takes 414 steps to get to the top and gives some pretty cracking views from up there.
From the duomo we headed towards Pontevecchio, a bridge lined with shops selling various articles of jewellery, and across to the Palazzo Pitte. The Palazzo Pitte is a fairly impressive building, and behind it there is the pretty expansive Boboli Gardens. We had to pay to get in (standard, though it'll take a while to get used to museums and stuff not being free as they are in the UK), but there was a student discount and it was well worth it. The gardens were pretty awesome, and there was a porcelain museum (not that interesting) and a silverware museum (more interesting). We also bumped into Helen Picot's sister in one of the far corners of the gardens, which was somewhat unexpected and random. It then started to absolutely piss down so we sat in a café for a bit.
We dropped off our day-rucksacks off at the hostel and went out for somewhere to eat, first stopping for a beer in a fairly small café/bar place. As we were finishing up, one of the guys working in the place asked us if we would stay for a toast because it was someone's birthday in the other group. We figured we might as well, especially if we were likely to get a free drink out of it, and the guy then proceeded to close the doors and lower the shutters to the place, which was somewhat unnerving because it meant we were properly trapped in. It turned out he was just doing it to make it darker inside for the candle (no cake - just a big wax candle), and we sung happy birthday in Italian (or they sang - we just mumbled the tune), and we were given some free croissants filled with marmalade and small glasses of Cava. All in all, not a bad start for the night.
From there we ate at a Pizzeria (naturally), and wandered around a bit to find somewhere to drink, settling on a place called Victoria's Lounge. In general alcohol here seems to be really expensive, with a pint (or equivalent because everything is metric) being at least €4, usually more. We ended up with a group of guys who were also interrailing from Newcastle, and two girls who were from Sydney and Milwaukee, but had met on the Erasmus program or something. Nick got way too drunk (the less said, the better) and we went back to the hostel.
The next morning we started fairly late, and we made a beeline straight to the train station to book our train to Venice the next day. This took absolutely forever, because the queue for the desks was huge, there were hardly any desks open, and every single person who got served seem to take forever to sort out whatever they needed. Still, the original train we wanted was completely full, and the one we ended up getting (which I'm sat on as I write this) is completely packed as well, so it probably was worth the ridiculous queueing.
Nick was feeling rough, so we tried to head towards some greenery, aiming for the fort to the north of the station, which turned out to be closed to the public, which was a bit crappy. We found the nearest park and sat there for a while in the sun and played cards, before wandering around a few of the more impressive buildings around the north of the city.
We ate dinner, did some more wandering, and eventually found ourselves back at Pontevecchio, where there was a pretty awesome couple of guys busking on the middle of the bridge, playing various songs in Spanish and Italian that we didn't know, and a few that we did (Coldplay, U2, fairly standard fare). We sat down there for an hour or so, went and had a drink at a "Scottish Bar", which was next to the hostel. The place was relatively cheap, though pricey by UK standards, but they did have a 'Champions of Europe' Liverpool poster in there, so I let it slide.
We've managed to leave the hostel without having to pay €800 for breaking the toilet, so a bullet dodged there. I thought Florence was a really nice city, with a fair amount to see, though generally pretty expensive (I'm expecting Venice to be similar). As things go, it's been a pretty good starting point for the rest of the trip.