14/08/2014 10:43 BST | Updated 14/10/2014 06:12 BST

Notes From A Housesit: Florence

I'm currently kitty-sitting in Florence (or "Firenze," if you prefer.) I'm caring for a cat-trio: Ben, Katie and Nellie, in their art-filled apartment. Their owners are a lovely couple. I arrived Tuesday of last week, which gave me a two day crossover with them.

For petsits abroad, I feel it's best to arrive at least a day beforehand if possible. This gives you time to acclimatise to the new environment and the idiosyncrasies of the pets. It also allows time for the homeowners to get to know you - and vice versa.

The homeowners are friendly and welcoming - the ideal dynamic for housesitting. They filled me on a few of the nuances of this Renaissance city. On the first evening we went out for Tuscan food. On the second day they cooked us all a meal (delicious - one of the couple is a chef).

By Thursday afternoon I was alone with the feline gang. Katie is shyest of the bunch, slightly skittish and nervous. They're all rescue cats, originally from traumatic backgrounds. Nellie was first found starving. She now makes up for that by being distinctly well-padded (she is currently on a diet!). She is cuddly and floppy, Ben a big, mellow tom.

Here is Ben working out the square root of pi:


Nellie, just chillin':


Katie, prowling:


As for Firenze itself.... Firenze is a dream of a city. Wander about town and you'll stumble over piazzas full of art and sculptures and sumptuous architecture. The Duomo (Florence's cathedral) looms large on the skyline. Wandering about town one will catch glimpse after glimpse of it. Somehow it's always a surprise; never ceases to be breathtaking.

For the sake of balance I'll mention I don't believe August is the best month for Firenze. This is a seriously hot and humid city (but I was aware of this when arranging this housesit - I do my homework). My inkling is that Firenze would be best explored on foot in Spring or Autumn. (Something I'll remember if I make any future visits).

Happily, to aid cooling off (obviously...) there's a gelateria on most corners. To my lactose intolerant delight, as well as stocking sorbets, most gelaterias carry a dairy free dark chocolate ice cream. Here's the best one yet: lemon and strawberry sorbet and a dark chocolate gelato:


Highlights for me have included the Mercato (Florence's foodie market, housed in a huge art deco building,) the Bobboli Gardens: a collection of outdoor sculptures housed in hilly scenery attached to the Pitti Palace. The Bobboli really comes into its own when one climbs to the top and is rewarded with a panoramic view out over Firenze and beyond: over the lush green hills and the blue shadow of the mountains.

View from The Bobboli Gardens:


The Uffizi Gallery was also pretty glorious, but the sheer volume of people inside combined with the various mini-queues to get in (even with a pre-booked ticket) made it a slightly less enjoyable experience than I'd anticipated. Spectacular views from the top floor though.

Firenze is best viewed from a height. There's no lack of vantage points within the city to climb and gaze out over the magical skyline. My favourite view of the city came when a local man gave me a beautiful night-time tour of Firenze and walked with me up to the Piazzale Michelengelo. (Sculpture-filled square up in the hills overlooking Firenze). Additionally, a housesitter tip: try to meet up with people who live locally. It's lovely seeing places through the eyes of their residents.

Firenze's Arno river at night:


Just a few days left here now, but we'll see what adventures those days hold and perhaps there'll be a second part to this post. Meanwhile, skittish Katie has warmed to me and hangs about me mewing/beeping. Here she is nuzzling at my leg:


How about you? Have you spent time in Firenze? Favourite places? Special recommendations for my final days here? Share your thoughts in the comments section.