Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Italy Day 4 (First Day in Florence)

Horse and carriage in the Piazza della Signoria 
(notice the David replica behind the horse)

The Duomo's facade

View of the Arno River in Florence 
(taken from the Ponte Vecchio)

Street performer in the 
Piazza della Signoria

We caught our 8:30ish AM train from Rome to Florence with relative ease. The cities were clearly listed on a board and we saw the train parked and ready. 

What wasn't quite so clear, however, was our assigned seat. The ticket stub, logically in Italian, didn't seem to have assigned seats. We picked out a train car that struck our fancy (somewhere in the middle of the train), stowed our baggage and took a seat. Then we started noticing other passengers glancing at their tickets and then at the seats. Dan said he would jump off board for a moment and ask someone "official" if we had assigned seats. While he was gone, the true "owners" of the seats we were occupying showed up, so I struggled to grab our two suitcases, tote bag, backpacks and my purse. Luckily Dan hopped back on board in time to help me grab our things and get off the train.

Whoever "official" Dan found pointed out our seats on the ticket. We felt a lot better about our second resting place, on car number 12. The approximately two-hour train ride had few stops and great scenery. We passed the time by looking through our travel guide books and refreshing ourselves on what tours we planned to do and attractions we planned to see. The time flew by — and before we knew it — we were gathering our things again and getting off the train.

Dan's TomTom GPS device assured us our bed and breakfast was within walking distance of the train station. We took a few minor wrong turns but the route was filled with high end shops (think Gucci, Prada, Escada, Coach, etc.) and delicious-looking ristorantes. We walked through an open market square just before find the street our bed and breakfast was located on. 

Olga's House was located across the street from Chanel and a small grocery store — and just a few steps from the city's biggest plaza — the Piazza della Signoria. This is the same plaza that the actual David stood on for hundreds of years (now replaced by a replica). It's perimeter is filled with shops and restaurants, statues and street vendors hawking water color paintings.

Seeing in that we had a few minutes before we could check in, we grabbed some espressos and split a piece of pizza at a nearby cafe. 

We had a much easier time checking into Olga's House than with our Rome experience. We buzzed upstairs and were quickly and easily let in by Roberto, Olga's House's owner and operator. There was a bit of commotion with a couple on their way out, which I'll talk more about in a moment. Roberto was a kind-hearted, chatty and high spirited Italian with a Russian wife. He met his now-wife on a long flight — and the rest was history. He named the bed and breakfast after his wife's daughter, Olga. Roberto told us how the travel company we booked the room through, Cross Pollinate, had the best rates of all the companies he worked with (115 euro per night).

After showing us the room, Roberto explained he was a bit frazzled because he had just had to kick a couple out of his inn. The day before, Roberto fielded a call from Italian officials that the couple tried to steal a history book from a museum's book shop. The museum's officials took note of each person's passport and escorted them off the premises. During the couple's brief stay, Roberto explained, they had been nothing but rude complainers. He was happy to hear he had a reason to remove them from his property. We were sad to hear of Roberto's trouble but what a story about the "crazy people."

We situated our belongings in the modern IKEA-inspired room and decided to go explore the city. Roberto also gave us three business cards each, redeemable for breakfast (a croissant of our choosing and an espresso or cappuccino) at one of three restaurants on the square.

Our first stop: the Ponte Vecchio. It's famous for it's shopping and picturesque views. We strolled by jewelry artisans, leather shops, gelaterias, pizzerias, high-end clothing shops and more. We made a mental note to stop by a leather store and look for boots on our way back through.

Walking past the Ponte Vecchio brought us to the Pitti Palace, once occupied by the famous Medici family (specifically Cosimo the Great). The now-museum looked like it had a lot to offer, so we decided to purchase tickets. We spent nearly an hour navigating the many gardens on the property and admiring the amazing views — likely three hours at the palace overall. We could see landmarks like the Duomo from the gardens' highest terraces. The traveling exhibitions had something for him and something for her. I very much enjoyed the costume gallery, which featured everything from 17th and 18th century Medici family gowns and shoes to 1960's Versace and Armani worn by celebrities from all over the Western World. Dan really enjoyed a gallery of architectural tools and instruments. We walked by maps (watching them become more detailed and accurate as time went on), replicas of pulleys and levers constructed by DaVinci and drawings (not unlike blue prints) of large structures. Each room of the palace was impeccably painted, decorated and preserved. What fun to imagine the galas thrown by Italian "royalty" here. The silver gallery (dishes and silverware, etc.) was interesting but not quite as fun as the two galleries aforementioned. 

Upon our departure from Pitti Palace, our mission was boots for Katy. We found a nice store called Casini that carried a variety of tall, Italian leather boots. I was set on black with a small-to-medium heel, so I didn't want to be talked into a pair that didn't fit my expectations. I probably tried on 20 pairs before we found the perfect ones — black with just a little strap across the back, nearly to the knee, small heel, 100 percent genuine Italian leather. So in love, I even wore the boots out of the store. Thank you, Dan, for that "splurge" item. I also picked up a pink "Ciao Bella" t-shirt (your typical tourist t-shirt) from a street vendor on our walk back.

A small snack of sliced cheese and a beer sustained us until dinner.

Back at Olga's House, we climbed the 80 or so stairs yet again back up to our room. I joked with Dan that one souvenir of the trip would be a toned rear. We showered and dressed for dinner and headed toward Roberto's recommendation for the evening — La Grotta Guelfa Ristorante. We chose an outdoor seat and started with chianti, bread and a "shepherd's plate" (sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, aubergines, cheese and artichoke hearts). Yum! I ordered the specialty taggliatelle with mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes then a veal marsala (sorry, Pete!). Dan went with a salad caprese and the ravioli "Guelfa style." I would say this was one of the best meals we had in Italy.

Not surprisingly, I insisted on grabbing some gelato on our way back to the B&B. [Also] not surprisingly, Dan said he didn't want any gelato but proceeded to eat half of mine. When we reached the piazza, we found an interesting and loud scene. Parents and students of Florence's public schools were protesting a new private school, claiming the new school has taken away teachers and lowered the caliber of education at the city's public schools. The non-violent protest included chants, banners, drums and marching. What an interesting moment in time to observe.

Day one in Florence was a great success. Overall, Florence felt very romantic and approachable. We went to sleep excited for the days to come... Next on our list: a walking tour of the city, a bicycle tour through Tuscany, wonderful quality time with my husband and more delicious food and wine. What a dream honeymoon.

Thank you again, Steffi, for the photos.


Cariad Photography said...

You are welcome, I love it, it makes me walk the streets of Florence again through your eyes and I do MISS the great food :(
It was heaven on earth :)

moeko said...

Your blog is so detailed - it almost doesn't matter that you lost your camera because your descriptions are so good - you can relive it all by re-reading your posts! You should definitely print out the parts of your blog about your honeymoon and make it into a mini-book :)

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