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Sunday, July 7, 2013

chapter 74: FLORENCE

{At this point, I must admit something. This trip to Europe took place May and June 2012... We now find our selves in April 2013. I have been able to recount the details of our trip with the help of a journal that I took with us and wrote in each day. That, combined with Ben's recollection and my own is how we can recreate our trip. Historically, I have never been a very consistent journal writer and this trip was no exception. While in France, I wrote probably two or three pages a day of our events and explorations. All of italy? Two pages total. Germany? Sorry charlie... zip, zero.
That being said, here goes nothing...}

We didn't arrive in Florence until about 9:00 PM. It was already dark and so we shot a quick message off to our host to let him know we had arrived and were on our way. We then used our map to find our hotel; it was pretty centrally located and relatively easy to find. *Note, the streets were relatively busy and bustling for that time of night and it felt extremely safe, which was a good way to start our time in Florence.

We buzzed Ljubi (our host) and he unlocked the front door. We waked up the stairs and found our landing. He was very kind, checked us in, showed us where some travel materials were and gave us our key. We were in the very first bedroom - it was small, just a bed, desk and dresser, with a shared bathroom down the hall. Small, but clean. The only downside was, rather than one queen size bed, we had two twin beds. We stripped the beds, pushed them together and remade the beds into one bigger one - now we just had to compete over who had to lay in  crack. Right before going to bed, we walked around the square just outside our apartment. It was completely empty with only a few people wandering around. We were in Florence for five days total and in that time, we felt we were able to see everying we wanted to: 

We awoke and walkd out into that same square we visited the night before, but now found it to be a busy, alive market with tons of leather shops. I found a leather jacket and I fell in love with, but the price tag for authentic italian leather was a little outisde our means. We visited the Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore and climed the stairs to the very top. While climbing, we saw a shockingly amount of grafiti. It was very upsetting and I might have gone on a bit of a rant about how disappointed I am in human society. The staircases to the top were often extremely narrow, slanted, and only wide enough for one person to go at a time. The way up and the way down were the same, so it took a little nagotiating to appropriately take turns. Next, we headed to the Baptistry, saw the Tower and did a little shopping. Fearing that it might rain, Ben bought a jacket and sweatshirt - claimimg them as his one Europe souvineer.

We entered the church of Santa Maria Novella where the tombs of Florentine celebrities are housed. We also walked through the Paliazzio Veccio and ate gelato while we watched musicians played beautiful music. Just down from the Paliazzio Veccio was the famous Ponte Veccio that we walked up and down and sat to watch the sunsent as we listened to a local band play on the bridge.

{prepping for the day by reading the guide book}

This morning we woke early and made our way to the Ufizzi museum. The line was pretty long, so while I held our spot, Ben disappeared to grab us some breakfast at a nearby pastry shop. After a little while we entered to see beautiful sculptures and art pieces, guided by our podcast friend: Rick Steves. We spent the remainder of the day, sharing ear buds to our ipod and took Rick Steve's guided tour through Florence, learning about the churchces, sites, and architecture. As the sun set we wandered past the Santa Croce and just enjoyed the architecture from the outside as it was already long past closed.


{Santa Croce}

Today, we made the long journey outside of the main Floretine city center, up to the Piazza Michael Angelo. We also walked up to the Porte Sante (chuch) and enjoyed a snapshot view of all of Florence. In town, we also stopped in a few toy stores and admired their Lego masterpieces.

Most days, we followed the Florenine tradition of taking a 'siesta' in the afternoons back in our room. Sticking with the customs, we also would eat a very large lunch with a light dinner. We had gelato every night and listened to street music - one night even elbowing our way into one gelato bar that alwasy seemed to have a herd of people inside.

{Today we had our first canoli and discovered how much we dislike them... I don't think we could finish it.}

{mmm... a much better breakfast decision}
Gelaterie encounter day 1
mass of people around the door and flooding the inside. We couldn't even tell it was a gelaterie because of all the people.
Gelaterie encounter day 2
we realized that it was a gelaterie and in fact, one of the most famous and best tasting in Florence.
Gelaterie encounter day 3
we didn't want to give this place our service and money as they seemed to have tons of people constantly eating there. We weren't going to waste our time.
Gelaterie encounter day 4
the stars aligned and somehow it was open and no one was inside?! We slipped in, ordered and, by the time we recieved our gelati, it was flooded again.

Well worth the croud, as that was our favorite gelati yet. After eating our gelati, we rubbed the "boar's snout" (Porcellino) for luck and dropped a coin into his mouth for hope of a return to Florence. Apparently, Ben will be returning to Florence and I will not.

The entire time our landlord, Ljubi, was extremely friendly and helpful, but occasiaonally the front enterance buzzer would buzz and we could always hear Ljubi shoting, "Who are you?!", "What do you want?!", "Stop buzzing!!"... it's amazing how he has as many tenants as he did with the way he greeted new potential tenants.
After four full days of walking, site seeing, and exploring, we found ourselves almost Florenced-out and ready for Venice. Five days seemed like one day too long and we ended up spending most of our last day relaxing in our room and reading about our next destination.

{someday I will either paint this or turn it into a puzzle}

The morning of our sixth day, we set out for the train station. Since our journey in was in the dark, our journey back out involved a bit of backtracking and getting lost. We found it though, and connected to our train to Venice.

On one morning, we strolled by a waffle stand that sold waffles covered in Nutella. Hungrily, we ordered to, only to find out it wasn't just one waffle, it was a waffle sandwich with tons of Nutella in the middle. We also didn't check the price before we ordered (never made that mistake again), so 4 waffles and 25 euros later, we were very upset about our morning thus far. I kept complaining about what a rip off it was and how I couldn't believe we had done that. In mid-sentance, a pigeon swooped by and pooped on my shirt/hair! I was disgusted and dove at the nearest fountain to try and wash off what I could. Probably the worst morning of the trip.

One afternoon, we caught a glimpse of a beautiful green onion dome and thought that it might be a church. We decided to venture far out from the center of Florence and find out what it was. We spent hours wandering up and down roads, occasionally seeing a corner of the building to help us course-correct. Finally, after almost turning back multiple times and reaching exhaustion, we found it.  Locked behind a large gate with no sign, we concluded that it was some sort of school and nothing really all that spectacular. A disappointment, but it did lead us on a nice long tour of the outskirts of the city and to a charming restaurant with a loudly singing host.

{a less than happy face...}


We slept in and were plesantly awoken by a street market below our window. Ben got ready first and headed down to the market while I got ready. Meeting in the market, we purchase an apple and a pear for breakfast. By far the sweetest, juciest, most delicious fruit we have ever had. We walked back to the bay and watched the waves crash onto the terrace and said goodbye to the beautiful scenery of Vernazza. Before leaving, we purchased to small glass containers of locally grown and made pesto. We had a sampling before purchasing and came to the conclusion that this pesto was "like tasting what created the world."  How could we pass that up?

{can you spot Ben?}

We walked back up to the train station with our belongings on our back (having already checked out) and headed to Corniglia. Corniglia was differnt from all of the other cities; instead of being on a beach, was placed on top of a mountain. A very high mountain... with a very long staircase. We hiked up the long, steep, staircase and arrived in the heart of the city. We wandred through the narrow streets and stopped at a pizza shop to enjoya few slices of pizza. A beautiful city, but nothing too exciting to warrant a further trek up the mountain. We made our way back down and took the train back to La Spetzia.

Being a little early for our departing train, we explored La Spetzia, enjoyed another gelato and killed time as we waited for our train to Florence. While on the train, Ben made the conclusion that the French language sounded like {now think... thick french accent} "Ble ble bla, ble bla bla", while our first exposure to Italy sound more like {think thick italian accent} "eh squishy squashy, squishy squishy squashy." True. True.

chapter 72: CINQUE TERRE

A night train couchette is not the most comfortable thing. Ben seemed to fall asleep pretty quickly above me, but the crampped space and the untucked, tangled sheets kept me tossing and turning. Just after I managed to doze off, our train car recieved a very sudden wake up call by the Italian boarder police around 3 AM. There was an African looking woman on the middle bunk who the police seemed to be interigating. She groggily awoke and looked extrememly confused. This was all in Italian, of course, but I managed to deduce that they were asking her why she was traveling, where she was intending to go, where she had been already, and who she was going to stay with. She tried to answer all of their questions as they rummaged through her bag. I was trying not to look too interested, hoping that Ben and I would not be next. After about seven or eight minutes of this, they turned out the light and left our car. The passenger stepped out into the hallway to compose herself.
It was challenging to fall asleep after that, but 'luckily', I didn't have to try for long because around 4 AM, a station worker knocked on our door, turned on the light and returned all of our passports.
(I should note, that right when we boarded the train, they collected our passports so that when we crossed the boarder, we wouldn't have to be disturbed. That worked out well... I should also note that I was very taken aback by this request and questioned the train worker quite a bit before handing over our passports. I made sure he had others' passports, official identification, and a darn good reason.)
Giving up any attempt to get to sleep, I laid quietly and counted myself lucky that I managed a few hours sleep. We arrived in Milan around 7AM, where we transfered and caught our second train to La Spetzia. We shared a train care with a group of Brazilian women who seemed to be taken right out of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. They were very sweet, energetic, and extremely appreciative of Ben's help as he lifted their bags into the storage compartment. What a hunk. I tried my Itanlian out on them and recieved a lot of giggles and attempts at correcting me. When I got a phrase right, they enthusistically applauded and continued on in italian excitedly. Loved them.
We arrived in La Spetzia and boarded our last train to Vernazza... we're almost there!
Once we arrived in Vernazza, we now had the task to find our hotel.
Via M. Carattino 4-66: Yes, we know exactly where that is, amongst the hundreds of narrow passageways and towering stair cases.
We walked up and down, left and right, trying our best to look for street signs. After climing to what seemed like the top of the city at least twice, we asked a local where we could find the residence. They pointed us towards a gift shop just off the main road. We walked in to find our hostess who was excited to see that we had made it. She checked us in, processed our paperwork and escorted us to her hotel once her customers left so she could close up shop. We walked up the stairs to find a clean, open, room. The enourmous bed even had pillows! No more make-shift work with sheets and stuffed animals like in France! We settled our worn out, stinky train selve in, put on our swim suits and headed into town.
Last October, a mudslide swept through Vernazza, destroying much of the main street and shops. The city had done much to rebuid, but there was still evidence of construciton crews and damage could still be seen in the once beautiful wall art. All the mud and debris and swept right into the bay, which meant that swimming was out of the question. Instead, we sat on a terrace and ordered two huge pizzas (after all, we had only had 1 orange on the train and that was our only sustanace for the past 12 hours). The pizzas were delicious and extremely filling.

We then walked back up to the train station and jumpped on a small train that simply runs between the five cities in Cinque Terre. We rode it to the further most city: Riomaggiore. We walked around, peering in the shops and resturants. We then rode to Manarola. We walked around the city and found our way to the edge of a boat docking area. We laid in the warm sun in our swimsuits and, after a few minutes, worked up the courage to take a dip in the ocean. Each of us could only last a few seconds (long enough to snap a quick picture) before hopping out and trying to get warm again.

Further down the way, we found a beaitufl rocky beach. There were no people in sight, so we sat and enjoyed the relaxing sound of the water crashing over the rocks.

After an enjoyable day spent exploring and basking, we toured the "Walk of Love" and then we headed back to Vernazza before it got too late.

Turns out our hotel hostess slash shop keeper was also a slash resturant owner. We decided to eat at her ourdoor resturant and ordered pesto gnocci, anchovies (a local specialty) and a salad. That dinner? Best thing in the world. We still remember that meal vividly... to quote Ben, "it was like culumnionimbus clousds decided to host a dance party on my taste buds".
...'nuff said...

After dinner, we ordered two gellatos to go and sat by the bay to watch the sunsent. Apparently, we were residing near the home of a family of birds, because they freaked out and started dive bombing us! We moved down a little bit, hoping to be less of a disturbance. We enjoyed few minutes of serenity, when it started to rain. We headed back home to our hotel, watched a movie in italian (I think it was the Wedding Date) and dozed off.