We awoke to rain on Wednesday but it was time to move on :) We packed our bags and headed to the bus stop. Standing in the rain at a bus stop is not necessarily fun, but it could have been worse :) We took the #15 to the train station where we purchased our tickets (with help) to Florence and boarded “Italo” train, a brand new service in Italy and a welcomed competition. The train was sleek and modern, clean and comfortable and it traveled at 300 kmh. That’s 186.411 mph to those of us non-metric folks!
We arrived in Florence in city central and the rain was pouring down. We obtained directions to the rental cars and headed out, umbrellas in hand. An hour later, several blocks later and more directions later, we arrived, rather wet, at National Car Rental :) It was in a completely different place than indicated on the map… but it’s all part of the adventure :)
Once the car was rented, we took off to find our newest accommodation, an apartment in a house in the middle of the Chianti wine region, just south of Florence, in San Casciano. We had a picture of the house and knew it was yellow so thought we’d be able to easily pick it out. Turns out, every house in this area is yellow! :) It apparently is a very popular Tuscan color :)
We had purchased the Italian maps for our Garmin, so we plugged in the address and found ourselves at the reception area of a huge winery :) Unfortunately, that was not where we were supposed to be :) They explained to us that the same address exists in both the town and the municipality but they didn’t know where the other address was! I had purchased an International phone and data plan on my cell before leaving but we had no phone signal in that area so we had to retrace our route and found a Pizzeria parking lot to regroup. After a phone call (using Vern’s phone because mine wouldn’t connect) and a rescue mission by our hosts to find us in the parking lot and guide us to their home, we arrived safe and sound. A quick unpack to pull out damp clothing from our sojourn in the rain and we were off to the market and dinner.
We got a late start on Thursday, driving into Florence around noon. We found parking outside the city wall and hiked into town. You are not allowed to drive in city central without a permit and if you do, you are subject to huge fines. Florence is easily walkable if you’re in relatively good shape. The cobblestone streets are a challenge as they are very uneven and I found myself, many times, watching my feet instead of looking at the sites. We had a very nice lunch and then found our way to Helikos, Nicole’s school, where we were able to enjoy a presentation of some of their works in the beginning stages. It was great to see what she’s been working on and where she’s spent most of her time these last 3 years. Later that evening, we joined several of her friends at a little cafe’ for aperitivo. This is basically heavy hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine. At 6 Euros, it’s quite the bargain.
We headed out early on Friday for a day trip to Parma, home of Parmesan cheese, Prosciutto ham and balsamic vinegar. We had inquired into a tour of these places but at $120 American each, we thought we’d just see what we could on our own. We were able to see much of the town and have a fantastic meal at a little cafe’ where no one spoke English but it worked out wonderful anyway :) The food was beyond delicious and just that made the trip worthwhile. Our quest for the cheese, meat and vinegar, however, was futile. It is essential to book a tour as that is the only way to see these things.
On Saturday, we parked outside Florence at 8:30 AM and began what would be an all day walking tour of Florence. Nicole had to attend school this Saturday so she mapped out an entire day for us :) We started with a trip to Galleria dell 'Accademia where we saw Michelangelo’s statue of David. It was incredibly impressive. No pictures were allowed but there are replicas throughout the city so I was able to get a couple shots of the “fake David’s” .
From there we made a gelato stop (Italian Ice Cream) and headed to the Piazza del Duomo, the famous Florence dome (duomo), which is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore.
We hit the midway point about then and stopped for lunch. The place Nicole recommended had a line to the end of the block. And it was after 2 PM! It was obvious their food must be good :) We, however, needed to stop and rest for awhile so we opted for the restaurant down the street with no waiting. It was very good and now, replenished, we continued on.
After lunch, Piazza Santa Croce, the home of Basilica San Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world.
We made our way to Piazzale Michelangelo just before sunset. It is just beautiful sitting high above the city watching the sun go down and the city lights sparkle. Nicole joined us on top for a few photos and then we made our way down the hill to dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. We bid her adieu after dinner as we would be moving on from Florence the following day and will not see her again until she returns to the states this summer.
Clicking on any photo will enlarge it. None of these photos have been cropped or fixed, which I usually like to do before posting. I’m finding it difficult to find the time to write and the pictures will just have to wait :) I need to write it as I go, though, or I’ll forget everything. Even now, it’s hard to remember everything from 2 days ago! Also, apologies for the formatting and bold print in some parts. It isn’t intentional but I’m working with my old netbook and it doesn’t want to cooperate at all.