Italy 2014 – Florence – July 12th-15th

I keep singing “When In Rome” by Nickel Creek to myself because we’re on our way there now. As I write this I’m sitting on a waiting train to take us from Florence to Rome. We’ve had a good past three days in Florence. I might only have time to write about part of the time here right now, but I’ll add the rest soon. We arrived in Florence on Saturday, the 12th via train from Naples. We had a car service take us from Sorrento to Naples. All transport was without incident. We took a taxi from the Florence train station to our apartment, Beatrice, which was about a five minute ride. We were to meet a person who works at the management company, and we called (on a pay phone since we didn’t get an international plan) in the train station and let her know we were in Florence. When we got to the apartment she wasn’t there, so we sat at a cafe that was next door to our apartment and got some food and then Sara (the check-in person) got there and took us up to the apartment. She showed us around and gave us the keys and the apartment was ours…for three days at least. We didn’t have anything pre-planned to do for the rest of the afternoon, so we decided to venture out and explore our neighborhood and beyond. I had booked us tickets to the Uffizi Gallery, which has a very large collection of Renaissance paintings and was the offices of the Medici family, for 1:45. Our (bad) plan was to get off the train, store our luggage at the train station (they do have lockers for that sort of thing), run to the Uffizi, go back to the train station, get our luggage, then meet the check in person for a 3:30 check in. Well, we decided pretty early on not to bother with the Uffizi if it was going to be that much running back and forth. So, we just forgot about it and checked in normally and decided we would buy additional tickets for later in the day if we wanted to go. As we were wandering around the city after we had checked in, we decided to go ahead and go to the Uffizi and just buy more tickets. We got there and I decided to ask a man who worked there if it might be possible to use the tickets that we had for 1:45 then since we had missed our scheduled time. He said yes, and all we had to do was give our reservation number to the ticket desk. We did that, and no one seemed to mind at all that it was 4:30. Lesson learned – times for entrances really are just there to keep the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE out of the gallery at the same time. So we had a successful and lucky afternoon, saw some beautiful art (including “The Birth of Venus”) and we’re feeling good.

A funny advertisement poster at the Uffizi.
A funny advertisement poster at the Uffizi.

We also got our first really good look at the Arno River and the Oltrarno, which is the part of the city across the river. That part of the city is especially beautiful, like what I imagined Italy to look like: Tuscan yellow buildings with terra cotta tile roofs and lots of green in the Oltrarno. We wandered back to Piazza Della Signoria and got food and the best, richest hot chocolate I’ve ever drunk at Rivoire, and sat on the square and watched the world go by.

Sassy with hot chocolate.
Sassy with hot chocolate.
Excited about hot chocolate.
Excited about hot chocolate.
Hot chocolate at Rivoire.
Hot chocolate at Rivoire.

Oh, it was raining, which was why we stopped at the easiest place possible, but it let up while we were eating. We’ve had really good weather for the most part while here. Only two rain showers that I can think of. And the windy day when we couldn’t go to Capri. Anyway, we were exhausted by this point, so we decided to head back to the apartment and go to sleep. It was 7:30. We’re so cool. We slept okay and got up on Sunday for a Walk and Talk tour. The tour took us all around the city, and we saw most of the major churches and museums and sights, but we didn’t go inside anything. We knew this ahead of time, but it’s definitely something we will read the fine print about if we do group tours in the future, so we know what we’ll want to go back and go inside later. Our tour guide, Vanessa, was very knowledgeable and nice and gave us some suggestions for places to eat and things to do, so we felt like it was a really good tour.

Baptistery at the Duomo
Baptistery at the Duomo
I call this an alley.  In Florence they call it a street.
I call this an alley. In Florence they call it a street.
Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio
View from Ponte Vecchio
View from Ponte Vecchio
Pitti Palace which was built to appease a Medici wife who wanted room for gardens behind her residence
Pitti Palace which was built to appease a Medici wife who wanted room for gardens behind her residence
Selfie on the tour
Selfie on the tour

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Cat taking pics with the real camera on the tour
Cat taking pics with the real camera on the tour
Another view of Oltrarno
Another view of Oltrarno
Looking across the Arno River into Oltrarno
Looking across the Arno River into Oltrarno

Apparently there was a good deal on green and pinkish marble when building churches in Florence because the facade of Santa Maria Novella has the same colors as the Duomo

Bronze doors of Baptistery
Bronze doors of Baptistery

We also met a couple from New York and their son, Charlie, who was about six months old. We were flabbergasted that they could travel with a six month old. He was a good baby, but methinks no. We had a few hours before our other tour, so we grabbed lunch and headed to Galleria Dell’Accademia, where the “David” is. Thank god we had booked tickets for this online in advance because we still had to wait about 30 minutes, and that was in the reserved ticket line. The line for people who bought tickets there was over two hours. Again, no. There’s not much in this world I would wait two hours to see or do. But that’s me. Ol’ David was beautiful and huge and inspiring and I’m glad I’ve seen him.

Cast of the Rape of the Sabines in the Galleria dell'Academia.  The original is outside at Piazza della Signoria
Cast of the Rape of the Sabines in the Galleria dell’Academia. The original is outside at Piazza della Signoria
David from a distance.  SO. BIG.
David from a distance. SO. BIG.

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Up close and personal with the man himself
Up close and personal with the man himself
He's even cute from behind.
He’s even cute from behind.
Beautiful fresco inside the dome
Beautiful fresco inside the dome
Inside the Duomo
Inside the Duomo

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There was also a small gallery of musical instruments which we found interesting, as you can imagine. After meeting Dave we had an Electric Bike Tour booked. Catherine had been really excited about this tour, and I was, too.

Ready to ride bikes!
Ready to ride bikes!

We went to the square that was our appointed meeting place, and met Deborah and Louise, two ladies who were also doing the tour and made conversation and waited for some indication of the tour group. The indication we got was a 22 year old Italian woman riding up on a bike and saying our last names. She said when we asked at the end of the tour that she is 22, but she looked 12. But she was very nice and said we just needed to walk around the corner to her shop. Her shop was very close and very small and it turned out she owns this business with her equally as young, and equally as kind boyfriend. They gave us our bikes, adjusted them for us and showed us how they worked, and then we practiced using the power mode by riding up and down their street. Cat and I and Deborah had it down pat but, Louise. Poor Louise. I could tell she was nervous, and I can understand why to certain extent. The bikes looked like regular 10-speed bikes, but the bar that runs from the front wheel to the back wheel was larger than normal and that where the small motor (engine? motor?) was. There was a small box on the left handle where you could power on, change the power from 1 to 5, and power off. You could do all of this while pedaling or stopped. It was VERY easy to use and ride. I thought. The motor did all of the work for you. So after everyone had a chance to practice, we set out with our guide (whose name I can’t remember). She led us around the outskirts of Florence and after about 10 minutes, we were headed up into the hills above the city.

Tuscan views on the way to the olive oil tasting
Tuscan views on the way to the olive oil tasting

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We rode for about 30 minutes stopped at a farm where there is a restaurant and they have a shop where they sell the olive oil they produce. We took a break and sampled some olive oil on bread and looked back over the city. It was like we were in a different world.

View from the olive oil farm
View from the olive oil farm

image imageWe rode back down into the city, and through it, and made our way up to Piazza Michelangelo, which sits high above the city on a hill, and there’s a church and great lookout points. We didn’t know we were going here on the bike tour, and we didn’t think we’d have time otherwise, and we were bummed about that, so the fact that we got to go was really cool.

A nice tourist from Canada offered to take a pic for us
A nice tourist from Canada offered to take a pic for us

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Amazing!
Amazing!

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Gorgeous view from Piazza Michelangelp
Gorgeous view from Piazza Michelangelp

After a few minutes, we rode back down to the city, and stopped in a wine bar and had a glass and some bruschetta. It was delicious and it was included in the price of the tour, so that was good. After that, we rode back to the shop and the bike tour was over. I thought it was a really cool way to see the city and the surrounding areas and if you have the chance to do something like it, take the opportunity. I did think when we read about the tour that we were going to be farther away from the city (I imagined we’d bus out into the country and ride from there), but even though it wasn’t what I pictured, it was still a cool thing to do. Highly recommended! I wasn’t too disappointed we didn’t go out into the country on the bikes because I knew the next day was our Tuscany tour and we would get to see that area. I’ll write about that in the next post! After the bike tour, we went to a restaurant for dinner that our friend Justin recommended, Trattoria Gabrielo, and it was good.

Cat is so excited about the steak she just ordered
Cat is so excited about the steak she just ordered

After that, we went by a gelato shop, Grom, and got gelato and then headed back to the Beatrice. Another really exciting night. 😉 But it was just what we wanted. Tomorrow = Tuscany! Ciao!

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