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  1. #1

    • Joe Flowers
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    Dec 2009
    Redondo Beach, CA

    Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    For the first four days of our trip, we explored Rome. That whole story is on another MC post here: Joe's summer trip to Rome Italy
    After we spend 4 days in Florence, we'll be heading up to Paris to meet up with Jacob and Ruston where we'll explore the Disneyland Paris Resort plus the city of Paris for a week. Keep an eye out for that trip report too.

    Today we're traveling up north to Florence!
    It's 175 miles north of Rome, so we'll be taking the train to get there.

    Here's all the places we went during the day.

    Last night Theresa and I both slept restlessly. Maybe it was the anticipation of getting up the next morning. The alarm went off at 9am and we didn’t linger in bed. Today we’ve got to catch a train to Florence for the next part of our journey. After packing mostly the night before, we didn’t take long to get everything together in the morning. Checking out was easy and we saw Roberta and thanked her again for her help the day we arrived. They called a cab for us, and it was as simple as them pressing a button on a machine behind the counter. We received a ticket showing the driver was on his way, his name, the cab number and his estimated arrival time. Pretty slick.

    The taxi arrived after just a couple minutes and we loaded up to head to Termini station. We could have walked it or taken a bus, but with luggage, it was easier to get the cab. Thankfully we had a great driver who didn’t gun it, always stopped smoothly, and didn’t whip around the lanes. Theresa was very thankful because she didn't want to start the day with a headache from motion sickness, so for our 11 Euro fare, I had no problem giving him 15 Euro. We entered Termini and found a green and white ticket machine and bought tickets for the 10:20am train to Florence. For 43 Euro each we got coach seats. It’s 10am now, so we’ve got just a little time for breakfast. We stopped at the McDonalds inside the station.

    T got two cheeseburgers (yes, for breakfast), but I wanted to try the local specialty. I’ve had a teriyaki burger at a Japanese McDonalds and now I can say I’ve had the Pizzarotto from McDonalds. Just like the Teriyaki burger, it wasn’t very good and apparently not many people order it because it took a while to get. We kept looking at the time thinking in a minute or two we’re going to just have to leave it. We got our food around 10:15am and rushed off to the train.

    After confirming with the conductor that we were on the right track, we jumped in the first available car. Not knowing if trains leave a little early or right on time, we weren't taking any chances. We walked through maybe 10 different cars from the first class, through business class, back to the coach cars, with me hauling my bag, my photo bag, and Theresa’s luggage. The tickets say they're for reserved seats, but I don’t think anyone pays attention to that. We picked a spot that looked good with seats facing the direction we’re moving (a must for T) and lucked out that no one sat opposite us. At 10:22am we started moving.

    During the journey we planned out our time in Florence in more detail. We also got to see some of the nice Italian countryside with grape vines, rolling hills, and castles and churches built overlooking the valleys. Speeds on the train topped out at 250 km/hr (150 mph) so we were booking it. The tunnels though causes our ears to pop and T mentioned that taking a child on here wouldn’t be fun. Something we'll have to keep in mind on future trips.

    In just an hour and a half, we arrived in Florence around 11:50am.
    We were rushing this morning because at the bed and breakfast we’re staying at the staff leaves at 1pm and it's more difficult to get inside if you arrive late. We found the line for taxis and directed the driver to Piazza de Signora. He asked for an address, but we just told him to drop us off close and we’d walk it. Again we got lucky with a careful driver and Theresa arrived headache free. On an 8.10 Euro fare, I gave the guy 10 Euro and he was pretty happy with it, and gave us an extra map.

    It’s so awesome we’re staying right here in this square. I remember it from the last time we visited.

    To find the bed and breakfast, we had to look for two restaurants. There is a door in the middle that we buzz into and head up a few stairs. We buzzed in and I carried both our bags up 4 flights of stairs to the entrance.

    Costanza greeted us at the door and walked us to our room. It’s a nice little bed and breakfast. Not too fancy, but not a dump either. The room looks decent, though they’ve got the smallest flat screen TV I’ve seen in a long time. We dropped our luggage and kept the door and window open to let the room air out a little. When we opened the window of our room, we were bombarded with the aroma of pizza, and it smelled delicious!

    We then went back to the main entrance/reception and Costanza showed us some good places to eat, buy groceries, etc. She said Tuscany isn’t known so much for their pastas, as they are for their steak and their soap. Huh? Our soap, mimicking spooning something from a bowl. Ohhh, soup. She also told us about a restaurant where they serve 1 kg (2.2lb) T bone steaks that are super thick! My kind of place! We asked if they knew where that wonderful pizza smell was coming from and they said it was from a restaurant just downstairs. But they said, the smell yes, the… how do you say… flavor and taste, no. She said it's just frozen pizza they heat up. Instead they recommended another place to go for pizza.

    A few minutes after dropping off our bags, off we went to explore the city. We’re planning on buying the Firenze pass which is good for 72 hours at most of the top sites in Florence. One of the main sites it’s not good at though is the Duomo and associated sites with the Duomo, so we're going there today. We walked in that direction and on the way, found a place that sells pizza by the slice and was recommended by Rick Steves. Only 2.50 Euro per slice so T got pepperoni and I got tomato, mozzarella, and pesto. Not liking the cheese or pepperoni, Theresa scraped all hers onto mine and just ate the pizza with whatever pizza sauce was left on it. Fine by me!

    The Duomo itself is not that far of a walk from our hotel actually. Florence is smaller than Rome and again we’ve got a great hotel location. An interesting color scheme was chosen for the Duomo. Pink, green and white. Like I said, interesting…

    Not sure where to start, we walked to the Baptistry.

    On the outside of the Baptistry are the Gates of Paradise, which always draws a crowd. They were named this because when Michelangelo saw them he said these doors are so beautiful they are fit to be the "Gates of Paradise".
    Looks like everyone who’s going in already has tickets. Alright, let’s go find tickets. I know they sell them at the Duomo Museum.

    On the way there we saw a Lindt chocolate store. I have been looking for a particular chocolate since the last time we were in Germany. I can’t remember the maker anymore, but it was regular milk chocolate with bits of honey in it. No other nuts or anything else. Just chocolate and honey. Hoping we’d find it here, we went inside and saw over 20 different types of chocolates, but no honey. We’ll keep looking then (and if anyone has any more info, I would definitely appreciate it).

    The Duomo museum is just behind the church itself. We were expecting to pay 15 Euro each for a 4 day combo ticket to get us into all the sites like the Rick Steves guidebook said, but lucked out in that they had a 1 day combo ticket for just 10 Euro each.

    One of the first items you see as you enter are the original Gates of Paradise designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1401, which took him 21 years to complete. The doors hanging on the Baptistry now are copies for the tourists.

    The original doors hung on the Baptistry until 1990, when they were removed for restoration. Centuries of deposits, salts, and flooding had tarnished these once golden doors. In the lobby of the museum was a video showing the restoration process. Check out the difference! In 2010, having completed their restoration, they were placed in the Duomo Museum.

    Inside the museum were also some of the models presented by artists trying to win the commission to build the cathedral.

    One of the more interesting sculptures here was The Deposition, also called the Florence Pieta, by Michelangelo. Michelangelo originally worked on this sculpture in 1543 when he was in his 70s. It shows Christ being lowered from the cross by his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and Nicodemus. Michelangelo actually gave his own features to Nicodemus, who was also said to be a sculpture.
    After working on it for 8 years, Michelangelo discovered a flaw in the grain of the marble and was so frustrated that he took a hammer to it and broke off Christ's arm, leg and Mary's elbow. He left it mutilated and unfinished. It was later restored by one of his students.

    Having already seen works by Michelangelo and Raphael on this trip, we can now claim a third Ninja Turtle. This wood carving called Magdalene Penitent was created by Donatello around 1453. Theresa and I both thought she looked a little scary.

    After one last look at the Gates of Paradise, we head out to the Baptistry.

    The Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, having been built around 1059. The previous baptistry was in the center of the structure. Many notable people were baptized here including Dante Alighieri (known for writing Dante's Inferno) and many members of the Medici family.

    Starting in 1568, a smaller font started being used for baptisms.

    Not the best 360 I've done, but it's all I've got. Probably the last time I try to use my fish-eye lens to create a panorama. Click here to see a 360 degree view of the baptistry.

    Here's a better look at the altar

    The mosaic ceiling above features the Last Judgement.

    Next up, Il Duomo di Firenze. It’s free to enter but thankfully the line wasn’t too bad.

    Built in 1296, this cathedral was started before they even had the technology or know-how to build the dome to cap it off. It wasn't until 1420, nearly 125 years later that work on the dome finally began.
    After seeing St Peters and other cathedrals with decoration everywhere, I was surprised to see such a plain white ceiling in the nave.

    The floor inside had some very interesting geometric shapes.

    Walking up to the front though, the Dome of the Duomo really impresses. When Michelangelo was designing the dome of St Peters in the Vatican, he used this dome as inspiration. He said, I will build her sister bigger, but no more beautiful.

    The interior of the dome covers almost 39,000 sq ft and was painted over 11 years by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari.

    At the back of the church, you can actually go down stairs and under the floor to see what the foundation and crypt looks like. It was built on the ruins of another church and used as the burial site for Florentine bishops.

    Also buried here is Filippo Brunelleschi, the designer of the dome, being given quite a position of respect being buried with the high ranking bishops.

    Exiting, next to the church is the bell tower. Our combo pass gets us up here too, so of course we’re going. Well half of us anyway. Or is that a third of us? Either way, Theresa decided not to climb the 418 steps up to the top of this 278 foot bell tower and sent me up it with the camera.

    Looking down at Theresa from the first level. There are 4 separate levels to take a break on. It was also pretty cramped quarters climbing up, so it you met anyone climbing down, you had to both squeeze to the side to get by. Not the best climb if you happen to be claustrophobic.

    Looking toward the Baptistry.

    There is also a Dome climb available, which is a few feet higher than the bell tower, but from the bell tower, you get a much better view!

    On the third level, there was a metal grate that you could stand on top of and it was just you, the grate, and 150ish feet of air between you and the first level. Some people like me stood on top and took a picture. Others only dared to hold their camera over the edge and point it down.

    Once at the top, you really can see the entirely of Florence. It’s an impressive view.

    Catching both the Baptistry and the Florence Duomo in one shot.

    It's ridiculously high up here.

    Looking back towards the Piazza de Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio.

    And using my zoom lens, you can actually see the door to our hotel.

    Going down is so much easier than going up. No wonder. My camera bag alone weighs over 20 pounds! Once on the ground, I didn’t see Theresa and assumed she got out of the sun and went back inside the Duomo. Sure enough, I found her there sitting on a bench inside. I’m not sure what time it was exactly, but after a few minutes of sitting, everyone was ushered out of the church. Guess it’s closing time.

    We walked back towards the supermarket and found a Disney store on the way! Yay for Disney! Theresa was excited because she was just now realizing that we’re going to be able to buy lots of fun Disney stuff for our little boy.

    There were some fun decorations in the Disney store as well. I really like all the Italy specific artwork on the walls.

    Some of my favorite Disney nephews, Huey, Dewey and Louie, though the colors of their costumes are mixed up.

    Will this European swimsuit fit me?

    Whew! Quite a few Disney pictures there.

    We made it to the grocery store and bought some drinks, fruit and snacks.

    We went back inside the hotel to drop off our groceries, looked up the closest laundry facilities headed back out.

    The laundry place was clean and close. Since we only ever do carry-on, we're going to have to stop and do laundry a couple times on our 2.5 week trip. We spent an hour in the laundry facilities doing laundry and reading about all the places we wanted to go during the rest of our time here and what order we were going to do it in.
    Laundry finished, we headed back to the hotel to drop it off and then out to a late 9pm dinner.

    9pm is late by our standards but normal I guess for Italians. Our top two picks that were recommended by Rick Steves which he suggested reservations, you guessed it, required reservations. Even at 9pm it wouldn’t be until 10pm until a table would be free. Our third choice had seats. We started the meal with the most bland bread I’ve ever tasted. It seriously tasted like nothing.
    We both ordered an appetizer. T got minestrone soup and I *gasp* got bruschetta. After pouring a little balsamic on it, I found it quite tasty. I guess I like raw tomatoes now. T also enjoyed her soup, and I did as well.

    After the appetizers, we had high hopes for the rest of the meal. I ordered the filet of beef in a balsamic sauce, while T got a tomato, basil, garlic pasta. She thought her pasta was just okay, but even being okay, it was better than any other pasta she’s had here in Italy so far. My “filet” turned out to be a thin strip steak. They didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked, which should have been a clue I suppose. I wasn’t impressed by the steak or the sauce. Oh well.

    Of course we’ve got to finish the night with gelato. A Rick Steves recommended place is just around the corner. They boasted 10 different kinds of chocolate with 0 descriptions that I could read, plus a bunch of fruit flavors and others.

    T got a lemon and strawberry and mixed the two. The lemon by itself was very tart, but mixed with the strawberry became delicious.

    I chose a coconut, plus 2 kinds of chocolate and I don't know what they were. I just asked her to pick for me and she did a good job.

    It was a short walk back to the hotel and we’re in for the night now. After showers, we’re just winding down. The bell in the church close by just struck one. We’ve got quite a few things on the agenda tomorrow so we’ll see what time we roll out of bed and get everything started.

    Either way though it should be fun!

  2. #2

    • Member
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    Jan 2011
    Tacoma, Washington, United States

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    I'm eating your trip report up!!! We are booking our trip this week.
    London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Santorini and Athens for 17 days in May! I am crazy excited and your trip report is giving me a ton of great insight! I was curious how you handle money on your trips, you have been so many times I assume you have found the right formula. I keep hearing a prepaid European Visa is the way to go. Any advice?
    Thank you!!!

  3. #3

    • Joe Flowers
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    Dec 2009
    Redondo Beach, CA

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    Glad you're enjoying it!
    I hope your trip turns out awesome. How are you getting yourself around everywhere?

    As far as money goes, we've never tried a prepaid European Visa. Sounds like it could work out though.

    When we travel we usually do two things. First we have a debit card and when we land at the airport, we get out a few hundred Euros cash from the ATM.
    Second, we'll bring a chipped credit card that has no foreign transaction fees and just call the credit card company a week before to let them know we're traveling internationally.
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    For carrying the money and cards around, I always have my Rick Steves money belt on with the bulk of the cash and the credit cards. I'll carry 40 Euro just in my pocket as well, just so I don't have to go digging in the money belt all the time. I'll also pay with cash for restaurants if it's not to expensive so my credit card doesn't leave my sight too often. As long as you're mindful of it, you shouldn't have any problems.

  4. #4

    • Joe Flowers
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    Dec 2009
    Redondo Beach, CA

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    The room gets pretty nice and dark. Going to sleep, we were hearing some banging around on the floors above us, so we both got out our ear plugs (a travel necessity!). Combine that with the sound machine and a dark room and we both slept until 10:30am. We got everything ready for the day and left for the Palazzo Vecchio.

    Here's where we ended up going today. Pretty much stayed in a small area.

    We aren’t planning on seeing the Palazzo Vecchio until tomorrow, but it’s a good place to pick up the Firenze card. For 50 Euro each, it gets us in free to over 70 different places around Florence. We’ll only be hitting the highlights of course, but still, it’s a good deal. Not only that, but it also gets you into the reserved ticket lines, which can save a bunch of waiting around time at each stop.

    We got to the window to buy our tickets and bought them no problem. We were told we could activate them at the counter just behind us. It sounded like a good thing to do, so we did. It was then they told us that we now have to go see the Palazzo Vecchio today and that we can’t come back another time. Ummm… Bummer, I guess we shouldn’t have activated them here after all. Good thing our plans are pretty flexible. We changed all of tomorrow’s plans to today, and decided to flip-flop the days. Sadly the Palazzo Vecchio closes at 2pm on Thursdays instead of 9pm like most other days. Guess we’re going to have to see everything quick since it’s already 12:15pm. T had to check her backpack since apparently those aren’t allowed but camera bags that are just as large are. Go figure.

    Walking up the main stairs, we come to a huge hallway lines with lots of statues of one of my favorites, Hercules!

    It shows lots of his Labors all around the room.

    The rest of the palace was lots of decorated rooms with fancy paintings and statues. They even had a Hercules room with paintings of some of his labors and a bust.

    The map room was interesting. It had a giant globe in the center and maps on the walls corresponding to numbers on the globe, showing more detail.

    Exiting this, we had the option to either go up to the bell tower or down to the exit. Surprisingly, Theresa said she’d walk up the stairs to the bell tower with me. I ran ahead to see how many stairs we were really talking about, and saw there was a lower level with a nice breeze and good views of the city. The museum attendant was probably wondering what I was doing when I came out of the stairwell looked around for 2 seconds then headed right back down. I told T it was only 2 stairwells of maybe 25 steps each and that it’s a good view, so up she came. Now the attendant figured out what I was doing when T came out of the stairwell ahead of me. He motioned that she should wait here and not continue climbing to the top. T agreed.

    Here's the view from the mid-level. We walked around the mid-level, then T found a nice spot to sit in the shade while I went up to the top.

    At 310 feet above the ground, the views up here are fairly nice, though they have the area roped off so you can’t quite see over the railings. Here's the view from the very top, stretching my arm over the edge. You can't get all that close to it otherwise.

    There was one side though that had a small staircase set away from the side so you can look towards the Duomo without an obstructed view. After a few minutes, I was on my way back down.

    Time for a very late lunch. We walked over to the Osteria that is rated #3 for all restaurants in Florence on TripAdvisor and also highly in RS guide. Seeing as how they only have 16 tables, they were completely full. I asked about reservations for tonight: full. Tomorrow? Full. What about Saturday lunch? Does 2pm work? I guess it will have to. I’m hoping when we go here on Saturday this food just blows us away.

    Our backup was to go to the other restaurant we tried to go to last night but reservations were needed. Ristoranti del Fagioli. We walked up expecting to ask if reservations were available for tonight, but were surprised when they said they could seat us now for lunch. Yes please!

    We headed to a back table and were given a menu in Italian. When the waiter came to take our orders, T waved at the menu, shrugged her shoulders and said, I don’t know. We had a great waiter though and he explained all the sections, telling us their best items and what was real Tuscan food.

    T decided on a tomato bread soup, green beans and potatoes. I ordered bruschetta (seeing a trend now aren’t you?) and roast beef. After the waiter left, T told me she had seen the roast beef on the way in, and they were thin slices about the size of lunchmeat. I flagged down another waiter and asked also for a side of ravioli.
    The starters came and we were both pleasantly surprised. T’s bread soup was so thick I stole a few bites with my fork. It had really good flavor. The bruschetta had ripe tomatoes on good bread. I asked about balsamic, and they said it’s not typical in Tuscan food, so they didn’t have any. It was still good though.

    Next came the pasta. The raviolis were stuffed with ricotta seasoned with lemon. It sounded good when he described it, and it was delicious. Probably the best pasta I’ve had on this trip.

    Next came the main courses. My thin roast beef plate and Theresa’s green beans and potatoes. Mine had good flavor and T even liked it (protein! Who’d have guessed). Her string beans were good, but they didn’t remove the string, so she was left spitting those out every once in a while. The potatoes were also really tasty. In all, it was a great meal and we had a good waiter. 1.50 Euro cover each, 1.50 for water, 4 for bruschetta, 12 for roast beef, 9 for soup, 6 for ravioli, 5.50 for green beans and 5.50 for potatoes. Total was 46.50 Euro and we left a 50 for the best meal we’ve had since we’ve been here.

    After lunch, we walked the back streets to the Galileo museum. It’s one of those places where you might go if you were really interested in Galileo or astronomy I guess, but not as a main destination. It’s free with the Firenze card though, so we swung by.

    The RS guide suggested to get the audio guide here so we did. The first one we got was broken, so after hiking up to the first floor, I hiked back down to replace it. We did not like this audio guide at all though. First off, it’s location specific and doesn’t always know where you are. Each room could have 5-6 zones and there are 5-6 item “1” in the room. What a horrible system. Combine that with a touchpad that, as Theresa put it “is the reason no one liked touchpads before the ipad” and it was a terrible system. After the 2nd room, we just put it away. 5 Euro wasted.

    The exhibits themselves were somewhat interesting. The first ones were about navigation, which while very mathematical doesn’t interest me much. Sextants, octants, etc. Moving on to the telescopes, it was interesting to see some of the larger ones. The giant earth globe surrounded by rings was another interesting piece.

    Around the map area was Amerigo Vespuci. T got her picture with him.

    And me with a bust of Galileo.

    T in front of a telescope display.

    There was a display showing models of babies in a womb. T said "I have one of those!"

    Later though we got to the more mechanical and engineering side of the inventions. Items like the paradox machine that appears to roll uphill.

    Or the static electricity generator that produces sparks big enough to set off gunpowder. There were some interesting videos on the walls showing how the various experiments worked, like the water screw, electro-magnet, engine, etc.

    T said they must have an amazing gift shop with all the cool toys we’re seeing. We finished the tour around 4pm. We walked through the gift shop and wow, what a missed opportunity here. No telescopes, science toys, or anything that would be cool to simulate what we just saw. Just the typical books, postcards, pens, and generic Firenze stuff. Heading onward!

    Our last stop on our journey was the Uffizi gallery. Again our Firenze card saved us time in line. At the xray
    machine and metal detector, Theresa got her very first “are you pregnant?” from the security lady. Something like pointing at her stomach and saying “bambino?” Saying yes, T was allowed to walk around the outside of the detector. We waited in a brief line to get in, then once inside saw there was an elevator that would take us to the top floor.

    No photos are allowed in here. That’s unfortunate because there’s some interesting things. We saw interesting statues of Hercules battling a centaur. Then we saw how art progressed in style. Starting with flat 2D paintings with sense of scale. As we progressed, we see a development of styles, and how the art is progressing. Finally we get into the masters who can paint realism and make it look just like a photograph.

    My favorite work here is Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. I don’t know why, but I’m drawn to it.

    Next to the painting, is a plaster mold of what the painting would look like in 3D meant for a blind person. I wonder how many blind people are interested in coming to museums though where they can’t touch or see anything. T and I closed our eyes and felt the display, but there were just too many different textures to get a feel for what we were seeing.

    We’ve been lucky and there’ve been a few places to sit in these rooms, so T has been somewhat comfortable. We’ll listen to what the guide says about the room, then I’ll get up and see the paintings closer up. If T is really interested, she’ll join me, then we continue. They didn't mind you taking pictures out the window towards the bridge.

    The only disappointment was that there was quite a bit of the Uffizi 2nd level closed. We exited the 2nd level to the rooftop to the cafeteria seating. I had seen this area before from the bell tower and was wondering how you got up here. It is directly over the statues of the Palazzo de Signoria.

    We still had a whole section of paintings left to see, but we mostly walked straight through all the rooms. It just doesn’t interest T and if we don’t know the story behind it or why it’s important, we just keep walking. At the end were a few Caravaggio’s that we did look at. The Medusa head on the shield is a little creepy.

    Back to the hotel to chill for a little while after a long day of walking around. We’re trying to eat an earlier dinner so we can wind down sooner and fall asleep, thus getting up earlier the next day.

    Wanting something quick and not sit down, we opted for a self serve place near the Duomo that got good reviews.

    T found tomatoes and cucumbers cut up on a plate and got those along with minestrone soup. I got tortellini in a white sauce with ham and a piece of bruschetta. Total here for both our meals was only 13.50 Euro. The nice man gave us a pitcher of water to take to the table with us and directed us to glasses (instead of the bottled water that costs money like all the other places).

    The food was decent. We weren't expecting much for so cheap. Mine was typical premade cheese tortellini. The bread of the bruschetta was super hard, so a good dousing of balsamic was needed to soften it up. T cleaned her soup bowl and ate all her cucumbers and tomatoes with a good portion of balsamic. When we were finished, we took our trays over to the busboy’s rack. The old man saw me and said “no no no, not your job, gratzie, gratzie.” Then seeing T bringing the water pitcher back to him, put up his hands with closed fingers and said “why you do this?”

    After our dinner, we decided to walk a little bit. The Ponte Vecchio bridge is close by, so we headed that direction. We passed a carrousel in a square on the way.

    Also there were some chalk drawings of the Mona Lisa and the Medusa shield by Caravaggio in the street. Reminds me of the Pasadena chalk festival we were just at not long ago.

    We also ran into the statue of Porcellino that is well known in Florence. While in Rome, if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, you’ll eventually find your way back to Rome, here in Florence they use a pig. If you rub his snout, then you’ll be destined to come back to Florence. And even though this is a recent copy, you can see how there is a patina on the entire statue except for the nose where people have been rubbing.

    And if you put a coin in his mouth and let it fall into the grate below, you're destined to have good luck!

    The Ponte Vecchio bridge is the oldest surviving bridge in Florence. All the others were bombed in the war. It used to be the place the butchers would have their markets and any scraps or whatever they didn’t want just got tossed into the Arno river below. When the stinky river became less popular with the locals, the gold and silver shops took it over. All the shops are closed at this time of the day though.

    The sun is starting to set and we grabbed a few pictures on the bridge. We crossed over into south Florence and walked to the bridge east of here, so we could see the sun setting behind the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

    It’s time to get some gelati. The closest one RS recommends is beside the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Seeing mint chocolate chip for the first time, T gets that. I get pineapple and chocolate.

    One bite of T’s and she’s doesn’t like it. Too much mint for her taste. She does seem to like my pineapple though, so we swap.

    A few more pictures in the square around our place and we’re in for the night. After showering, we start watching “The Three Musketeers” to get us prepared for France. It’s 1:30am and the morning will be coming soon!

  5. #5

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    Jan 2011
    Tacoma, Washington, United States

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    We are taking trains and the occasional flight to get to our destinations. We have done a lot of traveling other places; Mexico,Jamaica,New York,Hawaii, and so many road trips to California I can't count ( We live in Wa). This is our last big trip before we have kids, so we wanted to see a lot, including one day in Disney Paris. We know we can't do it all, but we are running at it head on.
    I'll have to look into my banks and see if any of them offer the chipped card. We are going to so many destinations, and while we aren't staying in hostels I still worry about having too much cash. We are buying a few tickets and passes before the trip so we don't have to worry when we are there.
    Thanks for the advice!

  6. #6

    • Joe Flowers
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    Dec 2009
    Redondo Beach, CA

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    We set the alarm for 9:30 this morning and laid in bed for just a little while. We got ready fairly quickly and headed out. On the way, we confirmed we’d be able to check out fairly late tomorrow, 10:30-11am. We can leave our bags in the lobby and they’ll give us a set of keys to use to get back in later. Sweet!
    I think we left the hotel by 10ish, and we were off to see some more cool stuff.

    Here's where we're headed today!

    When you're walking through most places in Florence, you're likely going to be going by the Duomo.

    The Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is kept is on our agenda but not first thing. We read the lines in the mornings are ridiculous. We saw the lines for the standby and it was backed up to where it was when we were here 6 years ago. Probably about an hour or so wait, and it’s all in the sun. The reserved ticket line wasn’t much better. It was almost as long as the regular line, but instead of being 1-2 people wide, it was 4-5 people wide. I’m assuming though they let more people in from this line than the regular line though, so maybe the wait isn’t as bad. Either way, it’s not our first stop.

    Nope, instead we are going right down the road to the Museum of Precious Stones. Even though it only got a 1 in the RS guidebook, it sounded interesting to T, and since it’s free with the Firenze card, we decided to check it out. There was no line here and it wasn’t busy at all.

    As soon as we entered the first room though, we knew we had a very different idea in mind when we saw precious stones. I would think diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc. This was more granite, marble, quartz, etc but arranged in decorative tile mosaics. It’s not that it wasn’t impressive, it’s just not what we were expecting. We spent maybe 30-40 minutes here looking at various mosaics, tabletops, and even a fireplace that apparently you’re not allowed to touch. Oops.

    Some of the mosaics though were impressive with all the different colors of stones and small details.

    There were some cool colors of stone here. Over 500 different types from what we’re told.

    Those deep blues are really pretty.

    This was a cool table with lots of intricate detail. It was around 11:30am and we decided on an early lunch.

    Literally ˝ a block from here was a Rick Steves recommended place for quick pasta and sandwiches. We entered to find a friendly guy behind the counter ready to take our orders. There was a variety of pastas and he described each one of them to us in English. As soon as he said “truffles” I knew what I was getting. I’m a truffle fan and it was a penne pasta with truffle sauce. Theresa asked whether the meat penne or tomato penne was better, and he suggested both. Both is good.

    We grabbed a table in the corner and after heating up each pasta, he brought it to us along with some bread. There was even balsamic on the table already. My pasta was delicious, though T wasn’t a fan of the smell. Truffles are a little too much for her and enhanced pregnancy sense of smell. I saw a sign on the wall that said they’ve been in business since 1927, along with a photo of the booth we were sitting from 1934.

    Theresa is really enjoying hers and was glad she got a mixture of both types of pasta. They complimented each other well and when she was tired of one flavor, she switched to the other. I think the owners here liked hearing that their food was delicious. Lunch was cheap today. 2 Euro table charge, 1.50 for water, 6 for T’s meat and tomato pasta, 5 for my truffle pasta. 14.50 Euro total, and I tipped 2 Euro for good service.

    We walked back to the Accademia and the line is still ridiculous. Good thing we’re flexible today. Trattoria Za-za is down the street a little ways and was recommended by both RS and our hotel. We walked that direction and happened to overshoot it by one street. It was a happy accident because we ran into a giant farmers market inside a glass and steel building. Let's go inside and explore!

    There were all sorts of fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of meat markets with some fantastic looking cuts.

    We noticed a few dried fruit stands, and I got some pineapple and coconut, while T got some dried strawberries and nectarines.
    Both were delicious and it was 2.50 Euro for 100 grams, which is about what we got. As we continued we saw a shop selling pulled pork sandwiches, and if we hadn’t just eaten, those looked pretty good.

    Remember this kitty cat delivery service from our Japan trip?

    Apparently they have it in Italy too.

    Back outside to Tratoria Za-za. Reservations are encouraged, so we stopped by at 12:30 asking for reservations tonight at 7pm. No problem and they can get us a table indoors away from all the smoking.
    Alright, let’s give the Academia another shot. Still a crazy line at 1pm. The guidebook says to try later in the day, so we’ll be back in a little while.

    What else does this Firenze card get us into that’s close? The Medici palace wasn’t rated very highly, but it’s still something that I’m interested in seeing.

    I guess they can't all be master sculptors. That "child" looks pretty ridiculous with weird proportions.

    They had some fancy rooms as well as an interesting chapel room with a detailed wall of the nativity and the procession of wise men that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. Then there were other rooms with giant tapestries.

    There was another room with a large mural on the ceiling that had a lot of Roman gods and some of their stories that I though was pretty interesting that we were allowed to take pictures of. That plus they had some plastic chairs to sit in, so we spent a few minutes in there.

    Out back was a small garden.

    Basilica San Lorenzo was next on the agenda. Arriving at the chapel, I was disappointed to see signs saying photography wasn’t allowed.

    We started at the bottom of the chapel in the crypts of the Medicis. Next was a walk up the steps to the main chapel. It was a huge domed area inside, but most of it was under construction. T found a seat while I explored a little bit. There were glass pieces with what looked like bones inside them, which is always a little weird to me. (not my photo below)

    The guidebook says there's statues by Michelangelo here, so we went searching. Continuing into the Medici chapel, we did indeed see the carvings.

    The story is that Michelangelo was tasked to design the chapel and three tombstones. We saw sketches for the chapel design as well as pencil marks on the area behind the altar. One of the tombstones was completely finished which had Dusk and Dawn. The opposite one Day and Night was unfinished. T and I just can’t understand how he could get the boobs so wrong on the statue of Night. She almost looks masculine with boobs just stuck on like two baseballs. The third statue was never started. I guess even the masters have their bad days.

    Our tour complete, it was time to head back to the Accademia.

    In the course of our wanderings earlier in the day, I noticed a pastry shop. It wasn’t far from where we were, so we backtracked a little bit and checked it out. There was so much good looking stuff in the cases, including some cookies shaped like a familiar mouse.

    T got a large slice of carrot cake and confirmed “no nuts”.

    We split an apple tart, and I got that Mickey sugar cookie, a chocolate chip cookie, and a strawberry jam cookie. Everything was tasty and it only cost 5.50 Euro.


    Arriving at the Accademia, the line was a little shorter than before. The regular line was fractionally shorter than before and people were waiting by leaning against the wall and sitting on the curb. I remember waiting in that line last time and it was miserable. It was in the sun and super hot. Our reserved ticket line was at least partially shaded, and we got in line around 2:40pm. By 3pm, we were let inside, and we definitely moved faster than the other line, so that’s good at least.

    We found a bench at the very end of the hall of Michelangelo’s David and listened to the RS guide. No photos are allowed in here, and I saw one guy get really chewed out by an attendant for taking one, so I won’t be taking any. I’ll supplement this report later with some pictures I find online. Lining the hallway are partially completed works known as the Slaves/Prisoners. They show the man being carved still inside the stone, in some cases looking like he’s trying to pull himself out. We looked at each then went to the end of the hallway to admire David.

    The RS guide told us all about David and how it was Michelangelo’s 2nd major work after the Pieta (which we just saw in Rome a few days ago). He did it when he was 26 years old with a block of marble that had already been started by someone else then given up on.

    Even after seeing multiple copies, this one still blows us both away. The setting definitely adds to the experience. First off he’s high on a pedestal, so even though he’s 14 feet tall already, he’s towering over you. Second, he’s much cleaner than any of the copies we’ve seen outside in the elements, so all the fine detail really shows through. Even after experiencing over 300 years in the weather outside the Palazzo Vechio, he looks great. The body looks firm and toned, like an athlete. The hands show veins. His biceps are flexing. The pectoral muscles in his chest are tight. We sat and admired him from the front and back for a good 15 minutes.

    There’s little else to see here, but we figured why not check it out. There was an unfinished Michelangelo Pieta close by, but nothing else that really stood out.

    We walked back to see David for a little while longer. We lucked out and found seats right in front of him in his eyeline. I pulled out T’s phone and we read the wiki article on him.

    We sat staring at David for a little while, pointing out things we noticed to each other. Just as I said I was surprised by how much weight was being supported on the one right leg, T said she was thinking the exact same thing. They’re actively monitoring the statue with strain gauges on the leg to see if cracks will progress. Another 20 minutes or so and then we finished the rest of the museum.

    We went back to the hotel, walking through the Piazza della Signoria.

    No horse-drawn carriage rides for us today.

    We see the original Rape of the Sabine Women, and Hercules fight the centaur.

    The Rape of Polyxena

    And Perseus holding the head of Medusa among other statues.

    Time to head to dinner! Arriving at Cafe Za-za, we see that we’re early enough that we didn’t need reservations. We get a table inside and it’s a nice pleasant atmosphere. Everything is supposed to be good here.

    We started with a trio of soup, including a bean soup, and two types of bread soup, a vegetable based one, and a tomato based one. All of them were tasty, we enjoyed the vegetable one most.

    Next was a pasta dish that we split. It had wide egg noodles and the meat was wild boar. It was a little greasy, but still tasty. A little parmesan cheese made it even better.

    The main reason we came here was the steak. On the menu it says it’s served 38 Euro per kilo for the Florentine cut, which is a t-bone to you and me. T planned on ordering 300 grams well done, and I was going to get 750 grams rare. We learned though that it’s served in 1 kg increments, not in portions there-of. When it came out, it was cut into two portions for us, and mine was rare, but T’s was on the rare side of medium. Not wanting to take any chances, we flagged the waiter and he took it to get cooked some more. It’s really thick, so they just cut it in half, tossed it on the grill and had it back to us in just a few minutes.

    T was much happier with this one and said it was really delicious. I have to agree. This is the kind of food I’ve been wanting. We both agreed that this was the best meal we’ve had since being here and that Tuscan food is much preferred over whatever we were being served in Rome.

    We can’t finish the night without a little gelato. The RS guide says there’s one right beside the Accademia that’s got good fruit flavors and we’re not too far away. We find it easily enough and T must have gotten on the scooper’s good side because when she asked for peach and strawberry, he just kept piling it on. My chocolate and vanilla wasn’t nearly as large. Upon receiving hers, she told him it was the best strawberry gelato she’s had so far. Not too sweet and good flavor. He appreciated that.

    My chocolate and vanilla wasn’t even close to the best I’ve had since I’ve been here. It was icy and not very creamy at all, but I’m glad we found something T finally enjoyed.

    We wandered by the Duomo one more time. It’s always in the way whichever direction you seem to be going.

    To finish the night I took a 360 view of the Palazzo della Signoria. Click here to see it.

    Tomorrow we’re exploring Florence a little more in the morning then flying up to Paris tomorrow night! We've had an amazing time in Italy and seen so much!

  7. #7

    • aka 'KiMcHeE'
    • Offline

    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    Loving the trip report so far! My friend, Kari, studied abroad in Florence a few years ago, and she told me how amazing Florence was when she was over there. Looking at your photos, I can see why she fell in love with the place! Florence looks absolutely stunning! Can't wait to see your next installment and for Euro Disney

  8. #8

    • Joe Flowers
    • Offline

    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Redondo Beach, CA

    Re: Joe's summer trip to Florence Italy

    After getting to sleep late, it felt like a really early morning. We’ve got to check out of our room by 10:30-11am, so we woke up at 10am. We didn’t have much to get packed, so we were out of there pretty quick. Thankfully even though we're checking out, we can keep our bags in the lobby while we explore the city.

    T loves these fruit and vegetable stands spread throughout the city.

    Our first stop today is the Borgello gallery. After using our Firenze card, we enter the ground floor. There are a lot of coats of arms lining the walls. Also there are a few sculptures, including one I hope was a fountain.

    Other interesting sculptures includes Giambologna's Oceanus.

    Gemmito's The Fisher Boy

    And a bronze cannon decorated with the face of Saint Paul.

    We continued up the stairs to the 2nd floor.

    Here we found some choir books and some paintings, but nothing that blew us away.

    The next room was large and had quite a few sculptures.
    The theme in this room is David. This is the original statue by the famous artist Donatello. Personally I think his statue makes David look like a little girl. It's obviously after the battle with Goliath because you can see he's standing on Goliath's head.

    Verrocchio's David also show's David after the battle has taken place. Out of all the statues of David we've seen, Michelangelo's David really stands out as our favorite.

    I took a few pictures around the room until one of the attendants started saying “No Photo!” I didn’t see any signs at all coming in, and I was looking for them. Other people were surprised as well. At one point, after I had been told not to, there were at least 3 people taking pictures simultaneously around the room and they got yelled at as well.
    Leaving that room (from a different door than we came in), the door was propped open and I noticed on the back side of this door was a small sign with a camera and a line going through it. That’s the only thing I saw saying no photos were allowed. Poor job on their part.

    We continued downstairs to the final room. Here we saw a copy of the bust of the master himself, Michelangelo.

    We also saw the models Michelangelo used to create Day & Night and Dawn & Dusk on the Medici tombs.

    We saw the finished marble statue by Giambologna celebrating Florence's Victory over Pisa.

    We actually saw the clay model in the Palazzo Vecchio a few days earlier and there's an interesting story behind it. The finished statue wasn't completed in time for the Medici's wedding in 1565 so this clay model was place here lining the hall instead. It wasn't until 1589 that Giambologna finally finished the marble model. The marble statue was moved to the Bargello in 1868 and never returned, so the clay model was put in its place.

    We left the RS guidebook at the hotel so we only had the basic city map to go by. The Basilica of Santa Croce is close by. We’re not sure what’s there, but with time to spare, we started walking in that direction. The front of the church is under construction, but on the left is a large statue of Dante.

    Using our Firenze card, we entered for free and saw the main altar was under construction too. We received a map of the church and saw that quite a few notable Italians were buried here.

    Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian physicist, mathmetician, astronomer and philosopher.

    And the Italian sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer who's work we've been enjoying for the past week here and in Rome, Michelangelo Buonarroti.

    A cenotaph (empty tomb) honoring Dante Aligheri. I haven't read Dante's Inferno, but I hope to get around to it some day.

    We walked towards the back of the church and looked at a few of the old church hymn books.

    In 1966 to Arno river flooded and brought mud and water into the church. This picture is actually the inside of the church.

    It's lunchtime! Well really it's 2pm and past lunchtime, but it's the only reservation time we could get to one of top rated restaurants on TripAdvisor. We got there around 1:45pm and the guy who took our reservation even remembered who I was and my name (which I’m sure was from the reservation, but still it was good to remember me from 2 days ago on Thursday, especially because they get a lot of people who come in and ask if they can eat here).

    Today (Saturday) they were telling people the soonest they could reserve a table would be Monday at 9:30pm. Being #3 on TripAdvisor sure makes for some good business.

    It’s a small seating area with maybe 8 tables, and 24 seats or so. No wonder they're always crowded. I’m not sure if this is correct, but it certainly looks like a family operation where the two boys take orders and serve the meals, the mother is in the back cooking, and the father is in front making the salads, cutting proschuito and parmesan, etc. Lots of stuff looks good on the menu and we’re each going to have a starter and a main course. T decided on a zucchini flower and saffron pasta, while I got a pesto ravioli. T really enjoyed her pasta. It was a light flavor and not super saturated with tomato or any other flavors. Finally something she’s really liked.

    Mine was tasty too. I enjoy pesto and the ravioli was filled with cheese and tasted good.

    For the entree, Theresa ordered the lemon chicken with green beans. Her first bite surprised her and was very sour. Eating around the chicken breast though, it was more mild and good flavor.

    I got a filet with arugula and parmesan. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The filet was already cut into pieces and it almost looked like a salad. After picking off all the arugula, the steak didn’t have much flavor by itself. Eating it with parmesan helped a little. In all, it was an enjoyable experience. Not the best food we’ve had while we were here (that’s probably be Zaza) but it was still good.

    We got some cash from the ATM then headed up to the hotel for the last time.

    Our bags were right where we left them. Previously we’d been talking about getting a taxi to the bus station, but it’s really a short walk, plus the taxis make T sick. I told T I’d put my bag on top of hers and roll it, leaving her with just the white backpack she normally walks around with and we started off.
    It wasn’t a bad walk at all. The wheels on T’s bag work well, even on the bumpy cobblestones. We crossed in front of the Duomo one last time and before you knew it we were there.

    T happened to notice a bus pulling in front of the train station showing it was going to the airport. After confirming we were in the right place, we loaded our bags underneath, paid 6 Euro each, and started the trip to the airport. Mapping it, it was only 5 miles from where we were. We weren’t sure why it was going to take 30 minutes but we weren’t figuring on Florence streets.
    Not too much longer and we were at the airport. We didn’t know it yet, but we were about to experience another "adventure".

    We found our airline counter, Vueling, and they asked to see our bags. Our overhead bags weighed in at just over 10kg each, but we were told they were okay. Then they saw our personal bags. Uh oh, we’re only allowed one bag on the plane and it has to be under 10kg. The personal bag counts as a bag too, so we're going to be over. There was no way we were going to be able to fit everything into two bags and have it be under the weight limit. The girl suggested we combine what we could and pay to put one bag underneath. Ugh, we hate checking bags. Cost to check the first bag, 40 Euro or $55, but we can’t do it at this counter. We have to go back to another counter to pay, get back in line here, then show our receipt and then we'd receive our boarding passes. We moved all the valuables out of T’s bag and filled it with other stuff we didn’t need and checked it. Now we’re left with my bag and my camera bag. Time to head to security.

    Short lines here thankfully. When I went to get our bags from the x-ray machine, a security officer came over and asked if I had a tripod in my bag. Yes, I do travel with it. He said tripods aren’t allowed here, and that I’ll have to go check it. Sigh… No problems traveling with it all over America, Germany, Tahiti, Bora Bora, or Japan, but here in Italy someone has a problem with it. Back over to pay for a 2nd checked bag, and there goes another $55.
    Another wait at the Vueling counter for them to get this bag checked and it’s gotten even longer. Good thing we’re here so early to take care of all this mess. Back to security and this time there were no issues.

    Finally we went to our gate and then took a bus over to the plane.

    T paid an extra 7 Euro per ticket to get seats at the front of the plane. She booked us both in aisle seats right across from each other. As luck would have it, we didn’t have anyone else on our row, which was great! The back of the plane was full with people in all the seats, but we were able to spread out a bit.
    The flight was uneventful which was nice.

    Hello France! After exiting, we left for the baggage claim. The last time we had to do this? Probably 2 years ago when we were in Bora Bora. We really don’t like checking bags. And no wonder, it took 30 minutes from us getting off the plane before the belt for the bags finally started rolling. We got them and then headed out to the hotel shuttles.

    We’re staying at the Best Western Plus near ORLY airport. It’s 3km from the airport, so just a little too far to walk, especially for a pregnant Theresa with all her bags. We waited for the free hotel shuttle for 25 minutes and then decided to try the taxi stand. We showed a group of drivers the address and they said 40 Euro. Ha, yeah right! $55 for under 2 miles! That's crazy. I checked with another driver and he told us to just wait for the shuttle. We walked back and just as T was getting out her phone to call the hotel, the shuttle arrived. It was a quick 5 minutes over to the hotel and we were checked in with no problems.

    The room is pretty decent too.

    By now it’s 9:30pm, and surprisingly the sun is still up. We looked to see if there are any restaurants close by for dinner, but they’re all too far to walk. Luckily the hotel restaurant is open still. Both of us ordered cheeseburgers and they happened to come with an egg on top.

    Even though we've been eating pretty good in Italy, T has been missing her vegetables. T got green beans and then took my lettuce and tomato and made herself a super burger. I don't know how she squished it enough to fit in her mouth, but she did.

    Tomorrow we meet up with Ruston and Jacob at Disneyland! It’s going to be fun!

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