Spring Break: Week 2 – Pt. 1 (Florence)

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I made it back to Rome on Monday after two weeks of traveling. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the first week, spent in Capri, Italy. Now for the next installment…

When we last spoke, I had hinted at some of the problems I ran into traveling from Capri to Florence, via Naples and Rome. It all started Saturday morning. We left our hotel in Capri to catch a 9:10 hydrofoil boat to Naples. When we arrived at the marina, however, we found out that the seas were too rough to run the hydrofoils, and that we would have to take a slow ferry to Sorrento, then take an hour long train ride around Mt. Vesuvius to Naples, where I had an 11:17 train to catch. The woman at the ticket office was very helpful in explaining the connections that needed to be made, and assured me that I would catch my train in time. We boarded the giant ferry and set off for Sorrento. The ferry left a few minutes late, but we didn’t pay much attention to that.

We arrived in Sorrento, found the buses that too us up to the town from the marina, then made our way to the train station. When we arrived, we found that we had missed the last train by 6 MINUTES! Perhaps we would be ok, though, these trains seemed to run rather frequently. However, for some odd reason, we had arrived during the one hour long period during the day where the trains do not run every 20 minutes. Go figure. Consigned to missing my train in Naples, we boarded the rickety train which took us around the Bay of Naples.

We arrived in Naples, and I parted ways with Lily as she was meeting her friend, Marissa, for their next week of travels. I was now officially traveling alone. I found the ticket office to purchase a new ticket (unfortunately my missed train was a non-refundable ticket). The trains were not running to Rome as frequently as I had hoped, but I thought I should still be able to make it in time. The train I was scheduled to take should have given me more than enough time to catch my connecting train in Rome (although I would not be able to stop at home to pick up clean clothes, etc.).

The train to Rome was delayed, narrowing my window of opportunity by a little over a half hour. A nervous, two-hour train ride later, I made it to Rome with about 15-20 minutes to find my next train. I realized that The train to Florence was a regional one and I did not know what final destination it would be listed under. I asked someone on the platform where I would catch the train to “Firenze” (the Italian name for Florence), and he directed me to a separate set of platforms that were about a 10 minute walk away. I hurried to this platform area to find only one train running, not to Florence. I’m not sure if the guy I asked was messing with me, or if something was lost in translation, but I made my way back to the main platform area in a hurry to try again. By the time I made it back, I had missed the train all together. Story of the day.

Unfortunately the only trains running to Florence within the next hour were the super posh, EuroStar trains, complete with wi-fi, a snack bar, and the most well upholstered seats I’ve ever seen in a public transportation vehicle. I was finally on my way to Florence, in luxury, at about 4:30 pm. I arrived in Florence around 6:00, and made the short walk from the train station to my hostel.

The hostel was nice, and almost had that kitchy bed & breakfast feel. Brightly painted walls, outrageous patterns on the bed sheets, and cutesy signs everywhere made it feel much less institutional than I thought it would. The common area had a great view of the Florence Duomo, as you’ll see in the photos. I spent the evening wandering the streets, and had dinner at a pizzeria close to the hostel. After such a long day, I needed a good night’s sleep to recover.

The next morning, I woke up fairly early to the sound of my roommates hastily packing. I think they slept in. I got some breakfast in a local cafe and hit the streets. I had some time to kill before my 8:30 reservation at the Galleria Uffizi, so I took the time to scope out places to visit later in the day.

I arrived at the Galleria Uffizi and skipped the long line that had already formed, thanks to the ticket I had purchased ahead of time (H/T Rick Steves). The Galleria Uffizi is an art galleria of works mostly collected by the Florentine family, Medici. The gallery houses works by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello) amongst many others. The building is quite large, and I may have missed a few rooms, but it was amazing to see so many works of art in one place.

After the Galleria Uffizi, I had more time to kill before my next reservation at the Galleria dell’Accademia. I decided to climb the campanile, or bell tower, of the Duomo, the largest, most famous church in Florence. The bell tower was 414 stairs to the top, but provided amazing panoramic views of Florence and Tuscany from the deck on top. After taking (too many) photos, I made the descent and headed for the Galleria dell’Academia.

The Galleria dell’Academia is a much smaller gallery, however, is extremely popular, as it houses the infamous statue of David by Michelangelo. I had planned on heading right to the statue when I arrived, but was distracted by signs for a musical instrument display. The exhibit was very impressive, displaying Medieval and Renaissance era musical instruments, including a number of priceless Stradivari violins. They also had the only interactive displays I had seen in either of the museums, showing the mechanical differences between piano and harpsichord operations.

After spending some time in this display I moved on to the main area of the gallery. I found out, as with most places like this, that photos were not allowed anywhere in the gallery. As I turned the corner and faced the David statue, however, I decided that I couldn’t leave without a photo of the famous piece. I decided it would be best to explore the rest of the gallery before attempting to take a photo, in case I got kicked out. The gallery, as I mentioned, was rather small, but included an interesting exhibit of panel paintings. As I made my way out, I stealthily set up my camera at my side to quickly take the shot, I stood about 1/4 back in the hallway which led to the statue, raised my totally conspicuous camera to my face, and snapped. I casually turned around and walked away, I hadn’t been seen! About 10 seconds later, I heard a roar of “NO PHOTO!!” as one of the guards scolded a tourist who clearly did not have the ninja photo skills that I did.

After getting lunch in a pizza place nearby (seeing a theme?) I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city. I visited the Ponte Vecchio, an old bridge lined with jewelers on both sides, and the inside of the Duomo. Walking around the city did not have the same local feel that Rome does. All of the streets were lined with large, high-end, chain stores like LaCoste, Gucci, and whatever else the kids are into these days. The market areas were interesting, however, it was hard to tell which vendors were legitimate (probably 2 or 3 of them), and which ones were selling stolen, knock-off goods (probably the hundreds of the rest of them).

Later in the afternoon, I went to Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato, both hilltop sites that provided more great views. I sat up there for sunset amongst the large crowds of people, locals and tourists alike, who had gathered to take it all in. I saw a group of students and noticed that one of them had a Penn State shirt on. I asked them if they were all from Penn State, and sure enough they were. Go figure. That evening I ment to a mediocre restaurant and had yet another pizza for dinner before returning to the hostel for a much needed rest.

The next morning I got another early start, heading first to the church of Santa Croce and the Pazzi Chapel. The church is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and is the burial location of many famous Italians such as Michelangelo and Galileo. While the main altar was covered in scaffolding for restoration, the interior was still very impressive. Attached to the basilica is the smaller, Pazzi Chapel, a highly regarded piece of Renaissance architecture, as well as a museum housing many works that had been displayed in the Basilica over the years and a display telling the story of the flood that had once caused major damages to the church.

After visiting the Basilica, I made my way again to the Duomo. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Self, didn’t he already visit the Duomo? Let me go back a few paragraphs to re-read.” Alas! I had not explored the most impressive part, the dome of the Duomo (Duomo does not mean dome, FYI). The climb to the top of the dome was much more vigorous than that of the campanile. Never ending spiral staircases coupled with stairs curved to match the convexity of the outside of the dome. Although I passed many sweaty, out of breath tourists on the way up, the climb wasn’t that bad, and the view at the top was spectacular. After spending some time taking in the panorama of Florence, I retreated down the stairs to the bottom.

After lunch, I visited a few more churches (unfortunately inhibited by more “NO PHOTO” signs) and hung out and read in a piazza for awhile before retreating to the hostel to pack my stuff and get my 5:25 train to Venice. This time, the whole train situation went off without a hitch.

Overall, I was a bit let down by Florence. It often felt like walking through one big shopping mall, as it lacked the small, locally owned stores that fill most of Rome. It was good to see the architectural sites, and I am glad that I went, however, I could not see my self returning anytime soon. However, Venice was great, stay tuned until next time to read about it!



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