Italy 12: April 29, 2007 -- Florence and travel plan changes -- notes from Bob and Sally

Bob Corbett's note:


Today is marvelous in Florence. It is always wonderful -- magnificent buildings and tiny streets, elegance unmatched in any small town and only by Vienna in larger ones. But in addition this is a wild four-day holiday period and Florence is about three times more crowded than I've seen it before. Twice I was here in the dead of winter and those days, while very cold, were nice in the paucity of tourists.

Then to top it all off, in one of my favorite places, San Croce Square there is a huge SLOW FEST. That's it's name. For any who've been to Vienna at Christmas, this Slow Fest is very much like Kris Kindle time. Dozens and dozens of small wooden booths fill the square here, most with incredible foods, loaves of bread larger round than a car inner tube. Whole pigs roasting on spits, sweets that make your knees weak and on and on and on, luscious looking bottles of local wine, dozens of sorts of fresh olives, and, of course, touristy goods for sale. Unlike Vienna in winter, no hot wine punch for sale here. It's HOT AND SUNNY. Today is the 13th day of our trip and every single day has been bright sunshine, very warm, perhaps long-sleeve shirt weather until 10 am and bathing suit weather after noon.

We've walked miles and miles and seen most of the major sites, my favorite, as almost always is the Vecchio bridge over the Arno. Just love that place and the sight of the river, upper town and all from the bridge itself.

The FRONT of the Duomo is utterly breathtaking, but I'm not keen on wading through the thousands and thousands of tourists here now in this holiday.

Early this morning, we feasted on an incredible breakfast that came with our room -- eggs, ham, hot sausages, various breads, chocolate croissants, two kids of juice, two kinds of fruit, good coffee for me and hot tea for Sally, all you can eat.

Then we headed first to the train station. We have made MAJOR changes in our trip. First, worried about the next two days, still holiday, and our hotel full, weíve only got it for two nights, we went to see if we could book rooms in Sienna, and did for tomorrow night and Tuesday night. Then we will go to Venice for a couple days. The big change came in that we wanted a night train out of Venice into Austria. There is a train to Salzburg, but we would arrive there at 4;30 AM and would have to wait several hours for the city to open up.

The other primary night trains went to Vienna (too early to go there we will be there from May 7 - May 16th). The other is a train to Budapest, Hungary.

However, we had a problem. Our Eurail pass is for three countries, Italy, Austria and Hungary. But this train goes via Croatian and Slovenia to Budapest. Thus we purchased two beds in the sleeper, and had to had a $28 charge for the tickets for the two of us through Croatia and Slovenia. Donít know when we get to Zagreb, but since we get to Budapest at 10.30 AM it must be at night. Alas, Vlado, this means you and I may not meet until again until you come to the US!!!! (Vlado, a former student of mine when I taught in Vienna lives in Zagreb!)

None of this was as we planned it, but that's the way it goes, we just move with the flow of how things are going. After a couple days in Budapest we will take a train from there to the monastery town of Melk in Austria, and then on May 7th finally train down to Vienna. While Graz, Austria (where I lived in 1972-73) is 2 1-2 hours from Vienna by train, it is an express train and nice. So Sally and I will make a couple day trips down to Graz since we have plenty of train tickets left. The lady at the train station here in Florence urged us to take the bus to Sienna (only $12.00 for the two of us) since bus leaves us off right in the town square, just 1-2 block from our hotel.

Now it will be relax time the rest of today. Walking more streets with the hoards, eating a gigantic meal in another two hours, sitting later this evening for gelato and a nice drink of scotch or something that goes will with gelato -- nothing too sweet the gelato is sweet enough and delicious. Best ice cream in the world.

We did see something fun today in Florence which matches an experience we had in Rome which I didn't write about. First Rome. When one is walking from the Termini train station toward the main sites of Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps or the Forum and Coliseum, one passes a small Episcopal church with a stunning garden of flowers. I have walked by it many times always looking into the LOCKED garden with desire to go inside. It is filled with contemporary sculptures. But, the church and garden have never been open.

Sally and I were walking by and she says, oh Bob, what a pretty garden should we go in, and I was so shocked. It was open and so was the church. So, yes, we went it and the sculptures, all 20th century were just marvelous, and the church was open. We went in and the REASON it was open was a wedding was going on and the back table of the church was filled with filled glasses of champagne. The wedding itself was over, the guests we sipping the champagne and the bride and groom were being photographed. No one suggested we have champagne, and we beat a hasty retreat.

As we went out, there was a guard who hadnít been there minutes ago and he looked at us oddly, but said nothing.

Then today we were walking down one of those major Florentine streets which leads to the river Arno and passed a church that I had seen nearly every time in Florence but it was never open. Today it was. However, there were floor to ceiling full glass wall separating the first 5 feet of the church from the rest. We went up to look in. It was awesome and ancient. And filled with people, but you couldn't go in. It was invitation only and it was a baptism of a baby. THREE priests in high mass clothes were on the altar cluster around this tiny baby that was stark naked. It was hilarious, these guys held that child like a turkey ready to be slaughtered. One had a leg, another an arm and they lowered him into water and sprinkled him at the same time, the the entire church broke into cheers and applause. It was one of the more heart warming and UN-FLORENTINE scenes I have ever seen. Sally and I were in stitches of laughter at the whole site, as was everyone else.

Moments later, in the heat of the sun and masses of walking folks in the more sedate streets of Florence it all seemed like something much more appropriate to Naples.

I read in my book today that one of the most famous dishes of Florence is beef stake Florentine. It was on the menu of our rest aunt (next door to this internet point). I think I'll have that today. There isn't any fish on the menu, this is inland. The book said most Florentines order it rare, but I found the word for medium and will use that. Add a salad, Sally and I will split some pasta add a liter of house red wine and one's got a meal to tide one over until its time this evening for gelato and a drink!

Off to Sienna tomorrow. There I have only been ONCE before in my life. But I do have fond memories of that visit, but can't recall if it was 1996 or 1998 but definitely one of those since I taught in Vienna both of those years, and it was late 90s.

I am very excited to be going back to Budapest. I had been several times during the communist era and my daughter, Janie, and I visited there in 1989 just three months before the Berlin Wall fell marking the end of the communist era. It will be exciting to see what the 'new' Budapest looks like. Hope it hasn't lost its special charm.


Sally's note

Hi Everybody,

We ate a wonderful mid-day meal yesterday right next-door to this internet site and may do the same today. Its just 1:20 PM now, and after we take an hour or so to write out notes we will be ready to find a shady seat in front of the little trattoria. Canít recall the name, but Bob likely mentioned it in his note.

Speaking of Bob, I just have to mention that the man is a bundle of energy on trips to Europe. A trait that I both love and .... envy! After a plea from me on the bus yesterday he agreed to make this an easy visit. Mind you an easy travel day for this man is walking only 4 miles!!

But he is so good about it, and is mindful of the fact that I need not see every major tourist site in Florence in my first visit. In fact... make that in Italy in my first visit!!

So, for this trip, we have logged some miles...and I am looking forward to this.. our easy day in Florence !! :)

Ah... and though I have no idea of the crowds that are usual on a weekend in April... I do believe that we are seeing holiday crowds here. Though its more pedestrian traffic/crowds than cars and motorcycles (called motos in Italy)

We had a lovely breakfast this morning at our hotel, and feel better about paying a bit more than our usual for the room. Iím sure Bob wrote about the food, and though we are here for two nights he may also have written that before we left the hotel this morning.... we again packed our bags.... as they didnít have one room for us for two nights, they had two different rooms, one for night each. So we (our bags) will be moved sometime today when they clean our first room and our second room.

Then off we went to the train station to gather some information about our next stop.... Sienna... nope, you wont find it on our itinerary. But it sounds like a lovely place here in Tuscany, and we have time for a two day visit there before we are off to Venice.

While we were there got info about the overnight train trip from Venice to Budapest. Most everything worked for us this morning, and we now have a room (2 nights) in Sienna, and an overnight compartment from Venice to Budapest!!

Ah... for those that have never done it, Bob will likely write about it too... there are in European train stations offices that arrange for rooms in the city you are in.... AND other cities too! What a great service!

That woman told us that the bus would be best for us tomorrow from Florence to Sienna, and in fact the room she found for us is very near the bus station.

Off we went to the bus station to check on a bus ticket... domani... canít buy your ticket till tomorrow for a bus trip tomorrow. Ok, and then we found a bench and rested a bit before we were off to explore what we hadnít seen in Florence.

One place we wanted to see again is a square where there were wooden shops... temporary ones, that sell all kinds of foods, and oohhhh, breads, cheeses, sausages.... we must have been starving when we looked at each one of them yesterday. But today we had just a snack there, trying a wonderful pork sandwich that was cut from a huge pig that they had roasted. But rather than eat a full mean there (in the sun), we decided to go back to Bobís little trattoria and have a nice meal with wine for our last time in Florence.

Later we will stop at another shop with some outdoor tables and have some gelato!!

Itís warm here, short sleeve weather, even for me who is a freezy kat.

Bob and I have written some postcards along our way, and were able to find stamps, AND a post office box so they are mailed.

The time just seemed to fly this trip, maybe because we did so much. I think its maybe our 12th day already!! Amazing!!

Sally Ryan Sharamitaro




Bob Corbett