04 July, 2014

Day 1: discombobulated but recombobulating

We arrived in Florence a little before 7am. The train was late, but who is counting, really. The only reason it was unfortunate about the lateness is that we might have actually almost slept the last hour if we had not set an alarm to be awakened for "breakfast" at 5:45am. That was a needless awakening, because it was nearly inedible, and it was also about 45 minutes earlier than it needed to be, due to the train delays.

When we arrived, we were discombobulated for sure, but it was definitely exciting to arrive in the city. There was that feeling of unease (for me) about a new place with new logistics to think about. I know Munich well enough that I almost don't need to think about it anymore, but this was a place I had only been for a few days, and it was 5 years ago, since the last visit.

It took us a little while to figure out where to store our suitcases, but they actually have a relatively decent and secure place (as far as we know) to leave bags. It's called Deposito Bagagli, and it's actually the name of the main bus stop at the train station, for whatever reason. Not sure why they don't just call the bus stop "Stazione SMN" but suit themselves, I guess.

After dumping the bags, we wandered toward the touristy part of town, though we were far earlier than any of the tourist activity that occurs in the area. It wasn't even 8am. We wandered past huge churches, past the Duomo, past the Uffizi museum. We arrived at the Arno River, looking at Ponte Vecchio, and got some amazing photographs of the buildings reflecting on the river, in perfectly impressionistic form. We crossed the empty Ponte Vecchio, and then found a small cafe that had breakfast. It was called Cafe Maioli, which I guess is a chain, though it didn't look that way. We both had eggs, and coffee, and practiced our first Italian, which didn't go that badly, after all.

Then we made our way to the Pitti Palace, where it seemed like a perfectly good idea to check out the Boboli Gardens, and the Costume Museum (both of which were nice, though we were so tired, we really didn't spend much time in the hot sun in the garden). We then briefly checked out the Treasure Museum (Museo Argenti), which was not all that impressive. From the garden, we'd called our B&B host to let her know what we were doing. Her telephone English was not good, and my telephone Italian is non-existent. We managed to communicate that we would come to the place at 1pm.

We walked back to get our bags, and then made the foolish decision to walk to the B&B, which was about 1.5 miles, in the heat, on mostly main roads (because we didn't take the advice/instruction in the B&B email telling us to take a slightly longer, but much nicer back-roads path). We made it to the B&B, tired, but pretty much on time, and we were greeted by extremely friendly, humorous, and talkative hosts, Luciano and Stefania, who could have been the main characters on an Italian sitcom. They showed us everything on the map, gave us a very detailed tour of the facilities of the B&B, providing a level of detail on such things as an automatic coffee machine that one could never have imagined were possible, never mind necessary. They gave us recommendations for food, for activities, and for walking paths. It turns out we didn't heed any of their food recommendations, except for a Gelato place, which was fantastic. But we did heed their walking directions from that point forward.

To get to the B&B, and for that matter, to get just about anywhere in the area, it is necessary to go through a pedestrian underpass that I guess is actually famous for its graffiti. It is a long underpass with branches off in many directions. The neighborhood is about 1 mile ENE of the train station. I should know the name of the neighborhood. I think it was Piazza del Cure. That sounds right. Famous, yes. And the graffiti was rather impressive. Anyway, we walked through there about 20 times during our stay.

After recovering from our greeting with our fantastic hosts, we went around the corner and scoped out the Gelato place, called Cavini. And it was amazing. I think it was the best Gelato of the trip (I am spoiling the fact that I will not speak of any superior Gelato, subsequent to this entry, unless there turns out to be great Gelato in France, which is not out of the realm of possibilities).

After the Gelato, we made, perhaps, the mistake of deciding to go explore the neighborhood a bit. I thought it would be nice to find a park to just sit and vegetate until dinner time, which we decided would be at a pizza place called Spera, which opened at 7pm. What we should have done was sleep, sleep, sleep, because I was probably a bit kooky, and Allie was flat-out exhausted. But she played along with my suggestion that we "explore."

So an important thing to learn from our experience with Google Maps is that things that are green on the map are not necessarily grassy parks with lots of trees. I think, in fact, that they're just areas that are designated as parks in some official way. So they might actually have nothing green in them at all. We went to one park that was some sort of "horticulture garden" (Giardina Orticulturo?) Um... I don't know what "Orticulturo" means, but I think it may be closer to meaning "crappy park with kids skateboarding next to abandoned greenhouses." Fail number one. I was really dragging Allie around at this point, and she was being a sport. We found a second park, even farther away, which required walking through some confusing bits, and then up lots of steps, to realize we were actually not in the right park, unless the goal was to be bitten by mosquitoes (still itching, days later). We found the right park, which also was not wonderful, then gave up on the idea of a park altogether. We had to pee badly, and begged our way into a museum to use the restroom. Fortunately, they were nice, since this museum was the kind that probably never has any patrons, so it wasn't a big deal to let a couple of foreigners in to pee for free.

We walked to the neighborhood where the restaurant was. Since it wasn't opening for another hour, we had coffee and a small snack at the pasticceria across the street. The woman there was nice. Allie had iced coffee. It was good.

Finally, the restaurant opened, and we were the first ones in there, of course, since it had just opened. It is funny how, because we're in Florence, which is this big touristy place, I am worried about logistics (as I am everywhere), so I am thinking the place will be mobbed and we'll never get a table if we're not waiting at the entrance. But of course, we had the place to ourselves for the first 45 minutes before the crowd slowly came in. The restaurant was down some stairs in a kind of grotto. The pizza was good. It was not the best pizza ever, but it was a solid pizza, and we had some wine, and we spent a long time there people watching and enjoying the atmosphere. I think I had spicy pepperoni and Allie had mushroom pizza. When she was cutting her pizza, one of the pieces went flying off the table, and (I guess) landed face down. I told her "Get that pizza fast, and don't throw it away, whatever you do!" Most people would think I am insane, but that seemed like a completely reasonable request to her. That's probably why we get along so well. We had some leftovers which we hung on to for snacks in the future, including the floor-pizza.

After dinner, we walked back. We were full, and tired. And we slept. It would be an early rising the next morning, once again in service of my logistical concerns, to arrive at the Uffizi without a reservation, and get in without a long wait. We'll find out in the next entry how that went.

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