Friday, April 13, 2007


Our plan for going to Florence was simple: We’d drive the car to the Orvieto train station where we’d park the car in the free lot. We had two choices: take the 7:30 train and arrive in Florence just before 10 o’clock, or take the 8:30 train and arrive just before 11.

We already had our tickets, but the drive from San Venanzo to Orvieto takes about 40 minutes, so if we wanted to catch the earlier train we’d have to get up quite early and leave San Venanzo by 6:45. We discussed our options with Jami and Beth, and their attitude was the same as ours when we’re on vacation: we can rest when we get home!!! Andiamo!

Beth’s small roller board suitcase had a broken zipper, and this, combined with the serious shopping necessitated another suitcase. We lent them our largest roller board, since we don’t use it now that weight limits have been reduced to fifty pounds. There’s no way I could fill this suitcase and have it weigh less than fifty pounds, so we just take smaller suitcases.

For our trip to Florence and then on to Rome, I packed my internal frame backpack, knowing that it would be a comfortable way to transport everything. We also took Beth’s smaller rollerboard, even though the zipper was broken. We figured because it had wheels it wouldn’t be hard to transport, and that we’d just pitch it once we got back to San Venanzo….the zipper wasn’t the only thing that was showing signs of wear!

We love taking the train…not having to worry about traffic or parking, and because the driver (Art) can enjoy the journey too. The worst part of taking the train is heaving all the luggage onto the train, then trying to get it down the aisle if you have to go from car to car searching for a seat! Luckily for us, the first two compartments were empty. This journey was nice because we didn’t have to change trains, so we piled all the luggage into one of the six person compartments, then tried to fit all four of us in there too!

This didn’t work out very well, so we ended up in two compartments, which wasn’t a problem since this early train wasn’t very crowded. I suspect later trains might be more crowded. The ride to Florence gave us all a chance to relax, catch up on notes, or watch the passing scenery.

Once we arrived in Florence we took a taxi to our hotel, the
Medici. We’d specifically picked this hotel for it’s central location and for it’s terrace with a view of the Duomo. As the taxi pulled up to the hotel, we saw that the building was covered with scaffolding. Once we stepped out of the taxi we could see that the interior of the building was under a MAJOR renovation.

A man was standing near the door, and as I approached he asked “Skinners?” “Si, siamo i Skinners!” “Just a moment”, he said in English, “I’ll get someone for you.” Good! What the heck was going on, and where would we be staying????

A few minutes later (it took longer because the elevator had been removed, meaning the man had to go up five flights of stairs!) another man greeted us. He told us that we’d be put in rooms that were even better than the ones we’d reserved, and gave us a map showing the location of these rooms.

For our breakfast we were given vouchers which could be presented at the bar located on the corner….meaning of course that we’d have to come back here every morning for breakfast. Hmmmmm…was I over-reacting by getting irritated?

Okay, I tried to stay calm, but I had to tell this guy that I wasn’t happy! Why hadn’t the hotel emailed us to tell us about the changes??? I’m sure as an Italian this man didn’t consider it any big deal, especially since we were getting (supposedly) better rooms. But….we’re not Italian…we’re American…and I’m an American who likes to be informed!

Had we known about the change of location, we could have taken the taxi to the new location where everyone could have waited with the luggage while I walked to the Medici to check-in and get the keys. I also told him that we’d specifically booked this hotel for our guests so that they could have the view of the Duomo. As a gesture of goodwill he offered to walk us to the new location and even grabbed one of the heavier suitcases to boot.

Our rooms were actually one room apartments, located just off the main street in a quiet building. Although the kitchen wasn’t accessible for us, the rooms were quite large. We were on the top floor of the building, across the hall from one another. The only light was from two large skylights, but these were more than adequate. They were equipped with screens and with a shade.

The rooms had just been cleaned when we arrived, and our room had an unpleasant odor….like a sour mop. We pointed this out to the cleaning crew who claimed the smell was only the disinfectant. We told them no, it was more than that, and they promised to re-clean. We left the skylights open for ventilation and hoped for the best.

Our first stop was the Bargello. Built as the city hall, and later used as a prison and home to the chief of police, this medieval fortress has a wonderful display of sculpture and other art. It’s a museum that not overwhelming in size or scope, and we thought it would be nice for Jami and Beth to see Donatello’s version of David before seeing Michelangelo’s.

Just before we entered the museum a jewelry shop caught our eyes. Art needed a watch battery, and as luck would have it, we all found things that interested us. The shopping had begun!

For me the Bargello itself is as impressive as the art it houses. I love it’s medieval feel, and if I could have one house in one city in Italy, I would chose to live in the Bargello in Florence.

After lunch we walked to
Café Verrazzano, a small restaurant known for it’s antipasti plates, perfect for sampling. We arrived just before one o’clock and only had to wait a minute for a table to be cleared. Within the next fifteen minutes the restaurant got busier and the wait for a table much longer.

Although the various dishes we shared were all delicious, the service was rushed and rather brusque. I think they’ve developed an American mentality and want to turn the tables several times a day. Normally in Italy the table is yours for as long as you want it…no one will make you feel rushed, or even bring you the bill until you ask for it. Because Florence is such a touristy town these same rules might not apply…we had a similar experience several years ago at
Acqua al Due.

After lunch we headed to the San Lorenzo Mercato. We didn’t know if anything would be open on Sunday, and had been told that the market was closed on Mondays, so we wanted to make the most of our time on Saturday. We all had lots of people to shop for, and the market was one big shopping opportunity!

We took a stroll through the Mercato Centrale, the covered food market first. Downstairs there are loads of shops selling specialty goods, meats, cheeses, fish, one place more interesting than the next. Whole chickens, heads and feet still attached. Internal organs….stomachs, livers, god knows what else. Cheeses I’ve never heard of, more varieties of sausage than I could ever imagine. It’s a fun place!

Upstairs are the fresh fruits and vegetables. Even here there are things I’m not familiar with, and we all enjoyed strolling through the aisles, wishing we could take everything home and start cooking…..well at least I did!

Back outside we begin looking for bargains. I bought gloves and beautiful paper, and a few Tshirts for my grandson. Beth and Jami found scarves which were not only beautiful and affordable, but also lightweight and easy to pack. Writing this now makes it sound so cut and dried, but no, that’s not the way it happened. We wandered and looked, stopped, asked prices, selected colors and styles. I’m usually not a big shopper, but this was fun, just a relaxed afternoon, strolling, talking and shopping.

We went back to our rooms to drop off out loot and to take a short rest….we’d started very early and had accomplished a lot so far. The good news is that our room no longer had a bad smell!

r recharging our batteries we set off again, this time towards the Piazza Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi. Florence is one big open air museum, and every where you look there’s something to see, sometimes it’s an ancient building, sometimes a beautiful piece of sculpture, and sometimes it’s something not so old but just as beautiful and interesting!
We wandered through the courtyard of the Uffizi, towards the Arno. In the summer this courtyard will be packed with tourists, vendors, and artists, but today it wasn’t too crowded.

We walked onto the Ponte Vecchio, stopping to admire the jewelry and the views. It was cloudy, but so far wasn’t raining. We decided to walk to the Pitti Palace even though we didn’t plan to go in. Although the building is huge, and the interiors are beautifully baroque, the outside isn’t quite what I visualize when I hear the word ‘palace’ -it's quite plain and boxy, but I'm sure there's an interesting story behind it all.

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At 4/15/2007 02:28:00 AM , Anonymous Judith in Umbria said...

The first time Erin came to visit, we stayed at the Medici at the request of our friend Jane, who was with us. Erin never slept the whole 3 days. It's over that pedestrian shopping street and the kids are out all night, drunk and loud. Then at 7 AM the duomo bells start to chime, every 15 minutes. The elevator is big enough for 2 or 3 with no bags, but only one with baggage. It took 30 minutes to get the bags for 4 people up to the rooms, which were all over the hotel. It also won't go where you tell it to, but as I recall always went to the reception floor before allowing you to press your floor. It was badly in need of renovation, especially the baths.
The terrace was never accessible any time I have been there.
Other than that a room with only skylights sounds like a firetrap, I think you were better off where you were.

At 4/15/2007 04:56:00 AM , Blogger Barbara said...

The only problem we had with noise was when we had a room just off the terace. Our grandson was with us, so I stuck my head out the window and asked the people sitting htere to please keep it down because it was time for him to go to bed.

And we've alwasy had access to the terrace, so I don't know why you coulnd't use it when you were there.

Tiny elevators and multiple trips are no surprise to us anymore, but hopefully any problems with the Medidci elevatro will be solved during the renovation...but the size will stay the same!

I'm confused about your cooment about our rooms...we WERE in the rooms with skyligts, but the rooms were so large, and just off the elevaror/stairwell that I never felt in danger.

At 4/16/2007 02:03:00 PM , Blogger Italian lover said...

Everytime I got Firenze I go to see the David, the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo. you made some very good choices for your friends. In 1971 we had a room in a pension right across from the Duomo. We had gone to the mercato and didn't understand what un etto was so we came back to the pension and asked them and they immediately lugged a new bed up to our room, three whole floors. Only in Italy. Firenze is bella.


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