A return visit to Firenze.....

Trip Start Jun 06, 2013
Trip End Jul 04, 2013

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Flag of Italy  , Tuscany,
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 June 11 - Tuesday

It's hard to believe that my visit to Assisi is coming to an end so quickly. My current practice of spending at least three days in each spot seem to be a good one, as it gives me the opportunity to become more familiar with the location and day-to-day activities there and I don't have to rush. For some reason, when I went for breakfast, it felt "different". My mind was already running through the travel details for Florence, and I was a bit anxious to get moving. 

During breakfast I had a short visit with some of the Harley group from the Netherlands.  They were all heading for Rome for a huge rally which takes place in various parts of Europe every few years.  This year it was happening in Rome, and I was told that there would be 70,000 Harleys there (I confirmed the number as I originally thought he had said 17,000).  On Sunday part of the group will be riding to the Vatican, where they'll be blessed by the Pope.

After breakfast I went back to the room and got my gear packed.  I dropped my Packs in the lobby for a few minutes and went out to take one last look at the view.  I walked to the bus stop at about 10:30 to catch the 10:40 bus to the station.  It arrived on time, and I was sure to validate my ticket.  The ride took about 15 minutes or so and I only had a short wait for the 11:19 train.

While I was waiting, a Gypsy woman was moving up and down the crowd of waiting passengers, soliciting for donations.  Rather than have to deal with this annoyance, I "pulled a fast one" on her.  When she approached two teenagers to my right (I would have been next), I quickly walked around them and went behind her.  She didn't turn around, but continued moving in one direction, so my tactic was successful.

The train ride was uneventful for the first part.  However, for the latter part I had a nice visit with a couple from New York that had boarded in Cortona.  They had been on a bike trip and were also going to Florence.  The woman was quite upset because Delta had lost her checked luggage, so she had no Camera or a lot of her clothing.  It would hopefully be waiting at their hotel in Florence.

When I arrived at Firenze SMN station, I stopped at McDonald's for a Burger as I was getting quite hungry (I know, eating at McD's is sacrilege in Italy, but I wanted a Burger).  After that I headed for Hotel Aldobrandini.  I thought that I might have to use my GPS to find it, but my memory served me well and I walked right to it, as if I was on rails.  I buzzed the door and the massive wooden door slowly swung open via the hydraulic assist, exactly as I remembered.

When I got upstairs, I was disappointed to find that Ignazio wasn't at the desk. The woman there at the time was efficient and business-like but not the most "outgoing".  It was a bit of an effort negotiating the narrow circular stairway to my room with a backpack and two extra bags but I managed.  Part of the stairway seemed to be constructed of plastic, so I was expecting the entire thing to collapse under the weight.

The room was a bit "quirky", which is typical for this place.  The toilet and bidet were in one room and the shower and sink in a corner of the bedroom.  The sink was mounted inside the shower which was odd since there was an open space between the shower and wardrobe where it could have been placed (and which would have been a much more convenient and logical place).  A single bed was provided, along with a desk and wardrobe.  It was a bit warm in the room, but tolerable with the window open (although that also let in the street noise).

It was quite hot so I decided to take a short rest, and woke up just after 18:00.  I got cleaned up to go for dinner and was pleased to find Ignazio in the lobby. He remembered me from 2006.  I chose a nearby restaurant listed in the Guidebook, Trattoria Lo Stracotto, and found that it was only about a one minute walk from the hotel, on the other side of the plaza.  The food was excellent!  One of the items I ordered was sautéed carrots which were cooked in a butter and garlic sauce and they were really good!  While I was dining, a young couple sat down next to me and we started to chat (they were  from Chicago).  We had a really nice visit, even long after dinner was over.  They would also be heading for the Cinque Terre on Thursday, so I may see them again.

When I paid my bill, the guy working at the restaurant commented on my Camera, as he has the same model.  I told him it wasn't working as I’ve been having an intermittent problem with it (and at this point it had quit again).  He gave me a map of Florence and marked the location of several Camera stores.  I’ll check them tomorrow in the hopes that someone can easily correct the problem.

After dinner I went to have a look at the nearest of the Camera stores, which wasn’t far.  I could see through the grate and it appeared that they have some entry level DSLR’s (ie: Canon Rebels) but it’s "sales only" so I’ll have to go to the larger store for more expertise.

While I was standing outside the Camera store, a nearby street musician started playing an Accordion.  I surmised that he was Russian based on previous examples I’ve seen here.  I made a donation and shot a short video, with the magnificent Duomo in the background.  It was very fortunate that I got the video when I did, as about one minute later, two Polizia Municipale arrived and with only a few gestures they forced him to pack up and leave (I’m assuming he’s “known to Police”).

I then went back to the hotel to check my E-mail, but couldn’t get the Wi-Fi to connect on either my Netbook or iPhone.  The night clerk reset the Router and that seemed to fix the problem.  After that it was back to the room to update my Diary and get ready for bed.

2013 June 12 - Wednesday

I woke up early this morning (probably because of my nap yesterday afternoon) but didn’t actually get out of bed until 06:00.  I had forgotten to note what time breakfast was, but 07:30 is probably reasonable.  Based on what I remember, I’m not expecting a very elaborate breakfast but hopefully it’s improved.

When I got down to the breakfast room, I soon learned that breakfast was from 08:00 to 10:00 and it was exactly as I remembered.  It was the typical Italian version with a couple of buns, a Croissant, one glass of orange juice and coffee (which came from a vending machine).  It was somewhat "spartan" but will have to do.

After breakfast my first order of business was to make a decision on my Camera situation.  I headed for the Camera store suggested by the guy at the restaurant, and found it without too much trouble.  They had a few used DSLR’s for sale but they weren’t willing to sell them as “body only”, so I decided to look at P&S models.  The Canon SX280 looked like a good possibility but I wanted to compare it against the Panasonic ZS30, which is very highly rated.  I went for a coffee and Gelato and checked the ratings on the internet (I’m thankful that my 3G connection is now working).  They were both about equal, but the Panasonic seemed to be the stronger of the two.  I went back to the store to look at both again, and the clerk said that he too had the same problem making a decision between the two Cameras.  My “gut feeling” was to go with the Panasonic, so that’s what I bought.  Although my Canon 7D still works to some extent, it's heavy and there's no way I'm going to carry it around if it may only work intermittently, as when it's not working it's no better than a boat anchor.

After my Camera purchase, I started back towards the hotel.  It was about noon by this time and I was getting hungry so I stopped at a place that wasn’t too far from the hotel, Pasticceria Sieni. I chatted during lunch with a couple from Australia who had a girl from Russia with them. 

After lunch I headed back to the hotel to have a rest and charge the battery on the new Camera.  I went out again about 15:00 for the trip to Fiesole, as that was on my list of places to visit on this trip.  I walked to Piazza San Marco and bought tickets at the News stand and then waited for Bus No. 7, which arrived a few minutes later.  The trip to Fiesole took about 20 minutes, which was a scenic trip past elegant old Villas, olive groves, and other "classic Tuscan scenery.  I had to stand for most of the trip as there were no seats.  I didn’t check the Guidebook until after I arrived, but apparently that Bus has a reputation for pickpockets (thankfully I didn’t have any problems).

Fiesole was reportedly founded by the Etruscans in the 9th-8th century BC, but I believe later taken over by the Romans. It's mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy.  I walked up to a vantage point above the main part of town for some incredible views, but unfortunately it was hazy.  By this time it was about 16:30 and I was starting to get hungry so I walked back to the main Piazza and went to Trattoria Blu for a Panino and coffee.  After my snack I took a walk up into another part of town to get some photos, but there wasn’t really much to see.

By this time the Bus was waiting so I decided to return to Florence.  During the trip I chatted with a young lady from Miami who is studying in Florence but also working in one of the hotels.  Unfortunately she had to move towards the back as more passengers boarded, so I wasn’t able to talk with her for too long.

When the Bus arrived back in Piazza San Marco, I walked back towards the hotel, and decided to stop at a nearby Irish Pub for a pint of Guinness.  I was quite surprised to find that the Bartender was from the former Yugoslavia.  I eventually had two more pints along with a generous helping of "bar snacks" and with the complimentary shot of Limoncello that the Bar provided, that was enough for one night.  I paid the bill and headed back to the hotel (which was about a 30 second walk from the Pub) to have a rest and get organized for my day trip tomorrow.

2013 June 13 - Thursday

As with the past few mornings, I didn’t have any trouble waking up today, as the Garbage Trucks begin their rounds at about 05:00.  This routine is accompanied by the loud whine of hydraulics and loud clattering and banging as each bin is emptied (there about six bins just outside the front door of the hotel).  There are also the sounds of delivery trucks coming and going and Motorinos as people head to work.

This is the day I planned to take a day trip to the Cinque Terre, so I’ll have to get organized quickly.  I took a bit longer at breakfast than planned, as I was having a good time visiting with everyone.

At about 09:30 I headed for the station and bought my tickets for the trip to Monterosso.  I was chatting with a young couple from Washington D.C. who were also buying tickets for Monterosso, and I helped them find the right train (this is their honeymoon!).  During the trip I also visited with a group of three from Turkey as we were all in the same compartment.  When I asked them about the situation in Taksim Square, they just rolled their eyes and didn't say anything. 

When I arrived in Monterosso I had a quick look around, took some photos and then headed for lunch.  The damage from the spring slide at the tunnel entrance still hasn’t been completely repaired, and they have large steel shipping containers arranged end-to-end to form a tunnel, which leads into the regular tunnel.  I stopped at Hotel Pasquale on the way past, and the young couple had just arrived there.

I stopped at Il Caruggio first, but found they were closed today, so I headed straight for L’Alta Marea (the owner remembered me).  I had my usual “welcome to the Cinque Terre” meal, Trofie al Pesto and it was excellent!  I was quite pleased that the Server complimented me on my “excellent Italian” (she was being kind).

After lunch I explored the old town some more, and helped a group from the U.S. find their B&B on Via Buranco.  I also visited with a family from Utah and gave them a few restaurant recommendations. I saw them again later, and they told me that they had tried Ristorante Belevedere first (based on my recommendations) and thanked me for the tip.  They tried the big seafood pot, but admitted it was too much, especially when the Octopus tumbled out into the bowl.

After lunch I went to say “Hi” to the owners at Hotel Villa Steno, but they were just going out.  They asked the girl at the desk to offer me a free glass of Prosecco, which I gladly accepted (she’s new from last September).  As I stood in the lobby, I felt a bit sad that I wasn’t staying there as it felt like “home”.  I was really missing their breakfast with scrambled eggs.  She said they were now booking into next May, so I’ll have to keep that in mind when I book next year.

I left Villa Steno through the garden and the clerk released the gate lock for me.  There was a twinge of nostalgia as I walked through the garden, as it's trip I've taken so many times.  Monterosso seems very busy today, and the beaches were all crowded.  I noticed that the beach in the old town is a bit “rocky” in parts, which I’ll have to keep in mind if I ever decide to go swimming there.

By this time it was late afternoon, so I headed back towards the new town to say “Hi” to owners of Cantina di Miky.  I told them I’d be back for dinner.  While walking about, I went to the far end of town and found an exclusive yacht club there, Circolo Ventiro (or something like that).  The gate was locked so I couldn’t get in to have a look.  It’s in a “hidden” harbour, and not visible from town.  There’s a large stone tower right behind it that apparently contains a number of private apartments, owned by rich people that don’t live there full-time.  It looks very “posh”.  I also found another Lavanderia (pay laundry) at that end of town.  The woman said that she does a wash, dry and delivery to hotels for  €12 which I thought was quite reasonable.

I returned for dinner at Cantina di Miky at about 18:30. Christine (the co-owner) remembered what I like (Pesto Lasagna).  I also ordered grilled vegetables, which is a new menu item for them this year.  As usual, the food was excellent and I savoured every bite!  While dining I visited with the people seated around me, which included a young couple from the U.S., two older ladies and their daughter, and an older couple from Germany.

While waiting for train back to Florence, I chatted with a family from Iowa (he’s a Lawyer at a University).  They would be going to Empoli which is on the way back, as they were staying in an Agriturismo near there. During the first part of the trip from Monterosso to Pisa, I was seated in a compartment with two “dodgy looking” (my impression) guys who looked like they were from the Balkans.  They spent the entire trip intently working on their Laptops.  There was also an Italian girl and two other girls, who spent most of the trip sleeping.  When it was time to change trains, I started mentally preparing to grab my Packs, and had to keep reminding myself that I didn't have any luggage on this trip.

I sat with the Lawyer for second part of the trip in the Regionale train.  We were on the “jump seats” just outside a large washroom (largest I’ve seen on a train, probably to allow wheelchair accessability) and his family was seating further back.  At one point a young girl from the U.S. (in her early 20’s?) pulled the door open and found a guy inside using the facilities with his “privates” hanging out.  She was very embarrassed, but later told me that she’s planning to become a Doctor so I teased her that she has just had a lesson in anatomy.

The journey seemed to drag on interminably, but I got back to the hotel about midnight.  I was really tired and also a bit hungry so I stopped at McDonald’s across from the station for a side of fries (it's open 24-hours).  There were three young guys from the U.S. behind me in the line.  Their flight had just arrived and were of course very tired and jet lagged.  After that it was straight back to the hotel for a much needed rest.  It's been a long day!

2013 June 14 - Friday

I slept in a bit this morning and had a slightly later breakfast.  Most of the people I'd been visiting with over the last few days appear to have gone.

After breakfast I went back to the room and checked my E-mail.  I found that if I sit on the chair beside the door, the Wi-Fi works fine.  However, it doesn’t work as well if I’m sitting on the bed.  I heard the Maid working in the hallway, so asked her if she wanted to clean the room.  She doesn’t speak English so I struggled to ask her that question.  I took the chair and moved out to the hallway for a few minutes to allow her to work.

I decided that this would be more of a rest day, but wanted to start with laundry.  The hotel owner gave me good directions to the nearest coin laundry, which was only about a two minute walk along Via Faenza.  There was an Australian there just finishing his laundry, and he graciously offered some of his laundry detergent.  We chatted for a few minutes and then he departed.  While I was waiting, I saw some activity at Katti House across the street (it’s listed in the Guidebook), so went over to have a look and I had a short visit with the owner, Maria (it was a very short visit, as she can’t speak English).  She was sure to point out the restaurant attached to her Affitacamere and I’ll probably go there for lunch once the laundry is done.

After the laundry was done, I went across to the Katti restaurant for lunch. The meal was very good and I was quite enjoying the "people watching" in the narrow street while dining.  During lunch, three ladies from the U.K. sat down.  Two were from London, with one having a Cockney accent, which was very distinctive!  The third was from another part of the U.K. and was from an Italian family so could speak Italian fluently.  When I was ordering my coffee, I learned that the young lady serving was in fact “Katti” who the hotel and restaurant are named after.  She complimented me on my Italian, which I really appreciated (I told her she was just being kind).

After a long leisurely lunch, I went back to the hotel to finish some computer work and get the rest of my day organized.  It’s far too hot this afternoon to do any touring, so I’m content just to sit in the hotel.  I may have to ask for the Air Conditioner remote tonight, as without it I may not get much sleep.

The length of my hair has been bothering me for the last few days, so I decided to go for a hair cut this afternoon, although I was a bit apprehensive about that with the language issue.  I’ve had hair cuts in Italy before with no problems, so it should be fine.  Ignazio (the hotel owner) provided directions to a nearby Barber on Via Faenza, and I found it with no difficulty.  There was one guy in line ahead of me, and I watched the method used for his haircut.  The Barber seemed to be very competent, and he was very fast with the scissors and razor and didn’t use electric clippers at all.  He styled it a bit differently than I’m used to, but I imagine it will fall into place after my next shower.  I suppose I shouldn’t have worried as according to the old saying “the only difference between a good haircut and a bad hair cut is two weeks”.

After that I walked directly to Icche Ce Ce, which was highly recommended both in the Guidebook and by a native Florentine on the HelpLine.  The name means "What there is, there is" in the local Florentine dialect.   It was about 0.8 kM from the hotel, but not a difficult walk.  I found the restaurant in a deserted back alley, and got in right at opening time (19:30).  Two young girls from the U.S. entered right after me, and were seated beside me.  Before long the restaurant filled to capacity, mostly with Rick Steves readers although there were a few Italians there as well.

I decided to try the fixed price tourist menu tonight - Spagetti with tomato sauce (Primi), Chicken Cacciatore (Secondi) and Beans (Contorni), along with wine of course.  They served complimentary balls of fried bread as well, and they were delicious!  At the end of the meal, they provided complimentary Limoncello.  I was trying to use Italian as much as possible, but the staff seemed to prefer using English.

During the meal, I was talking to the girls beside me, but others nearby seemed to be interested in our conversation as well.  When the girls left, a woman from another table and her husband came to sit with me.  They and another couple insisted on having a photo taken with me.  We talked for another 15 minutes or so, and they wanted information on a variety of topics, which I was happy to provide (SIM cards, rail websites, etc.).  This was certainly one of my more unusual dining experiences in Europe, almost on par with being mistaken for Babbo Natale in Sicily last year!

After dinner I walked back to the hotel, and surprisingly seemed to know the way without the GPS.  I stopped in the Piazza in front of the Duomo to watch the “human performance” taking place, and was surprised to see the Accordion player back in exactly the same place.  My earlier impression was absolutely correct, as I noticed his name was Yuriy and he’s from the Ukraine.  I watched him for a few minutes and took a couple of videos.  He doesn’t speak English but said in Italian that the Police shut him down previously because he didn’t have the correct permits. (I'm assuming he has the Permits tonight?).

That was a nice ending to an interesting day.

2013 June 15 - Saturday 

Breakfast this morning was a bit "quieter" than the last few days, as there was no one there that I had spoken with before except for the couple from Venezuela.  In trying to communicate with them, I suddenly remembered that I have a Spanish translation App (Jibbigo), so I spoke a phrase into the iPhone and it translated to Spanish (which they understood).  I've been told by native speakers in several languages, that the Jibbigo translations aren't perfect but they do get the meaning across.

After breakfast I had a nice visit in the lobby with a couple from the U.K. (near Manchester) and then went back to the room to charge my iPhone and GPS as I forgot to do that last night.  I had a short rest and watched some re-runs of Law & Order, etc. on the Giallo channel.  I wasn’t really in too much of a hurry to go touring, as the weather is really hot today (over 30C) and being Saturday the streets are packed.

I had hoped to take a Segway tour today, but hadn’t bothered to pre-book which proved to be a problem.  Their office wasn’t far from the hotel, and I found it easily, but they said the afternoon tour was full.  I asked about cancellations and they suggested coming back about 14:20 (the tour departs at 14:30).  I figured this would be a good opportunity for a long, leisurely lunch and I went to place around the corner that they suggested.

The Hosteria da Ganino was fairly busy, but I found one table on the outside patio. The food was very good and some guys at another table saw my order and got the same thing (Taglietelle al Ragu).  A woman in gypsy attire was begging nearby and she tried to get donations from a tour group but their Guide positioned himself between her and the group, so she gave up.  There were also a couple of Accordion players who played for a few minutes and then came around with their hand out.  I told one of them “I’m occupied” as I was in the process of putting food in my mouth at the time, and I was quite annoyed at being interrupted.

I went back to the Segway office at the appointed time, but the group of nine was already there, so no possibility of a space for me.  The girl said that there are also Segway tours in Barcelona, so perhaps I’ll be able to take one there.   Oh well, on the “positive side” I’ve saved €75!  I waited nearby for a few minutes just to make sure they had a full group, and then headed back to the hotel.

It was good to get off the hot and crowded streets and inside the cooler confines of the hotel.  I didn’t bother putting the air conditioner “on” as the room was fairly pleasant with just the window open.  I had a rest for a few minutes and watched more re-runs of Law & Order (they’re older, from the mid-90s I believe, with Paul Sorvino and Chris Noth).  There were also re-runs of Third Watch, CHIPs, Matlock and other shows of that era.  They were in Italian so I couldn’t understand them, but they were “familiar” so I enjoyed seeing them again.

There were a few “audible reminders” of where I was in the late afternoon.  First, an Ambulance wailed by in the street just below my window, and then a little while later there were Church Bells.

At about 18:30 or so, I decided to walk to Firenze SMN station to buy my tickets for the trip to Ravenna tomorrow morning.  One of the trains will be a Freccia (high speed) train which requires compulsory reservations, so I wanted to get that ticket early.  The other train that I’ll be using will be a Regionale, which won’t be any problem. 

The station was as busy and hectic as usual, with people everywhere and trains coming and going.  I had some trouble with the ticket machines, as the first two I tried wouldn’t work.  The computer network seemed to be “locked up” and just not responding.  However the third “Fast Ticket” machine worked and I got the tickets.  I didn’t notice until after I’d made my purchase that Italo also goes to Bologna Centrale, so I could have used that for the first part of my journey.  I’ve been anxious to try them.  I watched the trains for a few minutes and got a short video and then headed for dinner.

I stopped at the Conad grocery store near the hotel to buy some Mints.  It was just as I remembered it from an earlier visit to Florence.  If I lived in the area, I could get everything I needed there in the way of groceries.  After that I headed for Lo Stracotto for dinner, and decided to sit outside tonight as it was cooler.  I find that I’ve been ordering more vegetarian meals on this trip for some reason.  For example, at lunch I had the Taglietelle al Ragu (beef) but dinner was vegetarian (Spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil along with sauteed vegetables).  I complimented the restaurant and food, and they seemed to appreciated that.

After dinner I took a walk over towards the Duomo to have a look at the “human circus”.  There were lots of people there, which I suppose is to be expected for a Saturday night.  I decided to visit an ATM and top-up my cash supply at a nearby BNP Paribas branch.

By this time it was after 21:00 so it was back to the hotel to get organized for my departure tomorrow.

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londonpenguin on

Ah, trofie al pesto! I'm jealous!

Julie on

Sounds like your having a nice time. I'm sure the people that you offer travel advice to are glad they've run into you. I know I would be. Looks like a great little spot.
Love Julie

eagle10 on

london penguin,

I've found that Trofie al Pesto always seems to taste better when served in the Cinque Terre.

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