Travel Day-- Tuscany

Trip Start May 22, 2007
Trip End Jun 04, 2007

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday: Travel north to Tuscany

We left Castellammare early and made our way onto the high speed train from Naples.  The transfer via the Circumvesuviana into Naples is hard, especially with luggage.  According to the staff at the Institute, that is the better way to go, however.

The train to Florence was a great ride.  We wandered a bit on the old coastal route between Naples and Rome, never reaching speed.  But, 15 minutes after leaving Rome, the conductor announced that we had reached cruising speed at 325 kph.  We rocketed past and under Umbria and Tuscany, arriving in Florence before noon.  Folks, we have got to get these kind of trains at home.  One interesting side effect of the trains is that they induce sleep.  High speed, controlled atmosphere and gentle noise/vibration put most of the passengers out.  Except for the one obnoxious lady who hollared into her cell phone the whole way from Naples to Rome in French.  Apparently it was very important that she spend an hour telling someone that it was not raining in Pompei...

We are now entering the Rod Serling/Twilight Zone portion of the trip! 

I had expected things to improve in terms of services when we moved to the north.  I had no idea how dramatic the differences are between the Italian north and south.  The parts of Naples and all of the suburbs that I saw were just one giant slum in the midst of a garbage strike.  Every surface was filthy and grafittied.  Nothing ever appears finished, just left as it is.  When we arrived in Pontedera, we found a community that could be mistaken for a middle class suburb in Germany or Switzerland.  It is impeccably clean--spotless!  The only graffitti that I have seen has been a couple of anti-war (not anti-American, BTW) slogans.  Pontedera is an industrial town where they manufacture the Vespa.  It has undergone a modernization and has attracted a liberal/literate/progressive/artistic population.  There is a wonderful fusion of the most modern art into the old buildings.  Our hotel, rated at 4 stars and no more expensive than our Pensione in Frascati, is in a 300 year old building.  It has been renovated with the latest efficiencies, including energy reduction features.  The town is criscrossed by bike paths and people run errands on bikes with handlebar baskets.  This just serves as a reminder that one of the great challenges of European integration will be to find a way to serve both of these communities in one Europe.

Dad and I followed the desk clerk's reccommendation on dinner and found ourselves standing in the entry way of one of the toadiest restraunts I have ever seen.  We backed out quickly and shuffled on down the street.  Any time I see that each place setting has 6 glasses and a tray of silver, I assume that I don't belong.  We ended up eating at a local hole in the wall place which filled with neighborhood people and had an excellent pasta, mixed fried appetizers and beverage for a tiny hint of what we would have paid in the other place (6.25 euro each!)  A quick gelato on the street (black cherry for me, tonight!) and we strolled home.  A big difference from Frascati:  they were rolling up the sidewalks and the town was deserted and quiet by 9:30.

We have museum tickets for Florence tomorrow.  I will overdose on Renaissance art.  No pictures tonight and I will probably not carry the camera tomorrow since they will restrict its use in the museum.  Look for more to come after my jaunt through Tuscany and my overnight in Montalcino.

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