This morning we woke early to shower, finish packing and make sure we were on the vaporetto in time to make the 11:27 train to Florence. We planned to check out, grab a quick breakfast to go and be on our way, but that wasn’t exactly what happened…
We checked out quickly and asked about breakfast. It turns out that “continental breakfast” here wasn’t the typical American, grab-something-from-the-buffet-bar-and-go breakfast. This was a full-on, waiter-delivered experience. So we sat at a table outside and waited for someone to come take our order. After a few minutes, without having ordered anything, a waiter came out with an ungodly amount of food – croissants, yogurt, fruit, bagels, etc. – and then offered us omelets on top of everything else! K really wanted one. I took a look at my watch – still only 9:45 – and with a promise that omelets would be out ASAP, we decided to go for it.
As we waited, I confirmed with our landlord that we would be on the 11:27 train, and his wife would meet us at 2:00 at our apartment in Florence. After a bit more waiting, I started to get sort of impatient. I kept nervously checking my watch, willing the minute hand to stop moving until our food arrived. At this point, we still had time, but it was slowly ticking away. When the omelets came out, we both dug in and scarfed as quickly as possible. K’s was gone in about two minutes flat (I swear this man inhales his food!), and then he sat staring at me, waiting for me to finish. I stuffed in as much as I could, but we had waaaaay too much food in front of us. We finished and apologetically hurried away from our half-eating breakfast, leaving all of our dishes behind in a rush. So much for relaxation this morning…
We hurried down to the vaporetto – dragging our suitcases wildly behind us, up and over bridges, bouncing along the uneven stone walkway – and bought our tickets. It took longer than it should have because the agent was snarky and not exactly helpful. We scanned our tickets, and as we made our way down onto the floating platform, a vaporetto pulled away without us. I looked at my watch – 10:30. We stood and waited for what felt like for.ev.er as I paced and nervously counted the minutes left to make the train. I’m one of those people that hates being late for anything, and the fact that we might miss our train and leave this woman waiting for us in the apartment in Florence was totally stressing me out and making me annoyingly impatient. Especially since we had no phone, and now no internet connection, to let her know we’d be running later than expected. At 10:35 another vaporetto pulled in. We boarded and off we went…at a snail’s pace.
At every stop I grew more and more antsy as herds of people took entirely too long to climb aboard. As we got further along the Grand Canal, the boat became increasingly crowded – everyone was getting on, no one was getting off – and our luggage was becoming increasingly more of a burden. I was really getting to the end of my patience and starting to swear under my breath when two men started fighting right in front of us – in each other’s faces, yelling and shoving. I have no idea what they were saying or what the scuffle was about, but I’d had enough and stood glaring at them until some other bystanders broke up the nonsense.
At 11:20, we finally docked at the train station. The supposed 35 minute trip took us 50 minutes. I took off at a sprint, up the stairs, dragging my suitcase along behind me, not really caring that it was bouncing off the steps, tearing the canvas as I went. I burst into the station to find an enormous line for the ticket counter and lines several people deep at all of the electronic kiosks. With 7 minutes left, I ran to the kiosk line with the fewest people, only to find that I must have gotten in line behind the slooooowest people on the face of the planet. I stood there impatiently shifting my weight and cursing under my breath – about the same as what everyone else in line was doing.
When I finally made it to the front of the line, not only had we missed the 11:27 train, but the next train wasn’t until 1:30 and there were no seats available – meaning we wouldn’t get out of Venice until 2:30. I started to have a minor freak out thinking about being 3+ hours late to check into our apartment, and we decided to get in the ticket counter line to see if they could help us. After 20 minutes of waiting, we made it to the window and the agent was able to get us on the 1:30 train – which made me feel a little better, but I was still feeling like a giant asshole for being late and not having a way to let this lady know.
With roughly an hour and a half to waste, there wasn’t much to do. So we settled for sitting on the steps out front, K watching the world go by on the canal and me reading. That lasted all of about 15 minutes before K started getting restless and complaining – “It’s too hot.” So we got up and moved to the shade where he started napping and I continued reading. That didn’t last very long either before he was restless again – “My butt hurts. This sucks.” So we spent the better part of an hour wandering around the station trying to entertain ourselves.
We had no idea how to read our tickets, so when the train arrived, we just climbed on the car in front of us, stashed our luggage and sat down. After a few minutes of everyone else passing our car, we decided maybe we were in the wrong spot. Turns out we’d plopped down in the first class car. Oops. So we grabbed our luggage, found the right car, stowed our bags again and sat in our new seats – me by the window and K next to me, a table between us and two seats facing ours.
I stuffed my daypack under my feet and gazed out the window as we pulled away from the station on tracks that were suspended out over the water. So long, Venezia. After a few minutes, we were back on solid ground and on the road (er, track?) to Firenze. I took out my book (Eat. Pray. Love. It’s not my favorite so far.) and read for a bit, until my eyes got heavy and I napped a little. K napped pretty much the entire way. We woke as the train was slowing down and pulling into Santa Maria Novella in the middle of Florence.
We stepped off the train and into a very bustling train station, much busier than the Venice station. Directly ahead of us as we walked from the train platform was the arrival hall – a brightly lit, covered area with skylights overhead and brown-and-white striped marble floors leading up to the building. The building housed the ticket hall, a tabacchi, a tourist office, a Farmacia and, of course…a Mickey Dee’s.
We hurried outside and hopped into a cab. At this point I was still feeling slightly anxious, hoping that Gabriele’s wife would still actually be at the apartment when we arrived. I handed the driver our address, and we were off! Within seconds of pulling away from the station I was white-knuckled, gripping the back of the seat and trying to remain calm as we flew in front of on-coming traffic, into a traffic circle, across the circle and then sped off straight out of the circle. I realize this is a way of life here and there’s clearly some method to the madness, but holy crap, I’ve never been so uneasy in a moving vehicle!
I was surprised how much traffic was out at 3:45 – the streets were packed, and our driver was wearing in and out; gunning the engine and then slamming on the brakes as he snuck in behind a bus. As we were sitting still, there were moped whizzing past on either sides of us, in between lanes of cars, and in the few inches of space between cars, buses, trucks and the sidewalks. After about 10 minutes of sitting in traffic and a few quick turns, we sped off down a side street lined with mopeds, turned onto a narrow, quiet street and stopped in front of our apartment building.
We climbed out of the taxi, approached the large, arch-shaped wooden door and rang the bell for Aurora Apartment. Thankfully, a few second later we heard the lock pop open and we pushed the door open to find a plainly tiled, naturally lit entry hallway with a narrow stairwell at the end. We climbed up the stairs, past two landings, to the second floor where a woman waited at the top of the stairs. She hurriedly told us that Gabriele’s wife had to leave, Gabriele would be here at 8:00 to collect money, pointed to the keys on the dining table and ran out. Now I felt really badly because this woman had to wait on us, but I didn’t dwell on it, as I turned to take my bags into the bedroom and explore our awesome Firenze home.
The bedroom had very antique-looking furnishings – a double-door armoire, a large trunk (that I claimed as a luggage stand), a beautiful wooden dresser with a large gold-trimmed mirror, and a green padded sleigh bed with a book shelf on one side and a small table on the other. There was a large window with double-paneled glass doors that opened into the room, and green slatted shutters that closed across the window opening to give a bit of privacy even with the windows open. When we walked into the room, the windows were open and it was surprisingly breezy and pleasant despite the fact that it was really quite warm outside.
The bathroom was small by American standards, but gargantuan compared to the Venetian bathroom we’d just left behind. I walked through the pocket door to find a gleaming white counter top and sink with a mirror that covered the entire wall. The counter ended in an exquisite, multi-color tiled wall that hid the full-size washing machine on the other side. There was also a toilet, bidet and glassed-in stall shower. I was very excited about the washing machine since we are each only carrying about 5 days of clothes with us.
I’m absolutely in LOVE with the kitchen in this place. It’s fairly small and cozy, but very well equipped and absolutely beautiful! The kitchen alone made me want to move in here for good. The space above the counter top was covered in a green, blue and yellow tiled pattern, topped with bright and airy yellow paint that continued around to cover the dining area and living room as well. There was also an oven, stove top, sink, dishwasher, and a large refrigerator (stocked with tons of bottled water). The cabinets were well stocked with dishes, pots and pans, gadgets, linens and a few food items (including coffee). There was even a very small pop-out window right at the end of the kitchen counter. I love the natural light and the novelty of a tiny kitchen window!
The kitchen area was divided from the living room and dining room area by a small bar with two stools – perfect for spreading out our maps and books to make plans. The dining area had a small wooden table with a floral table cloth and four white chairs that didn’t really match the dark wooden table. On top of the table – to our delight – was a bag of almond cookies and a bottle of Chianti.
The living room had a bright blue couch, a small TV and an antique-looking hutch covered with tour books and maps. The ceilings were gorgeous exposed brick with wooden beams that branched out from the corners of the room in a triangular pattern across the roof, giving the apartment a very rustic, authentic feel. Another detail that makes me want to move in for good.
Then there was the front door. I wasn’t sure what to think about the front door. It was very primitive looking – a large slab of thin but fairly sturdy, worn wood with large metal hinges several inches long and four (yes, four) sliding bar locks, each looking a little different and equally as old. Each had its locking bracket secured into the wall next to the door. The door didn’t exactly fit into the doorway to make it seal – it was larger than the doorway and more or less just got smashed against the edges of the door frame until it was close enough to latch. With the door latched in place, there was still a crack a couple of inches high under the door. I assumed it must be safe enough, but I also questioned why I could need FOUR locks and one or two won’t suffice.
All the locks on the door made me think of the doors we saw in the prison at the Doge’s Palace yesterday in Venice.
Seeing as how it was after 4:00 and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we tore into the cookies and poured a bit of wine while we sat to unwind for a bit. We flopped down onto the bright blue couch and started mindlessly at the small TV across from us. We quickly found that here – just like Venice – the only channel in English is BBC. Yippie.
After a bit of wine and some relaxing, we headed out to find an ATM to get money to pay Gabriele. We walked out, paused to decide which way to go, and headed back in the direction that our cab had brought us a few hours earlier. We circled back to Viale Don Minzoni – a bit of a main drag with restaurants, shops, banks, hotels, etc. then turned and headed up the street to explore. We found a bank and grabbed enough cash to pay the rent, then continued on. We wandered along, until we dead ended at train tracks, then turned and wandered through backstreets lined with a mix of tiny cars and mopeds, looking to be mostly residential areas with an occasional restaurant or shop popping up.
Eventually we found ourselves back on Viale Don Minzoni, in front of a few restaurants. It was still 10 minutes before restaurants open for dinner, but we hadn’t eaten anything except a few cookies since breakfast in Venice. We were starving and were able to convince a waiter at the door of one of the restaurants to seat us a bit early.
We stepped up onto the red-tiled floor and into the restaurant. Just inside the door was a large, marble and brick lit-up counter with large, several-inch-thick cuts of meat hanging above heaps of produce – potatoes, red peppers, leafy greens, etc. – and framed by hanging dried tomatoes. Across from the meat and produce counter was a large wooden table topped with a basket full of a variety of delicious-looking fresh breads. The walls were a pale yellow, covered with old photos and glass cases displaying old butchering knives.
The waiter led us past the produce counter and to a rather large two-person table right next to the stand, and right in front of the large window looking out onto the sidewalk and outdoor seating area.
The table had vibrantly colored red legs and a dark wood table top, covered with two place settings, a bottle of house red wine and an enormous basket full of fresh veggies – carrots, celery, radishes, etc. The chairs were equally as bright – one blue and one yellow – with wicker seats, though the dim lighting made the vibrant colors seem a bit less loud and crazy.
We immediately started devouring the veggies as we looked over the menu, which was in Italian only. The staff didn’t speak much English, so we didn’t have much help translating. We used our limited Italian and our collective moderate experience with Spanish to try and decipher the menu. We both ended up ordering what K thought was chicken parmesan – “Parmigiano della Malanzana.” Thinking about it now, I should have realized that “chicken” in Italian should be closer to the Spanish “pollo,” but I was too hungry to think logically at that point, apparently. I also should have ordered something different than K so that I could trade him dinners in the event I didn’t like mine.
Our dinners came out – deep baking dishes with delicious, bubbling, cheese-covered something-or-other underneath. I cut in and took the first bite to find… eggplant. I don’t really like eggplant, but I was starving and didn’t have much of a choice other than to eat it. I have to admit, though, this eggplant was good. It was sliced thin and cook perfectly and I downed it pretty quickly. The portions were fairly small, so we both went for dessert as well. I had tiramisu and K had a chocolate cake. Both were delicious.
As we sat there, finishing our dessert and wine, the place got more and more crowded and by the time we left there was a line to get in. This is a popular place with the locals who like to take their time enjoying their meal and wine, and also get pretty boisterous. Despite the crowd, the service was great. The servers didn’t speak much English, but they were attentive and quick with service. The meal was really affordable, too – everything for only €40.
After dinner we headed back to the apartment to meet Gabriele. He was a very professional, friendly guy. He collected our payment, had us sign paperwork and then got out our map and helped us figure out where things were. He gave us recommendations on what to see, tips on how to get around and left his phone number to call for anything else we might need. He also recommended returning to Perseus for Bisteca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak).
After Gabriele left, I spread out the city map on the kitchen bar and plotted out where we want to go tomorrow. With everything settled, we sat down to watch BBC. I’m about to go crazy with nothing but British accents on the TV and wish I could zone out to some trashy TV like Jersey Shore or 90210. I guess Italians just don’t have the same appreciation for our trashy TV.
Off to bed now. It’s going to be a full day tomorrow.