Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Italo... and Florence...

We left for Florence on the afternoon of May 7th.  I had booked us a room at the Hotel Relais Marignolle through Jetsetter.com.  I was excited about Florence because Bill had never been there and he loves art.  When I was there in 1997, I didn't get to see too much because I was very poor and traveling with a couple of equally poor folks.  We had big plans to try to get to the Uffizi.

As I was researching train travel in Italy, I discovered that Italy has a new high speed private train system called Italo which competes with TrenItalia.  We had experienced traveling on TrenItalia before, but I was curious about the new train system.  It turned out the prices were pretty good, too.

Italo has three different classes of service: Smart, Prima, and Club.  Club is basically first class service, while Smart class consists of cheap seats.  We booked Prima, which has more room, bigger seats, and offers a free beverage and snack.  We thought Club only offered television over the Prima-- since we don't speak Italian, we figured we didn't need it.  But it turns out Club is actually really first class and, given the fact that our train cars were pretty crowded on both trips, might be worth looking into for next time.  I noticed our car was chock full of Americans and Asians, too, at least on the leg from Venice to Florence.  There were a few Italians on our leg from Florence to Rome.

Italo offers boxed lunches you can purchase from Eataly, which is a really cool gourmet store.  Bill and I visited Eataly's flagship store in Torino, Italy back in May 2008.  They have expanded since then, with more locations in Italy, New York, and Tokyo.  Italo's snacks are also made by Eataly.

Italo offers free Wi-Fi, but you have to have an Italian cell phone number to access it.  I noticed one resourceful lady on the train made friends with some guy who appeared to be an American living in Italy.  He shared his number with her so she could log on.  They also offer outlets so you can charge your phone or iPad.  Make sure you bring a plug converter.  The restrooms were super clean, efficient, and easy to use.  Our tickets cost about $100 per leg-- $50 per person.  Overall, it was a good experience, clean, fast, and convenient.



      
Not all the TrenItalia trains looked as bad as the one of the left does...

When we got to Florence's train station, I gave my first dirty look of the trip.  An older Italian woman was in the car with us as we were trying to get off.  In Europe, a lot of times you have to open the train doors by yourself when you want to get off.  However, because everything on the train had either been automatic or done for us, I was unsure how to proceed.  She was yelling at me in Italian to hit the green button.  I did, but for some reason, it didn't respond.  So I hit another button and she yelled at me again. I gave her what must have been an annoyed look.  Bill caught it and her reaction, which was apparently one of unpleasant surprise and annoyance.

We got off the train and into a waiting taxi, which took us to the Hotel Marignolle.  This place is a few miles outside of Florence on a beautiful estate.  You really have to have a car or the ability to pay for taxis to stay at this little inn, but if you have the means, it's worth it.  The access is gated and once you're inside it, it's like an oasis of calm.  They have a pool and serve breakfast in a charming gazebo.  I didn't like the breakfast that much, but I have to admit the place was gorgeous.  Hotel Marignolle is owned and run by a family and they seem to take a lot of pride in their inn.  It was nice to go there in the evenings after having been walking around in the crowds all day.  Taxis to get there are expensive, though... about 16 euros each way.

We stayed in room 3...






There was a very charming French couple staying at this hotel and they decided to join us for dinner at Trattoria Bibe, which is very close to the inn.  The owners of the trattoria will actually come up to the hotel to pick you up.  I have to say, of all the meals we ate on our trip, the one at this little place was probably the best.  Our waiter was especially impressive.  He spoke four languages fluently while in our presence... English, French, Italian, and German.  The French couple asked if he spoke Spanish and he said he didn't, but I'm guessing he could easily get by.  Most of the rest of the staff didn't seem to speak English.  It was actually very refreshing.  There was a great looking garden out front with lots of lemon trees; I bet it's beautiful to sit there in nice weather with a bottle of wine.

The food at this place was excellent.  I had ribs that were served with a delicious apricot chutney.  Before that, I had a savory flan made with leeks.  Dessert was especially awesome, with white and dark chocolate mousse and ice cream.  Bill had something that he said reminded him of a really high speed Nestle Drumstick, with nuts and chocolate.  When we paid the bill, they brought out a round of limoncello on the house.  Then the same guy drove us back up the hill to the inn.

The next day, we ventured into Florence and visited a couple of museums, though neither was the Uffizi.  We saw the Bargello museum, the cathedral, the baptistery, Santa Croce, and another church museum, which we stumbled upon when I really had to pee.

We stopped for lunch at a cute little place that lured us in with smells of garlic.  A couple of young American women were there with a guy who could have been a local.  I'm sorry to say, this group was pretty embarrassing.  They sat at probably the best table in the restaurant and were very loud, as one of them talked about the terrible menstrual cramps she'd suffered on a recent date.  When they tried to pay their bill with a credit card, it was rejected.  The women left, ostensibly to get some cash.  When they came back, one of the women asked for water, which she apparently never got.  They made some comment about being late and got up... and based on the shocked and dismayed expression of the waiter's face when he opened the check, apparently didn't pay their bill.  It was very brazen.  I got a bad feeling about them anyway, since when we came into the place, one of the women, who was wearing a very short dress, was standing outside smoking and looked a bit like a prostitute.


I ate this salad...


Bill had a salad, too.  


Somehow, I forgot to pack my contact lens case and you can't just pop into the drug store to pick one up when you're in Italy.  We ended up having to visit an optician in order to buy one.  The first guy didn't have any cases for me, but the second one had what I needed after I explained that I was willing to buy saline solution, too.  I needed it anyway.  

Here are some photos from our too brief time in lovely Florence...  


The ceiling in the baptistery...


Santa Croce


Caught in the rain as we crossed the Arno... 




The restaurant where we had dinner.  I had cannelloni as I watched the very sexy waiter... He had two young, good looking helpers, but neither could hold a candle to him...


The cathedral. Yes, Bill cried.


Baptistery 


Ceiling in the cathedral...


 I love flower and produce markets...


The Arno before the rain hit... Made me want to break into "O Mio Babbino Caro"



The above photos are from a cathedral/museum we visited because I needed to pee.  I think it might be San Lorenzo, but I'm not positive.  The urge to pee was so great that I didn't pay that much attention as we paid our 12 euros!  The inside of this place was awesome, though.  You could stare at the frescoes all day and not see the same thing twice.  I will post more photos after I'm finished with the trip report. 


  We stopped for a breather in this park.  When we sat down, there was just one elderly lady on the park bench, but she was soon visited by friends, obviously neighborhood folks.  They were fun to watch.  This park also had a really cool station where people could get fresh bottled water.

It started to rain while we were in Florence and we decided to wait it out in this place by the bus/train station.  It was fun to watch the guys running the place, selling ice cream, coffee, beer, and convenience items.  The bathroom was disgusting, though.

On the way back from dinner, we ran into a street musician named Piotr Tomaszewski playing guitar.  His music touched me so much that I cried, so Bill bought me a couple of discs.  He is Polish and has a MySpace.  Go on YouTube and you'll see many people had the same weepy reaction to his music that I did.  I'm listening to one of his CDs right now and it's just as gorgeous as it was hearing him live.




I didn't make this video, but this is him...

Bill loved Florence, just as I expected he would.  We will definitely have to go back there.  It's a big, busy city, but compared to Rome, it's positively and pleasantly doable.

Check out the graffiti... 

My video of Florence...  Recycled photos, but more music by Piotr Tomaszewski

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