Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I Don't Want to Hear Another Word

Nov 23

Hello from Florence!

We woke up some time around 8ish and spent the morning packing and cleaning up.  I think we left the apartment cleaner than when we came, even though it took almost no effort.  The hardest thing was sweeping, honestly.

We finished about an hour before checkout, so instead of wandering around with heavy bags for longer than was necessary, we just sat on the couch and chatted about our overall impressions of Rome, and what we hoped Florence would be like.  Our conclusions?  Rome was fun and cool, but overall a little too modern, and not really how either of us imagined Italy.  We loved the apartment, and the proximity to the metro and Termini was terrific (plus the cool basilica and the grocery store just down the block), but we couldn’t really just wander around to see things.  Esquilino, the neighborhood where we were staying, is primarily made up of immigrants from India and Africa and thereabouts.  It was fine, it just didn’t feel Italian.  I think next time we will get an apartment very close to the Centro Storico (we’ve decided to make it a goal to return in about 19 years, future desires permitting, for our 20th anniversary).

On our way out, we took some pictures of the courtyard at our apartment building, something I'd been meaning to do for days.

Reminds me a little of the courtyard in Only You
Anyway, so at 11am, we walked to Termini and took the metro to Tiburtina.  Right as we went through the gate, I realized we’d forgotten to grab cash for the Florence apartment from the one ATM we knew would take the card.  We decided to look at Tiburtina station, so I sat in the Italo (the Eurostar-type train we took to Florence) office while Sam went to look for another ATM.

Unfortunamente, he walked ten minutes in the wrong direction, then had to come straight back because it was time to board the train.  Rar.

The train ride was quick and relatively uneventful.  We got crackers and cheese from the snack car.  This wasn’t your run of the mill HandySnax though… this was a few real crackers about the size of a chalkboard eraser and a tiny block of parmaggiano reggiano (or whatever)!  There was even a tiny mouse in a sweater vest on the front of the package.

So we got to Florence, and I was disappointed to see that it looked essentially the same as Rome (at least from the view from the station).  Then began the greatest wild goose chase you ever did see.

We calculated we’d need about 680 euros for the apartment rent, cleaning deposit, and money for stuff for a couple of days.  We saw a Bancomat that appeared to be of a bank that would take our card.  We went to it and tried it three times.  No luck.  We had a short list of Bancomats that were supposed to accept our card (we looked it up on Wells Fargo earlier), so we went looking for them.  Three of them did not exist.  The fourth we had great difficulty finding, and when we finally did, we realized it was not an actual ATM bancomat, but a bus ticket booth with a Bancomat symbol.  The guy at the window was very helpful and nice, and offered to give us what cash we needed anyway, but when we told him the amount, he was shocked and said he didn’t have that much.  He directed us to an ATM under the train station, so we went looking for it.  After a great turn-around search, we found it.  But it did not speak English.  So Sam went into the bank itself and they were about to dispense the cash when they decided/remembered that they had recently severed ties with Visa.  Right.  So they told us about an ATM upstairs.

We went to it.  It was the one we had tried right off the train.  Sam tried miniscule denominations, and was able to get about 140 euros out of it before it decided it didn’t like his card anymore.  We had been trying to avoid buying the Euros directly because it is so expensive, but eventually we gave up and got the remainder there.

At this point we were an hour late to meet Francesco, the apartment manager.  We started the walk to the apartment (only about 10 minutes) and called him.  Fortunately, he had just been waiting for our call.  We were nearly to the home stretch, when we ran into construction completely blocking off the Piazza Santa Trinita, which we needed to get through to get to the bridge, which the apartment is right next to.  We walked 15 minutes in the wrong direction trying to get around it before going back and realizing there was a gap in the fence for pedestrians to go around the construction.

Anyway, we finally arrived and took care of business (and we didn't even need to pay the cleaning deposit after all, it was an extra the booking company had thrown on for no reason).  Francesco was really nice, he provided snacks, cookies, and a bottle of Merlot wine for us (oh la), and offered suggestions for numerous restaurants and told us where to find a supermarket.

The apartment is great.  It’s on the bottom floor inside a foliated courtyard (both apartments have been off of courtyards guarded with heavy locked wooden doors, don’t worry).  The building is an old 16th century convent.  I wish you could see our bedroom door.  It’s two heavy wood slabs with giant rusty hinges and a massive iron latch.  The floors and ceilings are giant red brick, and wood beams support the ceiling.  There’s even a giant stone/cement/something old chimney uptake in the kitchen that they put all the kitchen bits under.  It’s really cool and pretty.  And the bed is way more comfortable and the water heater a lot bigger, so I am very happy.  BONUS it is very close to sites!

After getting settled, we planned on walking up to the Piazzale Michelangelo (about a 10-15 minute walk down the street and up the hill) to watch the sunset, but the sun had set by the time we got to the bottom of the hill, so we walked back to the supermarket, which was on the way, and did our shopping.  We got more food this time than last time because I felt bored with breakfast the past week, and we got more fresh pasta and cool sauces.  Did I mention we’ve been able to find lactose-free milk here?  I’m so glad, I get to have cereal in the mornings yaaaaay...

We put the groceries away and walked down the street to one of the restaurants Francesco mentioned, called Gusto Osteria.  It’s a family place that mostly gets locals, but Francesco said they get enough tourists we shouldn’t have any problems.  We got there, but it hadn’t opened yet (mind you, it was 6:15pm at this point, dinner places here don’t even open til about 7 or 7:30), so we walked back to the apartment, ate some bread to curb our hunger, then decided to walk around town a bit.

We paused at a little Pinocchio shop, a place where they sell identical creepy wooden puppets in all manner of sizes and forms that you can imagine.  The store was small and the whole staff was standing eagerly behind the counter, impatiently staring at us, so I decided to mull it over longer and not stand there and make a pressure purchase.

Anyguay, we walked a little further down the street, debated over gelato, decided against it until after dinner, and kept walking.  Before we knew it, there were millions of bright jewelry stores all around, and we were on the Ponte Vecchio (it’s literally a few blocks from the apartment (our address is 18 Via Della Sprone, if you want to look it up).  We walked across and kept going, not really sure where we were headed, just biding time.  We saw a sign for the Santa Maria del Fiore (the cathedral with the famous duomo), so we turned to go towards it and WAHBAM there it was!  I actually was in awe for a bit, I couldn’t stop looking at it or yammering (didn’t expect it be directly around the corner, for one), so we had to stop and take some pictures with my phone.  Holy moly.  It is amazing.  It is bigger and brighter and more beautiful than I imagined, or even than it looks in pictures.  Maybe it’s just because it was night time, but I don’t know.  Few things can I say that I saw that I considered spectacular, but Santa Maria del Fiore is definitely one of them.  We walked around the baptistery and looked at the doors, then walked around the rest of the church and took it all in.  We have a half moon, and it was lurking behind some clouds next to the duomo as we looked up.  Beautiful.

Chicka boom
Boom chicka
Eventually we had circled it and the baptistery a few times, so we headed back across the Ponte Vecchio (everyone was closing up shop) and made our way back to the Osteria.  They were open, and only a few people were inside, so we got seated, ordered our food, and enjoyed the atmosphere.

We got a mixed bruschetta appetizer thing.  It came with three bruschettas of different types.  One just had olive oil and shaved parmesan, the second had pickled artichoke hearts, prosciutto, and parmesan, and the third had goose liver pâté.  We promised each other we would try at least one bite of the pâté.  I thought it tasted a little like weird fish, with the consistency (and kind of the smell) of wet cat food.  It wasn’t terrible, but I don’t think I’ll volunteer to take another bite ever again.  Sam feels the same way.

I had the lasagne Bolognese to compare, and Sam got rigatoni with eggplant.  Both meals were very filling and hot and delicious (great for a cold day filled with lots of walking and wandering).  The lasagna was good, but not as saucy and ultimately not as delicious as the one I had in Rome.  It was hearty though, and we both got very full.

Let me say (and Sam really wants me to point this out, so I’m not just highlighting it for reasons of jest) that Sam really put on The Awkward Show at the restaurant tonight.  Within a few-minute period, he had spit fine droplets all over our table (literally) while trying to speak, yelled a little too loudly to the waiter that pâté was too refined for his tastes, dropped pickled artichoke in my water, and blown out the candle on our table with his nose by accident.  At that last point, I broke down laughing at it all, and wouldn’t let him hand me anything over the drinks again.  We had a good time.

Stuffed and sleepy, we skipped gelato and came home, showered, and are now sitting here on the bed.  I’m very excited for Florence.  Within only a few hours, we both have been more impressed than we were in Rome, and the next week will hopefully be a great one, perhaps slower, more filled with good food, and a leaning towards spontaneity when we can.

Also, grapes.  Apparently it's grape season and they sure look delicious every we go.

1 comment:

LP said...

I wonder how your impression of Rome and how it met (or didn't) your expectations differs from your impression of London and how it met your expectations.