04 July 2010

Europe in 2 Weeks: Florence (part 1)

When I was much, much younger, I came up with a list of places I wanted to see in my lifetime.

Being exacting, I had categories within that list. Under "Places With Lots of Ruins", I wrote down the following: Greece, Egypt, Rome, Peru's Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Great Wall of China, and Borobudur in Indonesia.

Of course, another category I had on my travel list was "Places With Lots of Art." Paris was there, and so was New York, and a bunch of other places. But the number one on that sublist was Florence, my own art Mecca. All the history and art lessons I had on the Renaissance kept mentioning Florence, Florence, Florence.

So of course I had to go.

Took my first European train ride from Rome to Florence. It was evening so I didn't get to see much of the countryside at that time. But riding the train was a novelty to me, so I was pretty damn excited to look for my platform, make sure I was in the right carriage car, and search for my seat. I opted to book for a 2nd class ticket, and then ride back to Rome on 1st class just to see the difference.

Well, you do really get what you pay for. The 2nd class compartments were pretty cramped, even for someone with a small frame like me. There were six to a compartment, and I silently thanked myself for booking a window seat online. It was a good thing that my compartment mates were the nice sort--an elderly Austrian couple (the man even helped me place my suitcase overhead), this carefree-looking Austrian girl, and two American (?) college boys who arrived last, out of breath. They almost missed the train, I guess.

When we were fairly settled in our seats, Austrian girl (who sat right across) surprised me by conversing at times with me in really fluent English while talking in her native Austrian German tongue to the elderly couple on her right. I assumed all three of them were Austrian, because the final destination of the train I was taking was Wien, Austria.

Took a picture of the train's destination list just to make sure I was on the right track to Florence:

Yup, Firenze SMN, that was my stop, alright.

The two boys were also headed for Florence, so at least I wasn't the only one going down at Florence's Santa Maria Novella Station at 10 o' clock in the evening. Tried to talk to them a bit, but it was hard, because one was too absorbed with writing something on his Moleskine and the other was reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I knew how engrossing the book was, because I had read it myself within the span of a day or two only, so I refrained from asking how he was finding it.

Throughout the 3-hour ride, I amused myself by alternately reading my own book, trying to discreetly take shots of my cramped environment (I'm still a tourist after all), and walking down the narrow corridor of the train car and peeking into other people's compartments.

By the time the train rolled into Santa Maria Novella station, my legs were raring to walk. I literally jumped out of the train when it halted and was greeted by the unexpected chilly night air of Florence.

A Room With No View

It was around 5 to 6 degrees that night. Way too cold for me. Because my hotel was just a 10-minute walk from the station, I opted not to take the bus or the ever-impractical cab ride, which would have been the equivalent of a good meal or two in Europe already. What was supposed to be a 10-minute walk became a 20-minute one, because I got lost in the city's narrow, winding streets, and it was also hard dragging my suitcase along the cobblestones.

I managed to find my hotel finally, and staggered up the stairs into the second floor, where the reception desk was. I checked in and found myself in a good-sized room that was charming enough. And then I hurriedly drew back the curtains to see what kind of view I had.



All that greeted me were windows from the neighboring building. I totally forgot to reserve a room with a view of the Duomo.

Too tired to berate myself, I took a quick shower and slept early. I knew I was going to have a full day ahead of me.

Breakfast with a Song

Stepped into the breakfast room the next day, craving for a good old Filipino tapsilog breakfast that I was sure I was never going to have at that place. So I had to manage expectations and hope for a filling Continental breakfast at least.

The Hotel Giada where I was staying is family-run, so the breakfast area looked like a kitchen with a modest buffet area, a smattering of small breakfast tables and a--GASP--view of the Duomo. I almost dropped my cereal bowl when I turned around and saw a section of the big old church from the window.

And while I sat on my own table just looking up at the Duomo and munching on a hard roll, I suddenly heard the owner of the hotel. He entered the kitchen, singing something in Italian at the top of his voice and started preparing a fresh batch of brewed coffee. Never mind that there were a bunch of us having breakfast, still looking sleepy at 6:30 am. Either he was singing like nobody was there or he knew he was conducting an operatic performance in front of flabbergasted tourists. It was such an Italian thing for him to do, to sing without a care in the world, and I felt that I was really in Florence indeed.

(to be continued, because this blogger has just realized she has been too long-winding and nonsensical in this post, and would like to be more succinct in her next entry)


  1. Really enjoyed your personal touches; the hell with being succint! :) Can't wait to read the next one!

  2. Aw, thanks, Biba!!

    Actually, I've already published part 2 of my Florence trip. The ones on Madrid and Rome are already up too.

    I wish I had more time to write!