Having packed our bags in the morning we grabbed coffee, croissants, and sandwiches at a café across the street. Then, Karol, Keane, Naomi, Lena, and Bowe joined the ticket line to the Vatican museum, while Michał decided to skip the attraction to finally catch up on the Karolers blog in some peace and quiet.
Alas, it was not meant to be for Michał to enjoy his peace and quiet. The rest of the group gave up on their quest of reaching the Sistine Chapel after estimating a 2-hour wait in the ticket and admission lines and stormed the apartment back within 15 minutes of their departure. We decided that it would be more worth our time to catch an earlier train to Florence and have more time to explore there.
We discovered that trains leave every 30 minutes and headed out to the nearest metro station (Ottaviano) and took off for the main terminal (Termini) where we would transfer to a Trenitalia regional train. After buying our tickets from a ticket kiosk (€48 each – yikes! – it seems that same-day purchases are more expensive than buying ahead of time), we only had 6 minutes to get to our train. Worse yet, we could not easily spot our platform number!
Thanks to what could have only been providence, an unassuming fairy godmother – a rather heavy set wrinkled woman with gold teeth – has come to our rescue! Out of the goodness of her heart, she led us to a posted schedule and then even accompanied us briskly to the correct platform. In a fairy godmother-like gesture, she extended her palm and asked for money, presumably a donation for a new magic wand – or a dentist appointment, and as soon as Michał’s two-euro coin landed in her clutches, the fairy godmother disappeared in a puff of magic smoke, which could have only come out from one place.
The train had assigned seats and was very comfortable. As we sped through the country side and various tunnels, the variations in cabin pressure kept our ears popping throughout the ride. The train offered free wireless service, however, it required a registration through an insecure portal which prompted for credit card information.
Michał decided to chance it and immediately after sourcing the digits to his bank, VISA sent him a fraud alert via text message, reporting a $0.01 charge on his card – yikes! At this point all he could do is cross his fingers in hopes that his card wouldn't be overdrawn by the fairy godmother (who else!) by time we would debark the train in Florence!
Our apartment in Florence was situated by the Ponte Vecchio – the Old Bridge – which was a 20 minute walk from the train station. We shlepped our luggage through the middle of Florence and ended up arriving an hour and a half before our scheduled check-in time. We sat down at a small snack shop where we ordered something to hold us over. Naomi got a hot-dog on a hamburger bun, while Lena and Keane ordered pasta. Karol got a tasty cheese platter, while Michał quickly chomped on his burger and went around to check out the exact location of our AirBnB, which turned out was on top of a ceramic shop not far from the bridge.
We still had a little bit of time left after we finished our meal and so we moved our luggage to a gate outside the shop. As Karol guarded the luggage, Keane tended to a bottle of wine that was in dire need of getting some attention, Lena went sought out gelato, Bowe strutted to a stationary shop, and Naomi and Michał found a cute wine shop, where an enthusiastic and friendly Italian shopkeeper named Martina helped the two to a wine tasting paired with bread and cheese. Naturally, Naomi and Michał arrived late (but in good spirits) to the check-in.
Our host, Mery, was very friendly and helpful. After making copies of our passports (which is the preferred identification form here) she led us to our cute 3-bed 2-bath flat. We decided to waste no time and went exploring right away. Keane has been to Florence before and suggested we say “Hello” to David and visit the Florence Cathedral (also known as “Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore” or simply “Il Duomo di Firenze” – the dome of Florence).
Unfortunately, once we reached the cathedral, it was a repeat story from the Vatican Museum. Huge lines turning corners around the church and crowds and scalpers everywhere. Discouraged, we took in the architecture from the outside and proceeded to the Galleria dell’Accademia, to see David.
The lines at the Academia were still substantial but significantly shorter and seemed to move. There were three separate lines – one to buy tickets, one for those with pre-purchased tickets, and one for groups tours. Scalpers and tour guides were everywhere advertising skipping the line by joining their group tour for €30 but we decided against it, because the tickets only cost €8.
When Michał and Naomi left the group in line to get some water at a closeby store, a large number of people were let in, including the rest of our group! We had to rejoin the line and wait another 20 minutes – luckily, someone gave us their tickets and we did not have to pay admission – a small victory we rejoiced!
After our dose of perfection, we walked to an “Irish” bar to watch a definitely imperfect World Cup game between Poland and Senegal. The match was underwhelming, the menu limited, and Karol’s beer flat. And so we left before halftime to head – this time as an entire group – to Martina’s wine shop! There we talked about group dynamics, division of labor and our upcoming road trip routes – all while sipping on amazing wines and delicious dessert liqueurs.
Martina suggested that for dinner we head to “Alla Vecchia Bettola,” a rustic Tuscan restaurant away from the touristic epicenter. We had to wait a little bit to get a table for six, where – for the first time – we encountered an all-Italian menu with no English translations. We each decided to memorize one item and leave the rest up to chance!
Our plans have slightly changed once we saw a juicy 1 kg on-the-bone steak delivered to the table next to us. In what might have been the quickest financial decision the group made on the trip, we gladly swallowed the €48 price tag to get our hands on the beautiful piece of Italian meat.
Gorged on food and in good spirits, we strolled home through the streets of Florence, only making a stop at La Carraia for a quick gelato to cool off from all the excitement of the day.