Sunday, February 5, 2012

5 day weekend? I'll take it!

I call this photo "The Train that Almost Was." But I'll get to that in a second

The title of today's post is 5 Day Weekend because, due to Siena's inability to function when there are snow flurries in the air, class was cancelled for Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday. I wasn't expecting Friday's classes to be cancelled, but a friend texted me Thursday afternoon and said "A few of us are thinking of heading to Florence early if you wanna come." We were already planning this trip, but were going to leave after classes on Friday. I agreed that if classes were cancelled I would head out early. Not even an hour later, I received the email: NO CLASS. In a rush, I packed up my backpack, said "ciao" to my host mom and was off.

The group I travel with (or maybe European travel in general) seems to always involve 3 things: 1. Running 2. Delays and 3. Luck

We met in Piazza Gramsci, where the main bus terminal is. We wanted to take a bus to the train station to catch the 4:18 train, but the attendant told us the next one wasn't until 4:10. Or, she said hurriedly "there's one at 3:40." Current time? 3:38. We bolted up the stairs to the outdoor platform and to our dismay, seemingly missed the bus. Luckily, Italy runs at least a few minutes behind schedule (ALWAYS) and the bus came just as we were about to make the decision of whether or not to call a cab or huff it down to the station.

We made it to the train station with plenty of time to purchase tickets and get snacks, and made it peacefully onto the train with plenty of time to spare. We got settled and relaxed, and the journey was lovely. NOT. At the time our train was supposed to leave, a man walked through and basically said the train wasn't leaving and we had to get off and wait. Hence the picture of the train we were supposed to take to Florence.

After a half hour delay, we got on another train that was supposed to go straight to Florence, but in the middle we were informed that the plan had changed and we had to change at Empoli. We arrived at about 6 to this station, to discover that the connecting train to Florence left in four minutes. After a mad dash under the platforms (this is becoming a reoccurring theme), we barely made the train.

The train arrived at about 6:45, and we needed to check into our hostel by 7. Stupid rule, I dunno. We finally found a taxi to fit all 6 of us and away we went. In less than 10 minutes we made it, and were treated to a lovely room (though the beds were not the most comfortable things in the world...)

Cute. Not comfy. 

Chillaxing in our freezing hostel room
We scouted for a nice place to grab dinner and made a tentative itinerary, and got ready for the next few days.

Friday, our first full day in Florence, began in the best way: 

Nutella crepes. Breakfast of champions
We explored around our hostel to discover that Santa Croce was like 5 feet from it, though the admission fee was steep and we decided to skip going inside

We got to see the inside by attending the Mass Sunday
It was a very frigid day, but we spent it walking along the river and checking out various popular sites in Florence:

The library wouldn't let us in

Ponte Vecchio, home of beautiful and unafforable jewelry!

Piazza della Signoria

inside the Duomo

We also spent a considerable amount of time in the Uffizi, where there is a ton of art, including The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. We got in for free because we are members of the Erasmus Student Network and our ID cards for this conveniently state that we are Art History students from the UK. Score!

After being cold and miserable while outside, we stopped at a few stores, like the Disney Store, Festival di Gelato (a favorite of the group on my last visit to Florence) and a stand where I got a Florentine leather belt, because my old one died. Shopping and art gallery viewing can work up a huge appetite, so we went to dinner at one of the restaurants we had seen in our earlier travels (we had to wait around for a while because we didn't want to eat to early. 8 o'clock is still too early).

Russell's Chocolate Salami. Alas, it was not chocolate
covered salami, as he was expecting
After dinner, which was probably our 5th or 6th food stop of the day, we called it an evening and got ready for Saturday. 

Saturday's weather proved no warmer, but we proved more adventurous. Our first stop (after a breakfast stop, of course) was to climb the bell tower at the Duomo. 414 steps. Scary and exhausting. And, since the wind was whipping, freezing. Worth it? Yes!

View of Piazza della Repubblica from the top

You can climb the Duomo dome too, apparently

The stairs are always a little cozy. And steep
Florence is famous for it's leather, and so we continued on to the San Lorenzo Market to check some fine leather goods out. When our toes and noses couldn't take the cold anymore (and after the purchase of some leather awesomeness) we ducked into a cafe to warm up.

Our next stop was the Galleria dell'accademia to see the David by Michaelangelo. This was closed last time I went, and while you can see replicas of the statue around the city, it's amazing to see the actual work towering over you. They also had a video explaining how many of the medieval pieces were created, and the process is so long and complicated that I definitely appreciate the artwork more. But seriously, the David was awesome.  And again, my Erasmus card got me in for free!!!!!! Huzzah!

We spent some time scoping out places for dinner (we vowed never to try the same restaurant twice) and trying to get in contact with friends in Florence via our crappy hostel internet, as well as indulging in some wine and cheese we picked up, before heading out to dinner. I tried pasta with wild boar, just to be adventurous, and it was excellent!

We were also adventurous and checked out a local bar with live music, which was fun. They had karaoke for a while, and while most of the songs people sang were English, a few Italian ones snuck in there. The following band was awesome as well, and we stayed out waaaaaay to late. Earlier that day we had decided to attend mass at Santa Croce in order to see the inside (but also because 3/5 of us were Catholic). It made for an early morning, but off we went to the coldest service I have ever been to, with only about a dozen other people. Which made it semi-awkward when all but 2 of us got up for communion, but it was interesting to hear mass in Italian. 

We caught the train back with almost no trouble (our group split for a moment and frantically reunited on the platform just minutes before departure) but got back safe and sound to the still snowy, but far more lovely Siena. Florence was fun, but it made me really glad I picked a smaller, more intimate city to study abroad in.

Dinner with my host mom soon, followed by a very late night viewing of the Superbowl (it will start at 1 in the morning here!) Classes start tomorrow (unless it snows again!) so that will be interesting. It hasn't felt like a school program yet, so we will see how that goes!

I did pick up some interesting reading material at the Uffizi, which I think you would all enjoy:
Now you all know how to say "Green Eggs and Ham"
in Italian. Though it translates as "Ham and Green Eggs."
You're welcome!

Ciao for now!

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