We managed to get on the train to Florence easily with no problems, despite our seats not being together and getting kicked out of one seat after another. The train was much more comfortable than an airplane (and cheaper) and it was nice to have different scenery along the way. There were several sprawling farms and lots of red wildflowers, and as we got closer to the city, the landscape quickly changed to urban concrete, garbage and graffiti. Riding the train gave me time to think. Although I was enjoying my time in Europe, I was constantly reminded of the reasons I love my home. I missed Connor, a lot. I missed having free and clean bathrooms. I missed the comforts of home. But I tried hard not to think about it too much and just enjoy the little time we had left.
By the time we got to our hotel from the train, it was after lunch. From the train station, it was a little overwhelming to know what to do next because we had no map, just confusing directions given to us by the owner of the hotel. We jumped on a bus and had 3-4 people telling us where to go. When we got off the bus, we were totally lost and sweating in the hot sun and carrying all of our luggage. We eventually found a tourist information center and luckily the lady spoke really good English. She gave us a map and directions to our hotel, which wasn’t too much further away. When we arrived, we rang the door and a young housekeeper opened the window and called down to us, then opened the doors. The owner came later to check us in, and he was the funniest and cutest old Italian man.
Soon after checking in, we realized how close we were to the famous Duomo, so we wandered that direction. It was sort of strange when we got closer, because we seemed to be the only tourists and the only ones taking pictures. The neighborhood we were staying in was almost all locals and students. But we got right in line to go in the cathedral, and like most other cathedrals in Europe, as soon as you walk inside, the whole atmosphere changes. It is peaceful and quiet. We approached the dome and started looking upward and the ceiling above us was covered in colorful paintings telling stories. We got to climb the bell tower, which was a really long climb, but offered gorgeous panoramic views of the city and rooftops.
After the duomo, we walked to the Piazza Della Rupubblica, where the carousel is. We people-watched for a long time because my mom and I were both running out of steam. So we went to dinner and then walked along the river and back toward the hotel. We relaxed for a few hours and then fell asleep. The days run together in Europe, and although we were keeping a reasonable schedule, my body’s time instincts were completely confused. Also, it stays brighter much later, so an hour can either feel like 20 minutes or 2 hours. It is hard to keep track, especially when we are so busy walking from place to place, and even when we are sitting in one place just enjoying the scenery. Florence is much different from Venice. It is pretty, but not as beautiful as Venice. It also seemed like much less of a tourist town, so sometimes I felt really weird taking pictures of everything.
I had also been fighting a few infections. It started with my throat and tooth when we left the United States. The tooth got better after a few days, but my throat continued to hurt and I had a lot of allergy symptoms, as well as a start to an ear infection. I had to take medicine the majority of the trip, but nothing made it better! All of this was minor compared to the things I saw throughout the trip, though. In one day, I saw three blind people walking down the street. In Paris, I saw a lot of people with deformed or paralyzed legs. I wasn’t sure why this was so common, or if it was just more noticeable there because people are out on the streets, unlike the U.S. (at least in Spokane) where it’s very rare to see people on the sidewalk.
I also thought it was interesting to think about the animals in Europe. There were lots of dogs in Paris and Florence, but because there isn’t much grass, the animals use the streets as their bathrooms, making it smell pretty bad in some areas. I was watching one lady talk to her dog in Italian, and it made me laugh to think about dogs speaking different languages, and that her dog knew Italian. Anyways…
We started the next day by getting reservations to the Accademia. Our hotel manager helped us get them, and he was so funny when he was on the phone. (He actually reminded me of my Grandpa Dave). The phone lines were busy when he was calling, so he would say things like, “Hello?…I love you…Maria, please answer the phone. I am a very handsome man!” All in his Italian accent, and then he would look at my mom and I and smirk and laugh. We asked to take a picture with him, and he was so flattered, he kept saying “Today, I am famous, very famous!” We made it to the museum, which was much smaller than I thought it would be, but it was worth it to see Michelangelo’s sculpture of David, which was much bigger than I expected! It is at least 3 times bigger than a human, and depicts David, from the bible story David and Goliath, naked and holding his sling and stone which he defeated Goliath with. The sign says that the weapons are sort of hidden from sight, possibly to be understood that it was David’s intelligence that defeated Goliath, rather than the weapons. David stood under a large dome with natural light pouring over him from above. He was carved from marble, which showed his every vein and muscle. It was more beautiful than I imagined. Michelangelo’s unfinished prisoners were also in the museum, but they were competing with David for my attention as I walked across the room. I wish I could have taken pictures.
After the Accademia, we walked through some of the main markets of the city — they went on forever and sprawled throughout all the streets. Most of the vendors sell the same products, but I still managed to find a few things I liked, and it was fun to walk through and watch the people bustling through the streets.
As we walked through the markets, we ended up near the train station and the church of Santa Maria Novella. Many musicians played music in the piazza, so we found a spot to sit while I sketched for a few hours and my mom talked to other resting tourists. They were all really nice and it was interesting to hear where each family was from and where they were going and each of their experiences traveling. We ended the day by walking past the Medici Palace and back to the hotel. We started to notice that at this time, the people in our little neighborhood were a bit strange and it made us nervous, so once we got back to the hotel, we didn’t linger outside much!
By day three, since we had already accomplished everything on our “must-see” list, we asked our hotel manager what he would suggest we do. We had our eye on the southern area of the map where there are large gardens, the boboline and michelangelio. We went to breakfast and began our walk across the river and climbed a big hill which led to a piazza and park. We arrived right around noon and as we looked down at the town below, all the church bells began ringing. We grabbed lunch at the piazza and found a bench to rest while we fed some pigeons and small birds. We even saw a momma bird feeding her baby. It kept us entertained for a long time, and it felt good to rest our feet and have no plans for the rest of the day. We began wandering down a busy road which we hoped would take us near the next garden. The road was surrounded with greenery, it was very peaceful, despite all the cars rushing by. We even saw two accidents, one which was a moped that had crashed and skid across the sidewalk. We were lucky to not be there when it actually happened!
We followed the road at a slow and relaxed pace for quite some time, and then right when I thought we had made it to the gardens, we realized the whole thing was enclosed by a wall, and we couldn’t get in! So we were lost in the neighborhood and figured the only way back was taking a long detour through the city, or going back the way we came. Then it started raining. We finally made it back to town, walking through an area which was primarily locals and felt a little uncomfortable, and then we reached a bridge swarming with shops and tourists. We stopped and ate some gelato before continuing our walk back to the hotel. The rest of the night we relaxed before eating dinner (which was really gross), then picking up some snacks to eat in our room. We reviewed our plans for Rome and the next day of travel, then tried to pack our luggage, which barely fit after all the goods we bought throughout the trip. It got harder to pack each time!
The way we had planned our trip worked out fairly well — starting with a busy place like Paris, and then having two relaxing places like Venice and Florence, before the last busy push in Rome. So we made sure to get a good night’s rest so we could be ready to go again in Rome!