Part 2: Florence
James: On Monday, 11/5, we took the train to Milan, with the help of Anna from our hostel, then got train tickets to Florence. It was our first time negotiating the train system, but it really was very easy. The Milan train station is an amazing building, built in the 20s by Mussolini. It is a monumental and stunning building with marble walls, fresco paintings, and a glass roof. We found the train system to be a great way to get around. On our first trip, we drove a car, but we could hardly imagine now negotiating Italy and its crazy streets. We got the last two beds in the Florence youth hostel. We were surprised to find most of the hostels and backpacker hotels to be full on our trip. Italy, being warmer, is still popular in the off-season, and the independent travelers have not let the fear of terrorism stop them from coming, so it was always very lively. We could tell that the tour groups and busses were way down, and businesses that rely on them are suffering right now. At night, it was obvious that many restaurants were empty.
Rachel: Our first night in Florence we walked around, and I bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. It was our first time eating them and they were good! Our first view of the duomo at night was stunning. Our first day in Florence was rainy off and on, so I bought a cheap umbrella for $5. We toured the Uffizi art gallery, which was good to see, although a bit overwhelming. After a couple hours, we found it hard to concentrate on the paintings. We liked the Botticelli, Raphael, Carravaggio and Rembrandt paintings especially. The rain stopped in the afternoon, and we walked around town and ate some pizza from a by-the-slice pizzeria, which usually have tasty and inexpensive food. At the hostel, we stayed in a four-bed room with various people, first a couple our age from Australia (nearing the end of their 7 months' long travel), then two young Japanese (Hiro and Takwaya (sp?)), who were very friendly, but didn't speak much English, and a young outgoing Canadian from Toronto, Rob. It was a very nice hostel, with movies every night and breakfast (granola and yogurt). They kept showing The Godfather each night for some reason. Except for the Australian couple, who were our age, the hostel was exclusively younger travelers in their 20s. Although we got to know our roommates, we had a harder time fitting in here. Most of the kids smoked, making the common rooms unbearable. We enjoyed walking around Florence by night also, and always found something good to eat, although our staples were pizza, foccacia, and pasta.
James: It would be rainy off and on throughout our stay in Florence, but it was warm and it didn't bother us much (not yet anyway). We toured the Duomo, one of the largest churches in Europe, with the greatest dome of them all, built by Brunelleschi in the 15th century. We climbed to the top of the dome, which had great (although cloudy) views of Florence. We spent a lot of time walking all over town, especially the Arno River and the famous Ponte Vechio (a multi-story pedestrian bridge from the 14th century). I also had the chance to meet our friends John and Mike from Minnesota for some good food and beer. By chance, we just happened to all be in Florence together at the same time.
Rachel: My idea of fine Florentine dining was getting great pizza slices to go and taking it back to Ponte Vechio to eat on the bridge at night. Our last day in Florence, we took a day trip to Fiesole, and small town overlooking the Arno valley. It rained a bit, but we had a good time walking around town, and we took a long hike through the forests and countryside outside of town. Back in Florence, I found some pretty scarves and a great outdoor market. James hates to hear this phrase, but in my opinion "the best shopping" was in Florence-not that I shopped all that much.