Monday, July 23, 2012

Day 5: Cinque Terre to Florence

On Thursday morning, we slept in until 8:30 am, packed up our belongings, went down for breakfast at Hotel La Spiaggia in Monterosso.  We then took a short stroll- about 100 meters- to the statue of Gigante, a giant statue of Neptune, holding up the seaside cliff.  Read more about Gigante here. Unfortunately, Monterosso al Mare was bombed during WW II, and he lost both arms and his trident. 

We then returned to the hotel and checked out, where Andrea Poggi, the owner, made several recommendations for places to eat for our travels later in the week in Florence and Rome.  He also had several great travel tips, in particular to avoid those infamous pit-pockets! 

We took one more walk along the shore and then headed for the train.  We took a train to Pisa and then switched trains towards the Florence Santa Maria Novella train station. We got off the train and walked out into Florence. I have to admit, this was pretty overwhelming.  For some reason, Florence hit us like a ton of bricks from the moment we stepped off the train. This was far busier and overwhelming than Venice.  The sheer amount of people in such a small space made me feel somewhat claustrophobic. Not knowing exactly where we were heading, we tried to make our away from the busy train station (and all those pit-pockets) and struggled with the map for a few minutes, before just heading for the only land mark we knew- the Duomo. We knew this would give us an easy spot to navigate from towards our hotel.

Once at the Duomo (the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), we immediately admired the beautiful craftsmanship, baptistery doors, and stunning, detailed artwork!  But we would end up visiting this location at least twice more during our stay, so we will get back to that soon... We then made our way toward hotel, which was right by the Ponte Vecchio, a historic bridge and one-time-market that stretches over the Arno River. 
Ponte Vecchio
The hotel was a little difficult to find, as it was tucked away in a tiny piazza and around a corner.  We accidentally stumbled into the Uffizi art museum, back-tracked a block and then found the door to the Hotel Hermitage tucked away in a small alley, directly adjacent to the Ponte Vecchio.  See the full review here
Here are some pics of the Hotel Hermitage.   

We relaxed for about an hour after arriving and took a break from the stifling heat, happy to put our backpacks down and giving our backs a break. An hour later, we rushed outside to meet our friends, Abby and Dogan!  Both Abby and Dogan are old friends of mine from the days of Miami University. Abby and I were roommates in college and still remain close friends, despite the fact that she lives in California, and we are now in Iowa.  Coincidentally, Abby and Dogan were also in Italy that week, but had the opposite itinerary as us, starting Rome and then heading north toward Florence.  Luckily, we were able to meet up for one night in Florence for a ron de vous!

Together, we ventured out toward the Uffizi museum, in an effort to pick up the Firenze Passes that I had pre-purchased for Sam and myself.  The Firenze Pass is a card that you can buy that allows direct access to almost all the museums and gardens in Florence (Firenze).  It was well-worth our money! There is more information on this pass here. They are a bit pricey at €50 each, but can pay off if you plan to visit enough locations included in the price of the card or- we mutually agree on this- we did not have to wait in any of the lines!  Lines for the Uffizi, Accademia, or other tourists sites can take hours, with patrons lining up before 7:00 am!  This pass will allowed us direct entry, bypassing these dreaded lines and the few extra bucks was worth the time we saved.  We ended up having to try a few different locations before we found an open tourism office, but we were able to show our ID (Don't forget your passport!) and our email confirmation and picked up the passes with only a few minutes lost. 

Next we proceeded toward the Piazza del Mercato Centrale.  When we arrived, we sat at The Fish Pub and we refreshed ourselves with several cold brews during happy hour. See the review here.  Just a few minutes past 6:30 (and our reservation-oops!), we walked the whole twenty feet across the piazza to Trattoria Za Za.  I had heard good things about this place, but it was Abby and Dogan who got the recommendation from the owner's of the agriturismo where they were staying and decided to make a reservation.  Thanks goodness they did! We sat outside in a beautiful, relaxing environment.  It was cozy and comfortable. The service was perfect.  Try the truffles- they are known for this! We sampled a bottle of the house red wine. (OK- maybe two bottles.)  We shared a Tuscan cheese and meat platter as an appetizer. We also tried the delicious fried zucchini flowers as well- wow! All four of us shared our meals and they were all excellent!  We sampled risotto with saffron, zucchini, and shrimp, fried chicken with rosemary potatoes, steak with truffles, and a trofie pasta with truffles. It was to die for!   Everything was awesome! See the full review here

Abby and Leslie meet up in Firenze

Creepy doll heads in the bathroom at Za Za

Dogan, Abby, and Sam

Tuscan Appetizer

Dogan enjoying the fare

Trofie with Truffles and with a side of Ta Ta's ;) 

Florentine Steak with Truffles- Delish!

Risotto with Saffron, zucchini, and shrimp

Zucchini FLOWERS!  Yum.... 

Chicken and rosemary potatoes

Good times!

A little tipsy after such a fun night, we almost talked Abby and Dogan into coming back to our hotel so we could continue to party it up in Florence.  We almost had them convinced, as we all wanted to hang out longer, but they had to catch one of the last trains out to the place they were staying out in the countryside of Tuscany. After they left, Sam and I made our way back toward our hotel. A couple blocks away, I had a momentary meltdown, as I thought I left my iphone on the table at the restaurant!  I frantically tore apart my purse in tears, as we walked VERY briskly back toward the restaurant.  Luckily Sam kept his cool (and kept me calm) and found it hiding away in one of the many pockets of my purse. Ooops.  This was not the last time this happened...

We then made our way back past the Duomo again and caught a couple late-night pics. 

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Baptistery Doors

The Duomo!As we walked further, we heard music and right outside the Palazzio Vecchio- in the Piazza della Signoria- and only a block from our hotel , we ran into a full symphony!  It was beautiful!
The Pallazo Vecchio - the old town hall and now a museum

A symphony performing outdoors at the Loggia dei Lanzi 

Rape of the Sabine Women by the Flemish artist Jean de Boulogne 

The Centaur by Giambologna 

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