(Pisa and) Florence: Mmm.... Gelati!
May 19th and 20th
Meghan and I caught a train early in the morning on Thursday to Pisa. We were enroute to Florence, but we had to go through Pisa, so we figured we might as well take advantage of the fact that we had to pass through and get the typical tourist photos of us holding up the Leaning Tower. We arrived in Pisa just before 11:00am, checked our luggage at the train station so we didn't have to carry it around, bought a map so we could figure out where the tower is, and went off in search of our touristy photos. Twenty minutes later we came upon the Leaning Tower. It was kind of funny - the town was pretty dead while we were walking through it, but as soon as we hit the area where the tower was there were tons of people. I don't think there is too much else to see in Pisa, so a lot of people stop for a couple hours just to see the Tower then carry on their way to the next destination. We got our photos, looked around for a few minutes, then headed back to the train station. By 12:30, we were back on a train on our way to Florence. And that was our little adventure in Pisa. Nothing crazy to report from there.
We arrived in Florence in the afternoon and once we got to the train station we realized we had no clue where our hotel really was or how to get there. In the morning while we were still in Cinque Terre, we had found an Internet signal on the street and were going to look up how to get to our hotel. But obviously we checked the important stuff first once we got internet, you know, like Facebook and email. Then, just when we both said 'ok, time to figure out Florence' this man and his mother from Toronto we had met the day before passed by us, so they stopped to talk, and before we knew it Meghan and I had to head off to catch our train, directions to our hotel forgotten about. Anyways, so now we are in Florence with really no clue where to go. Meghan had the address saved in her iPod and has a Europe guide book that has a small map of the city, so we paused and tried to figure out if we could find where to go. We found the area on the map where the hotel was in, but could not find the exact street on the map and didn't really know what direction to go. We asked a couple people for help to see if we could walk to the right area, and they kind of looked at us funny with the 'you want to walk there?' look. In the end, we decided it was easiest to take a taxi. Probably a smart decision.
After checking into our hotel, we went out in search of Internet and to wander the city. Meghan's cousin Lauren and her boyfriend Ryan were also in Florence so we wanted to send them a message so we could try meet up with them. After sending them a message, we went off in search of gelati. The man from Toronto had told us that there was a gelati place that was really good and prices started at €1, and Meghan and I were determined to find the place. (The other gelati places were more money, and who wants to pay more for gelati when you can find it for cheap?!?) We had directions to cross a bridge and that after the bridge, the gelati shop would be across the street on the right hand side. We thought he said the main bridge, so we went over it, but alas! No cheap gelati place; only expensive places. (Insert sad face here.) Determined to find the place, we decided it was probably a good idea to wander over to the next bridge to see if it might be there. Along the way, though, we realized we were getting a bit hungry and found this bakery and meat/cheese/wine store that looked delicious. In we went and out we came with a tasty pastry filled with tomatoes and ham and cheese. So good. (The food here in Europe is awesome. It's always so flavourful!) We kept wandering in the direction of the next bridge, but once again no cheap gelati shop. Still not wanting to give up, we walked to the next bridge and guess what! Success!!! There it was before us - the gelati shop the man told us about. What a little gem that place was. Affordable and incredible! (Meghan and I seem to have amazing luck at finding the best of every type of food we eat. Pretty sure we had the best gelati I have ever had in my life. Meghan says the same thing.) For €2, I had a pretty big cone of gelati with two flavours, one being cheesecake and the other lemon. (Mom, you should be jealous. You would have LOVED them.) With gelati in hand and extremely satisfied tastebuds, we paused by the river for a few minutes. I don't think Meghan and I spoke at all while we had that gelati, other than to say "Incredible!" and "Amazing!" and "So good." We were way to engrossed in that gelati. (If you had it too, you would have been the same way.)
After thoroughly enjoying the gelati, we continued with our wandering, this time not with a mission. We wandered around aimlessly, popping into the different stores and wishing I had lots of money and space in my backpack to bring home leather jackets and purses and scarves and shoes and jewellery. (Italy is a dangerous place for shopping if you aren't careful! If it weren't for the fact that I still have almost four more months of traveling, I would definitely have made some purchases! But I exercised some self restraint and just bought a scarf.) We also saw the replica of the statue of David and other naked men. Neither Meghan nor I are big into renaissance art, which is what Florence is known for, so we didn't bother paying to get into the museum to see the real statue; the replica was good enough for us. In the evening, we went to a church where we had arranged to meet up with Lauren and Ryan. The four of us had dinner together and hung out for the rest of the evening. We wandered up to one point that overlooks a large part of the city when it was dark out, and it was a beautiful view of the city with all the lights on and the churches lit up. While sitting up there, Ryan pulled a bottle of wine out of his backpack so we enjoyed the view and the wine. Not a bad evening, if I do say so myself! (I am really going to miss the cheap wine when I get home.) Then it was time to start heading back to the hotel to get some sleep. We wandered down the hill, said goodnight to Ryan and Lauren, and was walking down the street when we saw a camera crew filming something. Now any of you Jersey Shore fans may know that they are filming the next season in Italy, and as it turns out, that's exactly what was being filmed. (Lauren and Ryan had also seen them a couple times earlier in the day filming the show.) So watch for mine and Meghan's Jersey Shore appearance - we walked around the taxi that the guys were getting into so we may be in the background. Our (potential) five seconds of fame!
The next morning we packed up our bag again as we planned to head off to Rome. We checked out of our hotel, left our luggage, and met up with Ryan and Lauren to make plans for Rome. (They were heading off to Pisa that day and Rome the next.) Well, we hadn't yet booked a place to stay in Rome and as it turns out, it is not easy to find a hostel that has open beds on a Friday night in May in Rome when booking the day of if you don't want to pay a fortune. (Lesson learned: always be sure to book hostels for weekends ahead of time!) Since we could not find anything for that night, Meghan and I decided to just stay in Florence for another night and was able to find a hotel room that was affordable and available. And we were able to find a place for four people in Rome starting Saturday night, so we booked that too. Now Meghan and I had an extra unplanned day in Florence, and nothing planned. Ryan and Lauren took off for Pisa and we moved our luggage from one hotel to the other. Then it was more aimless wandering around the city. We really didn't do a whole heck of a lot other than wander. At one point it rained, so we just sat on a ledge for a while out of the rain, then once the rain ended we continued wandering. For dinner that night, we decided to have pizza and were walking around an area with a big plaza. There, a group of people were doing Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) on the street. We figured it would be good to just find some take-out pizza, eat on the steps of the church in the plaza, and watch the group, which is exactly what we did. We found a margarita pizza nearby, picked up a couple drinks, and chilled on the steps. Another fantastic meal in Europe. I'm going to once again brag about the delicious food that we have had in regard to the pizza. This pizza put the pizza at home to shame. At home, it's all about the number of toppings on the pizza. Here, it's more about the quality of the ingredients that are used, so it was a nice thin crust, fresh tomato sauce and delicious cheese - a perfect, tasty combination that makes a delightful pizza. It was also fun to watch the group doing Capoeira. They just kept going and going and going. We sat there for quite a while watching them. Eventually we decided to wander to see what kind of entertainment we could find on other streets. In one area, there was a large group of people gathered around a guy who had a guitar and was singing. He sounded so good that we too had to stop and listen. A while later we found another large group of people gathered around a guy who was doing a mime act and using random people as part of his acts. Also hilarious. We only caught the end of it though. Some more walking took us back to the church where we had eaten dinner, and now there was a bunch of young people gathered on the steps. I guess it is sort of an area where people meet for the evening. They were all just hanging out, drinking their beer or drinks or whatever on the street, and the police which were right there just watched. It was nice - everyone was just enjoying their drinks and hanging out with friends, not super rowdy or anything yet. We decided to just sit for a while to see how the evening changed. As we sat, it started getting busier in the area, but we didn't stay out too late to see how crazy it got. We had a train to catch the next morning to Rome and wanted to get a good night's sleep. So, as the night was just starting for some people, for us it was back to the hotel to get some beauty sleep.
And now, as I am writing this, we are sitting on the train on our way to Rome. The landscape is beautiful! We are
going through Tuscany and the towns look so nice with the mountains in the background. This is one thing I love about taking trains everywhere - you get to see the countryside as you pass through it, whereas if you fly you see the clouds. Not quite the same experience. We are also taking a regional train right now rather than a highspeed train, which is cheaper and kind of nice since we get to see the countryside pass by a little slower. Sometimes it's nice to just kick back, relax, and watch the countryside as you pass by.