10-02-2018 Day 8 First Day in Florence

Cloudy, a bit rainy, and 58F 14.4C

View toward Michelangelo Piazza from the apartment bedroom window

Neither of us slept well last night.  Perhaps Deanna may have slept better if I hadn’t been so restless, since we shared the queen sized bed in the bedroom.  There is also a sofa bed in the living area, but we decided to skip making that one up  since it takes up most of the space, and we had no problem sleeping together.

The problem with that plan is that the bed, much like our bed in Montepertuso, is very hard. In addition to being hard it is also lumpy, and sags a bit.  I can’t believe how attached we both are to our comfy beds.  Is this how Europeans sleep? 

I got up in the middle of the night and tried to sleep on the sofa, (at least here we HAVE a sofa) but that didn’t work for long either.  Hips and knees are arguing in a serious way.  I have a feeling it is the damp and cool weather rather than all the hiking we have been doing, because I was much better back on the sunny coast of Amalfi!

Rainy morning view from the kitchen window

We have already decided that this will be a catch-up day, so the rain is quite delightful.  No need to rush out and explore, and our main outing for the day will be a walk to the market. 

Breakfast was simple, with NesCafe conveniently left in the cupboard,  some of our lovely breads from Sara, and the last of our yogurts that we brought with us.  We can drink the water here in the apartment and are quite happy that we don’t have to be buying and hauling bottled water every day as we did in Montepertuso.  No clue if that was necessary or not as we never thought to ask Sara.  We bought a lot of big bottles of water while we were there. We saw locals filling water bottles at the square  in Montepertuso from a water vending machine so I am fairly certain we did the right thing.

This apartment has a lot of charm, with delightful art from the owner’s world travels in Africa.  I should mention that while Isabella speaks excellent Italian, she is actually Canadian and speaks perfect English.  Her home is outside the city on a small farm and she has lived in Italy for 18 years.  She was kind enough to leave us a lovely bottle of olive oil from her home orchard.  The apartment has two fat and fluffy down comforters, plenty of pots and pans, a microwave, and even a small washer which is currently taking care of a week’s worth of hiking clothes.

Isabella tried to give us a good overview of how to live in the apartment when we arrived.  The most complex instruction was concerning the heat and air conditioning.  It has a very strange system controller that is on the wall over the stairs, requiring a long lean over the railing and a flashlight to see the tiny settings which are in Italian of course.  So far we haven’t been successful getting the heat to operate, but hopefully that will be attended to before it gets cold again next weekend.  Tomorrow is supposed to be much warmer with no rain for a few more days. I did just receive a WhatsApp note from Isabella saying that in the city of Florence it is not legal to turn on the heat before November 1.  Ok then! Back to the jackets, socks, and comforters!

The bathroom in our little apartment is well appointed, with nice fixtures, excellent plumbing, and a window that opens for fresh air.  We had seen the photos on the Air BnB website, but they really don’t do justice to the small space.  It is very very small, so tiny that turning around in the space is not really possible.  The other laughable thing is that you have to step over the bidet to get the to toilet. 

We sat at the table this morning for breakfast, on hard little chairs with a thin cushion, and came up with a great idea.  We moved the extra cushions from the other chairs and now sit on 2 or 3, just right for computer work.  Are Americans really this soft??  I guess so, at least we are.  I want my cush!

The very best surprise for this morning, however, was our decision to open up the sofa bed and see how it worked.  Out popped the most lovely memory foam mattress, and we looked at each other and almost cried we were so happy.  Ahhhh.  We WILL be sleeping on the sofa bed, and are incredibly grateful that the next two weeks in Florence won’t be marred by aching hips from a hard bed.

We looked at each other and at the gray skies outside, the wet terrace through the window, and said, “Time for a nap!!”  I think it was about 9 AM.  Yes, this is a day of rest and recuperation, with the most difficult tasks being napping, processing photos, and actually writing for the blog. 

By midafternoon with rested bodies and minds it was time to brave the streets of our neighborhood and make an attempt to find the market. Although Isabella said that the market was just down the street, we had no clue how to find it.  It was still a bit cool and rainy and we donned our jackets, made sure that Google Maps had downloaded the proper maps for the area, and set off on the hunt.

Even with google maps for imagery the directions for walking don’t work when offline.  We wandered off in what seemed like the proper direction before we finally arrived on a street that had some shops.  The Carni (meat market) was closed, but down the street was a small pharmacy where they told us that the Carni would open in November.  The young woman in that shop told us to go to the COOP.   We managed to find the shopping center where the COOP was located on Google Maps.  After a couple of miles we at last entered into a huge supermarket and spent a long time looking at fabulous food and filling our carry bags with groceries for the coming week.

It was a long walk back to the apartment with those heavy bags.  We had to stop for sustenance at very nice little gelato shop where we were allowed to sit with our treat at the empty table without an extra charge.  While tasty, the gelato was nothing like the amazing treat we had in Positano. 

A bit farther along on the same road we found a bakery with take away pizza slices and bought two for our supper that evening.  We found Italian pizza to be much like any other, always different, some fabulous and some so-so. These first slices of pizza in Firenze were a veggie mix that was truly yummy.

Continuing along the road we passed the Carni once again and it was wide open! It had only been closed until 3pm, in the Italian tradition of closing in the afternoon for a long lunch.  Most shops are closed between 12 or 1 and 3 or 4 at least.  We also discovered that we had simply made the wrong turn when leaving the big intersection and in the future wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the COOP for groceries.

Just for fun, check out this Google map street view image of the intersection to understand why we were a bit confused on that first day in the big city. Just trying to get some groceries had turned into a major undertaking.

the main intersection near our apartment

Tomorrow will be a big day, as we begin to explore the magnificent history of the city center of Firenze.

10-01-2018 Day 7 Montepertuso to Florence

After  a fabulous week of sunny weather, we woke this morning to cloudy skies, with big thunderheads in the distance, and a gray overcast tinged with pink over our terrace.  We had been wakened by the sounds of the drop planes very early. The previous night as we were eating supper on the terrace, bells rang for a long time.  We knew it was some sort of warning, but decided that if we needed to evacuate Sara and Enzo would let us know.

The smell of smoke was strong throughout the night, so we did know that the fire we had seen yesterday on the mountain just beyond our village was still burning. 

We had arranged breakfast at 7, with our ride to the train station at 10:30, in plenty of time to catch the 1pm train to Florence.  That all changed when Sara came to the apartment to tell us that we needed to leave earlier, and that her cousin would be taking us instead of Enzo, and we should meet him at the piazza.  Sara doesn’t speak English well, and she handed us the phone where I spoke to Enzo who explained that the main road to Naples was closed due to the fire and the drivers were all having difficulties getting people out of town.

We packed up and headed for the piazza a bit early, and within minutes Sara came running down to tell us that her cousin would not be able to make it, but they had arranged yet another driver to take us to our train.  Luigi was to arrive no later than 10, but with the road closures and all the traffic, he didn’t show up till 10:30.  He was devastated at that, saying that he is NEVER late for his customers, but this was an extreme situation.

Luigi is singing, talking on his cell phone, driving really fast, and talking with his hands, a perfect Italian

Luigi was everything I had imagined an Italian driver to be, charming, a bit of a wolf, and he talked a LOT.  He did tell us that his name actually IS wolf, and he is head wolf. He also sang!  Our trip leaving Montepertuso was something I will never, ever forget.  Luigi put on a favorite music mix to play for us, beginning with “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. This particular version has always been a thrill for me to listen to, but having this music accompany our ride leaving Positano was a moment I will never forget. I hope that I never forget that feeling as we watched the lovely little town built on the steep cliffs of the Amalfi Coast recede in the distance.

As sad as the road closure was, and as difficult as it was for other tourists and their drivers, it was an incredibly lucky break for us.  We got to see the highway going in the opposite direction from our previous trip on the Sita bus, and Luigi drove us up through the town of Ravello, which we had been too tired and overwhelmed to visit on our day in Amalfi.

Continuing along the road to Amalfi, previously experienced in a big bus from a different direction, the views were achingly beautiful in spite of the speed.  Luigi talked a mile a minute in between his singing, and even when talking on his phone (hands free of course) he talked with his hands as he drove those crazy roads through Ravello.  Our views of Ravello were through the windows and the windshield and very fast.

The mountains were gorgeous, with views of the sea opening up as we rounded the curves, and cloaked in lush chestnut trees.Once over the mountain, the broad valley south of Vesuvio opened up below us.  Luigi, not only drove incredibly well, but extremely fast.  I had to laugh, because not only did he talk and sing, he also talked with his hands while talking on the phone to the other drivers who were all trying to figure out how to get people to their planes and trains. He also yelled a lot at stupid drivers, and honked  at everything coming our way.He was angry at the Sita bus driver who didn’t slow down for the goats, and at stupid limo drivers who parked too far out in the narrow road.

The speed limit on the freeway approaching Napoli is 100 km/hr, but I noticed Luigi driving at least 130.  He kept reassuring us, but I could tell he was doing his best.  We arrive at the Napoli Centrale Station at 12:30.  Made me very glad we were doing a train and not an airplane!  He said, “Do not worry, I will take you to your platform”.  We paid him inside the taxi, for safety, he said, and then he gave us a CD with all the beautiful Italian music he had been playing for us on the drive. He unloaded our bags, and led us quickly to the overhead sign showing which platform we needed to go to, and only left us once we knew what to do.  Very nice for our first big train trip in Italy.  Hopefully we will be a bit more experienced now when we catch the train back to Naples after our two weeks here in Florence.

The train ride itself was exciting as well, at least for first timers.  I had read a lot about traveling by train in Italy on the “Man in Car 61” website that Erin shared with me a year ago, and we had made online reservations so did have a bit of an idea what it would be like.  Still, going very close to 300 km/hour on a train is pretty exciting. It is especially so as you pass another bullet train.  It is a blur that lasts about one second!

It was raining hard for most of our trip, and watching the countryside was interesting but not terribly exciting until we got closer to Tuscany where the landscape took on the beautiful lush look of the farmlands.  I was surprised at how lush and green it is in this part of Italy, looking very much like the Willamette Valley.  Checking the latitude, I discovered that while Positano is on the same latitude as Redding, California (remember the fires?), Florence is on the same latitude as Eugene, Oregon.  Very interesting to me.

Our tickets were business class, with comfy seats, plenty of room for our luggage, and plenty of legroom.  All in all an excellent experience.  Within less than 3 hours we arrived in Florence, at the Santa Maria Novella station, made sure our items were properly secured and pushed our luggage in front of us to avoid the pickpockets that we had been warned about through ads on the train monitors.  It wasn’t a problem for us this time, but all it takes is being unaware only once to lose something precious.

The only mistake we made was assuming when they offered food and drink it was complimentary.  Only the coffee and snack is complimentary.  The pasta and the wine cost us about 50 Euro, not money well spent, but we learned and didn’t make the same mistake on our return trip to Naples two weeks later.

Notice the gray wrist bands, my excellent solution for preventing motion sickness, they work!

When we arrived at Firenze Santa Novella Train Station we knew to walk directly outside to the taxi stand.  In Italy you don’t hail a taxi, you get in line and wait your turn.  Interesting thought as I remember no one waiting their turn for the buses, but everyone was very orderly when waiting for their turn at a taxi.  Within ten minutes we had a taxi, showed the driver our address on Google Maps, and fifteen minutes and 15 Euro later arrived at our new doorstep.

We showed our driver the address on our phones in Google Maps, asked “Quanto Costa”, and were told to watch the meter.  (of course) Within minutes, and only 15 EU later, we were at the door of our apartment, with several call buttons, and no clue which name we were supposed to call. A lady looked out the window above us and said, “No, not that one!”.  Oops. We pushed the top highest button and the door suddenly opened.  I was really glad then that we had small luggage because the door was very narrow. We could barely fit through it even with our carry ons!

Isabella came down the stairs to meet us and help with the luggage.  And yes, there are a Lot of stairs, very narrow stairs, with ancient cement uneven steps.  It is an old house.  Once we reached the third level, where our studio space is located, we stopped to get instructions and fill out rental agreements .

The wooden arched door on the left is ours, and the gazebo extending on top of the roof is our terrace.

Isabella was quick and businesslike, unloading every bit of information she thought we might need.  Continuing up another flight of stairs to the main floor of the apartment, she showed us the bullet proof glass door that led to the terrace, showed us how to operate those keys, showed us how to manage the heating system, where the turn off valves were for the water and the gas, and explained the 3 different levels of breaker switches for the apartment, including the one on our floor, on the next floor down, and on the ground level.  She showed us the dishwasher, the washing machine, and made sure we knew not to run too many things at once. Our brains were a bit worn, and after she left neither of us could figure out how to manage the heating system and things felt a bit chilly after all that warm sunshine down south.

Looking out the windows, across the ancient red tiles, reminded me of those James Bond movies with people running from roof to roof, shooting their guns. She also said, don’t answer the call bell, because no one should be trying to call you or get in. 

Isabella illustrated perfectly what Luigi had told us about Italy.  As a Napolitano, he loves Southern Italy most.  He told us the southerners are warm and friendly, happy, full of a love of life and food and everything beautiful.  The Northerners are much less friendly, more businesslike, less welcoming.  After our time in Italy, we would both definitely agree with Luigi. 

We were happy that we had brought pasta and Sara’s tomato sauce and some of her bread with us since there was no way we were going back down all those stairs to try to find a grocery store.  Isabella said something about “just a few blocks that way”, but we weren’t yet ready to brave the city streets.  She also said something about buses, which one to catch, which numbers went where, and that the map in the study was worn out and we should probably go get another one to figure it out.  Ok then.

Instead, we cooked our pasta, added a little of Sara’s sauce, opened the bottle of wine that Isabella had kindly left for us, and stepped out onto the terrace to enjoy an incredible view of Florence across the Arno River as sunset approached.  This was the view I had seen in so many photos and imagined so many times as I dreamed about visiting the very heart of the Renaissance, Firenze.

The stairs were a bit daunting, but we had known to expect that, but the view from the terrace was even better than we had imagined.  The clouds parted, the sun came out at just the right moment to light up the gorgeous dome of the Duomo across the river.  In addition to the terrace, there is another lovely window in the kitchen with a view of the river, and a large window in the bedroom that opens up to the gorgeous sky. 

Our location is perfect for us, on the south side of the river away from the bustle of the old city, and yet within walking distance.  I think our favorite thing is that we can see the Michelangelo Piazza just above us on the next terrace and there is a lovely view of gardens and greenery from the terrace as well.  The fourth floor is high, and there is a price to pay, but the open feeling is worth every step.

Our quiet little village of Montepertuso was as different as night and day from the big city of Firenze.  But when the bells from all the cathedrals scattered throughout the city began tolling at 6pm we looked at each other in wonder.  Wow!  We are in Florence!