Sunday, July 14, 2013

From Tuscany to Florence by Train


Our villa was in the Cortona-Siena part of Tuscany, just about an hour from Florence by train or by car (we're the blue dot near Arezzo on the iPhone GPS). Knowing that Florence is not a place where one can park easily, we decided leave the cars at the station and train it in.

We scrambled to buy 15 train tickets from the machine because we didn't know how it worked--train arriving in 5 minutes.  Panic! With good teamwork, two groups worked on different machines and got our tickets with lots of time to spare. Good thing the train was also delayed.

Why kids choose to iPhone, iPad or Kindle while they are zipping through fabulous Tuscan countryside  is beyond me. "Look outside! The hills! The farmhouses! The bales of hay!"

Glance up. "I saw it na mommy," and eyes back to the iPhone. Okay, just don't kill my phone, I need it for the GPS.

An hour later, we arrived at Florence's Santa Maria Novella station.  We're tourists who don't like to think we're tourists so we stayed away from the major sites. Being all together in town was our goal and we didn't care to waste time falling in line for anything.

The adults and older kids have been to Florence before. For G and C-- they will appreciate Florence when they are older and take art history. Right now, the Baptistry or the Uffizi might not mean much to them.

We at least went into the Duomo and B here is pretending to be the tour guide, reading from the Florence app on his phone.

"Behold the man"

I was in Florence for a "January term abroad" with 25 other schoolmates many many years ago. Everyday for almost a month, our Italian professor pointed out architectural details as we walked past them and  also discussed (to death) each important piece of art we saw. I loved every minute of that trip but the things I remember most are not the monuments or the artwork.

 I remember the gelato.

 Vivoli is still alive after three decades? Amazing.

Vivoli was already famous eons ago. Our twenty-something server at lunch told us Vivoli's was overrated and said Edoardo's, around the corner from the restaurant, was her favorite. We had Eduardo's after lunch, but we still found our way to Vivoli's just for the heck of it--and of course another gelato.

A good gelato has to be "artigianale"-- or made in small batches, artisan quality, with no nasty additives like hydrogenated stuff, corn syrup or artificial flavorings. Today, aside from "artigianale", most good gelato shops stress the word "Bio" which means organic.

If you were a kid, would you rather have gelato(s) or fall in line to see a naked sculpture of a man?

fascinated by a polaroid!

For me, the flea market trumps a naked sculpture too.

One thing we braved was the crowd at the Ponte Vecchio-- to peek at the jewelry stores and check prices of gold chains. When I asked if they priced by the gram (like at the Dubai airport), the lady gave me a nasty look and said "No, signora, there is much workmanship involved here and we don't price by the gram."  Okay, peace!

It's hard to appreciate the beauty of Florence with throngs of people. And of course if you skip all the important artwork.

Heading back, we were experts at the ticket machines.

Success! We are back at Castiglion Fiorentino, the closest station to our villa.

It was past 9 pm but we still had to feed the troops.  We found Pietro on our Trip Advisor app. It was just down the road from the station. No one spoke English at the restaurant which for me, is a good sign for good local food.

With Pietro, and our server Lilla

We had steak fiorentino, pastas and pizzas, and everything was so good we asked to have a photo with Pietro. 

We ended the meal by heading next door to the gelateria. It was close to 11 pm and the place was full of locals having gelato. So feeling local too, we ended out day by having our final gelato (for the day).

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