I caught two busses to the Dublin Airport, flew to Bologna, caught a bus to the Bologna Central Station, and then navigated my way through the maze of platforms, reaching the farthest platform from the entrance and caught a train to Florence, Italy. I reunited with Zoe, a friend from high school, and crashed on her couch that night.
For breakfast, we went to La Milkeria for waffles. I got a waffle with yogurt gelato on top. It was quite tasty! Italians don’t typically have what I am used to for breakfast; it’s very common to get a cappuccino with a croissant or some other pastry. No eggs, hash browns, bacon (well, I don’t like bacon), etc.
Zoe had her Italian class, so I checked into my hostel, Central Hostel, and settled in before meeting up with her again for lunch.
While in Italy, I wanted to eat pizza, pasta, and gelato, so we went out to one of Zoe’s favorite pizza places in Florence: Yellow Bar. I got a Margherita pizza and it was amazing. Something with the crust made it so delicious. After lunch, we navigated through the sea of tourists as we crossed the Ponte Vecchio and reached the Boboli Gardens. The two of us wandered around the gardens for a while before heading to Dantes dinner. I got a scampi gnocchi — I’m sure the waiters were entertained by me trying to de-shell the shrimp. After dinner with our check, they brought both Zoe and me free shots of Limoncello. It was gross…
To end the day, Zoe and I walked up to Piazza Michelangelo for sunset (of course everyone else had the same idea…). It was such a beautiful view of the city. We stayed there about 1.5hrs, photographing the city and enjoying the fact that people cleared out fairly quickly, letting us enjoy the beauty without as many tourists taking selfies.
Zoe’s parents had been bugging her to go to Opificio delle Pietre Dure, a semi precious stones museum. So, I told her I’d go with her; I like rocks and stones. We had been envisioning a museum full of paintings and then replicas of them made out of stones as that is what we were told. There were a few paintings and stone replicas that were super cool. Otherwise, it was just stones on display. It was not as exciting as we were anticipating, but it was cool seeing the stone replicas and looking at all the different types of stones.
We had lunch at the Central Market, staking out a good table early before the crowds arrived. I got a ragu arancini — I was told I needed to try arancini if I found it because it’s local to Sicily, not northern Italy — and pesto pasta. Both were delicious, though I wish the arancini was heated up a little, as it was room temperature.
Most of the afternoon we hung out at Zoe’s place, working on homework (unfortunately I had homework I needed to finish while on the trip…) and planning our Sunday adventures to Cinque Terre.
That evening, we went took photographs of the Ponte Vecchio before going out to gelato. I got a mix of salted peanut and cream of milk. It was so tasty and very rick that a small cone was plenty!
Zoe and I met at the train station at 7:30am to catch our train to Monterosso in Cinque Terre. We arrived a little after 10am and walked down and admired the turquoise water and the colorful umbrellas lined up on the beach with all the other tourists. Before buying our Cinque Terre passes, we had to get focaccia bread as we were both hungry. I got a potato and rosemary focaccia and Zoe got one with oil and salt because they were out of pesto focaccia. Cinque Terre is known for pesto and focaccia, but also has very good fresh fruit grown locally (lemons and oranges in particular). We explored Monterosso for a while; the streets were so cute and colorful.
Zoe and I then headed off on the trail to Vernazza…with all of our closest friends. This was a new level of tourists, but at least we were hiking outdoors, something I am more familiar with. The trail lent itself to many gorgeous views which required us to stop for photographs.
We then made it to Vernazza, which is considered the “prettiest” of the five towns. Though, I thought all of the towns were pretty. Unfortunately, I do not have the ability to catch the smells of the towns in my photographs. Most of the towns smelled strongly of the sea and fish.
After exploring Vernazza, we stepped back on the trail and hiked to Corniglia, the only town with no easy way to access the water. It is very tiny and definitely the least touristy. We then walked down to the train station to catch it to Manarola because unfortunately the trail sections between Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are closed. I wish I had counted how many steps it is down to the train platform because it’s A LOT. Zoe and I waited for the train with all the other tourists, their parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles. We knew not everyone would fit on the train. When it arrived, we became sardines. People pushed and shoved their way onto the train. Zoe and I got on, but mostly because everyone behind us pushed us on. It was quite an unpleasant experience.
Arriving in Manarola, we were on the hunt for good gelato. We found a small place by the water. I got a strawberry cream gelato and Zoe got a lemon. Both were so tasty! I could have definitely eaten way more of the strawberry gelato. Before we could leave, we wanted to get the classic picture of Manarola that is on every postcard and advertisement for Cinque Terre.
We then headed down to the train again to go to Riomaggiore. The intercom came on saying the train would be 20 minutes late due to so many riders at other stations. Zoe and I then had to figure out whether we wanted to wait or take a train back a few towns to catch it at a less crowded platform because we didn’t want to miss our train back to Florence. The train arrived and we got on, again like sardines, but decided to take it all the way to La Spezia and skip Riomaggiore because we didn’t want to be stranded in Cinque Terre for the night. Granted, there are worse places to be stranded.
So, we caught our train back to Florence from La Spezia, but it too was late. It was a long day, but it was definitely worth it!
I slept in a little longer after such a long day on Sunday. Zoe still had schoolwork to do, so I explored by myself until we met up for dinner. I wanted an actual breakfast, so I went to La Milkeria again because it’s tasty, not too expensive, and there aren’t really any other actual breakfast places in Italy. This time a got pancakes with butter, sugar, and fresh fruit. When they say sugar, they literally mean sugar, not syrup. Again it was tasty.
Afterward I wandered over the Ponte Vecchio because I had previously seen some artists selling cool paintings. I got a couple small watercolor pieces to bring home. I then found my way to Piazza Michelangelo because Zoe told me there was a park nearby. The garden was beautiful and fewer tourists were there than everywhere else which was a nice change. The views of the city with the flowers framing were so pretty. I enjoyed having a relaxing day. A few drops of rain fell from the sky as I walked back to the hostel. I wanted to get gelato because I don’t know when I will be in Italy next, so I found Venchi, one of the gelato places Zoe recommended. I got stracciatella, which again was tasty. And, I ate it in the rain like a true Seattleite as I walked the rest of the way back to the hostel.
I feel like I have now mastered weaving my way through tourists, though you have to be very careful when it’s raining because they all have umbrellas that could poke your eye out. I also feel like I can navigate Florence fairly well without a map now. It was nice to be able experience traveling on my own in a very foreign city to me, especially because I am not a city person.
Tuesday morning I woke up, checked out of the hostel, navigated my way to Zoe’s place to drop my bags, stopped by the Central Market to buy some pasta to bring back to the States, and caught a 10:10am train to Siena, Italy. It was only a 1.5hr train ride, so that was nice. Upon my arrival, I found my way out of the train station, which took me under the street at through the mall consisting of I don’t know how many escalators up to street level. Me, being the type of person who generally chooses stairs over elevators or escalators, began trekking up the stairs, not realizing how many levels there were to the top. After about 2-3 staircases, I hopped on the escalator to make my journey to the top quicker (though still walking up the escalators). Making it out of the train station, I walked to the Plaza del Campo to meet up with a friend from camp last summer who has been studying in Siena this semester.
Annika and I went to grab lunch, where I got a plateful of pesto pasta for €5! And, it was some of the best pasta I had while in Italy, in my opinion. After our lunch, we walked on the Via Francigena “trail.” It was a road. But, we got out of the city, away from the tourists, and saw some pretty views of the city and Italian countryside.
Later, we walked back to the city, grabbed some gelato (because why not?) – I got grapefruit and apricot – and walked up the hill to “the fort.” This again provided amazing views of the city, but from a different direction. Before heading to dinner, we relaxed in another park (also overlooking the city) for a couple hours. Many of the young boys were practicing their drumming for a parade, so that was entertaining to listen to.
Before heading back to Florence, we stopped for pizza having yet another view of downtown Siena. I was quite exhausted by the end of the day, discovering later that we walked almost 14 miles that day!
I found my way to the train station and caught a bus to the Florence Airport, which is TINY! There are four gates and everyone waits in a relatively tiny room to board a bus that takes you to your plane. I made it on my plane with not much hassle and a couple hours later I was in Brussels, Belgium where I hung out for 7hrs. Yes, I could have taking the train downtown and eaten waffles, frites, and chocolate, but I didn’t for a few reasons. 1) I had been traveling/riding planes, trains, and busses, quite a bit for the last few days that I didn’t want to have to deal with more public transportation 2) It was nice to sit and relax after having walked many miles during my time in Florence 3) I didn’t want to carry my two backpacks around downtown.
So, I explored all parts of the airport, ate food, and went through my hundreds of photos from Italy.
Part 2 – Scotland
Please be patient for my next blog post to read about my adventures in Scotland with Tailor (it might be written when sleep deprived in the Edinburgh airport waiting for my early flight back to Limerick on Sunday).