Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In the land of Firenze

That is Florence to all the non-Italians out there reading this! We packed our bags and headed of to the train station with plenty of time to spare and went to one of the automated machines to collect our tickets. I say collect as Amber had already gone to the trouble of purchasing them online before when even left the UK. However, when we typed the booking number into the machine It told us that there was an error and would not give us our tickets. We joined the cue for the rail company (which was very very long) and began the wait to talk to a human about our tickets. Much later we finally got to the counter and produced the booking info that had been emailed to Amber when she made the booking. The human looked at it and then handed us our tickets. My question which was never explained by the way, was why did we have to wait in line at all? Apparently the Italians don't fully understand the concept of pre-booking.

So tickets brought we found a spot underneath an electronic departures board and parked ourselves and waited. Eventually our train info came up. At this point Amber and I would have been much better off if either of us spoke or understood Italian. The platform number for our train and indeed the only one with such a platform number which was 2E. We would have both preferred it I think if it had been listed as platform 9 & 3/4 at least we would have seen the humor. Looking at all the platforms we could see that they numbered 1 through 9 but we could not see any letters. Nor could we see any helpful people to ask. After getting a bit snippy each other and not seeing any better ideas Amber joined another cue. Eventually we were informed that platform 2E is joined to the end of platform 1. "Of course" we say "How normal". We set off down platform 1 which is very very long. Eventually we come to a train that is all alone and it kinda looks like maybe Thomas and his friends didn't like this train and so he was made to sit all by himself way down at the end of the platform in solitude, either that or he was a naughty train and was in time out. Anyway eventually we make it onto the train and found seats and then got comfortable for a very long journey.

The train journey was very pleasant, there was much pretty countryside to look at and we passed through many small towns. At one stop 2 fully armed policemen got on board the train which kind of freaked us out. I don't think we will ever get used to the idea of that.

We had checked on google maps for directions for the hostel so once we got out of the station at Florence, Amber took point and led us to our hostel. Unfortunately for her she led us right through the middle of what looked like the biggest leather market I had ever seen. The pack on my back felt like it weighed about 5kg more than when I had put it on that morning so I did not really linger but made a mental note to come back at a later date. We found the address and then walked up 3 floors to get to the hostel. This one turned out to be very small with only a couple of rooms. We dumped our stuff and took off to find dinner. Our very helpful hostel manager, Yuri, had given us a map and pointed out places to eat, see, and shop. Once dinner was over we went for a walkabout we ended up at a massive square in front of a church (turns out that this was The Cathedral of Florence or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore). There were heaps of people about, it reminded us of Barcelona. Heaps of people just hanging out and socialising even though it was after 10pm. We brought some very tasty gelato and then went back to the hostel for some much needed sleep.

When we woke up the next morning and discovered that we were the only ones still in the dorms. Our new dorm mates were very quiet, something we greatly appreciated. We dressed and then set off for breakfast. I pretty much pick the places we eat at when aboard and we ended up at a cafe/patisserie/bar where the Barista's were all wearing suits and there was a chandelier on the ceiling. The food looked very good and although the whole place looked very wanky I decided that this was the place we were going to have breakfast. In Italy there is an additional surcharge added if you sit at a table and get waited on. In this kind of establishment I figured that it would probably cost our entire days allowance if we did that so we declined to be seated and stood at the bar for breakfast. The thing about sitting down in a cafe, is that you can just point at an option on the menu without having to pronounce it. With the option I picked we had to look at the food in the serving case and decide what we wanted and then go over to the cashier and pay for it. Then she gave us a ticket which you took to the lady at the serving case who would then look at the ticket and give you the food you think you asked for when you paid for it. Amber had pointed at something she wanted to eat and I had picked something that I thought looked like brioche. Once we got the food sorted we took the same ticket to the man and ordered coffee. Then once this was done we could stand at the bar and eat. My breakfast turned out to be some very tasty cake like thing that had been soaked in some kind of liquor, it was not at all what I expected. The coffee was very strong which was good. The verdict was that we were going to revisit this place for breakfast again, maybe we would actually get brioche on the next visit.

After breakfast we went for a wander and ended up at Palazzo Vecchio which is a massive palace that belonged to and was occupied by the Medici family back in the day. There was also an additional exhibit named 'For the Love of God' by artist Damien Hurst. We decided that we would pay the extra charge and see both the palace and the exhibit. The museum was set out so the exhibit was the first thing to see. I will explain a little about this as it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the palace and I have no idea why they chose to exhibit it there, the only conclusion I can come up with is that it is a place where lots of tourists visit and therefore they would make more money with this added feature. The exhibit is made up of one piece and it is a diamond skull that the artist constructed from a platinum cast of a human skull encrusted with 8,601 flawless diamonds, including a pear-shaped pink diamond located in the forehead. Costing £14 million to produce, It is probably the most dazzling thing I have ever seen. Photography is not allowed inside this exhibit so I am going to rely on google with some images so you can get the general idea.
The palace itself was much more amazing to look at though and we spent along time wandering through its rooms.

Once again I have resorted to the Internet to for some photos as they are not better than the ones we took (they are filled with tourists). At this stage I had hold of the camera and became very interested in what had been painted on the walls. I found it amazing that a painter had spent so many hours/days/months/years painting individual characters with so much detail.

This next room is called the room of the lilies it was pretty fricken amazing.

What the ceiling looked like

Sorry for the fuzz, at this stage the camera was nearly dead so I was trying to take photos quickly before the battery completely ran out. Our favourite room in the palace was the map room. It had a giant globe in the middle of the room and all the walls were lined with maps, according to the info on the room each section of wall was actually a wardrobe so when we found that out we liked this room even more.

The maps were also pretty cool, not too accurate though.

After the palace we continued on our walk-about and came to Ponte Vecchio which is a bridge that is a bit like the Rialto bridge in Venice, completely filled with shops! The best thing about this bridge was that all the shops were jewellery shops. After much wide eyed, open mouthed staring Amber reminded me about a passage in a Terry Pratchett book that she likened to me.

"Wentworth was sitting on a large, flat stone, surrounded by sweets. Many of them were bigger than he was. Smaller ones were in piles, large ones lay like logs. And they were in every color sweets can be, such as Not-Really-Raspberry Red, Fake-Lemon Yellow, Curiously-Chemical Orange, Some-Kind-of-Acidy Green, and Who-Knows-What Blue.

Tears were falling off his chin in blobs. Since they were landing among the sweets, serious stickiness was already taking place.

Wentworth howled. His mouth was a big red tunnel with the wobbly thing that no one knows the name of bouncing up and down in the back of his throat. He stopped crying only when it was time to either breathe in or die, and even then it was only for one huge sucking moment before the howl came back again.

Tiffany knew what the problem was immediately. She’d seen it before, at birthday parties. Her brother was suffering from tragic sweet deprivation. Yes, he was surrounded by sweets. But the moment he took any sweet at all, said his sugar-addled brain, that meant he was not taking all the rest. And there were so many sweets he’d never be able to eat them all. It was too much to cope with. The only solution was to burst into tears.

The only solution at home was to put a bucket over his head until he calmed down, and to take almost all the sweets away. He could deal with a few handfuls at a time."

In case you couldn't figure it out, I am Wentworth by the way. It took me awhile to get over this bridge. I still dream about it. Maybe when I die I could have my ashes sprinkled there. (Makes mental note to tell Amber about this)

After Ponte Vecchio we wandered back through Firenze to the Leather Market around the corner from our hostel . . .We have a theory that this market is to cows what Elm Street is for humans. After spending far too much money here, we found a supermarket for food and then it was home for an early night.
The next day was Good Friday, we had planned an early start in an attempt to see the inside of The Cathedral but we decided that, well, actually the pretty part of the church is generally actually the outside and the inside of a church usually looks the same after a little while so, after some breakfast we hunted down the Summer Palace of the Medici Family or The Palazzo Pitti as it is known. There were two options for tickets and we chose the one that included the gardens for Ten Euros each. Gardeni Boboli is the Garden we explored, although 'garden' might be a slighy understatement. The grounds here are so big that we would have had trouble finding our way around if it weren't for the signs and maps everywhere. We're not entirely sure how they managed back in the day, we have a theory that they had to send out search parties for missing family members. Anyway, after not too much trouble we managed to find what we were looking for - Grass!!! Grass that didn't come with 'keep off' signs or little men with whistles. We spread out and soaked up some sun while we read and dozed. . .After a couple of hours we decided to go in search of the other things on our ticket, only to discover that it was all closed for one reason or another (not being able to understand Italian we don't actually know why). At Ten Euros a ticket we felt it was a bit of a rip off but there wasn't much we could do about that really. The gardens were pretty but hardly any of the fountains were working, the statues all needed a really good clean and there were some things that were boarded up and didn't seem to be having any work done to them. Considering what we paid and how many people there seemed to be wandering around it did seem like things could have been in better repair. Here are some pictures:

This last photo proves that Shelley does wear dresses!!
Anyway, after the gardens we pretty much went back to the supermarket and the hotel.


Anonymous said...

It has to be mind blowing to see these things in reality P Smurf

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