Monday, 6 September 2004 – Venice and Florence

We managed to sleep until 8:15, when church bells woke us up. We figured we had better get up and take advantage of the breakfast included in our room price. We had cereal, a croissant and some yogurt. But the best thing was the cappuccino that helped us go out and face the day.

We grabbed our cameras and headed out. Our first stop was the train station, where we bought tickets to Florence. Our train would leave at 12:32pm. With tickets purchased, we had a couple of hours to spend wandering around the city. It is very hard to keep your sense of direction in Venice. Every time we turned a corner, I couldn't tell if we were going away from or toward our hotel. We saw a couple of familiar places from the day before, and we got some nice pictures. As Chris said this morning, "You can't take a bad picture here." Everywhere we looked, it was picturesque.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a little restaurant and bought sandwiches. I ordered in Italian (due panini con salame e formagio - 2 sandwiches with salami and cheese) but when we tried to ask if they had apples (meli, I thought) we got a blank look. The nice man behind the counter replied, in perfect English, "We don't have apples, just oranges and grapefruit." Oh, well. I hope we at least got credit for trying.

We saved the sandwiches for later, headed back to the hotel, finished packing, and checked out. We waited about ten minutes in the train station lobby, where Chris found apples, then saw our train on the departures board. We made sure it was the right train and boarded. A few minutes after the scheduled departure, we were on our way.

We were on an express train, so it stopped at only the major railway stations: Mestre, Padova, Rovigo, Farrara, and Bologne. Florence was the sixth stop. At most of the first five stops, passengers got on and few got off. At Florence, many other passengers got off with us. The train was continuing to Rome, so there were a number of passengers waiting to get on, too.

We wandered up the platform with the rest of the crowd and made our way out of the terminal. We got our bearings and headed off in the direction of our hotel (we hoped). We had chosen the right direction, and five minutes later we stepped into the lobby of the Hotel Alba.

At reception, the woman behind the counter took our passports. This time, though, she just copied down the numbers and handed them back. She gave us the key to #37 (third floor), told us that breakfast is served from 7:00 to 9:30, and pointed us toward the elevator.

The Hotel Alba

We spent fifteen minutes unpacking into our armoire and getting settled in. Then we grabbed the little camera and headed out into the city of Florence to see what was there. We passed a laundromat just a couple of doors south. We noted its location, because we wanted to wash clothes on Friday.

At the corner of the block, we came to Piazza Santa Maria Novella, an scruffy little piazza with an obelisk and some mangy lawn areas. Ironically, there is a sign that says it is unlawful to walk in the flowerbeds, of which we saw none. There is a cute little gelateria on that corner there, and we planned to get a treat there after dinner.

We wandered down narrow sidewalks by ancient streets crowded with people from many cultures. Chris stopped to look into shop windows where there were modern fashions and pretty jewelry. We stopped at a news kiosk and bought a street map of Florence for €3.

As we turned a slight corner, I told Chris to look down to the end of the street. There was the northern side of the Duomo. We continued down the street, quickly finding ourselves in the very crowded Piazza San Giovani next to the Baptistery. We walked all the way around the Duomo, just taking in the sights. Next we headed south toward the Arno River and the Piazza Signoria, which is in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery.

Chris had forgotten to pack her clip-on sunglasses, so as we walked we kept an eye out for sunglasses shops. We stopped into about five of them, but none had clip-ons that would fit her glasses. We would keep looking.

We took pictures of the Neptune fountain and the replica of Michelangeloís David, before heading down the Piazzale Uffizi to the riverside. From an overlook between a busy one-way street and the river, we got a wonderful view of Ponte Vecchio and the south bank of the Arno. From there, we walked west toward Ponte Vecchio. The bridge itself was so crowded we decided not to go out on it. Instead, we continued by the river. We were thirsty, so we stopped into a shop and bought two bottles of water.

By that time, it was nearly 6:00, so we headed straight back to the hotel. The streets quickly became less crowded and much more pleasant. We stopped into a butcher shop that also sold wine and bought their cheapest bottle for €5.80. We passed another laundromat that looked nicer than the one by our hotel, and, again, made a mental note of its location. This mental note would prove to be temporary when we came looking for the place later.

Back at the room, we checked our guidebooks for restaurant recommendations. There were three nearby restaurants that looked good. Two of them required reservations, so we decided to check out the third, Trattoria Marione. We showered and changed into our "evening clothes" – khakiís and a nice shirt for me, a brown dress for Chris.

The restaurant wasnít far away, but we werenít sure exactly where it was. As we were crossing a street to look for it, my phone started buzzing in my pocket. It was Theresa, calling from Pisa. She wanted to make sure we had no problems on the train. I assured her we were fine. While I had her on the phone, I asked if she wanted to join us at the Uffizi and the Academia museums on Thursday. She did, so I told her I would make reservations for the four of us.

As I was about to hang up the phone, I turned around and saw a restaurant menu on the wall. Chris had been reading it, and I glanced above it. The name of the restaurant was Marione! We had stumbled upon our goal and had been standing in front of it for several minutes, completely unaware.

Inside, the cashier told the hostess to seat us downstairs. "Downstairs" is a former cellar with an arched brick ceiling and nicely painted walls. The hostess motioned for us to sit anywhere, so we chose a table for two in a corner. Three other parties were downstairs, too. Two American couples were in the opposite corner, an Italian man was in the corner across from them, and two Japanese chain-smokers were at the table next to the bottom of the stairs. The chain-smokers didnít stop puffing the whole time they were there, even when they were eating. Yuck!

We took our time looking over the menu and ordered a carafe of the house wine and water. We finally decided what to order: Chris ordered a salad with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes and her main course was a quarter chicken served with potatoes. I ordered the mixed salami plate as an antipasto and rigatoni pomodoro as my main. Everything was very good. Chrisís chicken and potatoes were the best!

When we got the check, I was pleasantly surprised at the total: less than €30 including the coperto (cover charge) and tip!

From Marione, we walked back to the little gelateria on Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Chris had a scoop of tiramisu and a scoop of cherry. I had two scoops of menta (mint) gelato with hardened chocolate syrup on top. Mmmm! Chris thought the little plastic spoons were cute. She envisioned making some artistic project with them, so we stashed them away.

Back at the hotel, we got our key from the night receptionist – an older man who did not seem to speak English. We turned in almost right away so we could get up early the next morning to take pictures.

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