daytrip to Florence & a wonderful lunch with friends in Empoli (2008 trip)

Tuesday, July 8th
My plan for Tuesday was to take the train to Florence, spend some time there walking around, taking photos, and then take another train to Empoli to visit with my friends Francesco and Irene and their family and then after taking the train back to Florence, spend more time in Florence before heading back to Bologna for my dinner at Ristorante Teresina. I had not been to Florence since 2001 and have not seen my friends in Empoli for two years.

After breakfast, I went to catch a bus for the train station. I was a little nervous taking the bus since I never know where the bus is going/and which stop to get off. I successfully found a bus to the train station and it was pretty obvious where to depart.

Once I arrived at the train station, I went to one of the automatic ticket machine to buy my ticket. All the seats were sold out for the train I wanted and only 1st class tickets were available for the next train (just about all the trains to Florence were Eurostar – expensive trains). I was hoping to get a cheaper ticket but I wanted to get to Florence. I bought my ticket and then waited. Since I was there, I also bought my ticket for Friday to head to Coccaglio.

The train ride was fast (1 hour). Because quite a few people were getting off the train in Florence, the line went back into the car. I ended up standing right in the doorway. At one point the electric door started to close on me. I was stuck in the door and couldn’t figure out how to open it. A very nice man pushed the button to get me out of the stuck door. I squished my way out of the doorway for the rest of the wait.

I realized that I forgot to pack my map of Florence (I have 3 or 4 of them) before leaving for Italy even though I knew a daytrip to Florence was something I would probably do. I went to the tourist info point inside the train station to get a map. There was a very long line. I peeked inside to see if there were any maps on the shelves. I saw a sign saying 1 euro for a map. I could not believe that they were charging for maps (since all other the other places I have been have always provided free maps). I wondered if it was just the tourist info place that was selling the free maps. I did not have time to wait in the long line anyways, so I figured I would try to remember my way to the Duomo from the train station.

After leaving the train station, I walked to the church of Santa Maria Novella which was right near the train station. I saw another tourist info office by this church. Again, they were selling maps for 1 euro and there was another long line. I decided to go to one of the hotels nearby to see if I could get a map there. I walked into this nice 4 star hotel right by the church of Santa Maria Novella. The man at the desk was very happy to give me a map which was not a “hotel map” but a tourist map. My objective for my short time in Florence before taking the train to Empoli (since it took me extra long to catch the bus and then find a train with seats) was to go the Duomo, one of my favorite buildings in Florence and take some photos.

Somehow I mixed up the church of San Lorenzo and the Duomo when looking at the map and so I ended up in the market place where they sell all the leather bags. I asked for directions, retraced some of my steps and finally found the Duomo. Every time I stand in front of this church, I am in awe of the beauty and size of this church. The sun unfortunately was behind the church which was not good for photos of the Duomo.

The area around the Duomo was packed with tourists. Being in Florence put Bologna in perspective. When I first arrived in Bologna, it seemed like such a big city to me with so many people but after a short time in Florence, I realized that Bologna was indeed the perfect size city. I realized that my perspective on Bologna seemed linked to where I was previously. This year I was in small places first where as last year I was in Venice first and did not feel that Bologna was so big and crowded. Bologna also might have felt big and crowded to me since I arrived on a Saturday night when everyone was hanging out in Piazza Maggiore, the major piazza in Bologna.

After a short time admiring the Duomo, I headed back to the train station to catch the train to Empoli with plans to return to the Duomo in Florence later on in the afternoon to take some photos when the sun was in a better location before heading back to Bologna. The train to Empoli was on binario 1. It took me a few minutes to find this binario. The train was pretty crowded but the ride was quick so it didn’t really matter. I went to wait in the area near the door about 5 minutes before the train was to arrive in Empoli. The train guy came to check my ticket just as I was about to get off the train. This was the first time my ticket was checked while on a regional train.

Marusca, Francesco’s mother, came to pick me up at the train station. It was wonderful to see her once again. She has not changed at all. I enjoyed talking with her as she prepared lunch for everyone. Francesco, Irene, Sara, Gabriele, and Francesco’s dad all arrived soon afterwards. Sara grew so much since I last saw her two years ago. She is now 4 year’s old. Sara was quite shy at first but warmed up to me after Francesco started talking about the sharks in Hawaii. This was my first time meeting Gabriele. He is adorable! He seems to quiet and happy but Francesco says his looks are deceiving as he can be quite a little rascal at times.

We all had such a wonderful time together catching up. Marusca made a very delicious penne pasta with pesto. Our next course was mozzarella cheese, pomodori (tomatoes), basilica (basil) from the garden, zucchini, prosciutto, melone (melon), lettuce, and bread. After that, we had fruit, and then gelato. I ate so much that I had no room for gelato. After lunch, I took a few photos and then Francesco and his dad had to go back to work. It was naptime for Sara and Gabriele and Marusca took me back to the train station. It was such a wonderful lunch (not only the food but the company) and one of the highlights of my trip.

The next train left 5 minutes after I arrived at the station in Empoli. When I got back to Florence, I bought my train ticket to Bologna for later in the day. I decided to buy a second class ticket since my second class ride from Milano to Bologna was pleasant. Back in Florence, I was able to find the Duomo quite easily after my morning moment of getting lost. The sun was in the perfect spot. I took lots of photos and then headed to Piazza della Signoria. I took a wrong turn once again and ended up at one of my favorite churches, San Michele. I then wandered up and down a few streets until I finally found the wonderful Piazza delle Signoria. I remember always just missing the street even when I spent time in Florence when looking for this piazza. After spending a little time there, I continued walking to the Ponte Vecchio, headed back to the Duomo for one more look and then back to the train station to catch my train back to Bologna.

My feet were pretty tired after a lot of walking in Florence. Back in Bologna, I decided to check out the number 29 bus. The bus driver was very very nice. Each person that got on the bus asked him some kind of question. He was more than willing to provide any information needed. I took out my map and followed the bus route as we made each stop. I really wanted to stay on the bus for the entire journey to see just where the bus went, but it was after 7:30 and I did not want to end up back at the train station needing to then take another bus so I got off at a stop near the Piazza Maggiore.

When I arrived at the restaurant, the waiter smiled and said they were waiting for me. I ordered the same mezzaluna pasta along with the rabbit roll with rosemary. A nice Spanish couple sat at the table next to me. The food was wonderful once again. I ate much to much and was full so no dessert again. When paying the bill, the waiter brought me some grappa. I told him that I could not drink grappa because to me it tasted like gasoline (not that I have actually tasted gasoline). He then offered me limoncella. I told him only a tiny tiny bit. After drinking the limoncella I thanked both of the waiters once again and then headed to the Piazza Maggiore. There was a table nearby the spot where the movies were being shown nightly with DVDs for sale, all at great prices. I bought 2 DVDs for 9.90 euros each. I really wanted to stay in the piazza to watch the movie – Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, but I was just too tired. The movies were all being shown in the original languages with Italian subtitles.

One my way home, I stopped in the Hotel Roma to get some information. I told him that I knew someone that was considering staying at the hotel but was not sure how small the single rooms were. The man was so nice that he offered to show me a single room. The room was a pretty good size for a single room, but smaller than the single room I was staying in at the Hotel Porta San Mamolo. The bed in the room at Hotel Roma was a single bed whereas the bed at the Hotel Porta San Mamolo was a double or queen size and not even two beds put together like in many hotels. However, the Hotel Roma is right in the center minutes from Piazza Maggiore. The only thing that would be a risk for me is that there are no No Smoking rooms and I have a real problem staying in a room that has a smokey smell.

After my stop at the Hotel Roma, somehow I found room and got a gelato at Grom. I just could not pass it up. Nocciola and pistachio once again. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

My walk back to my hotel was in the dark this time. Even though it was not as light as the previous nights, I still felt very safe. There were other people walking up and down the streets as well as restaurants and bars open here and there. I was too tired to do anything but sleep once I reached my hotel.

Next up – Wednesday in Bologna

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