Day 13 – a visit with friends in Empoli – 6-5-17

After an early breakfast at my hotel, I walked the 20 minutes to the train station, stopping once along the way to take a few photos.

My train travels will take me to Empoli to visit with very dear friends. I first met Francesco back in 1999 on a travel board. I was searching for information about Florence and he wanted to learn more English. We communicated back and forth for a few months and then decided to meet along with his girlfriend, Irene, in June 1999 in Florence. Since that meeting, they have married and now have two children. We have met 7 more times. The last time we saw each other was in Lucca in 2009. Their children were then 5 and almost 3. Now, eight years later, their daughter is 13 and their son is almost 11. We have continued to keep in touch and made plans to meet again this year. The plan was for me to stay overnight in Empoli and then travel back to Modena the following day.

I made a reservation while planning my trip for a seat on the 8:48 Intercity train from Modena to Firenze Rifredi. This train was scheduled to arrive at the Firenze Rifredi train station at 10:11. My connection train would be either the 10:16 or the 10:34 regional train from Firenze Rifredi to Empoli. I knew it would be a close call to catch that 10:16 train, but since I was not traveling with a bunch of luggage, I  hoped I would be able to catch the earlier of the two trains.

As I waited for the 8:48 train with my backpack, pillow, and box of treats, I chatted with some very nice older ladies heading to Abruzzo (on a different train). My intercity train arrived 5 minutes late and by the time we reached Firenze Rifredi, the train was 10 minutes late. There went the hopes of catching the 10:16 train.

I found the Intercity train to be comfortable, although not as nice as the three Frecciarossa trains and the one Frecciargento train I took this summer. I sat in a space with four seats, 2 facing each other, and a table in between. I had the entire area to myself with the train being pretty empty.

Once arriving in Firenze Rifredi, I found my binario and waited along with many other people. The final destination for this train was Livorno (a seaside resort). While waiting, I read on the board that there was some sort of incidente and that the autobus was necessary at one point. I panicked for a moment, but then realized that this information was for a different train.

When my train arrived, it was packed! I ended up standing in that part of the train that connects two cars together with 10 other people (11 with the train person). At least this time there was a little room to move around and it wasn’t 17 people with everyone carrying luggage. As the train left the station, the train controller came into our area and asked to see our tickets. I was shocked. I really did not expect anyone checking tickets in this situation. As we all dug out our tickets to show that we validated them (and that we actually had tickets for this train), a woman who obviously was very upset started ranting in Italian about how she should not have to stand when she paid for a train ticket. She went on and on and on. My train vocabulary is very good and I understood every word she said. The entire exchange was pretty funny. The train person tried to explain to her that no one is guaranteed a seat on a regional train. She also told the woman that she had no control over the situation and that the woman could get off at the next stop and try to get on the train further down where a seat may be available. None of this helped. The upset woman continued to complain. It was not only amusing to listen to her rant but also to watch everyone else’s facial expressions. It certainly made my time on this train entertaining.

Irene and her daughter were supposed to meet me at the train station when I arrived. When I did not see them, I became a little concerned that my text messages were not going through. I walked outside the station, hoping to see them there. A moment later, I received a text saying “Stiamo arrivando 😀  Sei arrivata?” It was from Irene’s daughter. She texted that they were arriving and asked if I had arrived. A couple of minutes later I saw Irene and this tall girl I did not recognize! I could not believe how much her daughter had grown!!

We went back to their house and chatted for a while, partly in Italian and partly in English. Their daughter has been studying English. I was very impressed!! We walked over to pick up their son from school. Again, shocked at how big he was! When we returned to their house, Francesco arrived. It was so nice to see everyone again!

We had a wonderful lunch. Irene made ravioli with little tomatoes. We also had mozzarella cheese, bread, prosciutto and melon, and sweets for dessert. After lunch we had a little more time to catch up and then Irene and Francesco needed to go to work for the afternoon.

I went over to Francesco’s parents’ house with their children. We hung out there for awhile. I have stayed at his parents’ house three different times in the past. They live next door to Francesco and Irene and are very nice. I chatted with Marusca (Francesco’s mother) while F&I’s children did their homework. F&I’s son was very good at trying to delay doing his homework. He took me outside to show me Marusca’s turtles. They were pretty interesting to watch!  The two photos below are of the same turtle. The other two were not so photo friendly.

After a short rainstorm, with homework done, we all went into the center of town. We stopped for gelato and then went over to the Vodafone store. I found out that the reason I received the message from Vodafone was that they blocked my phone because I made two text messages to the US and my plan did not allow that. I still did not understand as I only made two text messages through my iPhone message app to another iPhone that is supposed to not count as text messages. They never even went through. After talking to the girl a little more, she was able to get my phone unblocked. I once again had all my service back with over 2 gigabytes of my 4 gigabytes of data left and plenty of call time and text messages left for my 1 month of service.

We next went over to the main piazza, Piazza Farinata degli Uberti, also known as Piazza dei Leoni (Lions Square). I took a few photos.

We also went inside the main church of the town, Collegiata di Sant’Andrea (Saint Andrew Church).

After leaving Collegiata di Sant’Andrea church, we walked up and down a few streets, talking and looking in the windows of many of the shops. Then we went inside a second church, Chiesa di Santo Sefano degli Agostiniani. This church happened to have a special mostra (exhibition) taking place, displaying clothing from the 1300’s. The headless mannequins were a shock at first!

Just as we were about to leave, Marusca suggested that we take a peek inside this little side room in the church. There we found dark brown wooden seats on both sides and a beautiful alter with sculptures in the front of the room. The alter was roped off so that you could not get too close. I took a few photos. As we were about to leave, a man from the church entered the room. He was very excited to have a visitor from the US. He went on and on telling me about this alter. I can’t remember the details now and only understood a small portion of what he was saying. He took the rope down for me so that I could take some close up photos. He kept going on and on about the alter. As we were about to leave a second time, he opened one of the dark brown wooden doors and took out a book for me to sign. He also took out some post cards and other materials to give to us. After thanking him a few more times, we finally were able to leave.

Francesco told me how they really wanted to take me to this new museum in Empoli, the Museo del Vietro di Empoli (Glass Museum), which features Empoli’s famous green glass. Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays. Poor planning! I would have loved to visit this museum.

Marusca made a wonderful dinner for all of us. We had delicious gnocchi with pesto (and I am not usually a fan of gnocchi), chunks of parmesan cheese, bread, and fruit and some sort of fruit torta for dessert. We talked and talked and talked and laughed a lot. Francesco’s dad asked me at one point what I thought of Trump. I told him I could not say with children in the room! It was a wonderful evening that I did not want to end. At the end of the night, I sadly said goodbye to Francesco & Irene and their two children. After they left, I watched a bit of TV with Marusca and then went to bed.

I am so happy that I was able to make that visit to Empoli and spend time together with my dear friends once again.

*I did not want to add any photos with their children in them (all family photos had them in the photos) and left out their names in this post until I was given permission by F&I.. I have sent an email asking permission. If F&I say it is ok, I will edit this post, adding photos and/or names later on.

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