Monday, February 13, 2012

Firenze to Pisa to Lucca.. Travellin' Fools!

Warning to reader: took an awesome trip this weekend-longer blog than usual. Making up for all the short ones before this! Enjoy! :)

This weekend was jam packed with travelling and beautiful sights! 7:30 am rolled around Friday morning and we shuffled to the bus as the snow began to fall in Orvieto. This sight kind of worried us - was our weekend gonna be full of blistery cold wind and snow? Despite the snow we trekked on! Almost a 2 hour train ride got us to our destination, and guess what? There was a McDonalds at this train station too. I didn't partake in the indulgence this time, but a lot of people did.. I'm sure it will become a habit in all the big cities.

We headed towards the Duomo to meet Marco. It was just like when we walked out and saw the Colosseum in Rome - we had seen the Duomo in our history classes and books; it was amazing standing before it in person. We walked inside, and it was pretty beautiful. HUGE too. We weren't able to go into the baptistry on the site, but that may be on the agenda when we go back next time. After we left the Duomo Marco walked us around some little streets and took us into another little church-Dante's Church. It was a cozy little church and there was a red line on the wall. He told us there was a flood at one point and the line marked where the waters hit-it was above my head. Crazy to think that these buildings are still here after all that.
The Duomo from afar

After that we headed to Santa Croce. It is another beautiful church, but unfortunately they were doing construction on the altar and apse so we couldn't see the most important part of the church. It was a bit of a letdown, but the church is full of tombs of famous people-like Michelangelo. I wish we could have seen more of it.. But from here we moved to the Pazzi Chapel- it was a simple little chapel, not much to it, but still felt powerful. We were dismissed from Marco after this and all separated to go discover on our own.
Inside Santa Croce

We went and had lunch at an awesome little restaurant-calzone with mushroom.. excuse me.. calzoni con funghi.. gotta keep working on my Italian :) Katie and I ventured out on the beginning of our weekend adventure. First stop: Ponte Vecchio--ya know? the bridge with all the jewlery shops. Way out of our price range of course, but pretty to look at!  We moved on to the church Santo Spirito- we did a project second year that was a violin shop in the piazza facing this church so it was cool to finally see where it would have been.. and I realized my building would have stuck out like a sore thumb! haha.
Ponte Vecchio
After this we were on a mission to find the overlook where a lot of pictures of the whole city of Florence is taken - Piazzale Michelangelo. It was so windy.. the walk was hard, but well worth it. It was such an amazing view.. There were a ton of stairs leading up to it, quite the climb. There were a couple churches at the top of the hill that I didn't know were there: San Francesco and San Miniato al Monte. I think the best places we find are the ones we just stumble upon. They were so beautiful.
Stairs to Michelangelo's Piazza.. daunting huh? and this isn't even all of them...

We started back down the hill because it was starting to get windy and yucky outside.. on our way back we walked down a side street to protect ourselves from the wind along the river. We came across an awesome little shop owned by a lady who makes paper. She spoke perfect English- huge plus- so we watched her make the paper and talked to her. I browsed everything and found an awesome little sketchbook that I splurged on and bought. It is so awesome because all the paper is handmade, the book is handmade, and she binds and sews everything on her own. A great little souvenir from this artsy city. After about 30 or 40 minutes browsing this little store and talking to Erin, we finally started our trek to find our hostel.

On our way, we ran into another church we had learned about in class-Santa Maria Novella. We weren’t able to go inside, but it was still cool to see what we had only seen before in pictures. We finally made it to our hostel “Ciao Hostel”-which was actually pretty homey- and relaxed after our long day of walking. We planned on meeting up with some friends to go to a good Mexican restaurant previous students had talked about.. So we ran to get bus tickets, ran to the bus that the lady at our hostel said to take, the guy on the bus informed us that we were on the wrong bus after we started going, he dropped us off, we caught a metro, it took us back to the place where we started, tried to find the right bus, and as we were running to catch it, we got a call saying the restaurant was too full.. So we turned around and found a nice little place to eat on our way back to the hostel. Maybe there is a reason we don’t have public transportation at home.. it’s too confusing for us to figure out.

We hit the hay when we got back to the hostel and decided we earned the right to sleep in.. We rose in the morning and headed back to the Duomo to take on the stairs to the top. Not quite as many stairs as St. Peter’s, but a lot more spiral stairs-I started feeling a little woozy on the way down and were ready to get off that ride.. but the view was absolutely amazing- a 360 degree view of the entire city. I’ll admit that Florence didn’t quite meet my expectations, but it was a pretty cool city. It was a good end to our trip in Florence – Now off to Pisa!
A view from the top of the Duomo

We arrived in Pisa! We decided to go ahead and head to the tower because we weren’t sure when it closed.. but first, to eat! We stopped at a little place on the main road.. I will give you this bit of advice: Just because the restaurant is on the main road-it doesn’t mean it’s good food.. I ordered gnocchi with 4 cheese sauce.. It was definitely a frozen dinner.. some of the noodles were burnt to where I couldn’t bite through it. It reminded me of a $1 frozen dinner with alfredo sauce-and I paid 6 euro to eat it. Hm. I think I was ripped off. But we moved on and headed towards the tower. We stopped along the way at a lot of little churches and piazzas to take pictures. We got to the grounds with the tower, baptistery, and church; it was pretty cool. We took the standard holding up/pushing over the tower pictures. It was funny to see all the people posing in front of it-awesome place to people watch for sure. We got tickets to get into the baptistery and the cemetery. The baptistery was pretty amazing-the acoustics were incredible. The cemetery was ok- not one of my favorite places to visit.. but the grounds were pretty cool. The church is usually free to get into, but unfortunately there was something going on inside so we couldn’t get in :(
Surely this doesn't need a caption...

After our adventure we decided to take a trail on the map that we got from the tourist office. It led us along to many churches – don’t ask me to name them because I don’t think I remember.. We wandered around and then decided our feet hurt enough to go check into our hostel. It was another really cool one. It is hundreds of years old and was once lived in by a famous family (similar to the Medici family). It had so much character-another fun place to stay. We asked them where we could go eat that was good and not so touristy like all the other places we had been. They pointed us in the direction of a pizzeria who sells pizzas by the meter! We got there soon after they opened so we were one of the first people there – pizza and beer, I felt American again! Well.. until all the Italians got there. It was a happenin’ place, filled up fast. It was really cool to be in an atmosphere where it’s just locals and not all tourists. Although I felt like they sat us at a table where they usually sit outsiders because we were off to the side right in front of a door and our table was the only one that didn’t have a cool little pull out thing to set our pizza on. I’ll tell you one thing, Italians love their pizza! We ordered ½ meter to split between the two of us. We nursed it for probably 30+ minutes.. We counted at least 3 tables of two that arrived after us who ordered the same pizza AND dessert and left before us. They weren’t messing around! Although I’m sure part of the problem was that we stopped at a pastry shop for 2 pastries and a gelato place before dinner… :) But we finally finished and headed back to our hostel. We were in bed by 9pm.. Busy days.. we were tired!

Morning came and we caught our train to Lucca. We arrived and made our way to the trail that goes around the city – kind of like Rupe here in Orvieto except it doesn’t have hills and its above the town not below it. We tried to find bike rentals for the trail but failed, but the walk was awesome, and the weather cooperated. Sunny blue skies again! We made it around the trail and saw the outskirts of the beautiful town then we walked off the trail to discover some more stuff. Low and behold we ran into a bike rental shop.. so we each rented one and rode around the city. Lots of churches again (again, don’t ask for the names.. too many to remember). We did find one that we were able to go in to that was absolutely incredible. It took my breath away when I walked in. The bike ride was pretty enjoyable, and the town was so pretty- a perfect place to retire to I think! We turned our bikes in and hit up another bakery before we left. Had a fruit tart that was to die for :) Satisfied with the long weekend of travel-we hitched a train back to Florence. When we got there we had to find our train back to Orvieto-as soon as we looked on the board and found it we turned around and it just so happened to be the train we just got off of. What are the odds—it made our job easy though! We got back on and headed home. It was all sunny and happy and then it was like we hit a wall – BAM! Snow!
A garden in Lucca

We hesitated getting off the train.. should have stayed in Florence. But we had to do it. 9 inches had fallen while we were in sunny Pisa and Lucca. What are the odds. T-minus 1 day til our next trip to Paestum, Pompeii, Napoli, and the Amalfi Coast! Quick turn around!
ummm... welcome home??

Anyway, I think this has gotten long enough… Ciao!

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