We were north bound today, on an early morning, 6.20 am Trenitalia train from Rome Termini to Florence Santa Maria Novella station. Because of my experience with Indian railways, I was mildly worried about Termini being unsafe at this time of the day. Gladly, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The station was extremely welcoming, no pickpocketers, or leery men, or annoying hawkers (my guess is Bangladeshi); the latter have been hounding us ever since we’ve landed here and from last night, here’s the choicest dialogue: “Apna aadmi hai – aapke liye Roses”.
We reach Florence at 7.57 am, about 6 mins behind schedule. It was chilly outside; made me realize how much my tolerance towards the cold had reduced, ever since I moved to TX about three years ago. On the pavement opposite the Taxi stand, quickly spotted a Bata shoe shop. Earlier notions of Bata being an “Indian” brand were quickly put to rest. As I edit this post towards the end of the day, must add here that I plan to pay it a quick visit tomorrow morning, since I badly need some sole inserts for my moderately-fashionable-feet-killing boots.
While at the Taxi stand, managed to converse with the taxi driver using sign language and pointing at the Hotel name on my iPhone – my Italian is limited to ‘grazie’ and ‘prego’ on Day 3.
Stopped by a small eatery, right outside the Florence Cathedral. The eatery proudly displayed its 4.5 stars awarded by the critics at TripAdvisor. That should have been my warning sign to turn around and leave, but hunger got better of me. Cappuccino and food in general costs twice for sit down service versus stand up. We decide to sit down, since we have some free time and also, I refuse to eat standing up. The server responds to my “Thank you” with a dismissive “Nothing!”. Thank yous are repeated several times just to hear him say “Nothing!”. The cappuccino is served in a bright pink porcelain glass; coffee disappears in less than 5 gulps, because it’s so amazing. The bruschetta, disappears in less than 5 bites too, not because it’s good, but because it’s puny for the price I paid (1 tiny slide with uncooked tomatoes, abundance of table salt served on a slice of bread, for 5 euros).
Florence has an amazing small town feel. Streets are still deserted at 9 am. Winding cobblestoned streets greet us, where even tiny cars manage get stuck. Natives don’t speak much English – I kind of like this, because I associate this with the feeling of being “abroad”. At the end of my first day here, I can somewhat declare that I prefer this type of Italy more to Rome, which although I enjoyed a lot, reminded me of New York. I love New York, but I cannot tolerate the craziness for more than a couple of days. Similarly, I loved Rome for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the lovely piazzas, but if I were to do this all over again, I would spend twice as much time as I’d planned to, in Florence.
There isn’t a whole lot different that I can add to what’s already been written about the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia. There is so much to learn, to see and just the general atmosphere of being surrounded by some of the most famous, original pieces of sculptures and paintings produced by legends, such as, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Bartolomeo or Caravaggio, will unwillingly force you into a renewed relationship with art.
You might think I’ve gone crazy, but let me just say that I loved and admired the Florence Cathedral and its magnificent dome so much more than the excitement I could muster for St. Peter’s Basilica. Yeah, Basilica has La Pieta and is the Holy Grail for Roman Catholics, but the widely beautiful orange Dome, the Gothic architecture of the outer walls and the fact that a normal person like me has the full liberty to walk around the Cathedral and admire it up close from all angles, is just one more reason why I prefer Florence over Rome already.
Oh, and that fact that my posts about Rome are still in draft stages, while this post, on Florence has already been published ;-)