Sunday – Our 1st morning in Italy started beautifully with our “included” breakfast at our hotel. We slept great last night, and both felt recharged and ready to face the day. After breakfast, we walked the 3 blocks to the Termini, the train station in the center of Rome. We had our pre-purchased tickets, and simply had to figure out how to find our train’s platform. We must have looked like lost tourists, because a seemingly nice man offered to help us. He showed me how to read the posted train schedule, and how to get to the right area of the huge station to wait. It turns out that the trains come in on various platforms, but near the standard one they usually use. We just had to wait until they posted the final arrival spot. Mike offered him a tip, but imagine our surprise when he informed us his rate for the service, and refused to leave until he got it. We paid up, seething. However, at least we did learn how to navigate. Once the train platform number was posted, he pointed it out, led us to the platform, and then went on his way. We only had to find the spot to wait for our #4 car. Well, guess what. Another kid expertly managed to point out where we needed to wait, and walked us down the platform to our spot. He lingered nearby, and struck up a friendly conversation. And we fell for it AGAIN! He didn’t leave us and insisted on helping us onto the train. Took our bags and stowed them. Now, it was very helpful because we didn’t have a clue as to how it all worked, or where to go. But he showed us to our seats and demanded money for the guidance. Then MORE money for the luggage help! At that point, I passed up the no thank you and simply said NO way. Unbelievable! We learned a valuable lesson the expensive way.
The train ride was very cool. The super fast train was fascinating. Wish we had one between Houston and Dallas! We had booked reserved seats in Business Class, and on a Sunday morning, we had few neighbors on the car. We struck up a conversation with a couple from California, and thoroughly enjoyed sharing notes and plans on our trips. The entire trip was less than 1-1/2 hours, and we got great views of the beautiful countryside outside of Rome and up through Tuscany. We also went through many tunnels which was really different, and passed oncoming trains at a zillion MPH… Very different from driving!
When we reached Florence, we took note of the station as we will be returning Tuesday for our train to Pisa. This time in the train station, we ruthlessly refused any offers of “help”. We aren’t falling for that again. We headed outside, and managed to link up with a taxi driver who was happy to provide our price up front. We headed to our hotel, the Westin Excelsior, which is located on the banks of the beautiful Arno River. We had used Starwood points to book the stay, and they kindly upgraded us to a larger room which looks over the river.
We headed out to find an ATM, since we had managed to get fleeced out of our small stash or Euros. We then had a delightful lunch, lingering a long time with wine of course, at a small cafe along one of the nearby streets. The woman who owned the place told us that she serves wine from her uncle’s vineyard, and the light lunch was fresh and yummy! We then strolled down the bank of the Arno River, headed toward the famous Ponte Vecchio – a pedestrian bridge over the Arno which is lined with gold and jewelry shops. The jewelry was beautiful, and we saw many very unique pieces. Gary and Pam would love that place! Mike bought me gorgeous silver faceted drop and chain. What a great momento of a wonderful afternoon! We then wandered down yet another fascinating street – out of the bright sun, and nicely cool. An interesting looking building beckoned, and we stuck our head in to see what was going on in this amazing looking place. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were in the Palazzo Corsini, an old, huge palace. They apparently open it only once per week, and we stumbled onto it. The place is gigantic! We can’t imagine what living in palaces like that must have been like. We could only see it from the outside, and wandered the courtyards, and looked at the giant staircases at 2 entries to the palace. It was great!
We decided to head back to the hotel, and rounded a corner to come upon a young woman with a voice straight out of an opera theater singing in a plaza in front of a church. Just WOW! Like many other people, we lingered for a long time enjoying the amazing music.
We returned to the hotel to rest up a bit, as dinners are late in Italy. Around 7:30 we headed upstairs to the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant. The place was packed, but we found a nice table with a view overlooking the city. It was amazingly beautiful from that vantage point! We had a delicious limoncello martini, followed by Mike’s rum and my Chardonnay. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we relaxed right through dinner, and found ourselves hungry about 10:00, and the hotel restaurants were closing. We ended up in the elegant bar downstairs where we ordered a light dinner, accompanied by what turned out to be one of the best bottles of Chardonnay we have had. We pretty much shut the place down, and headed off to bed with visions of what delights Monday would bring in Florence!
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