Red or Black?!?
It was a challenging day. The weather was merciful, as it has been, so I can count that in my blessings. We packed, cleaned, and departed our apartment around 9:30. With our heavy packs weighing us down, we made one last glance at Il Campo, and made the long, hilly, half-hour trek to the correct bus stop. We stopped in to a tabbaco shop along the way to buy bus tickets, though the woman at the register didn't speak English, so the barista at the other counter had to translate. Thankfully we asked where the bus stop was, as Rick Steves' map didn't reach that far north. We trudged to the stop, where the display was indecipherable. Just in time, we asked a group of locals which line to take, and it rumbled up just as we finished saying 'grazie'. The lurching bus ride lasted maybe fifteen minutes before depositing us at the train station. Here we went immediately to the self service kiosk, which was user friendly, save for the fact that it gave me a reimbursable voucher for my change and no departure time on my ticket. I stood ten minutes in line to get my change and ask about the train times. It ended up that we had about 15 minutes to get food and board the train. Thankfully our train was clearly marked and on the first track, so I quickly grabbed some yogurt, pre-popped popcorn and a drink. The train left right on time and we were off for Florence, our packs stowed overhead, with the green Italian landscape rushing by.
It was a very short trip-about an hour and a half. Originally we got off at the wrong stop, one before our correct stop, as it read 'Firenze Ripeti'. We quickly hopped back on to the train for a short ride to the Florence SMN, the main train station. Then we began our long walk to the apartment. Florence is dirtier than I remember, moreso even than Rome, with unkempt buildings and unending graffiti. The farther toward the Arno you move, however, the cleaner it becomes. My bag seemed heavier than last time, and the walk was not an easy one. Thankfully though, we could see the Duomo above the rooftops and knew where to go. We took a slight detour to withdraw from an ATM, which is what caused our next problem.
We found via dei Calzaiuoli in a different way than we should have. Our best choice would have been to enter the street through the piazza Duomo, which would have saved us quite a bit of trouble. Instead, we entered it halfway through. Our apartment is number 11. What we didn't know is that via dei Calzaiuoli has two different number sections: Red and Black. Not specified on the apartment information was whether our apartment was in the Red or Black section. We found number 11, but it was...a leather store. No apartment door to be found. Looking around desperately for some kind of answer, we checked the store. It was closed. We checked the list of names on the apartments down the street. Nothing. We sat down on the side of the street, at a loss. Racking our brains for some kind of plan, considering phone cards and internet points, Erik pointed out a girl on a cell phone a few steps from us. I hopped up and asked her if I could please use her phone. She said she didn't have much time left, but let me call the owner. His English was good but it was difficult to communicate over a mobile phone on a busy street. The girl who owned the phone offered to speak with him, as she was fluent in Italian. It turned out that our apartment was on 11-Black, as the numbers reset at a certain point along the street. The apartment owner offered to meet us outside the apartment in a half hour. With much thanks and a graciously refused offer of a euro for her assistance, we left the helpful traveler and headed down the street in search of our apartment. Thankfully, it is located right beside a Disney store. Did you know that in Italian, Tangled is just called Rapunzel?
Via dei Calzaiuoli is excellent for people watching, as it happens to be the main fashion street in Florence, and we did so for a little over a half hour before the owner's wife arrived to show us the apartment. She was very pretty, a woman in her forties, smartly dressed. It was clear that she was of good means and status, but though she spoke no English, did her best to communicate with us, and as equals.
It was at this point that our day took a drastic turn for the better. The Florence apartment is even better than I anticipated. It is rustic, yet elegant, spacious yet a perfect size for what we need. And it has a rooftop balcony. And yes- we can see both the Duomo and Piazza Della Signoria. And did I mention it's a less than five minute walk to both of them? Perfecto!!
It's on the fourth floor, which is quite high, and requires a ride on the elevator because you may as well be climbing Il Duomo if you choose to use the stairs.
After showing us the apartment, the woman collected the (reasonably priced) rent, and left us with the keys. Moto bene!
We unpacked, settled in, and even washed our clothes in the provided washer after a bit of trial and error. After a half hour we hung our clean clothes out to dry on the roof. What a fantastic view. Surrounded by red tiles and chimneys, with the Duomo 100 yards to our left, and the tower of Piazza Della Signoria on the right, with the energy if via dei Calzaiuoli below.
After a brief rest, we took to the streets. South of the Duomo, Florence is beautiful. North...to be honest it's a bit sketchy. We tried to find the Leondardo museum and Piazzale Bruneleschi, but no luck with either. We opted to circle the Duomo, which disappointingly is rather filthy toward the back. The front and most of its right side, as well as Giotto's bell tower, are brilliantly white and clean. I'm hoping they will be finished cleaning the entire structure by the time I return.
With my memory leading the way, we found a supermarket my mom and I had frequented on our last visit. Here we stocked up on food and drinks for the following days. Oh, and hand soap, as our apartment was strangely empty of it. With our groceries in hand, we became intrigued by the sound of a pipe organ which emanated from a small church down the street. We closed out our first night in Florence early, with food in the refrigerator and the noise of the street far below, a far more relaxing end to how our time in Florence began. We had a place to sleep, and each other, everything else was a luxury.