On our last day in Rome, Sarah woke up with a stomach bug. We had no major plans, so we stayed at the hotel for a few extra hours until she felt up to going out and doing some last minute shopping. It was surprisingly cool for Rome on our last day (though don’t take that to mean we needed anything close to a sweater; it was just more like 85 rather than 95).
I had my heart set on finding a perfume that we kept seeing Giada di Laurentis talking about on the Fine Living channel back in Malta. We had seen the brand in Portofino but they didn’t have the full line and I wanted to find something so I could “smell like Italy” when I got back. Turns out, they had a store in Rome and we’d been near it a number of times. It was on one of the blocks off the Spanish steps and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily we found it, given I had neglected to write down the street name before we left the hotel. I found a great new perfume, and treated myself to some (the brand is Carthusia, and the perfume is Gelsomini di Capri, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do).
After perfume, it was time for our daily gelato stop. I splurged on a waffle cone and three whole flavors this time – pistachio, tiramisu and salted caramel. This was also my compromise for photos – I’m normally a cup person when it comes to ice cream, but the cones made for prettier pictures, so I was really excited to find the waffle cone cup because it was the best of both worlds (AND had room for three gelato scoops!).
We decided to just walk and wander, and this is how we found the Piazza del Popolo. Thinking we were going in one direction, we just kept walking until we found ourselves in this large square we hadn’t seen before. Neither of us minded, as we had no destination in mind and we sat and enjoyed the piazza for a little while. While we were sitting, I spotted a Leonardo da Vinci Museum across from us, and we decided to check it out.
The museum turned out to be full of replications of da Vinci’s inventions. It was especially fun because ninety percent of the museum was interactive, so we could actually try out some of the items. I was particularly interested in the mirror room, a little booth you could step into and see yourself countless times and from every angle.
Sarah was still not feeling 100% so we headed back to the hotel to rest, where I decided on a place to have dinner. We ended up going right across the street from the hotel, where we had fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and I finally got some spaghetti with clam sauce. After dinner we got more gelato (we had some days that we called “two gelato days”), trying some small gelato popsicles, of sorts. The one I got was almond gelato, which quickly became my favorite.
(The picture of my hand is included because I was laughing at how tan it looked against the white of the tablecloth at the restaurant.)
After a short walk around the neighborhood, we went back to the hotel to prep for our travels the next day. It was on to Florence!
Thankfully, we didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn. We had to catch a train at 12:15, so we were able to get everything together, have breakfast and get a cab to take us to the train station. Despite being ten minutes’ walking distance from Termini, we had so much luggage we didn’t want to drag it. We spent the morning somewhat anxious about our heavy suitcases, and how we were going to get them onto the luggage racks on the train. Thankfully, chivalry still exists in Italy, and we had helpers wherever we went.
The train ride to Florence was quick and easy, made even more pleasant by the fact that we each had two seats to ourselves since our trip companions cancelled. I spent most of the train ride looking for the Tuscan countryside, which is somewhat viewable from the train but not as much as I wanted it to be.
On the agenda for the afternoon was a trip to Pisa. We were planning to hightail it to the hotel, which was only five minutes from the hotel, drop off our stuff and run back to the train station. All of these details worked out surprisingly well. We arrived at the Grand Hotel Adriatico and got our rooms – this time we were right down the hall from each other rather than on two separate floors – and settled in. I was delighted with the fact that my room looked and felt like I was sleeping on a ship.
We actually made it back to the station in time to catch the earliest train we could. The only problem was when we got on the train, we were literally the only people there. This seemed odd, given that the train was supposed to leave in ten minutes. This made me a bit nervous, but as the train hadn’t started moving yet, we still had time to figure it out. Eventually we learned that the train WAS going to Pisa, it was just leaving later than our ticket time. Being as we could take any train within four hours of the ticket time, we decided to just wait rather than run around the station trying to figure it out. We had carved out the whole afternoon for this Pisa trip, so a little delay didn’t really make much of a difference.
Eventually the train left. Shortly after that we heard the first announcement:
“Due to a track fire, some trains may be delayed or deleted.”
My first thought was that their phrasing was hilarious. Trains may be deleted? Was this an episode of Doctor Who? At this point I didn’t think anything else of this announcement… but then they made it again at the first stop, and then the next stop, and then in transit. I looked at Sarah and said, “Is THIS train delayed or deleted?” Neither of us knew as the announcement was not being any more specific than that. The people around us seemed to be just as confused as we are.
The next stop was Empoli, where we heard the announcement again… and the train didn’t leave. We waited, thinking it was just a slightly longer stop. But then the people around us started getting antsy, and people started moving. The announcement was made again, but it still said nothing specific about our particular train. Finally, a conductor walked through, announcing that this train was, in fact, deleted.
Empoli was not prepared for the mad rush of tourists trying to get to Pisa. First off, it’s not a major tourist area, so English was limited and that made it hard to get any answers out of anybody. Finally, we learned that the train would not be heading to Pisa, nor would another train be going to Pisa. However, they were offering buses to drive us there. We headed out of the train station only to find massive crowds of people trying to pile onto ONE bus.
It was obvious we were not getting on that bus. We were all set to wait for the next one, when one of the women who was sitting across from us on the train told us that some people had been waiting around for two hours to try to get on a bus. The only options were to wait or to get back on the train to Florence. Given that a two hour bus wait would’ve put us in Pisa at approximately 6:00 p.m, we decided to just turn around and head back. It was a tough call – I was definitely disappointed that we never got to see the Leaning Tower, but in that moment it just wasn’t worth it – but we had such a limited time in Florence to begin with that neither of us wanted to waste time in a random town in an angry crowd.
Getting back to Florence was no picnic however. We got onto a train just fine, but then we sat there… and sat there… and sat there. None of the posted train schedules appeared to be accurate, and there were no announcements. We weren’t even positive we were on the right train, but staying put seemed a lot better than wandering the train station trying to figure things out. After about an hour sitting on the train, we FINALLY began the journey back to Florence. We arrived back at the hotel cranky, hot and hungry. We decided that the solution was to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at a restaurant recommended by one of our coworkers.
It turned out that Ristorante Parione was only a short walk from the hotel, and practically a straight shot down one block. We strolled leisurely over there, taking in the sights of a new city, which was strange after so many days in Rome. The hotel was fairly close to the river, and it opened up into many piazzas that were right along the water.
We arrived just before it opened at seven for dinner, and were seated right away (despite not having the recommended reservation). The food was excellent – I tried a wild boar with polenta, and the cheesecake was probably the best one I’ve ever had.
After dinner, we went for a short walk and saw the sun starting to set on the river. It was a really nice night and the streets were not too crowded yet, as it was still early by Italian standards.
It was a very brief introduction to Florence, but it gave us an idea of what we wanted to accomplish the next day, our only full day in the city. We were ready to tackle it!