Three full days in Rome went by in the blink of an eye. The next thing we knew, we already had to pack for Florence. Fortunately, the departure time wasn’t until 11:20AM so there were some extra hours for us to squeeze every possible last bit out of Rome.
One thing we loved about our B&B is that it’s in close proximity to many places of interest. That really helped on that particular morning because Termini Station was just 10 minutes (of taxi) away and Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was just 10 minutes of walking. We headed down to the church right after breakfast at the local coffee shop.
The church of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome and has an opulently decorated interior– impressive intricate details on the ceiling and beautiful religious mosaics on the sides. As we were there pretty early in the morning, there were only a handful of locals and tourists scattering around, which made our visit all the more enjoyable and…spiritual. By which I mean, I did not have to get on my high horse or silently curse those who jostled to get ahead or those who obstructed everybody’s view by taking 100 different pictures at the same spot in the same pose.
For approximately 45 minutes, we really had that much-needed peace of mind before the chaos that was Termini Station.
Roma Termini is big and hectic. We arrived 15 minutes ahead of departure time. Coupled with my experience in navigating myriad train stations in the States including NY Port Authority on countless occasions, I thought that’d be ample time to find our train. But oh man we, oh no, I almost had to pay for my condescension.
Right off the bat, I was utterly confused whether I’d have to convert my printed reservations into tickets. There was no sigh of train officers around, and when I finally located Trenitalia’s booth, the line was morbidly long. It didn’t help that those whom I asked for directions could barely string two English sentences together.
Only 8 minutes left until departure, oh fuck. Panic attack alert. Too helpless, I went ahead to the boarding area and looked for our platform number on the information screen. I don’t know whether the panic attack had disabled my brain from functioning, but everything on the information screen looked like some cryptic Arabic language to me.
Oh my God, only 4 minutes left and I had no freaking idea which platform we were supposed to be. My sister and me just looked at each other and felt like two helpless sheep lugging around 4 suitcases in total without a shepherd for a good 2 minutes.
Then out of thin air, there was this beautiful lady wearing a green and red little scarf that matched the trains’ colors. The rest is history, and it made me realize every problem in life is solvable if you ask the right person. We arrived at the 11th hour and saw many passengers already settle in their seats.
My word of wisdom to all of you: get to the train station early enough in case of emergency, especially the first time around. Trenitalia high-speed trains run really on time.
As our train started moving, I felt a tinge of sadness. Rome had welcome us with open arms this time, and I really entertained the thought of living in Rome some day. However, the question of when we’ll reciprocate its warm hospitality with our return remains unanswered.
The ride to Florence was short and uneventful. We arrived at Santa Maria Novella station on time and quickly lugged our 3 tons of clothes to Hotel San Giovanni, which fortunately was just 10 minutes away.
The “hotel” in the name is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a medium-sized apartment with 4 or 5 rooms in a 600-year building, making it more like a budget-friendly B&B minus the latter B (breakfast). The best part about this hotel? Location, location and location. The legendary Duomo is right outside of the building. You can’t get more central than that.
The worst part about it? Its best part, ironically. It’s central thus touristy and might not be ideal for many when it comes to noise. For us, it wasn’t bad at all but I know a lot of people are light sleepers, so late night noise can pose a problem. Plus, for unfathomable reasons, I had been obsessed with the Duomo for the longest time and of course I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to wake up to a view of it everyday.
(For the purpose of full disclosure, I was obsessed to the point that I took at least 10 pictures of it everyday. LOL. Early morning, mid-morning, noon, evening or late evening, I did it all as long as it was within sights. It was sort of ridiculous, but whatever. Enormous and opulent things are my cup of tea.)
Here are some shots of Hotel San Giovanni inside:
After a quick bite, we began exploring Florence. One of my travel rules is when it looks like rain is coming, I’ll do museums and churches. As you probably know, my sister and me were completely on our own so I used a lot of resources and free guides on the internet for our trip, one of which was the suggested walking tours by National Geography Travel. It’s simply a small map of adjacent places of interest in one or two specific parts of a city and briefly instructs us where to begin, where to end and what to see in between. I used THIS but improvised a bit that afternoon by heading to Basilica of Santa Croce first because it was indoor. We also figured that we would pass by almost all other suggested places on the map so voila, one stone two birds. Plus, for the rest of the afternoon, we were only in the mood for wandering and feeling Florence.
The exterior of Basilica of Santa Croce is striking and bears some resemblance in architecture and color combinations to the Duomo that I just saw on our way. The interior, however, is definitely different from that of the churches in Rome. It’s more austere in design, but not any less mesmerizing. For me, it was refreshing and a much-needed break from the opulence overload we had experienced previously. Some of the greatest talents namely Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli among others were buried there, so it’s even more special.
Gelato in Florence is supposedly even better than in Rome, so apparently we had to validate that. We went in a random shop near Santa Croce, whose name I forgot to note down. The gelato was incredibly delectable. Fret not, I firmly believe that it’s not the best in Florence. I still don’t know which one is, though.
Other than the Duomo, my second obsession in Florence was bicycles. Never had I seen so many nice bikes. I love living where riding a bike is the prevalent choice of transportation. It’s healthy, environment-friendly and chic.
The chicest bike in town…The most fashionable bike in town…By 6-ish, we started trekking back. On the way back, we passed by Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo among others. Florence truly is the hub of arts. Everywhere you go, you’re overwhelmed with one form of arts or another. For dinner, we chose Zio Gigi. We stayed in Florence for 5 days and dined at this restaurant twice. I came across this restaurant when I did my due diligence. It does receive some serious rave reviews. On our first visit, we had a sumptuous dinner.
I had one of the best baked salmon in my entire life while my sister thoroughly enjoyed every bit of her gnocchi. The seafood salad we shared was incredibly heavenly as well. I’m not kidding you, but it was one intense episode of foodgasm. The prices are very reasonable to boot. The customers were a mix of tourists and locals while the atmosphere was lively all courtesy of the rambunctious, humorous six-foot-five-and-300-pounds owner. It can get very busy later in the evening, so arrive early if patience isn’t your strength.
Overall, two thumbs up without hesitation! My food photography is virtually non-existent, so if the food doesn’t look as savory as I have made it sound like, my apologies 😉
OK, the very first evidence that I’m ridiculously obsessed with the Duomo. We were walking around the Duomo while a street band started playing. Then, out of nowhere, the children started gathering and playing along the music. You know I’m not a hopeless romantic, so I usually conjure up those romantic scenes in only novels and movies. But it was real here in Florence. We sat and watched with amusement how the children were so innocent and well-behaved, not the usual mise-en-scene of screaming and shouting I witness on a daily basis here in the third world. Some kids are actually yelling and crying outside my place as I’m typing this.
While there, I had an interesting conversation with a family from Colorado. I really, really love that many Americans have instilled in their children the curiosity to explore the world at such a young age by taking them abroad. The daughter is only 10 years old, but she has been to more countries in Europe than I have and exudes a sense of maturity that I know first hand can only be attained when you step outside of your little bubble called hometown.
I went to a small college in the midwest, so God forbid I encountered a lot of those who had never ventured outside their states. Their cultural ignorance mortified me. I know very well that external circumstances such as time and money are important factors, but c’mon your first-world passports allow you to go EVERYWHERE and Benjamins are still among the most valuable in the world. There’s a zillion ways to travel cheap if you want to do it. At the end of the day, it all boils down the inner desire to see the world. That was my final thought of the day before I drifted off…