As most of you know, this trip has been in the planning stages for quite awhile. Last summer is when I got real serious and starting charting out my itinerary. I would read a bit, pick a town, research it a bit more, look into accommodations there, rethink, rearrange, cancel here, add there. The amount of time in Florence fluctuated a lot. I can’t really even tell you why I chose to stay here this long.
I had only been to Florence once before on a day trip from Siena. And to be honest, I did not care for that experience all that much. There are 4 things from that day that ( was it 1999?) stand out in my memory; seeing the David (better than anyone can ever imagine!!), sitting on a stoop outside a pizza shop and eating a really good square piece of gorgonzola pizza, seeing Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni and talking with Jim about it and being surrounded by wall to wall people.
Since then I have learned that you cannot “drop” into a city and get a feel for it. I am so thankful that I have had this extended time in Firenze. It is a wonderful city. I am not sure if it is because I have been on my own for a while and I am getting into a groove, but I feel super comfortable and safe here. And it was where I was most nervous about (OK….Napoli took that #1 spot and sill holds the title). I have enjoyed late evenings here where in other places I was in by sundown.
Now the wall to wall people are still here, no doubt about that, but if you get away from the Duomo and Ponte Vecchio, it thins out dramatically. There is a wonderful mix of locals (young and old),tourists and students. Firenze may now top Rome for me….may….I haven’t finalized that list yet.
Now in the same breath I am going to tell you about “dropping” into another town….Assisi. I am totally contradicting myself, but here goes.
One of the many moments that I was nervous about too long of a stay in Firenze, I decided to take 2 days out of the chunk and visit Assisi. Since my B in Firenze is so darn cheap, I could keep it, pack a light bag and be on my way. So yesterday morning, I did just that.
I made it to the train station way too early….so I decided to walk back across the street and grab a bite to eat.
And, a bite was all it took. I am sure there are some great places to eat near train stations, this just wasn’t one of them. I would rather waste that euro than waste those calories.
I return back to the station to see that my first train is ritardo….that means delayed…but only by 10 minutes.
Daring to cross YELLOW line that the recorded message tells us we are EXPRESSLY forbidden to…
Getting on “a” train in Italy is easy, getting on the “correct” train is a little trickier. Although the platforms are listed, it can change at the drop of a cappello. There is rarely anyone to ask….let me rephrase that….there is rarely anyone in authority to ask. But again, Saint Christopher (cubed) had my back.
As we moved from Tuscany to Umbria the fields of sunflowers made me smile.
And we arrive.
I like their style of writing.
Assisi’s historical center is quite aways away from the train station and new town. Luckily with my destination perched on top of a large hill, I could tell this was not one to walk. Even the bus ride up took a bit. I think the driver was glad to see me exit. Each stop I would pop around his seat and say “questo?”. And at the last stop, I didn’t want to bother him (I did not know it was the LAST stop) and he had to pop around to me to say “Questo!”. Va bene.
You think I would have learned not to hit a new town hungry. It really messes with me. I will say I HAVE learned it, I just do not practice it very well.
So I hit Assisi hungry. I have done ZERO research for this stop….zero. I have no guide book in hand or on my ipad, I have no map, the hotel had not contacted me back when I reminded them of my arrival….ZERO. The bus driver is fed up with me, but he points me in “A” direction…
Luckily I am traveling light so I start to roam.
If you have been to Assisi, you know it is HILLY….really HILLY. The streets turn much like the ones in Anacapri…so they are difficult to follow….hungry or not.
People would point me, and I would go. Fortunately I asked a little guy at a gallery and he said, “I will show you.” He steps out of his gallery and gives me verbal and hand directions in english….this helps a little. Him describing one of the hills I needed to go down as “strong”, didn’t. They are are pretty strong.
Long roam short,
My bathroom….(with window for air!)
See that little wooden “mat” propped on the wall, after you shower, prop it back on the wall….stepping on it in the dark, foot partially on, one foot off….is a KILLER!
Still hungry and having wifi, I try to research a place to eat at 2:30. Foodie Alert….Assisi is not in competition with Firenze for a Foodie Title. But I finally (with the help of my gallery guy “showing” me) find a spot I was looking for. The menu is very limited and I think I may want to eat again later, so I choose a light salad instead of a heavy lasagna.
Ohhh….I forgot to show you the view from my terrace….I am hungry as I am writing this too….see…it messes with me.
I will show you when we return to the room.
As I navigate my way back to the room to rest, decide whether or not to buy a guide book and orient myself, I see this little spot.
Allora! My view from the terrace.
So, I plop down on the bed and within seconds, I realize that it is getting late and that tomorrow is Sunday, so if I plan on visiting the Basilica of San Francis, I better find my second wind. And I do.
Along the way, a piece of artwork in a gallery catches my eye. It is so whimsical. The style reminds me of Tomie dePaola the children’s author and illlustrator.
I look at the different pieces for a bit. I LOVE this. I inquire about the pricing. A lithograph, small is only about 200 euro. Unfortunately, the ones I really like are not offered this way in this gallery. I grab a card, write down the artist’s name and continue on my way. Before I go, the gallery owner tells me there is a sculpture by Norberto in front of the basilica.
I chose again chose to purchase the audio guide. To me, they are always worth every penny. Even with the audio guide, I got lost in the artwork by Cimabue, Giotto and Simone Martini.
The basilica was begun in 1228 and is the mother church to the Franciscan Order. I have seen priest, nuns and friars coming and going in all the cities I have visited but here, that population is concentrated.
As people start to scatter, I decide I had better pick up my license that I used as a deposit for the audio guide. Once I get that safely back to my wallet, I find shelter in the lower basilica where I had planned to attend mass.
I will tell you this was a beautiful experience with the thunder echoing in the darkness of this gothic structure. As this basilica is one of the most important pilgrimage spots in Italy, I was moved to be here.
After mass, I went below the lower basilica to visit the tomb of Saint Francesco. The architecture of this sacred area, although more simply adorned than the other basilicas, is the most beautiful of the three.
After mass, I enjoyed a walk back to the hotel stopping by the cute little enoteca for 1 glass of local red.
With more rain in the forecast, Sunday morning I decided to forgo another night in Assisi and return to my hometown of Firenze. On an early walk to the bus station, I admired the gothic architecture of the historic center.
As I walked along the quiet streets, I see another beautiful church, Basilica Santa Chiara.
Without another soul inside the church I visit the basilica as well as the tomb of Saint Clair. Again, the lower tomb was exquisite. I do think my visit was impacted by the solitude. This is another example of these little pluses that support my decisions along the way.
As I wait (and wait) for the bus to take me to the station, I take in the view one last time.
See you in Firenze!