The morning after our jaunt through Rome, we got up early (despite our nagging jet lag telling us it was 1 AM when it was really 7 AM) and headed across the river to see the Vatican.
St. Peter's Square was really a stunning sight. I guess I didn't expect it all to be so HUGE.
Steven especially liked the wall around the city. "Like a spy movie," he said.
After a few wrong turns, we found the line for the Vatican Museums. Which line we then proceeded to stand in for two hours, nervously wondering if we would miss our noon checkout deadline at our hotel.
Once we finally got inside, I clicked pictures without really even looking through the camera lens as we half-ran, half-speedwalked past the tour groups to get to the Sistine Ceiling. Hence why some of these pictures look like they were taken during an earthquake.
Side note of a random thing I learned as we ran: The Italian word for "chapel" is apparently "cappella." So if you are singing "a cappella," you are essentially singing "of the chapel" or "in the chapel." Fun tidbit to know, right?
And, after a good deal of gentle shoving and many, many repetitions of "Me 'Scuzi," we finally made our triumphant entrance into Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Sistine Ceiling:
And, happy as we were to have reached our destination, we snapped a few pics, right before being yelled at by a Vatican guard for it. "No pictures!!"
Whoops. Too late.
Back outside, we took one last look at the Basilica, and then hopped in a taxi and sped back to our hotel.
We made it just in time for check-out. After checking out of Rome, we dragged our suitcases back to the Metro, which took us back to Roma Termini Station. Upon arriving there, Steven said, "Hey, we've been here before...." Only this time, instead of taking the Leonardo Express, we bought tickets on Eurostar Italia to Florence (which, in Italian, is called Firenze). We had to use one of those automated ticket machines, because the lines to buy tickets at a counter were exceedingly long. Somehow, by the grace of God, we managed to punch the right buttons and a ticket printed out of the machine. And it was in Italian. Awesome.
We found "Bin 1" which apparently was our train platform, but when we boarded on "Carozza 8," there was NO ONE ELSE on the train. And that made us nervous, so I set out to find someone to ask. But there was NOBODY around -- no conductors, no nice train-ticket-guys, nothing. I tried to ask a spanish-speaking couple, but their ticket said they were going to Venice, and that made us even MORE concerned. Finally, after about three more attempts, I found a guy whose ticket said exactly what ours said, and I got the whole story. The train WAS going to Venice, but it would stop first in Florence and let us off.
Luckily, my travel companion remained cool, calm, and collected at all times.
I have to say, the train rides were one of the best parts of the trip. Very relaxing to sit and watch the Tuscan countryside roll by.
I also found the dining car and managed to get us a Coke, a water, and two hot panini sandwiches of some sort. I think it may have been mortadella and cheese, but we aren't really sure. Whatever it was, it was delicious.
Too bad I can't take a train like this to work every day. It was downright luxurious.
After we arrived in Firenze and found our hotel, Steven said I had "that look." The look that says, "Feed me RIGHT NOW or you will regret it very soon." He says it looks something like this:
Lucky for me yet again, he knows just what to do to remedy the situation:
Steven will quickly tell you that Florence was his favorite city of the trip. And not only because of the Darth Vader graffiti.
(Another side note to discuss graffiti. I was seriously disappointed in the Italian folks for besmirching their beautiful cities with graffiti EVERYWHERE. I do get the idea that when you're in these cities, surrounded by all of this beautiful artwork, you start feeling like you should paint or draw something, but I just don't see how that could translate into a can of spray paint on a very, very old building. It seemed so uncouth. So disrespectful of the history. Except, perhaps, for the Darth Vader one, which clearly was funny enough to stay.)
Our hotel in Firenze was right on the River Arno.
But it might surprise you to know that our favorite spot in Florence wasn't overlooking the river. In fact, the road overlooking the river was really noisy and trafficky. No, our favorite spot in Florence is the Piazza Della Signoria.
We sat in this Piazza and had many delicious things to eat, including cappuccinos and tiramisu (multiple times!)
The cafes were all right out in the open on the sides of the Piazza, so you could watch all the action go by as you ate.
The buildings had such an interesting mix of old and new. For example, right next to a decked-out Chanel store, there was this ancient door-knocker on the wall. Maybe it was used to tie up horses back in the day? I have no idea.
Come to discover, there was a flood in Florence in 1966. We proudly discerned this factoid from the following sign:
I think it says something like "Here arrived the waters of the Arno." Apparently they arrived really high, too.
And, just in case you think we ONLY took pictures....
We've got a rockin DVD from the trip, too. (We are so totally going to be that couple that makes you watch our vacation movies when you come over. I just know it.)
Being in Florence made me want to buy a bike, and then dress up in my nicest, most fashionable clothes and ride around town.
It also make me want to sketch. Nearly every street corner was full of young artists, rendering cityscapes and landscapes on their sketchpads with their big boxes of colored chalks and pencils. I tried my hand at my own sketch of the view from our hotel's roof deck. It is too sad to even post. :) But it quenched my urge to draw real fast! ("Oh yeah, I'm horrible at this! I forgot!")
So, we stuck to photography.
The next day, having had all of the sun exposure that my poor pasty skin could handle, I bought myself a sun hat.
We traversed over to the Duomo, which is probably one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen.
We visited the San Lorenzo church, where Steven snapped some pictures and again we got yelled at by a guard. "No pictures!"
And just around the corner from San Lorenzo, you'll never guess what we found.
Do you know what this IS, people?
That's right. Italian yarn store. Jackpot!
After all of that exploring, we needed a snack to keep us going. We'd seen these little gelato stands around town with a waffle-maker out front, piping the irresistable smells of fresh waffles out into the streets.
So of course, we had to try it.
I got whipped cream and berries on mine, and Steven got a waffle-sandwich with Nutella in the middle. It was, in a word, decadent.
After we had binged ourselves on waffles and sugar, we waddled through the city a bit more, just slowly wandering and taking in the sights.
When we wearied of walking, we took a break and wrote postcards to our parents (with a picture of our hotel on the front!).
I doubt they've gotten them in the mail yet. :)
The next day found us back at the Duomo, on our way to try to see Michelangelo's David at the Accademia Gallery. Steven's favorite statues were the lions.
We took a moment to sit on the steps of the Duomo and ponder.
The Accademia is in more of a residential part of Florence, and as we walked, we saw clotheslines everywhere. I was only slightly disturbed that Steven was snapping pics of people's skivvies.
When we got to the Accademia, we realized we needed reservations, so after a bit of googling, we realized we could ask our hotel to make reservations for us. Magically, our hotel got us in at 1:15 PM on the same day we'd asked them to make a reservation. As we waited for our reservation time, we scoped out another spot to rest: the Piazza Annunziata, which Steven says was his favorite but only because I rubbed his shoulders while we were sitting there.
Finally, our reservation time arrived, and we waltzed into the Gallery and saw the real, original Statue of David.
I think I had expected it to be life-size and not as big as it really was. It was probably 20 feet tall. And all carved out of a single piece of marble. Incredible.
To end our visit in Florence, we hiked up to Piazzale Michelangelo (boy, this trip has really been Michelangelo 101, hasn't it?).
It was a serious hike.
But once we reached the top, the views were breathtaking.
(Oh, and I bought myself a fab Italian scarf. Did I mention that already? Here it is:)
There's another copy of The David at the top of the Piazzale Michelangelo, only this one is done in bronze.
Steven took some pretty cool photos as the sun set.
We'd read that it was a "Don't Miss" moment to watch the sunset over Florence here, and they were so right. It was spectacular.
Hard to even capture in a photograph. The weather was perfect, a cool breeze brushed by us every so often, and everyone was speaking languages other than English, which made all their voices blend into white noise. It was so peaceful.
Its official. Firenze has stolen our hearts.
You might think it would be hard to top that moment, but just wait till you see our Vaporetto ride into Venice, which I truly believe is the most beautiful city on earth.