A day in Italy. An afternoon with Florence. (continued from previous blog)

bronze of florence. croatian warrior, greekPart three. An afternoon and early evening in Florence

FLORENCE – Boy. I am all over the map here. You remember my undying love for the Florence airport? Well, it died. Hate is such a strong word, but I have thought about it and decided that, yes, so far I think I do hate the new renovation there and what they did to the car rentals area is just beyond contempt. And at the same time, while I use to be in love with the Florence airport, I was a bit cool to Florence herself. Too crowded, too noisy, too much traffic, all the usual blather. So now, in my fickle way, I find myself newly in love with the city of Florence and in hate with the airport. Mood swings? Love on the rebound?

So, there we were at the ugh airport dumping off our rental car. We squeezed our keys into the not quite key-sized window slot to the agent. She has a mini rebellion going on, in what is surely a reaction to the mess they’ve made of those offices. All she can see out her window is a legion of cranky and confused customers. STANDING IN LINE OUTSIDE. Is it any wonder that she has blocked out that view with computers, notices, warning, and instructions about what you can do with your problem. And what you will and will not do at this window. OK, stepping away from the airport.

And into a taxi waiting to whisk us into the city. I usually take one of the reliable every fifteen minutes like clockwork buses. But with two people it starts making sense to grab a taxi. Plus Midge said “we are taking a taxi.” We give him the street address of our hotel and know we’ve got a good driver when he instantly processes the address and says “Orto di Medici” before we add that. Cool. We’re good to go. And because he knew our hotel we ask about our restaurant for tonight. We think they are somewhat near each other. He’s not as solid on that but thinks he knows about it. “Terrible neighborhood? Good food but people doing drugs on the street? Don’t go after dark? Is THAT the place you are talking about?” Oh cripe. What have we done now? Innocents abroad.

Midge at Orto di Medici, Florence, ItalyA few minutes and a few euros later (20 euros) we are in the hotel and I see why Midge says it is her. Note that Orto di Medici is the only hotel we have on our recommends list in Florence. It’s a three star, convenient, and clean as a whistle kind of place. Very pretty. Our room is very nice, on the top floor with a big terrace with topiary trimmed trees framing a city/roofscape view that includes old palazzos and even a duomo. The duomo or a duomo I never could figure out. Anyway, nice view. Per noi? Why thank you. Riccardo at the desk, the man who handled our phone reservations, remembers us from that and we get on famously right from the start. Does he, as a hep young man about town, know about our restaurant? He says yes, that address is only a couple minutes’ walk away but he’s sure he’s never been there. And he isn’t any too positive about that part of the neighborhood either. Oh, fine.

Gentlemen. Start your pedometers. Ours is an Omron. Our office’s physical trainer, Liz from Enerjoy Studios, got everyone on Team Vreeland back in Maine one of these gadgets and we wear them constantly. I’ve had mine on the whole trip and it’s on right now. Whoa, wait where is it? When did I take that off? Can one have too many pockets? Ah, there it is. Well, we put some miles on it during our afternoon and evening in downtown Florence. Florence was fun to the brim with happy campers shoulder to shoulder up and down its streets. We have short and long term walking goals for these streets and here they are:

pop up map of Florence, ItalyShort term walking goals: find the museum named Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Medici hotel, Medici museum, the name is everywhere. They’ve been dead and gone for centuries and wouldn’t they be happy to know how omnipresent they still are today? We want to find that museum because that is where the recently discovered and newly restored full size Greek bronze is being shown. Apoxyomenos, the athlete of Croatia, was found in the waters off Croatia but Italians did the restoration so it seems only right that they get to show it off first.

Long term goal: Find the restaurant where we have reservations. Guess we have to check it out in broad daylight.

The art show is in a fine big old palazzo. We get totally turned around and around finding it but hey, more miles for our pedometer and we’re seeing Florence. Our pop-up map has saved us once again. If you don’t have one, get one now. We’ll wait. Aren’t they cunning? They fit in your pocket and snap open and snap shut somehow and are a few inches wide when open rather than bedsheet-size. So very hard to look cool with a map wrapped all over you on any given windswept foreign street corner. So, all set? Start walking.

lancia limo in museum in Florence, ItalyThe palazzo is as good as the show. We’ve never been in this museum before. Which just goes to show, you don’t have to go to the Pitti Palace with lines going down the block to have a good time here. There are a million things to do. Pick one without a line. This one is covered with massive stone plaques, oversized historic busts, and all that is just in the courtyard. And what is this sitting inside the walls of the palazzo behind eleventy foot tall wrought iron gates? An appropriately large and grand long black limo. The Lancia Thema. Who names these cars? Wikipedia says Themes (singular thema) were “administrative units of land in the Byzantine Empire”. You mean, like “acres”? And I find that name in the web world and it is a real Lancia name but nothing I find on the web looks like this one. What a whale. A rather graceful whale but still a surprise considering we are not in Dallas but here in downtown Europe. Assume it is a homage to Mercedes’ Maybach.

While we are waiting for our group to be let into the featured show (every five minutes) the place sprang to life around the limo. As the driver with headset and black shades stepped out of the car, a Carabinieri stepped smartly from a guardhouse. The doors appeared to open elegantly by themselves in some automatic way. Is that possible? Did I dream that? Regardless, a guy in a suit disappeared through one back door, all the doors closed, the giant iron gates opened. And they were gone.

Now, where were we? Right. Art stuff. The bronze was fine. But nothing bronze will ever match the rough shock of entering the presence of the Bronzes of Riace. Certainly not this relatively polite, passive Croatian warrior. The Riace ones would run this one around the school yard and take his lunch money for sure. They just had Do Not, repeat NOT Mess With Me written all over them in the most stunning and heroic way possible. They are in Reggio di Calabria. If you are ever on the tip of the toe of the boot that is Italy where you take the ferry across to Messina in Sicily stop in and see them.

tiny yellow car in Florence, ItalyIn spite of preferring the Riace bronzes we were glad we saw this museum and this bronze. There was a great crowd and they were managing it well and being accommodating. Signs said they were open till 11 pm. And it is always fun people and car watching on the streets of Florence. This tiny yellow bird of a car was at the exact opposite end of the auto spectrum from the giant limo in the museum isn’t it? Stay tuned for the rest of the story: Dinner in Florence. Coming up next in Part Four.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS. ON LANDING IN FLORENCE.

FLORENCE, Italy–“Babbo . . ?” “D’amore?” Italian daddy getting his sleepy, curly headed toddler off the plane. Babbo must have called his son Love or Treasure, I don’t know how many times, just getting out of their seats and into the aisle. Made me ashamed of my parenting skills. I wanted to be that dad and have one of our kids be that lucky toddler for even just that moment. We are in a good place.

RANTS & RAVES. FIRST, THE RANT

FLORENCE, Italy–As I said, we are in a good place. Except. I must do a rant on the new airport. OMG. Has anyone else had this problem? Please tell me it was just us on a bad day. Does anyone else think they’ve ruined the airport with their “renovations”? Who created this mess. I want names. I want them now.

Is this tacky of me? Everyone hates a complainer. In fairness, you may know I have bragged on the Florence airport here for years. Always a favorite. A jewel among airports in my book. I take it all back. They were closed or months to Renovate and all they did was Ruin. Shame, shame. Some how, they did not get the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” memo. Ok, they had already started the goofy unloading thing where you get off the plane and jam your way onto a waiting bus. Then when it is totally stuffed with people and their bags, the driver puts it in gear and goes maybe half a bus length. And stops. You uncurl yourself from around a pole and get out. Totally Peter Sellers movie material and idiotic but everything else was so charming it was sort of light comic relief. Now it is just another annoyance.

Previously, there was one belt delivering up bags along the back wall of the first room you came to right off the plane/bus. Instant bags. Now there are two or three mini baggage carousels. But no baggage. Not without a wait. There was only one plane on the ground and it was ours. Only maybe 15 people waiting for their bags. And waiting. And waiting. The Italians in the group were throwing blind, running fits. A British expat, the picture of patient patrician ennui, said no bag ever comes in less than half an hour in this new system. Whattheheck. The plane is parked right there at the end of the bus right outside the door to this room. I’ve known Malpensa and believe me this is no Malpensa. Just tiny little Florence. And wait a full half an hour we did. The wait for the bags was almost as long as the flight. Unexcusable. And no excuses were offered to anyone by anyone. The Italians kept yelling at the staff behind the glass partition of Lost Baggage and didn’t even get a shoulder shrug out of them. Baffling.

In an aside here, yes I do know/admit that I have advised heartily against non-carryon bags. For this very reason. I was tricked. They changed the rules on us and only one carry on is now allowed on almost every flight in Europe. I will be blogging on that subject shortly. I have a plan!

oh we got dem mean old rental car blues in Italy this time
SUDDENLY . . . WE FOUND OURSELVES IN A LOWER RING OF CAR RENTAL HELL.

whats not to like in car rental in Italy today?
Oh, I’m wound up now. It use to be you came out of the door to baggage, had the customs guys totally avoid eye contact with you and you were in The Car Rental Zone. In the Arrivals building. Because you had Arrived. Well, the customs guys in the dove grey military uniforms and the German Shepards still act like you don’t exist and the car rental places? They do not exist. They are solid gone. Now you are just dumped directly into the Departures Terminal where you run into a wall of people trying to Depart. No clues to location of auto rentals at all. If you ask around someone may point you out the door. Where you are literally now on the outside looking in.

The building vaguely to the left as you go out the door of Departures is low, concrete and foreboding with chain link and barbed wire on most sides and there is one side with four windows cut in it, facing the parking lot. The concept appears to be that it is never, ever going to rain or snow here and you can just cue up OUTSIDE for your car. In any kind of weather, all year round without so much as a piece of plywood tacked up as a shelter. And you can stand there all you want. The people inside are so confused and distracted that they pay you no mind at all. At least that was our experience at autoEuro???? Their window was covered with notices in every language saying Stay Outside. Then. OK, if you HAVE to come in, one person in a group can maybe come in. BUT NO BAGS. Leave them somewhere? And so there you are. And really outside really looking in between the friendly notices. And no obvious door whatsoever. The only door that potentially could get you in the building is sort of white painted so you can’t see in and all it has to invite you in is three signs. All saying the same thing. All in English. Here’s what they say: Only Staff.

welcome mat is always out at the Florence airport.Naturally, here and in Wonderland, that could mean Come In because everyone is doing that anyway. With bags. I don’t care what their sign says, you can’t “leave bags unattended” in an airport. So you enter this strange world. Blank white walls, no signage, like a regular row of offices in your accountant’s building except with lines of irritable people cue’d up at the doors of each office. The Germans ahead of me had been given a car with at least one flat tire. They couldn’t even leave the parking lot. They had filled a whole sheet of paper with written explanation of their plight and then the frazzled clerk told them to Go to the car and wait and in half an hour someone would be there to fix the flat.

Perfect opening for RyanAir flights to Umbria. Can’t wait to give their Stanstead to Perugia flight a try next trip.

See you in Italy!

Stew

P. S.

I would love to hear positive stories of this new airport, because Florence is totally cool. And we have raves on downtown Florence coming up from the end of our trip. Let me know if this airport debacle was just me? Go to the “Comments” icon right here and tell me your experiences there in Florence.

OK, the next blog is a total rave! Promise. Just felt I had to warn travelers about this big sea change at our formerly favorite airport.

Splashdown in T minus three, two . . .

This is the final week of the our countdown to Italy! Leaving Thursday, so if i can just hold my breath through Tues and Wed . . . we’re goingoingone. In the meantime, here’s our wet ’n wild foreign correspondent Amy of the Arno with an exciting new way to see Florence — by water. Thanks, Amy looks like great fun!

GETTING OUR FEET WET IN FLORENCE

FLORENCE, Tuscany— Messing about with boats — what could possibly be more fun? Sailboats, ski boats, kayaks, rowboats, canoes — I’ve done ’emall. When I got to college in 1981 I was so excited to join Crew — alas, too small to row, too big to cox (despite my impressive vocal amps). 18 years and three kids later I decided my time had come. In 1999 I finally got some lessons and a single shell; in 2005 I found the discipline to train for the recreational race at the Head of the Charles (Boston) in October.

My 14-year-old thought that the race (and maybe even her mom) was pretty cool. She wanted to learn, and wanted to figure out a way to get other high school kids interested. I was happy to help, but there was one significant problem — rowing a single means one person with two oars. Most team rowing means each person has one oar (it’s called rowing ”sweep”) and I’d never done that before.

ROW, ROW, ROW, YOUR BOAT . . .

So, ”Emily”, I said, ”Why don’t you find us a rowing camp to attend during April break where we can learn sweep together?” A few hours and several web sites later, she informed me that she’d found the perfect place: good weather, great coach, sweep rowing, about the same pricetag as her usual ”Y” camp. There was, however, a tiny bit of small print: the camp happened to take place during a non-vacation week, and, oh yeah, it also happened to be in Italy.

What’s a mother (who LOVES rowing and LOVES Italy) to do? We saved our pennies and, on April 1, 2006, met Enzo and Eliza, the owners of the Terralba Rowing Camp in San Miniato.

MERRILY, MERRILY, MERRILY . . .

The experience was truly magical. We stayed in their guest rooms and Enzo’s mother, Aida, treated us to her wonderful country cooking each evening. During the days we explored Tuscany with Eliza until training started at 4pm. We were the
only campers that week, so we trained with the high school club.

For you rowers out there, you’ll be impressed to hear that Emily and I learned to row a pair (one boat, two people, each with one oar) — the most challenging boat around because the rowers have to be perfectly synchronized (identical twins are ideal for a pair).

Emily was a natural, and politely tolerated her mother. Mid-week she got to row with another high school girl and they had a wonderful time.

LIFE IS BUT A DREAM.
But how incredible was Wednesday, when we travelled 30 minutes to Florence and got to use the facilities and boats of the Florence rowing club? Rowing along the Arno, cat-calls and curious gazes everywhere, enjoying a vantage point that few get to experience.

Afterward we sipped champagne on the club lawn (right below the Uffizi, by the way) and watched the 9-year-olds taking their first strokes on the learning barge.

We lived and worked in Italy that week. We met wonderful adults and kids, were part of a warm and loving family, and created memories that will last forever. OK if we come back next year?

See you in Italy!

Amy

TRAVEL NOTICE: FLORENCE AIRPORT HAS REOPENED!

FLORENCE/FIRENZE, Italy— Happy news. The Florence Airport has reopened after extensive renovations. A month EARLY! What about the dolce far niente work ethic Italy is so famous for? Obviously a total myth and fabrication. This is great travel news. Check out an official-looking press release about the REOPENING of the Florence Airport

Ah, Florence. Our Favorite Airport.
Our entry point of choice to all of Italy so we are thrilled to have you back. And to think I didn’t trust that you would make your deadline of May 1. So, I booked all our end of May flights through Rome. Oh Me of Little Faith. Sigh. Next time!

I’m leaving Monday, Jan 31st for Umbria!

I am counting the days. Can’t wait. As they say in Italy “non vedo l’ora.” My intent is to do a daily blog of the trip. We’ll see how this experiment works out. Have digi camera will travel. Flying into Firenze and working my way down to Umbria. Coming around the last corner when our house first reveals itself never ceases to thrill. Surprises us with a big dose of “welcome home” every time. The photo here is what I’m leaving behind in snowy Maine.

While I am in Umbria, I plan to work around the house, test out our new Italian woodstove, drink buckets of Aldo’s cafe, visit friends, and, of course, see lots of new real estate.

Giancarlo has just sent me his list of new properties that I hope to see in person right away. See if there is anything in this list that grabs your attention. More news on all of them as it becomes available. Note that these are in the works and prices not firm yet. This is very much a sneak preview!

• 9th Century Villa 6 km from Castiglione del Lago. Approx 500 sq.m, approx 400.000 euro. Habitable,small garden
• Terraced old property near Pescia
• Restored farmhouse near Gioiella 125 sq.m,- furnished- approx 200.000 euro. I’ll see again with the owner on Friday
• End house of a row of houses, very old property near Sanfatucchio. Habitable, approx 100 sq.m, garden with shed 120.000 euro estimated price.

He’s also very keen on a new property south of Panicale and near Tavernella. It is on our site under the top bar at the far right in the heading “This Just In!” That is my section of good intentions where properties sit for a second while I get their photos organized for the regular web pages.

If there is anything I do for you while I am there on the ground in Italy in February, let me know.

OK, See you in Italy!

Stew