UNTOURS – Florence
Upon arrival at the Florence train station we were met by Mary Jane Poole and Marco, our driver. Mary Jane rode with us to our apartment, took us in and waited while Gabriella, the apartment representative, showed us around. After Gabriella left, we realized there was no phone in the apartment, an important item for us. We decided to use the Untours cell phone and a phone card from a Tobacco shop easily located everywhere in Italy by a large “ T” over the door.
The Zinni apartment is in a building from the 1500’s. The apartment is spacious but with very small windows except in the kitchen where it’s all windows. It was comfortable and definitely convenient to transportation and walking distance from many of the historical sites. Mary Jane left us with a great packet, also, giving us invaluable information. The welcome groceries were definitely useful. Taking a stroll to familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood has become our usual first day activity. We walked to the tourist office and picked up a good map of the city, a list of cultural events for that day (published daily) and information on a garden tour happening on the weekend.
This morning we met the Untours group at Trattoria Nella for drinks and pastries. Mary Jane’s presentation was enlightening. Her walk around Florence included important highlights ending at the Duomo. It enabled us to feel as though we will be able to navigate Florence quite well which turned out to be the case.
On this same day, we had our Untours event, dinner at Club Paradiso (where we had to join to eat) followed by an Art Crawl including wonderful photo opportunities. Our dinner was good, the wine better. The Art Crawl was an activity we would not have wanted to miss. Meeting Mary Jane at a designated spot (in front of Michelangelo’s David by the Palazzo Vecchio)and taking the bus with her allowed us to see how the bus system worked.
We had reservations at the Uffizi for 10:30 a.m. This worked out well, and we enjoyed the museum. While we were having a coffee/chocolate at the museum café we encountered another Untour couple (Jinny and Rick) and visited with them.
From the Uffizi we went to the Santa Croce Church. The piazza is fantastic. Unfortunately, the church is undergoing renovations so we were unable to enjoy all of it. We also did the Museum of Musical Instruments that was entered from the church. We had lunch on the piazza at Ristorante Bocca Dama.
Neglecting to make advance reservations at the Galleria dell Accademia we arrived shortly after they opened in the hopes that the line would not be terribly long. It wasn’t and we waited in line only about 20 minutes. We were waved in without paying a fee and found out later it was a national Heritage Day so many of the museums were free. They were supposed to be free on Sunday, too, but most of them are closed on Sundays. Catch-22. Seeing Michelangelo’s David is, of course, the highlight of the museum.
Fiesole, a small town on a hill above Florence, is accessible by the city buses. In the afternoon, we took the bus there, walked up the hill to a viewing area and had fabulous views of Florence. Further up the hill is an old monastery that we visited, too. Upon walking down the hill we stopped at a small park that had stunning views of Florence to have our picnic which we had brought with us.
We toured the Roman Theatre and the museum plus the Bandini Museum. Once again we ran into Jinny and Rick. What a coincidence.
After arriving back in Florence, we attended mass at the Duomo, had pizza and then went to an organ concert at a nearby church. .
We were told the museums would be open and gratis today, but three that we tried were closed on Sunday. We did see four private gardens open for tours on this particular Sunday. That was enjoyable. Walked along the river where we were practically swallowed up by busloads of tourists from cruise ships.
We had heard of the leather school near Santa Croce Church. We did not realize it is actually attached to the church and that we could have gone there on Friday after touring the church. We enjoyed looking at the leather goods and purchased a few small items.
Deciding to leave the city for a day we took Joanna’s advice and went to Boston Travel to buy tickets for the train to Pisa and return. On the way we bought a ham and cheese pastry (at La Bottega del Fornaio SNC, Via Degli Affani 149/R) which was delicious and the service friendly.
In Pisa the entire area around the tower is called Miracle Square. We took the usual photos holding up the tower. The Baptistery is magnificent and has been described as a musical instrument because of the fabulous acoustics which were demonstrated by the personnel working there. Unbelievable! We also went into the Cathedral. After we returned home, as we were reading the literature we picked up from Pisa we found that there is a web site (www.opapisa.it
) where a podcast tour of Miracle Square can be found. We listed to it. It would be worth downloading to an MP3 or Ipod.
On our way home walking through what we had begun calling “our” piazza, Piazza della SS Annnziata because it was close to our apartment, usually pretty quiet, and we seemed to always be walking through it to other places, we encountered a re-enactment of a medieval flag throwing demonstration with drums, horns, etc. It was enchanting, entertaining and educational. The costumes were fantastic. It was a great ending to a great day.
Deciding to do a few things we didn’t want to miss and also to do some additional strolling of the city we walked to the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens which we enjoyed. While sitting and having a beverage, guess who we should meet: Jinny and Rick. It seemed like we were on the same tour.
After leaving there we found the Santa Maria Novella Perfume Factory where we didn’t buy anything, but the building was worth a visit.
Trying to get back to the neighborhood we crossed a piazza with a soccer team hanging out. We found out later that this team was in town for some important game. We then met Mary Jane to return the cell phone.
We then decided that since we had not had a chance to try any of the restaurants that were Untours recommendations we would definitely try one tonight. At 6:40 p.m. we left to go to the Trattoria Accadi arriving there assuming they were open because the doors were open. When we went in they informed us they did not open until 7:00 p.m, but we were welcome to sit at a table and wait. They put us right by the front window, and left us alone until 7:00 p.m. promptly. Our meal was delicious and fitting end to or visit.
Promptly at 5:30 a.m. the next morning we were picked up to be taken to the A. Vespucci (Florence) Airport where we started our long journey home realizing we had missed many, many things in Florence.
Our only transportation glitch in the entire trip was in Atlanta. When we arrived we couldn’t find our connection on the boards so we asked customer service who told us our flight had been cancelled, and we had not been put on another flight. After a quite long interaction with customer service we were put on a flight that left not too long after our original.