Since all roads lead to Rome we took the train to leave Rome. That would be logical wouldn’t it? Well that was the plan.
The Minibus I had booked the night before through the hotel reception failed to show at 7:30 am. After waiting for 10 minutes I checked with reception that made a phone call and assured me it was coming. Another 10 minutes and no bus, another concerned query at the front desk and “a fiva minutes I promise” response. At 8:05 a taxi arrives that could take 6 people with a squeeze but no luggage! So after a few “mamma mia’s” and “prontos” we ended up getting another taxi and were finally on our way.
Driving to the Roma Termini we passed more building, monuments and old walls that we hadn’t seen but as I untwisted my neck from trying to catch a last glimpse of this and that, I had to acknowledge that Rome wasn’t built in a day and it certainly wasn’t going to be seen in a day or two either!
On arriving at the termini and wondering where do I find out which platform our train leaves from, we soon were confronted with a huge digital screen with destinations, times and platforms. Having located Firenze (Florence in Italian for my less literate readers!), with the correct departure time we made our way to the far end of platform 2 E. It was rather abandoned of other passengers other than a couple who were lawyers from Portugal, who Belinda started talking too and another Aussie with a push bike, both heading for Florence. After awhile the aussie rode off on his bike to check if we were in the right place. His returned to say we needed to go to across the tracks to Platform 2Est which was at the end of Platform 1! So off we raced down the steps and up the other side and down the platform with the help of a couple of young local boys who helped the girls with their luggage and who showed us our train and then insisted on helping us put our tickets in a device to activate them. By this stage I was feeling uneasy as this didn’t seem right, so showed my ticket to a porter next to the train, who in broken English said No, No, fast train platform eight … eight minutes!! Then I realised that this train may have been going to Florence but we were booked on the fast train to Florence which on the electronic screen was identified as going to Milan. I needed to decipher the train code on the ticket and match this with the code on the screen! (Who is the illiterate one now!)
Race, puff, clatter clatter, weave weave, race puff! Made it ! Carriage 4, First class, fast train to Florence. It was so nice to sit back in the cool air-conditioning even if our wet sweaty shirts did stick to our comfortable seats.
For me it was so nice to see the open country side again. Wheat and sunflower paddocks on the flats and vineyards on the slopes. It has been a hot and dry summer and a number of the sunflower crops on the poorer country have failed. As I soaked in the view and sipped on my tea enjoying my now dry shirt not sticking to he seat, the ticket lady informed me that I hadn’t activated our Euro Rail Pass which we should have done at the station in Rome. Failure to do incurs a huge fine (x6!). Whether it was my pleading ignorant boy from the bush look or just her good nature, she said “first time on train”. Which I readily confirmed. “Just do it as soooon as you get off in Firenze, end of the platform and on your right.”
Tickets sorted, we made our way down narrow, cobbled streets on foot with bags in tow, to Prinipe Hotel overlooking the Arvon River. I believe it was probably built around the late 1800 to meet the growing wealthy American traveller demand of that time, who were starting to do the English extended continental Grand tour. The Hotel is about 4 levels high but only about 3 rooms wide and part of a continuum of buildings along the river esplanade. A bit dated but spacious and comfortable and probably more fitting to the historical atmosphere befitting a visit to Florence.
With time to wander we made our way though the historic centre of Florence, getting a feel for the lay of the land. Most major historical places are within 20 minutes walk from our Hotel. After an enjoyable lunch in a side walk restaurant we came across, we made our way to a bus stop to catch the bus up to Fiesole which is about 8 km up in the hills to the north overlooking Florence. On arrival we walked through an old church, where I had an opportunity to introduce the kids to old confessional boxes. They had the old wicker style hole that you spoke through but couldn’t be seen through. (Sorry can’t tell you any more details as the rest is held in confidence!) Seriously though, one thing that I have grown to appreciate as we have travelled through both Turkey and Italy is that it is “by grace we have been saved through faith….a gift of God…. Not of works.” And the other truth is our personal priesthood. This latter truth seemed to have been lost fairly early in Christendom and resulted in so much of the control, manipulation and abuse of power.
From here we walked up a steep cobbled lane to be rewarded with a wonderful panorama of Florence with the Duomo (the cathedral) standing out above the distant mat of mottled terracotta roofs. After taking a little time to absorb the view we moved up another set of cobbled steps to an old Franciscan Monastery started in 1399. The peaceful and inviting courtyard inspired you to want to capture the same atmosphere in our own garden. On the walls of the courtyard were tools that indicated they were not idle and always in prayer and meditation, but spent time being industrious. Up a very narrow flight of steps you came to a corridor of very small austere rooms with a rudimentary desk and chair or few planks for a bed, which reflected the simple life we usually associate with monastic life.
Below the chapel there was a small interesting museum of artefacts from ancient china of all places and Egypt (including a mummy) reflecting the places of missionary endeavours of the Franciscans. Also Roman coins (BC) and pottery from the roman ruins that this building incorporated.
After the bus ride back with the sun still up it was time for Gelato (Ice cream) with a cocktail of flavours to choose from. I had Peach and Pistachio, yum! As we meandered home with the glare of the setting sun creating photographic opportunities on the cobbled streets, we bought some fruit for tea and the retreated to our hotel to rest for tomorrow we dig deeper into Florence and the treasure chest of masterpieces and history that it is famous for, thanks largely to the Medici dynasty. But that is tomorrow”s story……..