Monday, June 27, 2011

Walking, walking, walking....

The Cathedral of Florence
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore
Facade started in 1296 and mostly
completed in 1469

Still Tuesday, May 17, 2011 in Florence:

We wandered just a short distance from our hotel, spying a lovely restaurant with an outdoor cafe--Ristorante Coccodrillo on Via Della Scala. Coccodrillo means crocodile in Italian, but we weren't looking for any menu items with crocodile as an ingredient.

The bruschetta was refreshing with enormous chunks of tomato, sprinkled with basil and spread on tasty bread, drizzled in olive oil and a hint of garlic. We had ordered an appetizer tray with a variety of samples including some pate concoction that no one was really crazy about, along with other items that I can't even recall because I didn't write them down. I was so tired, I felt almost dazed. I could easily have made a meal of the bruschetta alone, but chose lasagna with meat sauce. This selection was surprisingly light--just right, not leaving me with an overstuffed sensation. We had been advised in advance to always order the local or regional house wine, and this choice did not disappoint us.

There was a cozy, snuggling, older couple at the next table who were constantly looking over at us. I wondered if we were talking too loudly or bothering them in some way. When Laura and Marianne went inside to locate the ladies' room, Sue, the female from the next table, came over and introduced herself, apologizing for staring. She said that I look exactly like her niece. She and her husband were visiting Florence from Australia--a 20 hour flight--and they would be leaving tomorrow. Having just experienced our arrival today after flying during the night, I can't even fathom a 20 hour flight. It must seem like an eternity. I think I would get mighty antsy.

The restroom proved to be a bit of a challenge. Remember, we were all still jet-lagged and dealing with a 6 hour time difference. Sharon and I marched into the restroom and were greeted by a large sink area and mirrors. We saw a smaller room with stalls and proceeded, each separately wondering why the toilet seats were in the "up" position. I completed the intended task, washed my hands at the large sink with mirrors, and applied fresh lipstick. We suddenly noticed that a tiny plaque on the entrance door to the smaller room we just exited was the symbol of a person wearing pants. Uh oh...then we saw another adjoining room that had a symbol depicting a person wearing a skirt. Too bad we weren't alert enough to see these miniature signs before we inadvertently used the men's room, and we were thankful that no men came into that restroom while we were in the stalls. We decided that we probably needed to be more observant, which would be easier after a good, solid night's sleep.

We agreed that Ristorante Coccodrillo was a good find, as the food was delicious, our waiter, Donnie, provided exceptional service, and the wine was exactly what we were looking for--not too sweet, not too dry. Now it was time to walk off the calories. Inquiring with a few passersby regarding how to reach the River Arno, we achieved very little success in obtaining dependable directions. We set out walking, walking, walking until we finally located the river. While we did have a map from the hotel, it was difficult to understand due to the fact that we weren't even sure where we were located on the map! Looking at it was almost a dizzying experience because it showed a myriad of streets, the names of which were printed in the tiniest font known to man. We were wishing we had a magnifying glass to study it. Tomorrow, we will determine the hotel's exact location on the map, and then we should have a better sense of direction. Maybe! I'll be the first to admit that I probably have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know.

When we reached the River Arno, it was nearing sunset, but we were able to take a few photos. An interesting fact--the Arno overflowed its banks and flooded Florence on November 4, 1966, killing 40 people and damaging/destroying countless works of art and rare books. There were some stores in this area, but they were not open by the time we arrived there. We will make it a point to return to this same place again during the daytime. Let it not be said that we missed a shopping opportunity in Florence!

Once again walking, walking, walking, we found our way back to the hotel, rode the elevator like a bunch of zombies, and proceeded to our individual boudoirs to crash for the night. Tomorrow's another day, and much sightseeing and shopping awaits us. Day after tomorrow, Marianne has prearranged a Tuscany wine tasting tour for us, but until then we will be content to attempt to get our bearings, explore, dine and what else????!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011:

I awoke at 6:00 a.m. Italy time---and I mean wide awake. I couldn't wait to explore Florence. I showered, dressed and watched some CNN, which was fine, but it seemed to be rather repetitious, as I kept hearing the same stories over and over again. While I was waiting for the other girls to be ready to face the day, I was watching the flurry of activity on the street below. People were rushing to get to work, and there were so many small motorcycles and scooters that would zip in and out of traffic. As I surveyed the scenes before me from my large window, I noticed that there had been an accident between a bicycle and a scooter, with the cyclist still stretched out on the busy highway. Traffic began to snarl as buses, cycles, scooters and cars attempted to avoid the accident scene and not run over the injured victim. Eventually, the ambulance arrived and transported the girl to receive medical attention, but they left the bicycle and scooter in the street exactly as they had been positioned during the accident--apparently pending the arrival of an investigator. In the interim, all of the traffic was backed up for a long distance as they formed a single lane to navigate around the accident scene.

We were all ready to go in search of food, and we spied a small coffee shop on the corner very close to our hotel. We had to quickly learn coffee bar protocol, another new experience for us. We found out that we had to browse the bakery items first in order to view our choices. Next, it was a walk to the cash register to pay for what we intended to order. Sounds simple, but wait just a minute. There were decisions to be made. Were we planning to sit at a table, stand at the counter, or take our items to go? The price to be charged was dependent upon our selection of these available options, an escalated fee being levied to dine while seated at a table. Good to remember--having a place to sit comes with a price! Receipt in hand, one goes back to the pastry counter to order the item paid for and then on to the coffee bar section to order the beverage already purchased. We chose to sit at a table and collect our thoughts regarding our anticipated agenda for the day.

Re-fueled and invigorated to the degree possible, we located a small grocery store across the street and purchased the items that we would want immediate access to over the next few days while staying in Florence. It was going to be nice to have our own supply of liquid refreshments, snacks and fruit rather than having to chase them down at every turn. The store was so small and had the narrowest aisles. It took us a little while to make our selections, as there was obviously no brand recognition here. The grocery carts were these tiny contraptions that looked like miniature orange crates on wheels, and we were trying to compose ourselves because we didn't want to be making fun of the Italian grocery carts and create an international incident. Depositing our treasured items back in our rooms where we had small refrigerators, we set out on a walk that would take us across the street once again, but to an opening leading to underground shops which eventually connect with the train station.

Wandering through a few stores, mostly those selling shoes and handbags, Marianne was the first to make a purchase--an adorable pair of turquoise sandals with a sweet decorative flower/design along the top. We readily noticed that the shoe styles were fabulous and distinctly different from what we are accustomed to seeing in our stores, and they truly were not overpriced.

After scouring the underground stores for potential acquisitions, we headed for the outdoor leather market vicinity, about which we have heard so many favorable comments. Laura had been waiting for this moment since the trip plans began to formulate! While the leather coats were just amazing, with the leather being so soft it felt like butter in your fingertips, we were also fascinated by vendor after vendor offering magnificent scarves. A huge percentage of the population we encountered seemed to be wearing some form of a stylishly tied scarf. This included several men that we casually observed. We carefully checked out the belts, handbags, various leather goods, jewelry and trinkets that serve as nice souvenirs. I am one of those people who wants to see all of my options before I decide what to buy. I could shop and shop until my feet ache, but until I'm ready to make a purchase, I am content to look at all of the merchandise.

In one of the piazzas, there were postcards for sale and Sharon decided to purchase a couple. As she was reviewing her choices, she came across one selection that offered an enhanced view of the private parts of Michelangelo's David. We couldn't help laughing and commenting, because who would actually want to buy one of these postcards and send it through the global mail? To top that one, Marianne spotted one that took ludicrous to an entirely new level. The private parts were wearing sunglasses! That pretty much sent us over the edge with laughter. There were even bookmarks with the same scene. Would our husbands pose for a similar photo shoot? We didn't think so.

Our next goal was to work our way back to the River Arno bridges. We knew there were stores in that location that were just waiting for us to make an appearance. What we expected to see there were New York City diamond district-type goods, but what we actually encountered was an astonishing surprise!!

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