Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 1 in Barcelona, Free Walking Tour, exploring the city's historical sites

I woke up at 5 this morning to be sure I made the bus to take me to Rome's Ciampino (CIA) airport to catch my flight to Barcelona.  The directions the hostel staff gave me lead to a dead end, I eventually found the bus stop I needed and caught the bus to Rome's main train station.  After asking for directions, I found the bus to Rome's CIA airport. We arrived at the airport a little after 7 am, more than enough time to check in for the flight, get a croissant for breakfast and get in line for the cattle call.

I flew one of Europe's budget airlines to Barcelona, Ryan Air. Ryan Air is similar to Southwest Airlines in the US, no assigned seating, budget airline.  I have only flown Southwest airlines once that I can remember, so it is difficult for me to compare it to Ryan air.  From what I can remember, Southwest Airlines is a little more orderly than Ryan Air. Ryan Air did not have sections designated for boarding, passengers simply line up, board a bus, and drive to the airplane. When the doors to the bus open, people scramble in both directions, front and back, to board the aircraft.  I had never experienced anything like it, I will have to get used to it if I plan to stay in Europe and fly places for a low price.

Arrival Board with Roma/CIA 
The atmosphere was festive on the flight to Barcelona.  A few times passengers cheered when the crew made announcements in Spanish.  To me, it sounded like the crew was announcing scores from a sporting event, maybe soccer, I cannot be sure.  I dozed off a couple of times but  woke up, there plane was too noisy to stay asleep.

I had no problems catching the train to the stop nearest my  hostel after arriving in Barcelona.  I had to ask for directions to the street I needed to take to get to the hostel and the direction to walk in, once I was on the path, it was an easy walk to my home for the next 6 nights.

I relaxed for awhile, tried to take a nap after checking into the hostel, then at 3pm I went on a free walking tour of Barcelona. The tour covered some of Barcelona's historical sites, I got to see more Roman ruins, including columns and remnants of the Roman wall.  I will explore some of Barcelona's museums later this week and learn more about the history of this city.  I was sleepy during the free walking tour, did not hear everything the tour guide said, and he did not project his voice much.

Lynnae at Placa Nova site of Roman Ruins
We saw some Salvador Dali work at the entrance of a museum during the walking tour.  We saw the old Jewish Quarter, our guide explained Barcelona says they have the oldest Synagogue, Prague makes the same claim.  Our guide explained that during the Spanish inquisition the Jews boarded up their windows and made wooden planks to visit each other, extended from their windows.  Our tour ended near the harbor, some went for drinks afterwards, I started my walk back to the hostel. I was tired, little sleep last night, and did not get a good  nap in  on the airplane. I considered spending time exploring the harbor and looking for the beach, but decided that could wait until tomorrow.  No big rush, I am in Barcelona for a week.

Lynnae with Salvador Dali Egg

Entrance to Synagogue in Barcelona's Old Jewish Quarter
I had a mini crisis after the walking tour.  I went to the ATM to withdraw cash and the ATM did not return my card.  I tried everything I could to get the machine to return my card, did not work.   I went back to the hostel, the man at reception called the bank's' call center, there was nothing they could do.  They recommended I call my bank, cancel the card.  I called home and my mom called the bank, my new ATM card should arrive before I leave for Morocco later this week.  I had made it through my trip without a major theft, until today, when a Spanish Bank stole my ATM card. I consider myself lucky, I have met many people who have been robbed, laptops and cell phones stolen, etc.  

The rest of my evening was uneventful, I got dinner, everything should be worked out with my ATM card, walked around Barcelona a little after sunset.  Tomorrow, I may go find the beach, I do not have a plan yet, there is a lot to do and see here.  Being in Spain makes me want to study Spanish, I may consider taking a month of language classes before getting certified to teach English or taking the teaching job in Istanbul, I have not decided yet.

Day 1 in Barcelona Photo Album

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 3 in Rome, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and St. Peter’s Basilica

I started my day with breakfast around 9:30 am, the plan was to go to the Colosseum, the forum, and Palatine Hill, with my German Hostel Mate in the morning and see the rest of the sites on my list in the afternoon.   We left the hostel a little after 10 am, when we got outside we noticed it was sprinkling, people had umbrellas.  My hostel mate went back to the room to get her umbrella; I got mine out of my backpack.

When we were about halfway to the Colosseum, it started pouring.   We were a good distance from the hostel by then, we were not going to turn back, we continued walking towards our destination.  The bottom of my jeans got soaked, my shoes and socks got soaked.  We took shelter from the downpour on Capitoline Hill, under the overhangs of the museums. 

Lynnae at the Capitoline between downpour 
The rain stopped momentarily, we thought we would be OK continuing our walk to the Colosseum, then the downpour resumed, plus thunder and lightning.   We decided to go to a café and wait out the storm.  We went back up Capitoline Hill and went to a café, finally the clouds broke, and the sun came out.  This time we were confident it was safe to resume our walk to the Colosseum.

I saw the Colosseum for the first time this morning; I walked around Rome all day yesterday, not realizing how close I was to the Colosseum.  Was impressive seeing the Colosseum as we walked towards it, I wanted to take pictures, could not believe I was finally seeing it in person. 

Lynnae as we approached the Colosseum 
We had a little trouble getting into the Colosseum with the tickets I pre-booked online, once we were it in, it was great.  Amazing to see this ancient Roman architecture up close, we did not spend a lot of time in the Colosseum, enough to look around, imagine what ancient Rome looked like.   We walked to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum after the Colosseum, they were also impressive.  These are the things I always think about when I think of Rome, and I finally got to see them in person.

Lynnae on Palatine Hill 
After we saw the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, we got lunch, it was about 2 pm by then.   Next we went to Fontana di Trevi, it was easy to find this time.  I threw a 5 cent coin over my left should with my right hand, which they say guarantees I will return to Rome someday.  

I headed for St. Peter’s Basilica after leaving seeing Fontana di Trevi.  I decided I would stand in line as long as it took to see St. Peter’s Basilica today, I am in Rome after all, and who knows when I will be back. I waited about an hour to get into the Basilica, it was worth the wait. The Basilica is amazing, probably the most beautiful I have seen during my tour of Europe. 

Lynnae & German Hostel Mate at Roman Forum 
After looking around St. Peter’s Basilica, I got in line for the walk to the top of the dome.  The wait to climb to the top of the dome took about half an hour, again, it was worth the wait.  There were two options walk up 320 steps to the dome for 5 Euros or take the elevator for 7 Euros.  I chose the walking option, I am not sure how long it took, maybe half an hour, people were walking at a pretty slow pace the first half up.  I took a couple second break at one point, I started walking quickly up the steps, they kept getting steeper, I needed to catch my breath.

Lynnae in St. Peter's Basilica 
When I reached the first stopping point on the climb to the dome, I thought I had reached the top.  From this point, you can look down into St. Peter’s Basilica, while I was up there, mass was being held.  I watched for awhile, was difficult not to, tried to take some pictures through the cage, and then after about 15 minutes was ready to start going back down. 

I followed the arrows to exit and there were more steps and people climbing them.  I followed, the climb got really steep at this point, the man walking at a brisk pace behind me, slowed way down as he realized the stairs were going on and on.  When I looked back and first saw him, I was surprised by his pace, thought I may have to get out of the way and let him pass me.  Finally I reached the last part of the climb, there was a rope hanging down to assist climbers in pulling themselves up to the top.

Lynnae atop St. Peter's Basilica Dome 
The walk to this point was worth it, spectacular views of Rome and the Vatican, it was packed up there too.  I walked around the entire dome once, pausing to look out at the city and take pictures, then I began the trek to the bottom.   There were more great sights to see on my way down, I took more pictures, then went down the last part of the stairs at a fast pace, it is always easier going down than climbing up. 

Lynnae in front of Dome at St. Peter's Basilica 
I went back to my hostel after seeing  St. Peter’s Basilica, I was satisfied I had seen everything I wanted to in Rome on this trip.  I ran into my German hostel mate on my way into the hostel, she had gone out and looked at different churches around the city, there are many beautiful churches in Rome.  I talked to a few other people from the hostel, then went and got a quick dinner, and packed my bags for my trip to Barcelona tomorrow.

Day 3 in Rome Photo Album

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Day 2 in Rome, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon & other sites in Rome

I got up around 9 this morning, had the bread based hostel breakfast and started planning my day.  I spoke to my hostel mate from Germany, asked if she had gone to the Colosseum yet.  My German hostel mate got to Rome a couple days before me, I was going to ask her about lines at the Colosseum, turned out she had not gone yet, we decided to go together.  Then our plans changed, we decided to try to see the Vatican, I went online to book the tickets, there was a time slot open for today.  I booked the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel tickets for 12:30 pm. 

We left the hostel around 10:30 am and walked to Vatican City, less than 10 minutes from our hostel.  It is hard to believe, tiny Vatican city, is an independent state, in the middle of Rome.  We walked through the passageway, left Rome, arriving in Vatican city.  A few more steps and we were in the crowd in St. Peter's square, my hostel mate said the other two days, there was no crowd, there were long lines to go into St. Peter's Basilica, at least a 2 hour wait, but the square was not crowded. 

Today was the papal audience, the pope speaks on Wednesday mornings to worshipers in St. Peter's Square.  We had no idea we chose this morning to go to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, but I am glad I got to see it.  I could not see the Pope, but he was on the projection TVs in the square, I could not understand the pope, he spoke in Latin and other languages I do not speak.  

Lynnae in St. Peter's Square during Papal Audience
After the Papal Audience we visited a German cemetery in Vatican City, my German hostel mate had been there before, the cemetery is guarded by the Swiss.  The cemetery was small, the landscape was nice, it had a Chapel, there were not many people there, I am sure many people do not know it exists.

German Cemetery in Vatican City
After the cemetery we stopped at a cafe, me for the bathroom, my hostel mate got some Italian coffee.  Around noon, we started walking to the Vatican museum, about a ten minute walk from St. Peter's Square.  The museums were extensive, there was too much to see, a lot of detail, all of the Vatican's history in one place.  I did not get the audio guide, so I spent my time going from painting to painting looking at different things.  When we entered the museum near the Sistine Chapel, the crowd grew, many guided tours, lots of people.  The Sistine Chapel was packed when we entered, no photos allowed, we could take pictures in the museums.  I looked up at the ceiling looking for the famous Michelangelo Frescoes.

Lynane in Vatican Museum 
We spent about 2.5 hours in the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.  I debated what to do next, we got food at the Sistine Chapel, it was decent, what you would expect to get at a tourist site, I got the pizza.  We walked to Castel Sant Angelo next, my hostel mate had gone there and said it had a nice view of Rome.  Since she had already been to the Castel Sant Angelo, we parted ways there.  I debated whether to go, then decided I would walk around Rome instead, go back to the Castel tomorrow, time permitting.

Castel Sant Angelo 
I left Castel Sant' Angelo, crossed the Ponte Sant' Angelo Bridge and began exploring Rome. I had a map and a lot of places the woman at reception had marked as places to visit, first on the map was Piazza Navona, this Piazza had a fountain, an Obelisk and a church.  After Piazza Navona, I headed to Campo de Fiori, going there was a waste of time, I had been there last night for dinner.  My next destination was the Pantheon, I ended up backtrcking to Piazza Navona and asking a shopkeeper where the Pantheon was, he pointed me in the right direction.

Lynnae in front of fountain at Piazza Navona 
I found the Pantheon, was interesting to see this well-preserved Roman building in the middle of a modern city.  Everywhere you go in Rome there is a historical building or monument, the Pantheon was one of those, and the first ancient Roman building I had seen, I visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum tomorrow. I went inside of the Pantheon, it is a church, no longer a temple to Roman gods.

Lynnae outside the Pantheon

Lynnae inside the Pantheon
I followed my map to what I thought was the Fontana di Trevi after leaving the Pantheon, it was not hard to do, there were signs pointing the way.  Rome is one of  the best tourist cities I have been to, when I am looking for something, I often look up, and there is a sign  pointing me in the right direction.  If there is no sign, there are always friendly Italian police officers willing to help with directions, the police seem to be everywhere in Rome. I arrived at the Quirinale, the Presidential Palace instead, just as a changing of the guards ceremony was ending. I asked to police officer what the building was, he said it was the Presidential Palace.  I went to see the Fontana di Trevi, I may try to find the Fontana di Trevi tomorrow.

Lynnae at Fountain across from Presidential Palace
I thought I had gone to the Fontana di Trevi, until I looked it up on the internet while writing this blog post. From the Presidential Palace I went to the Piazza di Spagna, where the Spanish steps are located and a fountain shaped like a boat.  From there I headed to the Piazza del Popolo.  My final destination today was the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, I saw this monument from a distance, I was tired by that point and ready to eat, get back to my hostel and relax.  Rome is beautiful, lots of stunning architecture, was nice walking around and seeing the sights today.

Lynnae at the Spanish Steps 

Lynnae near boat fountain at bottom of Spanish

Lynnae at Piazza del Popolo 

Lynnae near Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuale II
I went to get dinner near Piazza Navona after seeing Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuale II from a distance.  I will get an up close view of it tomorrow when I walk to the Coliseum.  After dinner, I walked back to the Castel Sant' Angelo, I wanted to go to the Vatican after sunset, the French students I had dinner with yesterday said it was beautiful at night, they were right, plus the crowds had left St. Peter's Square, also the nice thing about going after sunset.

Lynnae at the Vatican after Sunset
I left the Vatican and walked back to my hostel, I had a full day sightseeing in Rome.

Day 2 in Rome Photo Album

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Day 1 in Rome, Travel Day from Pisa

I got out of bed around 9 am this morning, I woke up earlier, but was in no rush to get up, my train to Rome did not leave until 11:45 am. When I finally got up, packed, my backpack zipper broke, I had to get a new one, quick.  When I checked out of my room a little before 10:30 am, I asked the woman at reception where I could buy a backpack.  She referred me to a Pam, a Chinese store down the street, she said the backpack would be made in China but it would be cheap.  I told her that was fine, got directions, found Pam and bought my new 10 Euro backpack.  I will see how long it lasts.

I went back to the hostel, quickly packed my new backpack and threw out the old backpack.  The hostel closed at 11 am for cleaning, I had an 11:45 am train to catch, so I was in a bit of a rush.  After I was packed I went down the street to the tobacco shop to buy a bus ticket, the tickets were 40 cents cheaper in the store versus buying them on the bus.  I got to the train station about ten minutes before the departure and I forgot to validate my ticket.

In Europe, train ticket validation is a big thing that is easy to forget to do.  Validating a ticket means you stick it in a machine and it gets time and date stamped.  Since I had a ticket without a seat reservation, I was required to do this, I am used to doing this on the bus and subway, but never got in the habit for longer distance trains.  I paid for it today, a few stops from Rome, the train conductor came by checking tickets.  He saw I had not validated mine and I was fined 40 euros, my 22 euro train ride to Rome suddenly became much more expensive.

The conductor showed me the back of the ticket, even seemed a little sorry he had to fine me.  Then he moved onto the next passengers, I think a couple other non-Italians got caught without validated tickets. Good way for the Italians to make money off tourists who do not know how their train system works.  I decided I would not dwell on the money lost, it is gone, will not let it ruin my trip.

Other than the fine, the train ride to Rome was pleasant, the train was empty most of the ride, which was nice.  I had a train seat to myself almost all the way.  I slept a little, read about Rome on the guidebooks on my Kindle, and enjoyed the scenery.

Lynnae on Train to Rome
I arrived in Rome a little after 4 pm, the train was a few minutes late.  I had to search for where the buses departed, after asking an Italian, I found the area.  It took me at least 45 minutes to get from Rome's main train station to the hostel, I took 2 buses.  The hostel is nice, it is all women, located in a convent.  I have not seen any nuns here, maybe it is a former convent.  After settling in, I went out for a walk around Rome, the tourist sites were closed for the day, but I was hungry, thought I would see a little before settling in for the evening.

On my way to get food, I asked two women to take a picture of me on the Ponte Mazzini bridge overlooking the Tiber River. One of the women asked me if we were in the hostel, I vaguely recognized them and said yes. I had just said hello to them when I was putting my stuff in the lockers.  They took my picture, we walked across the bridge, they are both college students in France, on vacation in Rome to celebrate the end of finals.  We decided to go get dinner together, it is always nice to meet people while traveling to hang out with. 

Tiber River 

Me on Ponte Mazzini bridge 
Dinner was great, I got Rigatoni with bacon and spicy tomato sauce, I ate all of it.  Only the second time I have had pasta in Italy, this place had homemade pasta.  I talked to my French hostel mates for a couple of hours of dinner, then we finally asked for the check and left.  They were going to stay out later, I was ready to head back to the hostel.  They got back about an hour after me, they found the Vatican, they said it is beautiful at night.  Too bad I did not stay with them for the walk.  I may go out and see the Vatican at night tomorrow or save it for my next trip to Rome, I will likely be back.  

Dinner with Hostel Mates from France 

Rigatoni & Bacon & Cheese w/Spicy tomato sauce 

Tomorrow, I will go to the major tourist sites and hope the crowds are not too overwhelming.  The guidebooks say start at the Pantheon, buy the pass the gives you entrance to the Colosseum, the pass allows you to bypass the long lines at the Colosseum, I think that's a plan.  The other option, go with a tour, this also allows you to bypass the line, but the tours often are large groups.  I will figure it out tomorrow.  The woman at reception in the hostel recommended going in the afternoon, crowds are not as bad as in the morning.  I'll go for a tour of the Vatican on Thursday.  

I leave for Barcelona on Friday and I just booked a flight to Marrakesh, Morocco, that will be my the last stop on my tour of Europe,the Middle East and North Africa.  I am going to go on a Sahara Desert tour for a few days.  

Day 1 in Rome, Travel Day Photo Album

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 1 in Pisa, Stop in Lucca for Biking on way to Pisa, Leaning Tower of Pisa

I checked out of my hostel in Florence at 10 this morning, planning to go to Lucca, Italy to bike the walled city.  My first hostel mate in Florence told me about Lucca, I read about it in Rick Steves' Italy Guide, sounded like a good stop to make on my way to Pisa.  At breakfast, I told my hostel mate from Australia about my plans to stop in Lucca on my way to Pisa, she decided to join me.

After breakfast, I packed my bags, check out, then my hostel mate and I headed to Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station to buy our tickets to Lucca.  We were shooting for the 10:25 am train, but we go to the station at 10:30 am, we bought tickets for the 11 am train to Lucca.  We looked at the departure boards, there was no train to Lucca at 11 am, only to Pisa Airport.  We checked with the train staff, they told us the train was at 11:38 am, we confirmed this with the conductor.  We had time to kill, so we decided to go check out the leather market in Florence, one area I did not explore during my Florence sightseeing.

Florence has a big leather street market, the sellers were not too aggressive, a few asked if we wanted to buy anything.  There were also stores behind many of the stalls selling more leather goods.  I knew I was not going to buy any leather in Florence, I do not have room to carry around any leather products in my suitcase.   After the leather market we went past another Florence Church, and walked back to the train station.

Lynnae at Florence Church
The train ride from Florence to Lucca was about 2 hours, it passed by quickly.  I told my hostel mate some of my CIA story, we spotted a man wearing an FBI sweatshirt, New York City Office, one of those crazy coincidences, he shows up while I am telling my CIA story.  I fell asleep or at least nodded off about halfway through the trip, trains make me tired, or maybe I just have not made up my sleep deficit yet.

When we got to Lucca, we followed the signs to left luggage, left luggage is where you can store your luggage and come back to get it before you board your train, after you finish sightseeing.  The signs lead us to a bicycle rental shop, exactly what we were looking for.  Our plan was to bike the ramparts of the walled city in Lucca.  I checked my luggage, we rented bikes, got a map, a lunch recommendation and set out for a bike ride through Lucca.  

We were not sure exactly where to go, how to get up the the ramparts of the walled city. We figured it out, may have gone the more difficult route, we carried the bikes up flights of stairs, until we were atop the walls of Lucca.  We started biking, neither of us had been on a bike in a long time, it took us a few minutes to get used to biking again.  Biking was not a skill we lost, must be in our muscle memory somewhere.  After we got the hang of biking again, we started noticing the different sites in Lucca, we stopped every now and then to take pictures.

Rampart Bike Ride in Lucca

View from Lucca's Rampart 

View from Lucca's Rampart 
After biking one lap around Lucca's Ramparts above the walled city, we rode our bikes into the city to explore and find lunch. The woman at the bike shop recommended a restaurant and a pizzeria, we decided to get pizza, the right choice. The pizza was delicious, just the right amount of sauce, it did not look great, but the taste is all that matters.  We also sampled the local cuisine, Cecina, chickpea cake, it was bland, I am glad I tried it but once was enough for me.  The Cecina is popular in Lucca, many locals were buying it, we had to wait to buy a slice. 

Margarita Pizza in Lucca

Cecina a Tuscany speciality

Recommended Luca Pizzeria
After eating pizza, we road around the city, past its Cathedral, we checked the map to decide what else to do or see during our short stop in Lucca.  We decided to bike to the amphitheater, we got to the sight and were not sure we were in the right place, it looked like a modern day plaza.  Then we saw the sign, confirming we were in Lucca's amphitheater.  We bought gelato and hung out in the middle of what was once a Roman amphitheater (we overheard this fact eavesdropping on a tour), the gelato was delicious, I got hazelnut and strawberry in a cup.

Lucca's Duomo di San Martino 

Gelato after Lunch in Lucca's Amphitheater 

Outside Lucca's Amphitheater 
We headed back to the bike store after our stop for gelato in Lucca's Amphitheater.  We biked back to the ancient wall, pushed out bikes up a steep incline, and biked back around the ramparts until we reached the point where we started our bike ride.  We had spent about 2.5 hours biking and sightseeing in Lucca, a nice, relaxing change of pace from the usual.  We walked back to the train station, I bought a 3 euro ticket to Pisa, my hostel mate was returning to Florence. We said our goodbyes, and I rushed to my train, it was leaving in less than 3 minutes.

Lynnae at end of Lucca bike ride at Ancient Wall Entrance
It was a short ride to Pisa, I found the bus to the hostel, after asking a bus driver.  My bus stop was Piazza dei Miracolis, the Square of Miracles, where the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands.  I did not see the Leaning Tower of Pisa when I got off the bus at the Piazza dei Miracolis stop.  I followed the directions to the hostel without any problems, I think these were the clearest directions I ever got from a hostel.  I checked in, they only accepted cash, so I needed to go to the ATM.  The man at reception said no problem, pay later. I decided I would see Pisa today, I leave for Rome tomorrow at 11:45 am, did not want to cut it too close. 

View of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Street Where my Hostel is  Located

I put my luggage in my room, got all my stuff situated, then headed to the Piazza dei Miracolis.  It was amazing to see  the leaning tower of Pisa, the pictures do not do it justice, the lean is amazing to look at in person.  I took pictures from all sides, none of them capture what it is like to see the tower leaning.  I bought my ticket and walked to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa, it was worth it, to climb to the top of that leaning tower.  The climb was not bad and much quicker than I expected.  

Lynnae atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Climbing up the leaning tower of Pisa

On my way down from top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
I walked around and looked at the other sights after my climb to the top of the leaning tower of Pisa.  I took  a few more pictures with the leaning tower and with the other sights, the Duomo and the Baptistery.  After that, I was hungry, I got pizza for dinner, which has become my staple food in Italy.  I then walked back to my hostel as it was getting dark, I took a few more pictures of the leaning tower of Pisa in the twilight.

Lynnae pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa in the Twilight on my way back to Hostel
I saw two Asian women on my way back to the hostel, I think they had taken a picture of some tourists, I wondered if they were my hostel mates.  The man at the hostel's reception said all my hostel mates were from China.  When I got to my hostel, they were there, turned out I was right. We talked briefly in the room, but there was a definite language barrier, they are both college students, studying in France. 

The rest of my evening was quiet, relaxed.  Tomorrow I go to Rome, I saw the highlights of Pisa in about half a day, it was worth the short visit to see the leaning tower of Pisa in person.

Day 1 in Pisa, Bike ride in Lucca Photo Album

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Day 2 in Florence, the Duomo, the Accademia, the Uffizi, Piazzale Michelangelo

I woke up early this morning, around 7 am, the hostel has no curtains on the windows, I think the sunshine woke me up.  I rolled over, pulled the covers over my head and tried to get a little more sleep, finally getting up just before 9 am, in time for the hostel's free breakfast. I heard this hostel had a great breakfast, I had no idea it would be as outstanding as it was, better than any  hotel's free breakfast I have ever had. The hostel has a chef who prepares the breakfast, there was an assortment of foods, I wish I had taken a picture of everything.  There were pastries with ham, mini sandwiches with fresh mozzarella cheese and tomato, there were creme tarts with strawberry slices on top. Everything was delicious, I was surprised to see people eating the standard breakfast fare, milk and cereal.

I checked out shortly after breakfast, I had to change rooms today, was not a big deal.  I left my luggage at the hostel, my computer at the reception desk, and went out to explore Florence.  My  first stop, camera shops, the camera I brought with me to Europe had died, it is still under warranty, I may ship it to my parents and let them send it in for repairs.  In the meantime, I needed a new camera, I could have gone with a cheap low end, but this is the trip of a lifetime, when will I ever tour Europe like this again?  I invested in another super zoom camera, this camera is a 12.5x zoom, good enough for what I need.

I went to the Duomo after I bought my new camera, I took a few shots and the low battery warning appeared.  Florence's Duomo, is probably the most beautiful cathedral I have seen in Europe.  Many of Florence's buildings are architectural works of art, fitting for this city of art.  I was going to go check out the lines at the Uffizi, Florence's famous art gallery, but I decided to go back to my hostel and charge my battery.  Last thing I wanted was to be sightseeing and my camera's battery die.

Lynnae & Duomo & Baptistery 
I went back to my hostel, let my battery charge for about an hour, and call home on my magic jack.  I left the hostel around 1pm to restart my sightseeing in Florence. I headed towards the Duomo when I left my hostel this afternoon, the woman at the  reception recommended a Panini shop in a square not far from the Duomo, I decided to stop there for a quick lunch, it was inexpensive 2.50 Euro for the sandwich.  After lunch, I headed for the Uffizi, I was prepared not to go at all, I wanted to see the lines though.  If it was more than an hour wait, I was going to skip the Uffizi, see it the next time I am in Florence.  The line was long, I left, went to take some pictures around Piazza della Signoria.

Lynnae in front of Palazzo Vecchio

Fountain in Piazza della Signoria

Statue in Piazza della Signoria
After Piazza della Signoria, I went back to the Duomo, there was almost no line to enter, I had not planned to tour the inside of the Duomo, but since the line was short, it was free, I went inside.  The Duomo looks like many other Catherarals I have seen on the inside, I walked around, took some pictures and then headed for the Accademia to See Michelangelo's David. I stopped and bought caramel gelato on my way to Accademia.

Inside Florence's Duomo

Caramel Gelato on my way to the Accademia to see David
The wait to get into the Accademia was a little less than an hour, I passed the time talking to an American couple living in Edinburgh, Scotland.  I told them about my CIA story, they had the usual response, shock, sounds like a TV show, etc. They said they always meet interesting people while traveling, I agreed.  Seeing David at the was worth the wait, pictures do not convey what the sculpture looks like in person.  David is the main attraction at the Accademia, I looked at the other exhibits, but wanted to go back to the Uffizi, see if the lines were shorter in the evening.  

David at the Accademia
When I got to the Uffizi there was no line, some people were waiting, asking questions of the man working at the door.  I could not understand the conversation, it was all in Italian.  I later passed by the Uffizi and saw a sign and a huge line, free from 7:30 pm to 11:00 pm, those people were waiting for the free time.  I am glad I  did not know it was free this evening, I could have waited 2 hours and been at the front of the line.  Since I did not know about tonight's freebie at the Uffizi, I paid 11 Euros, no wait time, went straight to the 2nd floor to see the artwork. I did not know no photography is allowed in the Uffizi, I asked a worker to take a picture of me on the steps, after some Italian conversation and telling her coworkers, she took one for me.

Lynnae in the Uffizi 
The Uffizi was nice in the late afternoon, no big crowds, a few artists copying the sculptures on sketch pads, some students taking notes.  I spent about an hour looking at the sculptures and artwork, then I went to the top, where there's a cafe, saw the view and left.  My next destination was across the Arno River, the Piazelle Michelangelo. I considered watching the sunset from the Piazelle Michelangelo  but I was hungry, did not want to hang out there until 8:45pm.  I hiked up the hill, saw the great view of Florence and made my way back down to the city.

The Arno River

View of Florence from Piazelle Michelangelo 

Lynnae in Piazelle Michelangelo
After Piazelle Michelangelo, I walked back down into Florence, I was hungry, needed to find something to eat.  I passed the Uffizi on my way back into the main part of Florence, there was another long line, this was the free event. The sign said the wait time was between 60 and 90 minutes, I was very happy I was not in that line.

Line at the Uffizi for free night
Florence had cleared out between the time I went to Piazelle Michelangelo and returned to the main square, it was quiet, no crowds, a few people taking pictures here and there.  When I went this morning, the Duomo and Piazza della Signoria were overrun with tourists.  Was interesting to see the difference   I kept an eye out for somewhere to eat, then I saw a teenager with a sign asking pizza? pizza? He asked me, initially I said no and kept walking, then I turned around, said pizza, yes.  He showed me to a crowded restaurant, mostly Italians, I figured it should be good.  I ordered the sausage and mushroom pizza, it was good, almost Naples quality.

After dinner I returned to my hostel.  I met my hostel mate from Australia, we talked about our travels.  She studied in Paris for 5 months, spent a lot of time with Americans and has acquired an American accent, it happens. Later our hostel mate from Mexico showed up. Tomorrow I move on to Pisa for a night, then Rome. I may stop in the walled city Lucca on my way to Pisa tomorrow, I have not decided yet. 

Day 2 in Florence Photo Album