Day 15-Leaving Venice. Destination: Florence
The next morning, we grabbed breakfast and headed to the train station. Lucky for us, it wasn’t hard to find since it was the same one where we couldn’t buy bus tickets from the first night. We took a two-hour train ride to Florence and once there took another one to get to our Air BnB. This is when we discovered how confusing the Italian train system can be. For some reason the station timetable and tickets didn’t include the additional stops and gates, only the destination, which was a little stressful. But luckily with a little help, we made it on the right train.
The place we stayed at was right outside the city nestled in the beautiful countryside. Our host was nice enough to pick us up and drive us up the mountain, pointing out shops and restaurants along the way. After winding around the mountain, we arrived at their “house”—a little bit of an understatement—since this place could have been a mansion! As you walked up to the house, there was a beautiful patio, followed by a lush courtyard that wrapped around the property. The patio boasted a beautiful view of Florence from its mountainside perch; Reagan and I were already thinking about relaxing and enjoying the view over a bottle of wine. It was a graceful and idyllically Italian residence.
After a tour of the house we took a brief 25-minute walk from the Air BnB down into the city to do some exploring. Once in Florence, we found a bus to take us around town. First stop was the Boboli Gardens, which is a huge sculpture park filled with pieces from the 16th and 18th centuries. Between the sculptures and greenery, we could’ve easily spent all day in the gardens, but we cut our visit short to journey to Piazzale Michelangelo, an exquisite panoramic view of downtown Florence. We could see the city sprawl for all the eye could see; if we squinted hard enough, we could even make out our Air BnB!
Next, was the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval stone arched bridge over the Arno River. It was filled with a myriad of shops, and a great view of the river. By this time, we were hungry, so we grabbed dinner in the city square right next to all the high fashion shops. Once off the train we quickly remembered our uphill journey back up to the Air Bnb; walking back up the mountain was certainly not as easy as the way down. By the time we reached that sprawling villa on the hill, Reagan and I were ready to pass out!
Day 16- Florence
The next morning, we made our second walk down the mountain and had breakfast at a delicious bakery in town. Our first stop of the day was the Renaissance-era Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. We were in awe of the cathedral’s massive size and impressive Gothic rotunda. It’s crazy to think something so huge was completed back in the 13th century!
Next we ate lunch at an actual hole in the wall, and as the saying goes it was amazing. We were nearby the Galleria dell’Acacademia, which happened to be our next stop. The line for entry wrapped around the building with people waiting to see Michelangelo’s iconic statue, David. The 17-foot marble sculpture is as breathtaking as one can imagine; David stands in stern contrapposto, eyes burning towards Rome, and wielding the sling that slew Goliath. Simply amazing.
Finally, we made our way to the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Roman Catholic church where Michelangelo is buried. Inside we saw firsthand artisans preserving and restoring an old tomb from centuries before. By now, we were beat from all the walking, so we decided to head back to the Air BnB to rest and take in the view from the mountainside. We grabbed a bottle of wine, ordered delivery, and called it a night. It was the perfect way to end our last night in Florence, a beautiful city of antiquity. Next stop, Naples.
We woke up that morning to make our last journey down the mountain to the train station in town. Once on the train we found seats, stowed our bags, and bam, we were on our way…or so we thought. One thing about Italian trains is that no one regularly checks the tickets, rather they do random cabin checks. In fact, we had never been subject to a ticket check during our entire journey across the whole of Europe, so it was a little surprising when the attendant asked for our tickets this time.
We watched as his face turned a little funny, confused, and then completely urgent.
“You folks need to exit this train immediately! This is not the train to Naples,” he said.
Surprised, we gathered our things as fast as we could and switched trains. Call it luck, but if it weren’t for that random ticket check who knows where we would’ve ended up? Certainly not Naples!
Relieved, we relaxed on the three-hour ride, taking in the beautiful countryside. Before we knew it, we had the cobblestone streets of Naples under our feet. Our Air BnB was on the eighth floor of an apartment building located in the heart of the city, smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle. If one were to experience the pulse of Naples this was the place. The streets were so narrow and filled with people that we had to bust our way through a crowd just to get into our building. Talk about rush hour in the big city.
If that wasn’t enough chaos, we realized that the old building didn’t have an elevator. It was a grueling traverse up eight flights of unforgiving old-world stairs. We reached our place to be greeted by the host’s mother, who did not know English but did her best to make us feel at home. This is where our free-spirited journey into the old city took a turn for the worst.
We imagined Naples to be this spread of beautiful stucco houses nestled on the Amalfi Coast, topped off with an evening of dress up in the finest restaurants.
Naples wasn’t going to treat us so easily unfortunately. To hit the coast would mean another three hours of traveling by a combination of water buses, buses, and taxis, and that was depending if we could even get a ticket in the first place. We looked to Google and found that we could hit the coast in a bout 40 minutes if all our ducks lined up in a row. We also found a few public beaches in the area and called it a plan. It wasn't Amalfi, but it would do.
Let me preface with saying that drivers in Southern Italy are scary, I’m talking people shouting and blaring on horns every ten seconds. Yikes. We thought playing Frogger in the streets of Amsterdam was crazy, Naples drivers were cutthroat on their commute. And though the view from the water was beautiful, the buildings were all stacked on top of each other which obstructed the waterfront and made a mess of the sidewalks which sometimes had no street signs.
With some prodding and luck, we went down a secret tunnel under main street and somehow popped out our heads somewhere on the oceanside. Thank goodness. We took in the sights on the pier and tried to find somewhere to eat. Unfortunately, it was only 4 pm and restaurants in Naples are commonly only open after 8 pm for dinner. We walked another mile looking for food to no avail.
We found one place online that was apparently open, but we were met with funny looks from patrons because apparently it was closed for a private party that day. Of course, it was! At this point Reagan and I were beginning to get a little hangry. Naples wasn’t treating us to the romantic dinner we were imagining.
We finally settled on a casual place on the way back. Figured we could snack on some appetizers while deciding on dinner after 8. We were treated to some drinks, a plate of fries, and some snacks/bar food. We were served an almost ungodly amount of fries that had to be at least four potatoes. So, there we were, in the lap of Naples and the Mediterranean…snacking on a plate of fries. Not exactly our idea of a romantic night out.
We dipped out of the diner and continued down the pier to watch the sunset which did help salvage the night. You could see the seemingly endless ocean reaching far into the horizon, with Mount Vesuvius towering in the distance. The fiery sun set behind the once powerful mount.
In the end, everything kind of worked out; it was a day to remember even if everything didn’t go as planned. Not every outing could be picture perfect and up until today we had been blessed with some truly blissful experiences. By the time we made the journey back inland to our place and climbed all the way up the eight flights of stairs, we were beat. As we dozed off, we heard a loud commotion from the pizza place in the street below. Whatever it was it would have to wait until tomorrow. Naples may have gotten us today, but we still had another day before heading off to Rome.
Be on the look out for Chapter 8 of our adventure and don't forget to shop some favorites on our store!
Story by: Jeremy Lux
Written by: Eric Gasa