Tuesday, June 24, 2014

April 6, 2014–Cinque Terre to Pisa to Florence!

The Travelpod on this day was written by Lizzie. Those words in are italics. Any new commentary will be in normal text. Enjoy!

Lizzie here!
Today was much less stressful than yesterday. So that is a win. We got to bed at a reasonable time last night, but I dreamed of dragging luggage up mountains on small rocky cliffs all night. By the way, did Doug mention we both ended yesterday with over 125 floors of stairs? I got my 125 Stairs badge from fitbit to prove it.
Back to the story…. Needless to say I did not get much rest, but I was up and ready to go at 6:45 am to pack up and head out of Cinque Terre.

We got up and packed the rest of our stuff. We were out the door by 7:15 to catch the 8:00 am train. We drug our bags down the 5ish stories, down the long tunnel to the train and arrived at the train station. We walked up to the screens to confirm our train and to our dismay the schedule showed the next train arriving at 8:30. We had a little over an hour to wait and I was sad I missed out on the sleep

We are still unsure if Doug read the schedule wrong or if the trains schedule was just switched. Alas, it does not really matter but for the sleep I lost. So we sat on the edge of a rock in a train station in full view of the sea. Pretty terrible. :) It was the most beautiful place to sit and wait for a train. We were on the edge of a rocky coast staring into the sea.

The train arrived and we hopped on with our luggage. It was a double decker train, but as the ride was only 8 minutes and it was not worth hauling the luggage up the stairs, we stayed downstairs. The ride was smooth and we arrived in La Spezia right on time. We carried our luggage half a mile to our car and packed the car back up. Off we went…on our way to Pisa.

Doug decided he did not want to take the Autostrade (Italian Interstate) as he prefers more scenic routes so he headed to SS1 (like our highways) and we headed the back way to Pisa.
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Halfway to Pisa we found a HUGE store called “SuperStore” (our Walmart, but more grocery focused). We stopped in and saw the grocery in action and it was intense. There were people EVERYWHERE. We were of course on the hunt for a curling iron, but it was a no go.

Side Note: Have you played Super Mario World on Super Nintendo?

Do you remember when you found Star World and you played all the levels and then when you beat star world it changed the entire Mario World when you want back to the regular levels? The goomba completely changed to this flying thing:

Do you remember how those levels were the same, but had different bad guys and different colors? If you do, you will get this analogy….Europe is Super Mario World after you beat star world.

It is all familiar, but so different. Ashley and I realized this on previous trips to Europe and still refer to this continent as Star World. Doug and I use this terminology also. We especially noticed it in the SuperStore. It looked like a grocery, but was filled with very different people, food, meats, etc. If you do not get this, do not fret. We are quirky kids.

And we are back to the story…We left the SuperStore and headed to Pisa. We arrived in the city to find FREE parking. Yes, FREE street parking. I navigated us to a street near Pisa town square and we walked the half mile to see the leaning tower of Piza. My goal was just to see the tower so we did not buy tickets to climb it, but maybe another trip. It was more impressive than I thought. It is only one of many leaning structures in the square. They all actually lean, but the tower is the most obvious.

Closest to furthest: The Baptistery, the Church and finally the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The Church!


Some Tower pics!



One of my goals was to high five someone taking the typical Pisa photo of them holding up the tower. Doug followed me around until I found the right candidate. This non-English speaking gentleman was all lined up and I ran up and high fived him. IMG_0963

The high five smack was SO LOUD. I kept walking, he looked confused and Doug got a photo of the moments after it happened. It was pretty funny and it makes me giggle.

The tower’s base was very interesting. I was intrigued by how the base has been sinking all over, but more in one direction. Check out the photos to see for yourself.IMG_0954IMG_0957

The door to the Tower:




You know, the more I think about it, I am not sure I want to climb a leaning tower…I feel like I climbed 35 leaning towers yesterday. Back to Pisa – we walked a bit on the Miracle Square – a perfectly manicured lawn around the square and admired the tall defense walls. This was a truly protected square.

We headed back to our car and headed towards Florence. On the way I saw an even bigger store than earlier. It was a shopping mall of Star World. We parked and headed in to find a home depot like store, but everything in it was from Star World. I should have taken a photo. It was like shopping for home supplies on Mars. Then we headed up to an electronics store and found A CURLING IRON!

I was/am so excited. We paid for the overpriced hot cylinder and grabbed lunch in the fast food area. Star World food court. We had lunch and then Doug had gelato! Of course the store had their own traditional gelato stand! Where do you think we are? It was actually quite good.

We took our full bellies and my curling iron and headed back to the car. We hopped on the Autostrade and were on our way to Florence.


Florence is a very hard town to drive in. They do not allow cars in the city central, but our hotel was located in the city central. If you are staying there they will not give you a ticket, but we were unsure if the hotel had our car info… so we risked it.

I navigated us into Florence with no issue until we got to the city central. The streets were FULL of people. It would be like driving down Bourbon Street during Jazz Fest weekend or driving down St. Charles before Bacchus was about to roll. There were people everywhere, I was navigating using a map that did not show the roads correctly and Doug was trying not to hit people. It was not ideal.

After some stress, I got us to where my google map said I needed to be. I told stressed Doug to pull over and I would go find the hotel as the roads were not easy to follow, there were many one ways and some roads that did not even exist. I hopped out of the car and made a block around where I thought the hotel was. I made my way back to the car and found a coffee shop nearby. I went in and asked if they knew where our B&B was located. Sadly, they were no help. I hopped back into the car and gave Doug the bad news. Doug pulled out his phone and we planned a route to get us where we thought we needed to be – which sadly was only 2 blocks behind us, but we were on a one way.

Off we went – let me just say it was terrible. People everywhere again and streets that did not exist. We had to change the route 3 times and then when we thought we had won – we realized we were stopped in the EXACT same spot we had stopped in earlier. We were about to dump the car and run for it. I suggested we call the hotel. Thank GOD they answered. I explained where we were located and Sergio said to stay in the car and a man from the garage would come meet us and take the car away. Perfect! Good riddance! We were ready to run away from the car.

I am now going to let Doug explain the experience in his own words. Let me just say before you read this – This is the most frustrated and stressed Doug has been this whole trip so far. Here you go:

dougs notes:
Today started off fantastic, turned into a crazy stressful fiasco, then finished with gelato and happiness.

Based on the questions Lizzie asked me about times for the train schedule, I imagine she already covered the bit about us getting a bad train schedule.
I may have to defend my ability to read a simple train schedule depending on what sort of light she shed on the events this morning. Though I think she was just sad she didn't get to sleep any later.

The drive to Pisa was fun. I decided to save the 20 euro or whatever crazy amount it would cost to take the Atostrada and we went through the various towns we wouldn't have seen otherwise. I would suggest anyone driving do the same. But after the full events of the day unfolded, I would strongly suggest you NOT TAKE A CAR INTO THE CITIES IN ITALY _EVER_. More about that later.

The scenic route was very pretty. I don't remember half of the town names we went through, but the drive was relaxing for me. She will likely cover the highlights of our travels in a different light than me, but I'm writing my thoughts down for the day for one main reason -- which I alluded to earlier.

Why you shouldn't drive in any city in Italy ever.
Seriously. The train system here is very good. When you read the schedule properly, they get you very close to your destination with very little stress on your system. No need to pay attention to road signs you aren't used to, no concerns about parking the car, just make sure you get off at the right stop and you are there

My wife, though, has this strong discomfort with public transportation. Yes, we got here on a plane, but she will suffer through what is necessary to achieve an end result she desires. We weren't coming to Italy until I actually booked the flights. She got on the train in Cinque Terre, but only because it really made good sense to do so.

I really wish I had done as much research for Florence. The guy I booked the hotel with made it sound somewhat easy to get to the hotel and they had a garage to park the car in and we wouldn't have to worry about the ZTL zones where you aren't allowed to drive because parking in that garage would give us an exception. It isn't cheap to park there, but the rental drop off location isn't close, either. It sounded easy, I thought it would be worth its weight in lack of Lizzie anxiety.

I fully admit, I was WRONG. (Lizzie here - I disagree - It was seriously not that bad.)
Driving in Florence: The good: I got to see almost every site from the comfort of my own car.
The bad: I had to drive through MOBS OF TOURISTS IN FRONT OF ALL OF THOSE SITES! Seriously, I feel it would be like driving down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

We stopped at the location that the navigation system brought us to, but we didn't see the hotel anywhere. So we drove a little further, avoiding the throngs of people everywhere as best I could, and Lizzie was giving me the best directions she could from what information she had. At one point, she told me to go straight across a sea of people in an open piazza. Imagine a huge open space in the city you live in that is crawling with people. Jackson Square in New Orleans. Maybe Central Park in New York. We drove up to a stop sign and Lizzie asked me to go through all those people before looking up to see why I hesitated. Instead, we made a left and went around the horde, to find more hordes all over the place. At one point, a Japanese tourist took a photo of us. "Oh look! An Italian car in an Italian city!"

All I could think was "just get me out of here, I don't want to be driving through all these people!" If there were no consequences, and perhaps a pedestrian point system, I would have racked up an unbeatable high score in Carmegeddon today. Those people were practically throwing themselves at our car. Unfortunately, real life has consequences and I had to make VERY sure I didn't so much as clip someone's leg for fear of the legal implications that might hold. Add to all this stress, I was constantly under the impression we were doing something illegal because we were in this supposed special zone of Florence where you needed permission to drive around.

We did finally make it out of there. Incidentally at the same place we initially stopped. But this was my "I love you very much" moment for Lizzie. We have a car, we are not taking much public transportation through this entire trip, I'm taking care of my wife. But that was an awful experience I do not want to revisit.

Rome is the only challenging city we have left and we merely need to drop the rental off at Termini. If anyone out there has tips on navigating to Termini without running into zounds of people, I am all ears. I will be looking at that in much more detail before we make our way into Rome.

Maybe I can change the drop off to Orvieto and take the train in from there? How does that sound Lizzie? :) (Lizzie says no, but good try...)

Back to Lizzie - Wow Doug. Tell us how you really feel.
Back to our tale....
Once the man came from the garage we happily gave up the car and the keys to him. He looked respectable enough and I think the car will be there when we request it in two days. Before he took away the car, he showed us where the hotel was and how to get there. It was, OF COURSE, a stones throw from where we had parked the FIRST and SECOND time. I had circled the wrong block, but to be honest there is no way I would have found it. There was no sign – it is just a nondescript door sitting by two other doors.

We checked in with Sergio. He was a plethora of knowledge. He also informed us that they do not give tickets on Sunday for driving in the city center. Thank goodness! I tried asking him some questions, but he had a hard time understanding me and told me my “American is bad”. Doug had to translate by bad American language. Doug thinks it is because I talk to fast. Ha.

He gave us our room keyS. Yes – keys…there are 4 keys for 4 doors to get us into our room. Once you get past the four doors, it really is a great room
. We have a queen sized bed, sofa, big closets, full bathroom with bathtub and bidet AND a fabulous view with terrace doors. The doors open onto a plaza that is where the Mona Lisa was painted. Yes, THE Mona Lisa.


We dropped our bags and headed out to see David, as his museum is closed on Mondays. On the walk to Academia we found the Domo!

We got all the way there to find out we had to pick up our Frienze card at a different museum. So we left there, got our cards and headed back to the Acadamia. We spent as much time with David as we could. IMG_1531IMG_1533IMG_1536

We closed down the museum. He is pretty fantastic and tall. I would strongly recommend you stop by for a visit if you are in the area.
We left David and headed for dinner.


We ended up in a pizza/pasta joint called the Yellow Bar. It was delicious. The restaurant touts their own homemade pasta and I want more of it. We ate our dinner and then headed out for…..you guessed it: Gelato!IMG_0998

Doug had two scoops of happiness. We walked back to our hotel and passed the Yellow Bar – it was packed!! We had clearly made a good decision. On our walk home:


We finished the day overlooking the piazza, the church across the street and all the night owls having a blast. I took a BATH, curled my hair with my new curling iron and we crashed. I am finishing today with 19k steps and 20 floors.


Today was pretty awesome. Tomorrow will be more Florence – museums and shopping!

Love and Hugs, Lizzie

Lizzie Fitbit: 19,314
Doug Fitbit: 17,397

1 comment:

  1. LOVE the pic looking straight up the Tower. So pretty with the blue sky behind it!