October, 6th, 2017.
After two days of hectic travel, two trains, two flights, many taxis and a hotel stay in Malaga, Spain, we arrived unscathed in beautiful Florence, Italy. (Firenze to the Italians) Our day started at noon when we took a taxi to Huelva, caught the 3:00 train to Sevilla, (Remember the Barber?) then after a quick lunch in the train station, (I could write an entire blog on airport and train station food), we caught another train to Córdoba then Malaga and about 20 other stops along the way.
Spanish cities are not shy with words. We get places like Poco, Burnaby and if we get really excited something like New Westminster. In Spain it seems as if every city has to describe its location, any explorer who drove by this place, what they grow, the name of any river or mountain nearby, landmarks, 1 or 2 church references and throw in a good Spanish name on top of it all. Thus you get something like Rio del Punta de la cote a la Maria con sol d’iglisia de la mer. OK maybe a little hyperbole here, but you get the general picture.
We got a little nervous when we arrived in Córdoba and an English announcement came on to tell us we could leave the train and not to forget any bags. After a minute the next announcement told us to stay seated if we were continuing to Malaga. After a five minute wait, the train started up, but we were now going backwards. At first we thought that we were getting ready to change tracks or something, but this was not the case. We did the entire rest of our trip to Malaga in reverse.
The train station in Malaga was huge with a number of of armed Spanish soldiers looking for any problems. I know I am supposed to feel safe with those people there, but just knowing they are there is a little nerve wracking. We made it to our hotel which was a nice Holiday Inn Express and we’re delighted to see two things we missed for the past month. The first was a very comfortable bed, and the second was a bath! Kim and I both had a chicken Ceaser salad with red wine for dinner. It was a much nicer restaurant than any experience we had in Punta Umbria, but paled in comparison to any meal we had in Portugal. Land of delicious food. The bad news was we had a very early flight to Florence with a stopover in Madrid. So with 4-5 hours sleep we were up in the morning to a very crappy breakfast of toast and packaged lemon muffins. The espresso was pretty decent.
We took a cab to the airport. Our cab fare the night before from the train station was 5.85€ and 2€ for luggage. Total 7.85€. It was about 10 km and took about 20 minutes. The Holiday Inn Express was right next to the airport. It was less than a kilometre and took less than 3-4 minutes to get there. Our fare was 24.00€ and an additional 4.00€ for luggage. Total 28.00€. According to our driver this was the airport taxes the drivers have to pay. Not sure if we were ripped off or just disliking Spanish tax laws. There is not much you can do in this situation except smile and get on your flight. I can’t complain as Kim has done a fabulous job as our travel agent. She got us amazing prices on flights, hotels, trains etc. This was all done before we got here so we aren’t fighting bad internet or services that want paper, not digital prints of your ticket. The flights were both short and uneventful, although the second pilot was a bit of a cowboy. Every turn required him to tilt the plane far steeper than most pilots, our descent was fast and steep and finally his landing was with a huge bump! 2-3 times while just taxiing down the runway he hit his brakes so hard we all jerked forward. Not sure if I imagined this but I believe he may have had an N on the tail of his plane. Who knows? Maybe he was getting used to a plane with a clutch?
A plaza near our apartment.
When we pulled into the city of Florence, it was like walking back in time 400 years. Florence was at one time a walled city and was established by the Romans in 59 BC. It was a payment to Julius Ceaser for his soldiers who had served him. It became an important trade centre and is still known for its famous wines (Tuscany Region of Italy- Chianti Classico) and olive oil. It was perhaps most famous as the art centre in Europe during the Renaissance period. (1400-1700’s) artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, all came and lived here and created beautiful paintings and sculptures. This was due in fact that throughout this time Florence was under the control of the Medici family. This is the family that controlled all of the banking for the Catholic Church and therefore were very well connected and to put it bluntly, very rich. This family was also very focussed on the arts. You may remember it was Catherine Medici that built the beautiful ballroom to enjoy the music and art gallery at Chateau Cheverny in France. Same family.
After an amazing pasta dinner with our dear Italian friend, Palova, we went to bed and slept in to recuperate after two days of travel. By the way, we send big kudos to Palova, who got us the apartment we are staying in. Although the building is probably over 200-300 years old, the insides are modern and clean with every amenity. We walked into to a waiting bottle of Chianti!
The next day our plan was to do our own walking tour of the old city, locate some of the sites to see and then visit them over the next few days. It is so beautiful. Check out the pictures. The streets here are mostly very narrow with a few boulevards that are much wider and can accommodate two and even sometimes four cars. When the walls of the city came down many years ago, roads were built in this area to help with the transportation.
With super narrow streets and most homes about 3-4 stories high it is difficult to see any landmarks from a distance. So like the tourists, we set out on a city tour. We passed the Galleria Del Accademia home to the statue of David and many other works of art. It was only 4 blocks from our apartment.
We then walked to Piazza del Djomo to see the amazing Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction on this amazing cathedral started in 1296 and it was completed in 1436. Although pictures allow you to see the fine detail in the work, you truly only get to appreciate the size of this building when you walk around the outside. It took us 25 minutes, includes dodging the tourists as well.
From there we went to the Palazzo Vecchio. This Palace/Museum was built in 1299 again under the supervision of the Medici family who lived in it for a number of years. We had walked and gawked for three hours and we’re getting hungry so we ate a lunch of salad and pasta at an outdoor cafe. Our final stop before heading home was at Piazza Santa Croce. Here there is another beautiful Basilica. It is the burial place of many famous people, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini and Machiavelli to name but a few. Construction on this church was started in 1294 and continued until 1426. The legend states that it was founded by St Francis of Assisi. It is still the largest Franciscan Church in the world. With trusty map in hand, we negotiated our way back to our apartment for a break before dinner. At about 8:00 pm we were startled by a flash of lightning and a loud roll of thunder. We got ready for dinner, found a nice restaurant about 3-4 blocks away and had a dinner of spicy sausage and onion pizza and a chicken salad. All served with Italian bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicioso!