We traveled to Northern Italy in November of 2015. I’d just come off a nearly 2-month PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) line due to a very serious leg injury and had to continue with oral medications while we were traveling. My wounds had just started to heal and I still couldn’t lift my left arm over my head but what the heck! I was so full of life after that major health scare that I was all for waking up every 12hrs on the dot to take those nasty pills as long as I was allowed to travel!
Its been a couple of years since we visited Italy so the ticket prices among other things may have changed. We were in Italy for a total of 10 days and covered Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice, Varenna, and Bellagio. No car rental this time around. We traveled by foot, trains, buses and metro. As I started cramming all places into this post I realized how long it was and hence split it up into separate posts. First of the series will be Firenze (Florence).
We got into Milan (Malpensa) round midnight and tried our first and only “sleep-at-the-airport-since-there-is-no-point-in-getting-a-hotel-for-4-hours-since-we’re-going-to-Florence-in-the-morning” experience. Oh boy! was that a mistake or what! I don’t think there were any airport lounges back then that stayed open that late, honestly I didn’t think of researching this before leaving with all that was going on in our lives. I don’t think we found any seats without armrests that would allow us to stretch out. So we sorta cat-napped while being weary of suspicious looking people until 5AM. We then took the first Malpensa shuttle (pre-booked) from the airport at 5:30AM to Milano Centrale (which is in the city center) to get on the first train to Florence which we’d pre-purchased tickets for before we left home. Sitting in the bus for ~20 min and a confrontation between one another passenger and the driver, the driver finally started the bus. I was afraid we’d miss our 7:15AM train if the bus didn’t leave the airport soon. An hour later, we’re at the station. We were hungry since we hadn’t eaten anything since 10PM the night before. S wouldn’t let me get a snack as he was paranoid we’d miss the train. We finally boarded our train with a couple of minutes to spare. We had seats in the Business car. The seats were nice leather bucket seats with not many seats in the car. Each car was separated by glass doors. Minutes after the train left the station, the snack/beverage cart came by. Apparently, the snack and beverage were complimentary including the newspaper – who would’ve thought they had the Wall Street Journal(score!).
For train travel between 2 cities or neighboring countries in Europe, buy tickets 1-2 months in advance. You could save anywhere from 30-75% on tickets instead of paying full price or not finding availability on the day of travel. We got first class tickets on Tren Italia which came with a free snack, beverage and a newspaper for both at €58.00 O/W!
Another thing to note is that you are required to “validate” you ticket on the platform on little machines before you get on the train. On all trains in Italy, we had a conductor come out after the train had departed the station to check the ticket. If you get on the train without a ticket or forgot to validate, you could be fined heavily. Don’t even try feigning innocence/ignorance, the conductor doesn’t care what your reasons are.
4 years ago, Italy had security check at train stations which included going through the Metal detector and bags X-rayed. I don’t think that’s changed since. So make sure to arrive 30-40min before your estimated departure time to allow time for this.
Tap water, a.k.a, “Still water” (I call it tap because they bring it to you in a swing-top glass bottle) is not free at Restaurants and Cafes. They go for a minimum of €3.50 a bottle. You’re better off bringing your own water if you want to save yourself from the price gouge.
Departure Station in Milan: Milano Centrale
Arrival Station in Florence: Firenze Santa Maria Novella
Train Operator: Tren Italia
Duration: 1h 40m
Okay, back to Florence. We arrived in Florence around 9AM, sleep-deprived. But we only had a day here so we had to make the most of it. The train station is in walking distance to everywhere in town. After a couple of detours (wrong hotel directions off of my old printed google map), we finally got to our hotel. The room wasn’t ready so we dropped off our bags and headed out to explore the city. The whole city can be seen by foot. We were surprised to plenty of tourists everywhere. We thought November was an off-season for travel, apparently not. Actually Europeans travel during this time of the year so you’re bound to run into lines everywhere although it won’t be as bad as during the Summer.
Best Nom-Nom(s): 5ecinque (Veggie)
We got a Croissant and Foccacia to munch on and made our way to Basilica di Santa Croce. The basilica was gorgeous! Galileo was first buried here before he was moved some place else. There were stained glass from the 1300s in pristine condition – and we can’t seem to keep our windows clean for most of the year!
Knick-Knacks: Leather bags, purses, belts, shoes
Did I mention it was S’s birthday that day? Poor guy was exhausted from all that travel and hardly any rest. If you know S, you’d know that the man is a bear without at least 7hrs of sleep! He was still a trooper. We walked around and saw the Piazza de Santa Croce, made our way to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, ate an amazing birthday lunch (early dinner) at 5ecinque (the onion soup, the Farinata which is a pancake made with chickpeas, and the mouth watering Focaccia di Recco), headed towards the Duomo ( Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore), did some leather shopping at Mercato di San Lorenzo, and finally made our way back to our hotel around 4:30PM and passed out. We woke up sometime in the middle of the night and ate a snack and went right back to sleep. Next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the train station to catch our train to Rome.