When we have each other, we have everything.
Slept in this morning and took our time getting up and about. We enjoyed another breakfast through our hotel and packed to get ready to go. So much of our stuff smells... so gross! It is definitely time to get home to a washer/dryer!
We had quite a bit of time before our 4:00 train, so we decided to figure out the bus transportation. We didn't have the best luck in Italy, but the system here was much easier to figure out. It was organized very similar to the train system. A map with lines and dots showing stops and arrows showing direction. If you need to go a different way than the arrows are pointing, just cross the street and those arrows will be the direction you want to go! It was my kind of bus system!
We took the tram to Gurten and then took a funicular to the top. There was a beautiful park with hiking trails and views of Bern and the Swiss Alps. Still looked really cloudy that direction...so we couldn't see all the peaks, but there were a few. We hiked around for a few hours and enjoyed being outside. Admittedly, Bern was redeemed from up here! It is a beautiful country!
We stopped by a chocolatier shop on the way to lunch. Everyone back home is wanting real Swiss chocolate...so it was a necessary stop. It was difficult to decide and the smell was to die for! If I worked in there, I would weigh 1000 lbs!
We picked up delicious mozzarella and tomato wraps from the market and enjoyed our lunch back in the hotel lobby.We caught our train from Bern to Zurich and I slept the whole way. I have loved our travels, but boy do these fun-filled days wipe me out!
We arrived in Zurich and were able to figure out our connecting train. The problem however was that we missed our stop. We ended up at the airport, which was good to see considering that we are headed there soon...but admittedly, it gets exhausting being lost all the time! A nice gal gave us directions and we were on our way.
Other than the funicular ride this morning, today was basically a travel day by the time we got to the hotel. We ventured out to get dinner, Dominoes, because we are so cheap! Food is so expensive here! We also stopped by the market to pick up our breakfast for the next two days. We had a bit of a run-in with the bananas. We apparently were supposed to weigh them and tag them. We did not understand the German that the woman was speaking, so she ended up doing it for us! Oh boy! Crazy Americans! It was early to bed for us because we want to do all of Zurich tomorrow! Last day here we come!
Up early today. We decided to head to Gimmelwald (Swiss Alps). It is quite the traveling process to get here, so we didn't want to lose time in the morning and get home too late. We ate breakfast at the hotel...probably the first breakfast with a ton of options for us. From there we headed to the train station to see what we could figure out. Fortunately, the SBB ticket area has a help desk and the gentleman that assisted us was fantastic. He booked us a ticket that would get us through 4 different types of transportation on one ticket for 80 franc round-trip!. Fabulous!
Step 1: Bern to Interlachen OST via train (approx. 50 min.)
Step 2: Interlachen OST to Lautenbrunner via train (approx. 20 minutes)
Step 3: Lautenbrunner to Schetelberg via bus (approx. 20 minutes)
Step 4: Schetelberg to Gimmelwald via gondola (approx. 5 minutes)
Totally crazy, but amazingly enough, all of our connections were within minutes of each other, so they were incredibly efficient! We arrived to the Gondola to begin our adventure. Unfortunately, we did not pick the best weather day. It was incredibly overcast and rainy. We made the best of it and still thought it was cool to be hiking in the Swiss Alps.
We explored Gimmelwald, while trying to remain as dry as possible. We stopped at a little place for hot chocolate and loved the fact that they had an "Honesty Shop"'attached to their hotel. You can go in, take an item, and leave an envelope with the amount you owe and what you purchased. The envelope goes into a bin and it is all on the honor system. Such a cool idea!
From Gimmelwald, we hiked an hour to Murren. Another little mountain town tucked away from the business of the world. This hike had what I would imagine to be amazing views. From what we could see through the fog, it was beautiful. Murren was a fun town ... we stopped and ate lunch on a bench to get out of the rain for a little bit. Then we got pretty chilled, so we found another little place and had more hot chocolate.
We got as far as a little town just above Murren and then needed to hike back down. The last gondola going down the mountain was at 16:03 ... we did not miss that considering it would add another hour and a half to our time in the rain. On our way back down, we enjoyed taking our time.
We found ourselves stopping and listening to the cow bells on the hillsides and patiently waiting for chunks of the clouds to pass so that we could sneak a peak at a pretty section of the area. One section of the trail was pretty much all cow manure, so we knew we would smell by the time we got back down.
At one particular section, we thought for sure that it would clear, so we waited and entertained ourselves with catching crackers in our mouths and making a video. The clouds passed some, but never enough to give us a sense of what we were missing! I guess we will just have to come back!
The gondola ride down still had breathtaking views of Schetelberg and waterfalls! We stopped in Lautenbrunner on our way home for dinner and more exploring. We stopped for burgers and beer and met a funny waiter from the Czech Republic who told us that we were beautiful girls. Hmm ... we were seriously a hot mess, so not sure we should take that as a compliment. The burgers were fabulous ... genuinely some of he best meat and bread I have ever had!
We wrapped up dinner and made our way back to Bern. What an amazing train ride! The views of a lake and surrounding peaks are hard to get enough of! Made it back to the hotel just in time to avoid the crazy thunderstorm and heavy rain that came with it!
Got up early to make sure we caught a 9:00 train! Breakfast was great as always at the hotel and we were glad that we picked up a little "thank you" treat for our breakfast butler. We grabbed our bags, checked out, and headed to the train station. Fortunately, the rain held off and we were able to stay dry until boarding the train.
The train ride from Italy to Switzerland was out of a movie. Sweeping hills, ragged peaks, flowing rivers, and huge lakes made the 4 hour train ride pass quickly! The Swiss trains are so much quieter and smoother. They also give you information in 4 languages, including English, so we knew where we were and when we should be getting off the train.
Arriving in Bern was a bit of a culture shock. It was not what we had imagined and was much larger than preferred. It has the edginess of a large city: different groups on certain street corners, organized, nonviolent protests, shopping plazas galore! To go from quaint little Como to this was unexpected. We still enjoyed passing the time here, but all in all, we wouldn't come back unless we were just passing through.
We crossed all the major bridges, including the Kirchenfeldbrucke. This bridge provides a pretty cool vantage point of the city. We took a ton of pictures of the infamous clock tower and the cathedral. The town's buildings were definitely German in style, but had a modern edge to them. I thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures of the flowers at the Botanic Gardens and the Rose Gardens. On our way home from the Rose Gardens, we stopped by the Bear Park. Oddly enough, bears are the symbol of the city and they have three bears that live in a large park in the city center. Kind of fun to see!
We saw all of the major sites this evening and had dinner at McDonalds because it is outrageously expensive here. Even McDonalds cost me 12 dollars for a single meal. Yikes! I also kept speaking in Italian. My brain has not accepted that I am in a different country yet!
Woke up feeling rested this morning. We left today as unplanned. We intentionally wanted to see where the day would take us. We started with breakfast st the hotel. Our very sweet butler even remembered that only one of us wanted a cappuccino.
We ventured out to explore Como and ended up on the Greenway walk. This path wraps around Como along the lake front. So many amazing views of this area can be had here. We strolled leisurely until we reached the end at an old (1600's) villa. I can't believe people actually lived/live in these homes.
On our way back, we thought it would be fun to rent some bikes. Because, why not! So we put our money into the machine, collected he printed ticket, and proceeded to be perplexed by the stand next to the bikes! Where does the ticket go? Well...we were perplexed because we in fact bought a ticket for a parking spot...for the car that we didn't have. We soon discovered that you have to pay for them in town and then rent at one of the various locations. Super!
We kept strolling, laughing at our lack of attention to detail, and came upon paddle boats for rent. We had wanted to get out on the water, but we were picturing something more smooth like a kayak. We made due with the less attractive option. We paid 10 euro for 30 minutes and paddled out into the bay. We made an overly ambitious decision to paddle to a fountain that was quite far. We seriously had to hustle on our way back... I was sweating, my legs were burning, and I have a bruise on my spine from the seat... all to save the additional 6 euro we would have been charged if we had gone over time. We breathlessly rolled in with about 10 seconds to spare. A penny saved is a penny earned!
We ate at a little bistro nearby. The man and woman that owned the restaurant were so sweet. She was trying to figure out how we wanted our water... we kept thinking she was asking if we wanted it in a glass, but she was asking if we water with gas (carbonated water). Melanie got water with gas, I got water in a glass. The gentleman was adorable, sitting in his chair at the store front saying, "Ciao, ciao" to everyone. we scarfed our lunch down... we didn't know how hungry we were.
We decided to go check out the shopping. Saw a few more cool sights, but unfortunately, most of the shops were closed for the lunch hour. We took advantage of the quiet and went to the hotel to clean up and take naps.
When we woke up, we headed to the same wine bar as last night, "Why Not." I ordered my favorite, the Dream Colada. We tried out the shopping again, this time with success. We bought some Italian candy and strawberries and peaches from the fruit market. Again, love the markets here! Everything is real food, sold in bulk, no preservatives. That alone makes me want to move here!
Then it was back to "Why Not" and another Dream Colada. Chatted over dinner and because we were trying to spend all of our euro, we barely scraped together enough to pay for dinner. Melanie = .33 euro & Julie = o euro. Uff da! Packed our bags and we are ready for Switzerland tomorrow!
Woke up this morning to overcast skies. It definitely rained last night, but we welcomed the overcast skies. Admittedly, sweating and having a limited supply of clothing do not go hand in hand. We are literally counting our pairs of clean underwear to see if we have to turn them inside out for round two...more information than you probably wanted to know. Breakfast at the hotel was quick and easy prior to heading on a hike.
We decided to take the Funicular up to the top...it was listed as one of the top things to do in Como and only cost 3 euro. The ride to the top had great views of the town. At the top, we explored the area and walked to a vantage point. Amazing! No wonder Lake Como is THE locations for stars to have villas. From there, we hike further up the mountain to the Volta Lighthouse. Really pretty with sweeping views of the southern side of the lake. We chose to hike back down...but, I don't think we were on the right path. The path clearly had not been used for quite some time and actually was quite creepy. There were a few moments when Melone and I just wanted to run the rest of the way down the trail. We made it...in spite of the lengthy descent...2500 ft to be exact. I am glad we took the Funicular up!
We picked up lunch at the local market. I wish we had markets like they do here. Everything is in bulk and they sell by the pound...cheers, meats, pastas, etc. We chose pizza by the pound, yogurt, and pop. We brought the lunch back to our hotel and our hostess sweetly asked if we needed any silverware. She brought us massive spoons for the yogurt and even came out to apologize for the weather later and ask if there was anything else that we needed. She is amazingly sweet and attentive to details!
We got cleaned up to take the bus to Bellagio. We needed to clean up because Bellagio is pretty ritzy and we would have stood out! We shockingly found the bus station and correct bus just fine! The bus ride, however, did not go well for Melone. She looked like she wanted to kill someone...perhaps the driver that kept slamming on the brakes, honking, and driving like it was the Indy 500.
We made it there and enjoyed walking around to the different shops and, of course, bought gelato. The gelato shop we picked was hilarious! The owner kept offering us small cups of wine and then he offered Melone vodka. I think they sell it just to be able to take samples themselves! Caught the fast boat back to Como. It was awesome to see the towns from the water.
We stopped for "fancy drinks" on the way home. We picked a place called, "Why Not?" because that has been the main theme of this trip! We try anything and everything! Great end to the night. One funny story just to show you how mixed up we can be at moments: I am using our currency calculator tonight to figure out how the US dollar compares to the Swiss Franc. I say to Melanie, O"k...the US dollar is one dollar and the Swiss Franc is .89." As though she needed to know that the value of a dollar was a dollar. Oh boy!
Woke up early this morning to hike to Vernazza. Unfortunately, it was raining and the conditions of the trails here are not super conducive to hiking when the ground is wet. We made the call that we would sleep in and take the coastal path instead. While we were getting ready, the cleaning lady knocked on our door an hour and a half early telling us we needed to leave. Melanie told her we would leave soon. So strange. Then when we were trying to check out, the gentleman didn't know how to use the card machine, so first he charged me 1.30 euro and then kept swiping my card for the corrected amount. I was concerned, but we just needed to get out of there. Oh boy!
We headed out with bags in tow for our coastal walk. We grabbed breakfast on the way, but that didn't go smoothly either. We were both feeling a little bummed about how the last day had gone, but decided to put it behind us yet again. We picked the "old version" of trail 2 first by accident, but made our way to the correct trail. The problem was our packs were extremely heavy and there were endless stairs on this hike. We made it about 1/2 way up with the packs and decided to ditch them on the side of the trail. When we made it 3/4 of the way up, we began to feel that it maybe wasn't the best idea for us to leave our stuff behind. We called it and said it was unfortunate due to our lodging that we couldn't leave our bags with them for the morning, as we had with our other accommodations. If we hadn't needed to carry our bags, we could have made it to Vernazza in the two hours, taken a train back to Monterosso, and made it in time for our train to Milan. Such is life!
We descended back to Monterosso and headed to a local beach. We discovered the perfect nook and stored our bags to change into our suits. Swimming cooled us off and brought energy back to our bummed spirits. We dried in the sun for a while and found lunch prior to heading to the train station. When we arrived at the train station, our train hadn't been posted yet. We thought it was odd, but didn't think much of it. A father and a son that we had been talking to had gone to the information counter and asked for information. We found out that there had been an accident down the line and that the trains would be delayed. We passed the time with Melanie running to get us gelato and we helped a gentleman with his bags so we shared champagne with he and his wife. No joke...she had 5 bags to his 1. The train finally arrived, but we were prepared to be proactive if we needed to book a new hotel or another train.
Train ride was uneventful. Switched trains in Milan after grabbing a quick bite to eat at the station. Arrived in Como an hour behind schedule, but we made it to our hotel and it was quite nice. The attendant was helpful and thorough. Our room was clean and we definitely felt safe here. FaceTimed the family to let them know that all was well! Excited to experience all that there is to see here!
We slept in this morning. Much needed after our crazy day of hiking. We enjoyed breakfast at the same cafe. We had croissants, a DELICIOUS fruit salad, and a hot chocolate, which was literally a melted Hershey bar. So good! We explored Cornilia a little more and while we were taking pictures, a "yogi" type of person approached and told us that he was from Hawaii and a little island called Kauai. He was traveling the world playing his 20 compositions on his wooden flute and would serenade us. If we liked his song, he said he would appreciate a small donation of a euro each. He even told us we could take pictures! Oh boy... we told him he could play and we did end up giving him a euro even though he wasn't that good. We are too "Minnesota Nice." The hilarious thing was that we kept running into him in various areas of the city and he always played the same composition. Not sure if he actually knew more or not.
Hopped on a really busy train to Monterosso. Upon arriving in Monterosso, Google Maps told us that it was a 30 minute walk to our hotel. So, we started walking. After not too long... we got the distinct feeling that we were headed in the wrong direction. We asked one gentleman for help, but the language got in the way. We asked another and he was able to point the way for us. Our bags were pretty heavy, so Melanie stayed with our bags on a bench while I went to locate the hotel. It was a little confusing because we were supposed to check in at a different location than we were staying. I located the check in area, but after listening to the housekeeper speak Italian and repeat the same phrase over and over, I figured out that I should come back a little later. Melanie and I ate our leftovers from the day before with our hands and drank wine from one of the bottles we had been lugging around. So classy. It did the job though. I returned to the hotel shortly after and the owner was there to check me in. This is where things got a little weird.
He said Melanie needed to come to the hotel because that is where we were staying. I told him that she was sitting by where our actual hotel was and that I just came here to check in. I showed him that our reservation had a different address, but he said that was just the legal address. I didn't believe him, but decided to get Melanie and figure it out later. He checked us in and took us to the room. The room smelled like cigarette smoke, which I commented on, but he said that no one is allowed to smoke in the rooms. Hmm... that doesn't mean that people don't smoke in the rooms. When he left, we looked at our reservation again. It said that a staff person would walk us to our hotel 250 yards away, it said we paid for a deluxe room with breakfast included, and on the back of the door it said breakfast was not included. We decided to go talk to him. When we told him that we were supposed to be down the street, he said that the bathroom was broken. Melanie said that was fine :) and he laughed and said that we needed a shower and a toilet. I asked why he had told me that it was just the legal address... that is when he said he didn't have other rooms available over there. We knew we weren't going to get anywhere with him. We decided to take a walk to the address of our "supposed" hotel. One of the units was open and it looked extremely nice. Too nice to be a hotel. We determined that he uses the outside of that building and location and a different name, to draw in customers. Then he takes them to one of his rooms and tells them that the bathroom doesn't work. It is a total bait and switch. LAME! We had such success until now. I felt that something wasn't right about the situation, but what were we to do at that point. At least we had a roof over our heads. The room was still nice, but definitely not what we thought we were getting. I will be calling Expedia when I return and making sure he gets flagged.
We didn't want that creepy guy to ruin our day, so we brought our valuables with us to Bagni Fegina (Fegina Beach). We were able to rent two chairs and an umbrella for 15 euro...even though I think we could have just taken the chairs without paying or with someone noticing. Oh well, it was the perfect day to relax and take in the sunshine. The ocean was a little rough. Not great water for swimming, but still refreshing. We napped and picked up dinner from Bar Focacceria Antonio. It was delicious! We enjoyed it on the beach back at our chairs! Had to turn away the ladies offering massages constantly! One of the things that I loved about lounging was hearing the variety of languages spoken around us.
After baking our bodies for a good 5 hours, we headed to the hotel to clean up. We went out for cocktails and ended up at a bistro by the water. We chatted for hours and enjoyed the view and fresh air. Back at the hotel, we made sure our bags were packed so that we could depart ASAP. We both still had a weird feeling about the accommodations, so minimizing time there was crucial.
We started our day early to head for breakfast and a hike. We ate at Giammi Cafe and enjoyed a quiche, fresh squeezed orange juice, and toast. Our hike took us up trail 3a to the Sanctuario. It was about a 1000 ft ascent. It was steep, but worth the climb. We had views of the entire coast line. We were able to see all 5 villages that make up the Cinque Terra region: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. There was a cute little group of kids from a school that were on a field trip... It was cute to hear them talk and one said, "Mama Mia" with that adorable accent. We hiked back down to Riomaggiore and collected our belongings from the front desk and to get gelato at Gelateria Centrale 1. I decided on Limone and Riomaggiore (orange and lemon combined) for my scoops.
Hopped on the train and made the steep ascent to Corniglia. Corniglia is set up on the hill without a marina. It is by far the most difficult of the villages to see, but we welcomed the quiet nature of the village. Riomaggiore was tuned up until 3:30 am and then the day to day busyness started around 7:00 am. Too noisy for our taste. We checked in with the sweetest of our hosts so far. She kept saying, "ok" and "prego." The room was just down the street and it was adorable; old fashioned furniture and fixtures adorned the room. Although decorated from a time past, it had A/C and WIFI which we loved.
Lunch was first on the docket. We ate at a little bistro and I was in the mood for something light. We have had beautiful weather out here, so my appetite hasn't been huge. I ordered a pastry, Twix, and an orange to take with me on the hike. It was a little bit of a battle to find where the hike started. However, our roundabout way of getting there led us to a lemonade stand where local girls were cutting and squeezing lemons to make lemonade. They definitely earned that euro! It was a little too tart for my taste, but they earned it!
We finally found the start of the hike and started our 1800 ft ascent on trail 7a. It was crazy steep! The people we saw coming down from the hike looked tired and really hot. It made us concerned a few times thinking that maybe we wouldn't make it. Especially considering that we were hiking in the hottest part of the day. We took the "slow and steady wins the race" approach and made good time getting to the top. The trail was very open and against the face of the cliff initially. It slowly switched to wooded, lush bushes providing shade and relief from the hot sun. As we approached the top, the landscape was consumed by vineyards olive groves. The top portion of the trail leveled and took us through a tiny little mountain town. The descent became craggy rock and sandy trails which forced us to take our time. We took a break in the shade to enjoy our oranges and some water. At one point we got off the main trail to get a panoramic picture of Manarola, but saw an alternate route down. We probably should have stayed on the main path, as I slipped and my arm hitting a rock wall was the only thing that brought me to a stop. I got a pretty good gouge, but battle wounds come from doing things that are fun.
When we reached the town of Manarola, I was in love. It had a "Fisherman's Village" vibe and I loved all the boating and beach decor. It was all legitimate decor, not just for show. Fishing is big in these villages. Melanie's mom even researched that the Fisherman's houses were painted different vibrant colors so that they could look back at the village to know which house was their own to ensure that their wife was home working in the house. Cinque Terra is also where pesto originated, so I picked up some packets of pesto and pasta to take a little part of Italy home with me.
Took the train home for showers and FaceTime sessions. We ate dinner at Inoteca Con Cocina. The pesto spaghetti was delicious with yet another lemon soda. We were going to go to a little bar and have fancy drinks by the sea, but they closed. So we settled for wine back at the room and headed to bed. It was a busy, but incredibly full and fun day!
Slept in this morning. We needed a slower morning today. Enjoyed another breakfast from our sweet hosts and checked out. They were nice enough to let us leave our bags in the lobby while we walked around a little more. We headed straight to the bank for some more Euros and then to Santa Croche for pictures. Santa Croche is the burial ground for Michaelangelo. Unfortunately it is closed on Sunday, so we were unable to see it, but it was still fun to see it from the outside.
The train station was easier this time! We knew what to look for and were not as stressed in waiting for the platform (bin) to show up. We ate at McDonalds for lunch. I know... not your typical Italian meal. However, we were in need of something different, even if it wasn't great. We talked to a teacher from Florida briefly who was traveling on his own for his fortieth birthday. Nice guy. We boarded the train and picked the wrong car... serious lack of air flow. We stayed here for around an hour and a half (after a nap and blogging) and then switched cars. Much better on the second car. Beautiful countryside to look at and nice to see the country in a low-key, off-your-feet manner. We were excited for this next portion of our trip...totally different scenery and slower pace. We almost exited the train at the wrong stop :). Apparently there are two La Spezia stops. We jumped back on and made it to the right station. From there we connected to Riomaggiore.
Wow! OMG! Really, what a sight to see! We first saw the ocean when approaching on the train. We knew then that we didn't go wrong in our planning. Stepping off the train, you can sense the shift in pace and while walking through the long tunnel you quickly gauge the artistic nature of the community. Riomaggiore is built into a steep hillside and is dotted with bright colors of homes and shops. I appreciated the work that goes into growing the quaint gardens that line the streets for oranges and lemons. We arrived at our destination for the night, Colombo Guest House. The owner was so helpful and thorough. He provided us with maps, train information, a printed list of restaurants and local amenities. This was an amazing place to stay. The apartment was modernly decorated and our view of the main street bustle of activity was fun. We immediately changed and went for a walk around town. The coastal viewpoints, craggy cliffs, and rich colors were warm and welcoming. We stopped for dinner and I enjoyed a lemon soda and a hamburger with fries and onion rings. I needed to get something on my stomach that I was used to.
We walked up to a vantage point and enjoyed sweeping views of the coastline. We passed the church of San Giovanni Battista; a petite little church high on the hillside. We were pretty warm at that point, so we made our way back to get swimsuits on to go swimming in the ocean. The beach was so cool. It wasn't a warm sand beach, but the smooth rocks formed an area that in its own way was super comfortable to lay in. We swam for around 45 minutes and the water was unbelievably clear and warm. We laid on the rocks to dry and soaked in the sun.
It was back to the hotel for showers, gelato, and pictures of the sunset. We decided to do laundry tonight, so we dropped that off first. A little bit of a mystery on how to get coins and run the machine, but we figured it out in the end. I bought limone gelato from Yogurteria and walked up the other side of the town to take pictures of the sunset. The pictures were awesome and we ended up talking to a nice couple about the Cinque Terra region and where they had been in Italy. Then, we ran down to the laundromat because we were really late collecting our stuff. Fortunately, no one removed our stuff. We collected the laundry and headed to the apartment to hang our clothes, hoping that they would dry by morning.
Prior to heading to bed, we heard singing in the streets. We headed downstairs to check it out and discovered that they had lined the street with candles and flowers. A procession guided by a priest with a cross was singing and the members of the church were singing along. Apparently, it was a celebration for a priest gaining sainthood. They walked all the way to the marina and back, chanting and praying the whole way. It was neat to see this Italian tradition. Admittedly it would have been a little embarrassing to be the girls following behind them with the pizza boxes, but what are you going to do.
Unfortunaly, it was not a good night for me. I only got 3 hours of sleep and was up most of the night, every 15 minutes getting sick. I am pretty sure it was because I drank wine and had an allergy pill. I don't think the two meshed well because my body was acting as though there was something toxic and attempting to expel every last ounce of what was in me. Not fun for me or Melanie because I didn't make it very easy for her to sleep either. Rough way to start the day.
Even though the evening wasn't awesome, I knew I would regret missing out on anything. So I put on my big girl pants as Ben would say and tried my best to enjoy the day. We headed over to the Duomo and Campanile Di Giotto (Giotto's Bell Tower) for our first attractions. Walking the narrow streets, passing the vendors, and looking up at the shuttered windows is probably my favorite part of being in Italy. It takes you back to a time slower, simpler time.
The Duomo was built when the people of France wanted a church that rivaled the churches of other cities. The first stone was laid in 1296 and it took 170 years to complete. The dome was designed by Fillipo Brunelleschi and that portion alone took 16 years to construct. Although the church is simply designed on the interior, the rich colors and intricate designs on the outside mark this as my favorite structure here so far. It almost doesn't seem real when you are standing next to it. We climbed the 463 stairs to the top of the dome. It was a hike. The passageways were narrow and the stairs steeper than the dome in Rome. At the top, the view was worth the effort. You could look down into the church and appreciate the vast size. A "few more steps" led us to the steeple of the dome. Panoramic views of Florence took our breath away. We were able to see Giotto's Bell Tower, Santa Croce, and Fiume Arno. Admittedly, I wasn't feeling well at the top, but I told myself to take a breath and enjoy it because I will likely not be coming back. I am glad that I did! This was by far my favorite "structure" of the trip!
We descended back to street level and ate at a cute little bistro next to the church. We ordered a fruit cup with our meal...love the fruit here and it has been a needed item as there are a lot of carbs at every meal. Due to buying the "Il Grande Museo Del Duomo" ( a random happenstance of surfing the internet), we were granted the ability to skip all lines and enter 5 locations in the dome area. So we went to the Battistero next. This is the oldest building in the square. The octagon shape represents the eighth day or the time of the Risen Christ. It was constructed in the mid-11th century. The interior has both Roman and Islamic influences. The mosaics on the dome are spectacular. Each ring telling different stories. We took some time to sit down and enjoy the scenes around us.
We were ready after a short rest to climb our next set of stairs. Giotto's Bell Tower was built in 1334, started by Giotto and finished by Francesco Talenti. This tower was around 300 steps, but the nice thing was the breaks at each level to look out over the city. These stairs were deserving of the Minnesotan phrase, "Uff da." The view, yet again, was worth it! This time we had views of the dome and a different vantage point of the town. It is crazy to look down and think that we climbed to that height in a relatively short span of time. These towers/domes have definitely become a favorite for us. They give you such a great sense of what the towns are like.
We walked through the wealthy portion of the area to arrive at Ponte Vecchio, one of the most photographed bridges in the world. It was so cute...little homes built into the side and shops lined each side. The river was quite pretty and bridges followed the twists and turns of the city. We were hoping to find out how much a boat ride would cost us, but we couldn't figure out how to get down to the water.
On our way back, we passed through the Piazza Della Signoria where another statue of David exists and another beautiful fountain rests. The facades of many of the buildings in this area were very cool. We came back to Hotel Arianna for a nap. Mercato Centrale was not too far from the hotel, so we went there to pick up our scarves and do a little shopping. The gal whom we bought scarves from was very sweet. She helped us pick out the right colors and was very curious about our travels. She suggested our location for dinner, Da Pinnochio. This was the perfect restaurant because we ordered a cold pasta salad. We have had wonderful weather while we have been here, but it leaves us craving something cool, not hot pizza.
Early night back at the hotel to plan our Lake Como portion of the trip. We needed to rebook our hotel. Ran into a little bit of an issue with transportation from the train station to where we were staying. When we called the hotel, they hung up on us twice because we didn't speak Italian. It would have been a bad idea to show up and not have anyone to talk to if we got stuck. We rebooked in Como instead and even saved 4 euros per night! Off to bed!
Ben, Julie, and Amelia