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Trip Report Statia's Florence & Venice, Italy Trip Report

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STATIA'S FLORENCE & VENICE, ITALY TRIP REPORT

Travelers:
Statia and husband

Ages & Health:
34 & 43, respectively. Overall healthy.

Dates of Travel:
July 2 - 14, 2003

Itinerary:
4-1/2 days Florence
4-1/2 days Venice
1 day Paris

Main Modes of Transportation:
Air France (coach class)
Eurostar
Cabs
Buses
Vaporetto
Water Taxi

Accomodations:
Apartment Rentals in Florence & Venice
Hotel in Paris

Dining Style:
Medium price range, with the occassional splurge

Clothing Packed:
For her: Knee length skirts, sleeveless summer sweaters & blouses, along with stylish Clark's sandals.
For him: Zip off cargo pants, button up shirts, and white (gasp!) tennis shoes (believe it or not, we didn't stand out in the crowds).

Trip Purpose:
Husband's birthday in Florence.
Renewing our vows on a gondola for our ten year wedding anniversary in Venice.

Overall Perception:
We enjoyed Florence for the art & history. His favorite.
We enjoyed just wandering and exploring more in Venice. Her favorite.
Paris was simply a place to relax before heading home, since we'd been there before.
We thoroughly enjoyed each city for it's own reasons.

Now, if you want more detailed info, feel free to read on. Since I'm sure this report might get to be a bit long, you could always do as I do when reading trip reports. I like to print them out to peruse with a nice glass of vino or a gelato, at my leisure.

To begin with, I have received such a wealth of information from the people on this board, so I want to give back by contributing my own trip report with the most detailed information that I can. I am a very detail oriented person, so forgive me if I delve a bit too deep than most people care to hear, that's just my writing style, and I will aplogize beforehand. This is my first time posting such travel details on a public forum (I usually only do reports for friends and family), so I hope to be of some assistance to someone out there.......just as you all have been to me. I tried to include detailed info in my heading, as well as include headings and caps in my report, so that specific info could be found easily herein, rather than having to read the whole report. So, here goes..........

JULY 2 - 3 HOME (ST. EUSTATIUS / SABA / ST. MAARTEN) to PARIS CDG / PISA / FLORENCE for ARRIVAL

My husband and I left our little island home of St. Eustatius at 10:45 a.m. and had a rather uneventful and enjoyable trip all the way to Paris. AIR FRANCE has even made some additions to their coach service since our last European adventure in 1999. We typically fly American Airlines (due to their monopoly on our hub), so in all honesty, Air France is quite a step up for us. Each seat had it's own seat-back televsion screen for movies, television shows, documentaries, geographical info, and music. Also included were eye mask, headphones, blanket & pillow (for which I'd had my own pillow cases made and felt more sterile and comfy). The service was good and the meals were great in comparison to what we are used to on AA. Wine, good entree, cheeses, after dinner drink etc. We were overall pleased with the service and provisions on Air France for our 8.5 hour flight over "the pond." It was also nice that AF placed carts with self service drinks near the emergency exits, for those who try to wander about and walk around a bit during the flight.

I have to make a special mention here to all the Fodorites who wished us well in a thread before we left. As intended, I printed the thread and showed it to my husband shortly after takeoff from St. Maarten. He was thrilled to say the least. Thanks to you all!

We only slept an hour or two due to excitement about our arrival (which we expected) and finally landed at PARIS CDG at 6:15 a.m. LT the next day. No problems with customs or immigration (although we now hold an EU passport, so that might have simplified things). We arrived at terminal 2D and had to take a shuttle bus to 2F for our connection. Everything was well marked and we honestly had no problems getting from one terminal/gate to the other. The weather was chilly at 50+ degrees F., which was unexpected for July. I was glad I had brought my sweater. We had a pleasant time while hanging out at CDG for nearly four hours, and it was nice to be around some of the French culture again (although we knew we'd love the Italian culture just as much).

When we finally boarded our flight from Paris to Florence, we were seated with a very nice American lady about our ages, and got to know each other quite a bit on the flight (she was traveling alone). I was surprised that our flight from SXM to CDG had mostly French passengers, yet our flight from CDG to Florence consisted of mainly American passengers. As we were approaching Florence, the pilot announced a "little problem" Uh-oh........the trip had been so good up to now, what could be the problem? Apparently, there was too much wind to land in Florence, so we were to be diverted to Pisa. Luckily we're easy people, so we didn't mind. I'd actually wanted to include Pisa in our trip to begin with, but figured we didn't have time. So, as Martha would say, "this was a good thing," although it would get us into Florence later than planned.

Upon arrival in PISA, we all collected our luggage and had the option of getting to Florence on our own, or taking the Air France chartered bus that would arrive within two hours. All of the passengers swapped ideas of the train, sharing cabs, etc. Our new friend, Leslie, and we kept debating the same issues, and even thought of trying to high tail it by cab to the Leaning Tower while we were there. However, we opted to wait around for the chartered bus, and were glad we did in the long run, since it arrived much sooner than expected. So, our stay in Pisa was brief, but another little adventure in our trip, nonetheless.

I have to add here that our only concern with being delayed into Florence, was that we had someone awaiting our arrival at the apartment that we'd rented. So, I felt compelled to attempt to telephone her to notify of our late arrival. I bought a phone card at a tobacco shop in the airport and could NOT figure out how to use it. I finally let my husband have a go at it, but he couldn't figure it out either. My husband then summoned an employee in the tobacco shop to assist, and he was very helpful. Turns out that it wasn't us.......it was the phone. Eventually, however, we found a working phone and reached our landlord, who said she'd be happy to wait for our delayed arrival, and if it got too late, she'd leave the key with the restaurant downstairs. We were already having a wonderful impression of the Italian people!

After boarding the bus, for which Leslie had saved us seats next to hers, we all enjoyed a most pleasant, and comfortable ride from Pisa to Florence. We really wanted an opportunity to see the Tuscan countryside, but didn't think we could fit it in our short stay in Florence. So, this worked out rather well. We were all three very tired from such a long day and a half, but tried to diligently stay awake to enjoy the view. Some of us were successful, some not. I , myself, happened to be the successor, although it was tough at times.

I want to add a nice tip here that I recieved from you Fodorite's. I brought along some key chains and post cards from the island where we live, figuring they would be nice little tokens to give new friends in Italy. I gave one of each to Leslie, and she seemed to really appreciate it. It's a nice way for people to remember you, and the post cards are great for jotting your email addresss on the back.

Once we arrived FLORENCE AIRPORT, we hugged Leslie goodbye, and all headed our own directions. Little did we know that Leslie would eventually end up needing a cab to Santa Maria Novella Stazione, as she was headed to Rome. So, after going our separate ways, we still all ended up in a cab together since our rented apartment was not far from the train station. (We'll be keeping in touch with Leslie......ha). It was really quite humorous how we couldn't seem to get rid of one another......not that we minded at all.

After dropping her off, the cab driver (who was young, very nice, and gave us the "fair fare" of 15 euro) proceeded to take us to Piazza San Giovanni (where the Duomo is located), and from there it was a short walk to our apartment on Borgo San Lorenzo. We walked about half a block and we were "home." I was so glad that I had studied my maps so thoroughly before we left home. I was honestly shocked in Florence at how much closer everything was than it seemed on my National Geographic laminated map that I'd studied so much for six months beforehand.

Our apartment in Florence worked out great for us, and the location and price were perfect. We'd rent there again and will be glad to elaborate if anyone is interested. The only downfall was the six flights of stairs several times a day, but we didn't mind since it kept us in shape for all the walking we were to do, and it put us high up enough that we had no street noise. After we got settled in, we picked up groceries nearby and went out to explore. We didn't have anything on our itinerary for this day since we knew we'd just use our time getting acquainted with the area. It didn't get dark until nearly 10 p.m. (which was strange for us coming from an island where dusk is at 6 p.m. year round). So, we had plenty of time to soak up the local atmosphere. We found a little net NET CAFE at the end of VIA DE CONTI and VIA F. ZANNETTI, one block past Borgo San Lorenzo, and let our families know we had arrived safely. The price for 15 minutes was 3 euro; one hour was 10 euro. As it turned out, I did a small trip report to the family daily, although emailing on vacation is not usually my "thing." However, they enjoyed hearing our highlights, and we enjoyed hearing from them, as well.

After stopping off at a few small places and enjoying some antipasta, we ended our afternoon/evening of exploring at a little wine bar near our apartment, which we came to frequent nearly every evening. It was OSTERIA DELL AGNOLO, BORGO SAN LORENZO 24R, TELEPHONE 055.211326, FIRENZE, ITALIA (www.osteria-agnolo.it). We found that Valentine (sounds like val-en-teen), was superb at serving just the right olives with the right wines. Our personal favorite was Clemente VII with his superb black olives. Just the right flavor combination.

Needless to say, after being up for nearly 36 hours straight, we slept very well that evening.


JULY 4 - FLORENCE

We both awoke just after dawn to the sight of the dome of San Lorenzo staring us in the face through our window. What a sight to behold! We opened the window and thoroughly enjoyed watching the swallows swooping down over the dome, as well as across our window. It was so pleasant, but we knew we needed more rest, so we eventually closed the shutters and went back to our snooze. Our vow renewal consultant called from Venice about 9:45 a.m. and we were glad to hear her voice (finally, after six months of emails), and we were also glad that she called to wake us from our slumber. We are not late sleepers, but I think we had really needed it at that point.

We had a leisurly morning at the apartment (even though we felt a little guilty about it, but after all this was vacation, right?) We ate breakfast while watching the international news, and then headed out for the day about 11 a.m. First stop was the train station (just a ten minute walk away) to buy our Eurostar tickets to Venice. It took awhile, but we finally found the EUROSTAR CLUB, on recommendation from a Fodorite. It was located down track 16, for those of you who may venture there. Purchasing train tickets to Venice was very easy there. We figured we'd splurge the extra 20 euro for first class, after what all we'd spent on this very special trip. PRICE FOR FIRST CLASS EUROSTAR TRAIN FROM FLORENCE TO VENICE WAS 78 EURO PER PERSON.

We then headed to the DUOMO (free) after buying a scarf to cover my shoulders from a street vendor. We were concerned about my husband's shorts (even though they were longer), but that wasn't a problem. I think that the covering of shoulders and thighs was the main point in most Italian churches. It's really all a matter of "respect" which I totally agreed with. I saw many women, in many churches in Italy, with less "covering" than I had, but I still felt the need to use my scarf out of respect, overall. We had no line getting into the Duomo in the middle of the day.

I can agree with some people's standpoint that the interior of the Duomo is not as awesome as the exterior. I conclude that this is due to the large, empty space in the absence of rows and rows of pews, that one is used to in such a church. The absence just gives it a different feel than say, St. Patricks Cathedral in New York or Westminister Abbey in London. However, the exterior and the interior of the Duomo were both quite awesome, we just preferred the exterior in so far as it being more ornate. It's really quite unbelievable when you see it in person, versus photos. The artwork on the inside of the dome itself was beautiful. Especially when climbing to the top, which I'll get to later in my report.

We then proceeded to the BAPTISTERY (3.00 euro per person) directly in front of the Doumo, for which there was also no line for entry in the middle of the day. The Baptistery was also very beautiful. So much ornate gold and Byzantine mosaics. We read our Rick Steve's Guidebook to get some background on a lot of the artwork in the Baptistery, and it was rather interesting. The bronze doors were also quite intriguing in their detail.

We then attempted to find Dante's house, which we seemed to keep passing up for some reason (despite all my map studying beforehand). We finally realized why. It was under construction/restoration and not open to the public. So, we settled for DANTE'S CHURCH, which was eerily serene. After visiting the colossal Duomo, which we much admired numerous times on the trip, Dante's chapel was so small and simple. There was some nice instrumental music playing inside, and when admiring the artwork within, it was almost as if you could feel Dante, himself, there. A very unusual experience.

We finally stopped for a few pizza slices and a cool beer at a little cafe on via Orsanmichele (opposite Orsanmichele church). I'm not usually a beer drinker, but it sure tasted good on a warm day after much walking. We had attempted to visit Orsanmichele Church, as well, but it was closed. I suppose it was due to understaffing, as our Rick Steve's Guide had suggested. However, we enjoyed great service, wonderful pizza, and a nice duo band while having lunch. We were also surprised that it was not really all that hot in the middle of the day, nor was it during the rest of our trip. Although we live in the tropics and are used to the heat, we seemed to always find a shady side to walk on various streets, as well as in the piazzas.

We finally made our way through PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA where we really enjoyed admiring Neptune's Fountain and the sculptures of Loggia Dei Lanzi. Then, we went on past the Uffizi Museum, ending at the River Arno. The river had a lovely view in both directions, and the PONTE VECCHIO is even more attractive in real life, than in photos. After spending some time admiring the view, we headed off in search of MERCATO NUOVO.

We weren't having much luck in finding it, so we finally stopped to ask directions from a shopkeeper who was sitting outside her store. We attempted our best Italian in our request, and obviously it wasn't that good because she answered us in perfect New York English, "What do you want?" Needless to say, after her directions of turn here, and turn there, then turn here, and turn there, we finally found Mercato Nuovo. Also known as "The Straw Market," there were numerous vendors there selling everything from various souvenirs to beautiful leather bags and tapestries. We didn't buy anything, but were glad we made it there in order to pet "Porcellino," the brass snout pig. Legend has it that if you pet his snout, you will return to Florence. It certianly seemed easier than having to find a blue bead in order to return to the island where we live.

By this time it was well into the afternoon, so we dropped off our film from the day, and stopped for a glass of wine at OSTERIA NUTI, near our apartment. We seemed to end up stopping there at about the same time daily and our waiter, Leondardo, was very nice and quite good to us. Osteria Nuti is really just a touristic restaurant, but we enjoyed having cichetti and a glass of wine close to home in the late afternoon, before getting ready for our evening. We found that on most days during our stay in Italy, we started out farily early and ended our touring for the day at around 4 p.m., in order to just sit in a cafe or two and soak up the local atmosphere. It also meant that we only got to the "must sees" on our list, and very few of the "if we have time to sees," but we felt that it made for a more relaxing vacation, rather than going non-stop from dawn until dusk.

I also want to mention the PHOTO DEVELOPER we used daily. We were very satisfied with their service and their price was about 8 euro per roll of 24. It cost us a bit more to develop our film as we went along throughout Italy, but since we have no film developing location where we live, we didn't want to wait until we go to the States this fall to develop them. Also, we didn't want to risk ruining the film in x-ray machines, and we would have the opportunity to re-take any photos that didn't turn out well. The location we used for developing was MUSIC CENTER, PIAZZA DUOMO, 15A, FIRENEZE, ITALIA, TELPHONE: 055-211-538. They are located on the right hand side of the Duomo. The owner got so used to seeing us that he began to put our name on our film envelopes as soon as we walked in the door. It was rather humorous, and he said he hated to see us leave on our last day in Florence. My husband told him, "I'll bet!" ha. You could say we spent a "pretty penny" there, but the photographic memories are more than worth it.

Early that evening, we strolled Borgo San Lorenzo to shop for some souvenirs. I was rather surprised at the great service we got when we bought some framed prints from one vendor. He hustled to wrap everything so nicely for our travels and even threw in a free Tuscany calendar. There was a good array of all types of souvenirs to buy on Borgo San Lorenzo, about one block north of the Duomo, near San Lorenzo Church. I even found a lot of nice, hand painted, ceramic Florentine kitchen items for many friends and family. You also notice in Florence that the aroma of leather is virtually everywhere. I understand that some great prices can be had on leather items, but we didn't really bother to look due to the tropical climate where we live.

We then set out to find LA GIROSTA, on recommendation from a Fodorite, to make reservations for my husband's birthday dinner. It took awhile to find because it was a hole in the wall with no visible outdoor sign, but the inside was very elegant and cozy.

We ended our evening by cooking dinner in and stopping back at Osteria Dell Agnolo for a night cap, as we had the previous night. It was very convenient since it was almost directly across the street from our apartment. We now trusted Valentine to give us a wine similar to the one we'd had the previous night. He opted for Nero D'Avola, which was also very good. We also decided to start a "wine wish list" since we have a friend who owns a wine store where we live. It was nice to try various wines while we were in Italy and add the ones we really enjoyed to our list, for future reference.

In our last evening stroll, we encountered a college aged girl, from the US, sketching the Duomo while sitting on the street corner at the end of our block. Her work was so awesome that we just stood there watching her for awhile. Turns out she's an art student in New York City who hails from Ohio and she'd even been to the tiny island where we live. What a small world! My husband tried to talk her into letting us buy one of her sketches, but she wasn't going to sell any since she wanted to bring them back to school. Understandable. Nevertheless, she was very talented and sat there for hours that evening just sketching away.

We had been invited to a Fourth of July college party at a place called The Fish Pub that evening, but we decided we'd forego the party and get to bed at a decent hour. Not that 11:30 p.m. is a decent hour for us, but it's decent when darkness doesn't come until nearly 10 p.m. Plus, we had lots more to accomplish the next day! Turns out that it rained most of that night, so we were glad we'd stayed in. We were very fortunate we had such wonderful weather the whole time we were there.

To be continued......

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