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Belated Trip Report - London, Paris, Florence and Rome

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Sep 3rd, 2002, 09:21 AM
  #21
Wendy
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Great report Belinda. While in the south of France my friend insisted we eat at one of the Tex Mex restaurants as she was tired of French food (gasp), let me tell you the French should stick with the butter and cream sauces and really stay away from anything spicy! Our salsa was made from ketchup and there was tuna on my taco salad! eek!
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 10:11 AM
  #22
belinda
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Wendy - I love it!! That's just the sort of experience I would expect from a French Tex Mex restaurant.

Friday we slept in a bit. We had to check out that morning and the hotel stowed our luggage for us until we left for the train station later that evening. We had breakfast at Pre Aux Clercs. After cappuccinos and pastries we did a little shopping in the St Germain area.

We then took the metro to the Monmartre area to visit Sacre Cour. Just outside the metro station were a set of mimes with a puppet. At first glance they looked like statues. I took their photo and then later felt guilty for not tipping them. Didn't occur to me at the time.

The walk from the metro stop to the church steps involved passing some really cheesy t-shirt shops and an organ grinder with a monkey. If you try to take the monkey's photo without first paying a tip, the organ grinder will cover the monkey's face with his hat. These are things one needs to know before arriving in Paris.

We took the funicular up to the church rather than the steps. Last night's walk was vivid in our memory.

Sacre Cour is beautiful and has a quite nice gift shop. There is a lovely view of Paris from the top of the steps.

We walked around the neighborhood a bit and had cold drinks in a little cafe.

We then took the metro to the Champs Elysees. Down one end of the avenue was the Arch d'Triomphe and down the other end was Place du Concorde. (I know I'm butchering these names, I'm sorry.) We walked leisurely toward Cleopatra's Needle.

Once we reached the Place du Concorde we went in search of a public restroom and found a very nice one for a mere .40 Euro.
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 10:24 AM
  #23
belinda
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Next we went to Jeu de Pomme (Musee L'Orangerie was closed) and saw an awful exhibit of the art of Daniel Spoerri. Not my cup of tea.

As we walked we passed some guys playing frisbee in front of a statue by the same artist who did a piece of work in downtown Houston. My description of it is - "It looks like a Houston Metro bus wreck." All mangled white, red and blue.

We went in search of a restaurant recommended to us called Le Souffle. When we got there at 2:50pm they had closed at 2:30pm. Disappointment all around.

Eventually we ended up at one of the ubiquitous brasseries in the area except this one had it's own dog. Named Larry. Larry was a great big German Shepherd who wandered in and out of the cafe, up and down the street and finally settled on the sidewalk next to our table. C gave him a good tummy scratch.

By this time we needed to head back to the hotel, but first we stopped for picnic supplies. We bought wine, bread and cheese for the train ride. The cheese came from a great stinky cheese shop. You almost couldn't breathe in there but boy did they gave good cheese.

When we got back to the hotel, R realized we had forgotten our baguette so he ran back to the bread shop and almost missed our taxi. While he was gone I was busy trying to figure out how to tell an impatient French taxi driver that R would be right back with our bread, please wait. Thankfully R showed up just as the last piece of luggage went in the trunk.
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 11:31 AM
  #24
belinda
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Later, the sleeper train or "Why doesn't this knob work?" and welcome to Italy - "You have reservations for 11:00? Get in line. Ours were for 9:00."
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 02:58 PM
  #25
topper
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ttt
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 06:15 PM
  #26
belinda
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We arrived at the train station in plenty of time to figure out how to get on the right train. Or so we hoped. We had rail passes and reservations in hand, but it was still nerve-wracking. Everytime we were in a train station I had the feeling I was in the wrong line, holding the wrong ticket, waiting at the wrong platform, boarding the wrong car...you get the idea.

On the "my advice..." post I talked about what happened at the Paris train station. Suffice it to say it's good for you to know what should be happening vs. what is happening. That is to say, educate yourself as much as possible before you leave if you plan on riding trains. We used a service at www.Euraide.com and they were invaluable. I highly recommend their service.

So we manage to get to the right platform and the right train. We queu up with all the other folks getting in our car. It's the overnight train between Paris and Florence and it leaves Paris around 7pm. When we booked we weren't able to get the compartments with the attached
WC (that's a bathroom to all you fellow Texans.) So I guess we rode second class instead of first (I'm not sure about this).

Anyway, we're in line. We give our passports and tickets to the lady in charge of our car. I'll call her a steward. If somebody else knows what the right word is, let me know. Maybe it's porter. So I go up the stairs into the train first and I tell C, "wait for me here, I'll be back."

I lug my suitcase (a 24" rolling bag), my small backpack and my small carry onto the train. I manuever it into the corridor (it barely fits), wrestle it down the corridor to what I hope is our compartment, and start giggling. It is the smallest room I've ever seen. I yell back at C - either we or our luggage are going in here, but we're not all fitting in here. Then I notice that there are bunks up just below the ceiling and the luggage rack is about a foot above the bunk level.

By now I'm sweating, there is no a/c happening. (By the way, R and D are in the car behind us which is the last car when we leave Paris and the first car when we arrive in Florence.) So I'm sweating and giggling, cause there's no damn way I'm getting our heavy a** luggage up onto that rack that's about 3 feet above my head.

Here comes C with her luggage. She didn't wait for me because obviously there's a line of impatient passengers behind her. Well I'm useless. I'm trapped in the compartment because my rolling bag is between me and the door and I'm sweating and giggling. So this Italian guy grabs her bag and throws it into our compartment (which by the way is about a foot above corridor floor level so you have to step up). Somehow he managed to make it seem chivalrous. So now I'm in this tiny room (about the size of an RV bathroom) trying to lift these pieces of luggage over my head onto the luggage rack. It ain't happening.

We finally figure out there is a ladder in here with us. Only if you put the ladder up, it takes up all the floor space in the compartment. So anyway C & I manage to get a rolling bag up on one of the bunks. Then I climb up there and wrestle the bag onto the luggage rack. We put one big bag and both our carry-ons on the luggage rack.

The other bag we just move around down below and try to keep it out of the way.
 
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Sep 3rd, 2002, 06:30 PM
  #27
belinda
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So we finally get settled in and I go in search of R and D. They have the picnic supplies!! It's kind of cool to walk between train cars because the floor at the junction moves and you have to watch your step. Did I mention this trip was the first time I'd ever ridden on a train. I loved it.

So I get to R & D (their compartment is even smaller than ours) and I snag dinner and make my way back to our compartment where C & I have a lovely picnic in our teeny tiny compartment.

There is a knob in the compartment with us. Just below the window and what appears to be a vent. The knob has a snowflake symbol on it which leads us to believe it might be air conditioning. No such luck, or at least we couldn't get any cool air to come out of the vent. I think it's just there to drive dumb American tourists (that would be us) crazy.

So we slept with the window halfway down, which was fine temperature-wise but every time we went through a tunnel the whoooosh about scared us out of our bunks.

We woke up in Italy and had cappuccinos and croissants for breakfast. The very nice porter came around to serve coffee, but I got to her before she got to us.

Our little compartment had a sink in it which allowed teeth brushing and face washing although you had to use bottled water.

The toilet was down the hall and to flush it there was a large rubber button on the floor that you stepped on. You weren't allowed to flush the toilet while stopped at a train station.

The porter returned our passports to us before we arrived in Florence. Upon arrival we got in line at a taxi stand and soon arrived at our hotel on Via Laura, the Hotel Morandi alla Crocetta.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 12:15 AM
  #28
theferra
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Hi Belinda,
Your'e trip report is a hoot, very informative. Four of us are going next May and taking the overnight train just like you, I have been nervous about the logistics of the train trip, now I'm terrified! Keep up the great reporting.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 03:46 AM
  #29
belinda
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My advice to make train travel go smoothly is educate yourself, arrive early and ask lots of questions at the train station. People were happy to help us when they could. Train travel is really a lot of fun. Don't forget to bring a good picnic.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 06:35 AM
  #30
topper
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Sep 4th, 2002, 10:04 AM
  #31
belinda
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So we get to our hotel in Florence and are decidedly unimpressed with the exterior and the street. It's more like an alley with a lot of graffitti, posters and parked vehicles. It's at least quiet. The hotel itself is lovely. The lobby is on the second floor of the building and the staff is very nice and helpful. Rooms are big and comfy. We leave our luggage in the lobby as our rooms are not ready.

And off we go to find the Academia. We have 11:00 a.m. reservations. Well we get there and there's a big crowd in the street. Doesn't bode well. We find the entrance that says something about reservations. Turns out the people in the front of the queu had reservations for 9 o'clock that morning and still hadn't gotten in. Apparently the museum staffs in Florence had called a meeting for that morning so none of the museums opened at their usual times.

We waited in line and chatted with folks until the doors opened. Then they let us in in groups based on reservation time (earlier ones first, etc).

We finally get in and let me tell you, if we had waited for a week in the boiling sun it would have been worth it. I was ahead of C (she was looking at postcards in the entry gift shop) and I went through a doorway and turned to my right and there he was, at the end of the corridor in all his breathtaking glory - Michelangelo's David. I called to C - "You gotta see this." (Not like she would have missed it if I hadn't called her, but I wanted to share the moment.) Even with the mass of people in the room you could feel his presence. It was at that point that I fell in love with sculpture.

It is simply beyond explanation how someone can take what is cold, hard and unyielding and make it seem warm, moving, living, feeling, breathing... you get the point. Okay, enough of that.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 10:15 AM
  #32
belinda
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After the Academia we went in search of lunch which we found at a cafe in San Marco square. I think it was called Gran Cafe San Marco, but I haven't been able to confirm that. Anyway, the food was very good and the staff was delightful.

We finished lunch and then went to the Museum of San Marco and the Medici Chapels, both worth a quick visit. We walked around the Duomo and Baptistry.

Then we went in search of coffee which we found on a little street between the Duomo and our hotel. I think the name of the place was Robiglio, but I could be way off. It was a very nice little shop, but we found out the next morning that it didn't open very early.

(We had trouble finding coffee early in the morning, but soon settled on Cafe Mingo across from the Bargello as our early morning stop.)

Okay, after coffee we went back to the hotel for much deserved showers and dressed for dinner. The hotel staff recommended a few places to us. That night we went to Acquacotta.

It was quite good and service was excellent. Our waiter was a very tall Italian guy with bedroom eyes. Cool.

We wandered around a bit after dinner and eventually had gelato at a gelato place whose name escapes me for the moment, but I know it will come back. I think it was Festival Gelato or something like that. It had great tile on the walls.

That's something I noticed about Florence, there was gorgeous ceramic tile in the most unexpected places.

After gelato we walked back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 10:19 AM
  #33
x
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If you mentioned it, I missed it, so please tell us the name of your hotel in Florence. Thanks!
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 10:23 AM
  #34
belinda
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The hotel in Florence was the Morandi alla Crocetta. A very nice hotel and you can find photos etc on the web at www.hotelmorandi.it. I'm just not sure the location is the best, but others may disagree. The hotel has a small room where breakfast and evening drinks are served. No other dining. If I remember correctly the room had a mini bar and a safe.
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 11:45 AM
  #35
xxx
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Anyone besides me reading this?
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 11:54 AM
  #36
g
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XXX, yes, I am reading it and I think lots of others are. This is a great trip report - detailed and honest. I am loving the part about the train!
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 12:21 PM
  #37
Jennie
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I'm definitely reading it. Keep up the good work, Belinda!

Jennie
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 03:27 PM
  #38
tttt
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trippingly to the top
 
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Sep 4th, 2002, 05:14 PM
  #39
belinda
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Glad to know somebody's reading this. It gets lonely out here.

Okay, Sunday we got up early and had a quick bite at Cafe Mingo on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. We had reservations for 8:30. When we arrived the museum staff hadn't put up the signs by the doors yet and we were thoroughly confused about what line we were supposed to be in. We got in what turned out to be the wrong line, but realized our error in short order (after somebody opened the door and stuck a sign out) and moved to the "reservations" line. The non-reservations line was very long.

The Uffizi is a grand museum. We saw sketches and drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera, and lots of other really cool paintings and sculptures. Not to mention the views of the Arno from the upstairs windows and the views of town from the rooftop cafe where we stopped for a cold drink.

We then walked to the Ponte Vecchio and window shopped. After which we had lunch at Cibrea Cafe (food was good but came with a nasty attitude from the waitstaff).

After lunch it was on to Santa Croce, a gorgeous church. Inside are the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo among others. R & D bought me a really nice poster of the front facade which I shipped home.

I did a little shopping in town and found a really cool (and reasonable) jewelry shop where I bought some real gifts (not just souvenirs).

Then back to the hotel for a short nap before dinner. For dinner we took a taxi to Trattoria Angiolino (where we had tried to have lunch earlier, but it wasn't open for lunch, so we made reservations for dinner).

Side note - We found taxis in Florence were more expensive than taxis in Rome. So were restaurants and drinks. Just FYI.

We had a very nice dinner. Ordering meals in Italy was a little tricky because everything is basically served ala carte. We found that most waitstaff was willing to help us with the menus, a lot of which was indicipherable to us (probably like my spelling is to you).

We finished dinner and walked back over the Ponte Vecchio in the night air (the restaurant was on the Oltrarno side). We felt compelled to try the gelato at Vivoli's so we did. It was good.

We then walked across town back to the hotel. End of a perfect day.
 
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Sep 5th, 2002, 08:55 AM
  #40
belinda
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Whew. I thought all that typing was gone for good.
 
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