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Mr Green's Italy Trip Report - Milan Florence Venice

Mr Green's Italy Trip Report - Milan Florence Venice

Nov 9th, 2005, 05:31 AM
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Mr Green's Italy Trip Report - Milan Florence Venice

This will be my very first trip report on Fodors, so I hope it is enjoyable and helpful. I hope to repay the forum for all the valuable information I have received.

Mrs Green and I kept a journal every night of our two-week adventure. I am currently adding extra detail to that journal from what I remember and also from receipts and photos. This is proving to be a long process so I'll add to this report as quickly as I can. We just returned home last Wednesday, so I'm still playing catch-up with real life.

This was our first trip to Italy. I'll post each day in a seperate message, but all on this thread. Here goes!
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:33 AM
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Planning, Packing, and Preparation:

We were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in 2005 and wanted to do something special. We decided on a two-week trip to the northern half of Italy, saving Rome and the south for another time. The planning went on for nearly a year. We used many sources on the internet for information as well as a few books. We purchased Fodorís Citypack Ė Milanís 25 Best, The Rough Guide Venice, Florence In Detail, The Rough Guide Florence and Tuscany, and Frommerís Italy 2005 which turned out to be the least useful book. The main internet resource was Fodorís Travel Talk website. We booked all of our hotels through the internet. We also booked several tours/museums well ahead of time, including, the Last Supper in Milan, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Accademia Gallery in Florence, and the Secret Itineraries Tour at the Doges Palace in Venice. Our Flight tickets were purchased through Expedia.com for about $630 each. We purchased open-jaw tickets flying from Columbus, Ohio to New York JFK to Milan Malpensa airport and returning from Venice to New York JFK to Columbus, Ohio. The flights were through Delta, but operated through Alitalia.

For the site seeing, we created a fifteen page itinerary on an Excel spreadsheet with one page for each day, divided into hours. The planning was very detailed, but allowed us to see almost everything we planned to see with plenty of extra time for shopping and relaxing. At the bottom of each page we included the name, address and phone number of the hotel where we would be staying that night. The first and last pages included flight information. We brought along the itinerary and gave copies to family at home, so they would know how to reach us in an emergency.

We decided to try packing very light for this trip. We each packed one rolling backpack and we also brought along a day bag. We brought about five shirts each, and an extra pair of pants each, some of our guide books, an Italian language phrasebook, a menu book called Eating and Drinking in Italy, an extra duffle bag to carry our dirty laundry, our toiletries, our digital camera, two disposable cameras, extra batteries with charger, and an Mp3 player with two sets of earphones. (More on the outcome of this packing arrangement later.)
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Nov 9th, 2005, 05:34 AM
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Wednesday, October 19th Ė Flight day

We arrived at the airport at about 11:30 A.M. but our departure was not until 2:45 P.M. The flight to JFK was uneventful and only lasted about an hour and a half. Our connecting flight, however was scheduled to leave an hour after we landed in JFK. We had to catch the tram to another terminal. Unfortunately, we went the wrong way at first. We figured out quickly which way we should have went and got off on the next stop to switch trams. We hurriedly found the security checkpoint for our gate and tried to get into the line. The security guard told us we would need to go to the Alitalia desk for new tickets. We ran over to the Alitalia desk and got our tickets and were told that the flight was already boarding. We ran back over to the security line and got through after a short wait through eternity. Our gate was a nice long jog to the very end of the terminal, but somehow we made it on time.

Once on board, the TV monitors in the headrest of the seats in front of us were not working properly. At first they would not turn on, then they suddenly turned on by themselves and wouldnít turn off again. This was not a reassuring sign, but the flight went by uneventfully. We didnít really get any sleep on the plane (who ever does?) but we finally landed safely in Milan at 6:30 A.M. the next morning, which was about one half hour sooner than we had planned. We were exhausted.
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Nov 9th, 2005, 05:39 AM
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Thursday, October 20th Ė Day One, Milan

We had no trouble getting through customs and since we had not checked any bags, we didnít have to wait at the baggage claim. The bus to Milan Central Station was very easy to find. Tickets were 5 Euros each. The bus took longer than we had imagined to get to Milan Central. And as the daylight began to appear, the first impression of Milan was not very impressive. There was graffiti everywhere (an unfortunately recurring theme throughout Italy) and the traffic was horrific. It all seemed so dumpy. But soon, the outskirts gave way to historic central Milan.

The bus dropped us off at Milan Central Station, which is a very impressive building in its own right. At first we just stood there not sure where we were supposed to go. Via Napo, which is where Hotel Canova is located was supposed to be just off of Piazza Duca in front of the station. We asked a clerk in a small ticket office where we could find our street. It turned out that we were on the side of the station and not the front. Getting off the bus we should have headed left. This would have taken us to a large carport for passenger pick-up/drop-off where only taxis are allowed through. Behind the passenger pick-up area is the main ticket office. From there one can either proceed downstairs to the subway, or upstairs to the train platforms. We proceeded to cross the passenger area and out onto the piazza. It was a very large pedestrian area with a small, trailer-like structure on the right containing a post office. We located Via Napo, crossed the street in front of the piazza and headed down towards the hotel. Hotel Canova was only a short distance from the piazza which was very convenient.

By this time, it was about 9:30 A.M. The check in time, we were told, was not until 12:00 P.M., but they held our bags for us while we explored the city. We decided to go with our original itinerary ever though we were ahead of schedule. We headed back over to the station and went downstairs to the metro. There was a ticket office downstairs where we purchased two 48 hour passes for the metro for a few Euros, very reasonable. Then we headed off towards the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (Duomo Metro stop). We had no trouble navigating Milanís Metro. Anyone who is familiar with Londonís Tube will be more than adequately prepared for Milanís Metro, which is much smaller and less complex.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is a shopping complex similar to a mall with stores and restaurants, however it is elaborately and beautifully decorated with mosaics, statues and a huge, glass-domed roof. We found a small bookstore in the galleria called Librerie Rizzoli and purchased a few postcards and an Italian Disney publication, Topolino for 8 Euro. We took a few photos of the galleria and of the Leonardo Da Vinci statue in the Piazza Della Scalda right outside of the galleria. The Duomo was just outside the galleria on the opposite side from the Leonardo statue. The front of the Duomo was covered with scaffolding for restoration which was a little disappointing, but the rest of the church was beautiful. The inside of the Duomo was enormous. There were carvings on the pillars, huge paintings hung from the vaulted ceilings and colorful stained-glass windows. We decided to save our energy and took the elevator up to the roof of the Duomo. This is the most impressive part of the church. There seemed to be hundreds of spires, all sculpted uniquely with gargoyles, angels, or saints. None of the carvings were the same. We walked in amazement on the marble roof walkways for a while and then headed back to earth and our hotel.

We arrived back at the central station at about 11:30 A.M. Still tired from our flight and starting to get very hungry, we committed a travelerís sin and bought our first meal in Italy from the McDonaldís down the street from our hotel. (Nothing else near the hotel was opened.) We spent 10,40 Euro for two value meals. We took the meal to the hotel and ate in the breakfast area. At 12:00 we went up to the counter only to be told that we could get our room in about 15 minutes. So we sat (dozing) on the couch in the lobby for about 30 minutes just to be sure. Finally, we checked into our room and took a long nap. We awoke at 3:30 P.M. and decided to rest and relax for the remainder of the evening. We did venture out to pick up some dinner at Cafeteria Terzo Millennium around the corner. We took 2 panini, 1 bottled water, and 4 soft drinks back to the room for 18,50 Euro.

The hotel was nice for a two night stay and conveniently located. The lobby was big and bright. It looked like it could have been a bank at one time. The main office was located above the check-in counter with a large window overseeing the lobby. The room was nice for the price, however the walls were paper thin and the beds/pillows were a little hard. The room had marble floors which were pretty, but it was a little annoying hearing someone walk back and forth in heels in the room above all night. The bathroom was blue and cream colored ceramic. The English speaking staff was friendly and patient with us. Breakfast was simple but tasty. We had croissants and juice. We booked this hotel through octopustravel.com for $129 per night including taxes.

The weather on this day was warm, but rainy. There were a couple of breaks in the rain throughout the day. We wore jackets, but were getting hot after walking around for a while.
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 06:17 AM
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Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the detail. Looking forward to a delightful experience.
Simone1 is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 02:25 PM
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Topping for later ---
MichelleY is offline  
Nov 9th, 2005, 05:14 PM
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"We were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary in 2005 and wanted to do something special. We decided on a two-week trip to the northern half of Italy, saving Rome and the south for another time. The planning went on for nearly a year."

Wow MrGreen, I am looking forward to the rest of your report. My wife and I are celebrating our 10th in 2006 and we too are going to Northern Italy and leaving Rome for another time.

Thanks for posting!
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Nov 9th, 2005, 06:42 PM
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2005 must have been the year! It was technically our 11th but we went in April to celebrate our 10th. Youngest was not even one on our actual 10th and we just didn't feel right leaving her.

Hope the rest of your trip was amazing!
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Nov 10th, 2005, 04:13 AM
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Thanks for the great replies. Yes, it was an amazing trip! We are already dreaming of the day we can return.

Now for the next installment!!!

Friday, October 21 Ė Day Two, Milan

This was an early day. We wanted to be at Santa Marie delle Grazie by 8:30 A.M. for our 8:45 reservation to see the Last Supper painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. The reservation was booked and prepaid on the Churchís website for 8 Euros each. We had a little trouble getting our bearings once we got off at the Conciliazione Metro stop. We managed to somehow get the directions from a couple of very kind and patient, non-English speaking locals. It was humorous to note that when we failed to understand the language being spoken, the well-meaning women began to speak Italian slower and louder. We still didnít understand it. After some pointing and gesturing, we were on the right track again.

We made it to the Il Cenacolo, which is the churchís refectory, in time for our viewing. We handed them our reservations and rented an audio guide containing one player with two headsets for 6 euros. We had to surrender one of our passports for ransom in case we decided to take off with the audio guide. When it was time for our showing, our group of about twenty people was led by a guide through two securely locked chambers. Once everyone was in one chamber, the rear sliding door closed automatically and we could proceed to the next chamber until we made it to the large room where the Last Supper was painted. The audio guide was excellent and highly recommended for the visit. It explained the history and meaning of the painting in detail, pointing out each discipleís name and reaction to Christ in that moment. The audio guide lasted for about fifteen minutes, which happens to be exactly the amount of time allowed for each visit. Seeing the Last Supper was a surreal and almost humbling moment that we will never forget. This is a very powerful painting. It is truly a shame that better care has not been taken in the preservation throughout the years. The building once stood roofless for a time and was even used as a barn. Modern restoration efforts have made great strides to keep this treasure safe.

We left the room with the painting and proceeded into another chamber where we traded our audio guide for the passport. The next room was the shop. I went in and Beka did not follow at first. The doors closed behind me and since this door was an automatic sliding door that looked just like the ones we went through earlier, we assumed that we had been separated. I made some gesturing movements that she could maybe meet me outside and try to get in the shop through the other door. Just before she took off, however, a man walked up to the door and it opened up as he walked into the shop. We hadnít realized that this door had a sensor on it. Some of the shopkeepers were giggling but Iím not sure if it was directed at the stupid tourists or not. Embarrassed, I grabbed Beka and pulled her into the shop with me. After spending 12,50 for a book and some postcards at the shop, we went over to the church of Santa Marie delle Grazie and peeked in for a look while we were there. It was a small, but very pretty church.

Next, we headed towards the Castello Sforzesco, or so we thought thatís where we were heading. We got lost again and ended up at the Basilica di SantíAmbrogio instead. So we went in to look around. This was yet another beautiful small church with a gorgeous courtyard in front. We finally made our way to the castle. The castle was pretty impressive. It is made of very dark stones with wide, round towers and gives an ominous feeling as one approaches. Inside the courtyard, there was some sort of exotic car exhibition with a Ferrari and a very cool Rolls Royce.

The museum at the castle was having a special exhibit called Scultura in Legno, showcasing wooden sculptures from the 1300ís to the 1500ís. We bought two tickets for 7 Euros each to see the sculptures. The sculptures were very interesting and mostly of a religious nature. Some had a great amount of detail, including one that even showed the veins and muscles in the hand. We were also impressed with a group of five carvings depicting the Crucifixion. The piercing of the side and hands, the colors of the fabrics on the clothing of the mourners, and the expressions on their faces made this a moving portrayal.

After we walked around the castle and visited the bookshop (spending nothing this time) we headed out the front of the castle and took a few pictures of the castle and the lovely fountain in front. We tried to find the next item on the itinerary which was the San Maurizio church. We wandered around for a while trying to figure out why the streets did not seem to go with the map we had purchased until we found ourselves getting close to the Duomo again. We were getting tired of walking and hungry (and not a little irritated) so we stopped in Caffe Apero on Via S. Prospero for some great pizza and our very first taste of gelato! We shared a cone with strawberry gelato. We are not sure if we will ever be able to eat ice cream at home again. It must be illegal for things to taste this good, so smooth and creamy was this gelato! We decided right then that we would be having this treat at least once in every city we visited. For the pizza, a liter of water, and our yummy treat, we spent 13 Euros.

We went ahead and walked to the Duomo since we were so close. Beka wanted to buy a small 2 Euro guide book that was sold out during our first visit. She returned with an Italian version since the English was still sold out. We only wanted it for the pictures anyway so that was fine. Next we crossed the piazza and into the tourist information office located nearby. We picked up a better Milan map and asked the clerk how to reach San Maurizio. We went down to the Duomo Metro station to save our feet a long walk and got off at the Cadorna Nord Station. A short walk later we found our goal. It was closed. With heavy hearts we made our way back to the hotel to relax. On the way, we stopped at the little post office to get some stamps for our post cards. The hotel graciously mailed them for us.

We left the hotel at 7:30 P.M. for some dinner after picking up a pen and paper at a stationary store for our travel journal. We went to the Fashion Pizzeria next to McDonaldís. I had lasagna and a side of vegetables while Beka had a pasta dish. The meals were just ok. Beka ordered a salad and never got it. It did manage to find its way onto the bill, however. We had waited a very long time for our desert and the bill, so we were in no mood to argue over the bill. We knew that we needed to ask for the check, but it was so busy in there that we couldnít get the attention of the waitress. For our meals with two large bottles of water, desserts, cover charge, and a missing salad, we spent 34,40 Euros. We headed back to the room to get ready to leave for Florence in the morning.

The weather for this day was warm and dry. We wore jackets, but didnít need them at all.

Milan is a very busy city with a lot of heavy traffic. It is not all that easy to navigate on foot, but the Metro is very efficient. Milan is a city that we enjoyed. Two days was plenty of time to see all that we wanted to see. We do not feel like we will need to return, but if we ever do, the Duomo and the Last Supper will definitely be on the must see list. I do recommend that anyone traveling to Italy make it to Milan once.
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 04:43 AM
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Whoops! I guess the cat's out of the bag. Beka is Mrs Green.

Oh, well. The next installment (when I get it finished) will be the first day of our week long stay in Florence!
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 05:32 AM
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Greatly enjoying your trip report, Mr. Green! As Oliver said, more please!

Saw no mention of the Michelangelo sculpture in the Sforza Castle - have they moved it? Eeck!

You had a lucky break finding yourself at Sant'Ambrogio....not only is it a beautiful building in its own right. many feel it is the finest example of a medieval building in Milan. St. Ambrose is the patron saint of Milan, and this church (well, not necessarily these stones!) was originally founded in 379 AD by St. Ambrose, Milan's first bishop. I think the major additions to the building site were in the 9th and 11th centuries, ad. So, this church has a special place in the history of Milan. Verdi included it in his set for his first big hit at LaScala, Nabucco. It was kind of a subversive move, as the Austrian censors of the time objected to any analogy between the subject matter and Milan for lots of reasons not important here, but the Milanese in the audience immediately recognized "their" Sant'Ambrogio ... etc. etc. Anyway, lovely bit of serendipity you had on your walk! Thanks for sharing it.
eliztrav is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 05:38 AM
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PS-just a quick note for those who might be tempted to seek out the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, besides an impressive courtyard entry, you should check out the altar with its 9th century gems, siver & gold art, the beautiful rib vaulting, the pulpit, the Tiepolo frescos and 1600 year old mosaics in the chapel of Saint Vittore. Yep, that's 1600 years....ok, 'nuff said. Guess you can tell I'm a Sant'Ambrogio fan....
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Nov 10th, 2005, 07:12 AM
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Wow, if we'd have known all that about Sant'Ambrosio I'd have paid a lot more attention than I did. We walked in and apprectiated the beauty of the place, but had no idea of its age or history. Thank you for the lesson! I'll add some of that to our scrapbook.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time at the castle, for instance we didn't venture inside anywhere except to see the wood sculptures. I didn't see any mention of a Michelangelo statue. That doesn't mean its not there, though.

Stay tuned for more!
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 08:29 AM
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Definitely am staying tuned for more fun!

When I was last at the Sforza Castle, I saw the Rondanini Pieta, which is unfinished. Michelangelo died while he was working on it. To me, the effect is that it appears more medieval than Renaissance. Anyway, I was impressed by the fact that there was no crowd or line around it, and it was a free view. I'm told this may no longer be free, alas....

You obviously have discriminating tastes as you appreciated my beloved Sant'Ambrogio all on its own!!! Seriously, I just can't agree with those who think Milan is a bore for tourists. There are gems out there to be found, though admittedly (and, as you pointed out) it isn't always easy...
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Nov 10th, 2005, 08:50 AM
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I'm enjoying your report Signore Verde! One thing though, how long into the trip before you ditched the "hour by hour" itinerary spreadsheet?
Nutella is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 09:54 AM
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Enjoying your report, MrGreen! Your detailed planning sounds like many of my trips, but I admittedly winged in on our second trip to Venice two weeks ago. I felt kind of lost without my usual itinerary.
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Nov 10th, 2005, 11:10 AM
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We made the itinerary with the knowledge that it may need to be "tweaked" at times. But in fact, the itinerary worked out so well, that we were usualy ahead of schedule and only skipped things that were closed or marked "optional". We had plenty of spare time (a couple of days we left completely open.) We kept to it for the whole trip, but not so strictly as to be militant! It was more of a way to ration our time efficiently. We would have been very lost without it.

eliztrav - We enjoyed Milan very much and we were glad we decided to give it a try.
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Nov 10th, 2005, 11:11 AM
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Saturday, October 22 Ė Day Three, Milan to Florence

We woke at 6:30 A.M. and made our way one last time to the Milan Central Station to catch our 8:10 train to Florence. We had purchased the tickets with ease from a self-service machine the night before for Euros. The ticket machines have a built in validating machine so we had already validated our tickets. We watched the board for a few minutes until our gate number came up. As we boarded the train, it was apparent that we would have to fight for a seat. We walked back and forth through the cars several times trying to find a free seat. Finally, since there were no seats, we ďupgradedĒ ourselves to an empty first class booth. Just before the train left the gate, an Italian couple looking for seats came by and we offered them the remaining space in our booth. The official who checked our tickets didnít seem to mind that we were in a first class car. It was a pleasant train ride that lasted about two and a half hours.

Upon arrival in Florence, Santa Maria Novella station, we got our bearings and headed down the very narrow sidewalk towards our hotel. We passed the street the first time and ended up walking three blocks further than we needed to, but we got ourselves straightened around quickly. To get in the hotel, we had to ring the buzzer on the name plate next to the door. When the door unlocked, we headed up the stairs to find that the hotel itself was on the third floor. We rang the buzzer no that door, and were let in by the housekeeper, Anna. She gave us a map of Florence and marked a couple of restaurants that she recommended as well as a place to find a supermarket. This last item proved to be very useful.

Our room for the week in Florence was small, but functional with a small refrigerator, a remote control air-conditioner (the greatest invention Iíve ever seen!) a tiny TV that only turned on when the channel down button was held down. This was perfect for us. The location was good, too. It was only about two blocks from San Lorenzo church. The only bad thing about this room was the bathroom. Which was more cause for laughter than any real irritation. The bathroom was essentially a tiled room with a drain in the floor. The toilet was directly in front of the showerhead, next to that was the bidet and then the sink. That was it. There was no separation of the shower from the rest of the bathroom. There was a useless curtain that divided the shower/toilet from the rest of the bathroom. It was nearly impossible to shower without bumping oneís knees onto the toilet. We shared a joke for the rest of the week that we didnít need toilet paper as we could just turn around and turn on the shower when finished.

We felt very secure in this hotel, the Soggiorno Pezzati Daniela on via San Zanobi. We were given three keys. One for our room, one for the hotel, and one to get in the building. We eventually got to meet Daniela, the owner, who was very nice. The one thing we did notice was that there were several mosquitoes to kill in the room before we went to bed each night. The hotel was nicely insulated from outside noise, but we could hear guests in the other rooms. It was nicely decorated and comfortable. Overall, we enjoyed staying at this hotel. With the possible exception of the black underwear we found sitting outside our room on the window ledge. Eeww! The location and price of 65 Euros per night (booked through the hotelís website) made this a great value in a centrally located Florence hotel.

We left our bags in the room and headed out excitedly to see Florence. We made our way towards San Lorenzo, passing the daily street markets along the way. Our first stop was the Medici Chapel. The entry fee was 4 Euros each. First wewent through a small museum of relics decorated with gold, silver and ribbons all relating to the religious lives of the Medici. Mrs. Green commented on how pretty they were until I pointed out that these items contained human bones. We proceeded to the Chapel of Princes, which was extremely beautiful despite the restoration of one of the walls. This chapel feature a painted ceiling by Pietro Benvenuti depicting stories from the Bible. Around the base of the chapel were Shields of the cities of Tuscany. In the front was an alter with panels of floral designs with semi-precious stones. We just sat down and soaked it all in for awhile. We made our way towards the New Sacristy and saw Silvio Casiniís Trophies of Arms, which were sculpted from white marble. These sculptures were of menís headless torsos with a kind of worm-like creature crawling around where the head should be. Weird. In the New Sacristy, we had the privilege of viewing several sculptures by Michelangelo. We were taken by the detail and beauty.

Once we completed the obligatory stop at the bookshop for postcards and a guide book (8 Euros), we headed around the corner to San Lorenzo. This was a very elegant little church with rose designs in the gold square patterns on the ceiling. The floor had a triangular grey, brown, and black marble pattern. There were beautiful paintings all around and the alter was incredible. The church contains works by Donatello.

We left the San Lorenzo Church and we headed down the road towards Santa Maria Novella and stopped at a little pizza shop for some lunch, enjoying the street market and shops along the way. The church of Santa Maria Novella was absolutely stunning. This gem is not to be missed. We could have sat and stared at this place for hours. The entry fee was only 2,50 Euros per person. And, of course Mrs. Green picked out about a dozen postcards from the bookshop and I bought the guide book (8 Euros). I have something of a guide book fetish, I think!

We headed back towards the street market in front of San Lorenzo (which was now a major landmark for finding our way back to the hotel.) We purchased one of the small leather-bound journals for 9 Euros to keep a record of our adventures. We decided to try out the large indoor food market, but were disappointed with the price and selection. The meat had to be cooked and we needed something we could eat in the room. So we headed over to the supermarket that Anna had circled on the map. It was on Via de Ginori. Luckily, the butcher spoke some English so we were able to buy a couple of different kinds of salami, some cheese, bread, and several bottles of water. We spent 11,25 for groceries that made a good sized meal with leftovers we kept in the small fridge for later.

Before dinner, however, we needed to get some laundry done. There were two Laundromats close to our hotel. We went to the closer one and met some locals who spoke English. They were a Polynesian family who had immigrated to Florence. They were very nice and the conversation helped to pass the time. We spent about 12 or so Euros in change to wash and dry two loads of laundry. Back to the hotel for our picnic dinner and relax for the next dayís activities.
MrGreen is offline  
Nov 10th, 2005, 11:13 AM
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Whoops. The train tickets to Florence were 28,62 Euros for two, 2nd class.
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Nov 10th, 2005, 12:07 PM
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Si Signor Verde, Milano e fantastico!!!

Seriously I am enjoying your trip report so much as I love Milan. I always wonder about those that state it is not worth visiting etc. I would not want to spend my entire time in Italy in Milan of course but as eliztrav said, there are so many "gems" in Milan. Now on to the next segment of your wonderful report!!

And also Happy 10th Anniversary to both of you with wishes that you have a long and happy life together
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