Friday 7/ 19 – Where did we leave off? Well, we safely made our train from Venice to Florence! This particular train was operated by Trenitalia, and was the nicest train we had been on thus far. Upon arriving in Florence, we only had a short walk to our hostel; I tried to make a withdrawal at an ATM but my dumb bankcard wouldn’t work. After we had gotten settled in at the hotel, we ventured out to Ponte Vecchio, though we stopped in a random restaurant on the way there for a quick bite to eat. Think unexpected sitting fees and overpriced raviolis. From there, we walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo and watched the sunset over the best views of all of Florence.
Saturday 7/20 – We woke up early to meet at the train station for our day trip with Bus2alps to Cinque Terre (or “The Five Lands”)! Once the group was all reigned in, we hopped on a charter bus to the La Spezia train station, which was about a two-hour journey. Then we took a train to Manarola, the first of the said Five Lands; we were only pit-stopping in Manarola, but there we had optional cliff jumping that was more like rock hopping so we opted out.
Next, we trained to Vernazza, which happens to be the original home of pesto…. Cue our communal joy. One of our group leaders enthusiastically recommended a hole-in-the-wall place for “the best pesto pizza” – so obviously we practically ran there. We treated ourselves to Sicilian style slices of deliciously fresh pesto pizza. Basically right after we ate lunch, we started the hike from Vernazza to Monteresso del Mare, the fifth of the five coastal towns in Cinque Terre. Monteresso is the most resort-y of the five towns, and correspondingly has the best beaches and nightlife. The hike took us about one hour and twenty minutes, complete with stairs, rugged terrain, and the most incredible views; needless to say, my legs were trembling at the end. Cue beach time! After soaking up the sun for a while, we capped our day trip off with some impromptu pesto focaccia bread before we headed back to Florence. In a strange and unexpected, though still par for the course chain of events, shortly after we got back to our hostel, we found out Bri’s wallet had been stolen from the focaccia shop. For the next almost two weeks, we just both used my bankcard for all financial needs.
Sunday 7/21 – We woke up in time for breakfast – coffee!!! (We naively had assumed that the breakfast was included in our bill, though as it turns out it was an extra 5 Euro per person per breakfast). Bri and I did some good ole laundry by hand in the sinks, and then we ventured out and ran into a street market in Piazza de San Lorenzo. Next, we decided to pony up and waited in line for the Academia to see The David. As I am not an especially patient person, I temporarily diverted my attention with some refreshing lemon mint Italian ice (granita) from the nearby Carabé (a recommended granita spot by Rick Steves). The David was breathtaking in person! Unlike the disappointment that the Mona Lisa prove to be in Paris, The David was much bigger and mesmerizing than I had previously thought.
After sufficiently exploring the Academia, Bri and I went back to the hostel to grab Cass and Tay, and then we went straight to Self-Service Ristorante Leonardo near our hostel. It was arguably one of my favorite meals of the trip, simply because it was delicious, filling food for a great price. I got a bowl of tortellini and a salad for 6.70 + Free tap water and no sitting fee! Good job Steves. We then decided to go back to the hostel to change into our church going fits so that we could enter Florence’s Duomo… Steves was right again here – the cathedral is cool, but certainly not worth a long wait in line. After naptime, we got ready and went to News Café for their appertivo buffet and wine deal, per Morgan and Brees’ suggestion. That was a lot of fun. Later we tried to find Twice club (again), and this time we actually did find it, but alas it was closed (even though the internet had told us otherwise). And with that, we were onto Rome!