The Food, Fun, and Foibles of a First-Time Europe Traveler

Florence Day 1: No Writing on the Walls

Not bad.

We took the early train (there was a strike on the Italian trains, surprise surprise, so we figured we’d try to get the early one) at 7:29 to Florence. The train was nice, and we connected in Spiez, Switzerland, and then again in Milan. At the train station in Milan I was treated to my first Italian pizza (even the train station pizza was pretty good), and I got a glimpse of the fashion sense of Italian women…and men.

We got to the train station in Florence, and I immediately led us in the wrong direction. What should have been a 20 minute walk ended up taking us about an hour, but we did get to “scout out” our trip for the next day by walking through the heart of the city…I always have a plan.

We finally got to our hostel, the incredibly modern “Youth Hostel Firenze 2000”! We received plenty of instructions, then headed into our rooms to get off our feet for a while. Since we arrived so early, we figured we’d head into town and see some sights. We went into the Dumo, a huge Cathedral that was a far cry from the Gothic churches we saw in France. It was elaborately painted with vibrant colors and unique patterns. Definitely nice to see something different.

On top of the Duomo

Once inside, we walked 463 spiral stairs to the top, the last of which were so steep that we basically were walking vertically. When we finally got to the top we got to enjoy this view. It was kind of underwhelming after coming from Interlaken, but still a great view of the city. It seems like everywhere we go we end up overlooking the city at some high point. Interesting.

The interesting thing about the Duomo is that everyone insists on writing on the walls. So much so that there are signs that warn, “Do Not Write on the Walls!”. As a result, you end up with clever graffiti like this, and writing on every wall. Very strange.

Aren't you clever?

At the top on the inside, we got a clear view of the dome and the fresco on top of it. Once again we got a stark reminder of what happens to you if you go to Hell. Apparently it’s not fun.

We left and scoped out places for dinner. Hanna was on a mission to find an “off the beaten path” restaurant, which was difficult in the heart of Florence. She had strict criteria for what qualified:

  • It couldn’t be near a hotel
  • It couldn’t have a sign (at least not a prominent one)
  • There couldn’t be anything but Italians eating there
  • The menu couldn’t have any English on it

Eventually we stumbled upon one, through the back alleys, called “Latine.” When we got there at 6:30 pm, of course they weren’t open for dinner yet. Dinner in Italy doesn’t start until 7:30. We saw the owner, an old fat Italian guy, and he said we could come back at 7:30 and he’d have a table for us. Hanna was excited. It was a tiny dining room with prosciutto hanging from the ceiling…a real Italian place.

So we grabbed a drink and wasted an hour until we finally headed back. When we got there, there was a line out the door. “This is good,” we thought, “this is very good.” We were afraid that with all the people waiting to get in, there was no way the owner would remember us and/or give us a table. Hanna tried desperately to get his attention until finally he glanced our way and told us to come in. As he seated us he smiled and said, “I remember you!” We thanked him and reveled in the feeling of importance we got from being ushered in by the owner.

As we waited for the antipasti, we noticed something strange. The couple next to us was speaking Italian, but there was a group of six 20-something Americans next to us asking whether they could drink all of the house wine on the table. We looked around and noticed more non-Italians.

They brought out the antipasti and it was good…not great. Prosciutto, mortadella, and something that tasted head cheese. Then came the real trouble. There were no menus, and the waiter came by and asked us what we wanted for our second course, “soup or pasta.” Um.

Turns out they had a choice of two soups and three pastas, and when we ordered them they were brought out no more than five minutes later. Clearly this was a pre-fabricated meal and there were big vats of each dish waiting in the back for us.

I saw the look of disappointment creep over Hanna’s face, and when he came around asking us, “you want meat?” we politely declined. We left, disappointed, and determined to find our true Italian restaurant the next day.



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