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Italy - France Journal
June 18 to July 4, 1998

Day Six: Tuesday, June 23, 1998

At Florence, you think; at Rome, you pray; at Venice, you love.
- Italian proverb quoted by Maurice Baring in Round the "World in Any Number of Days" (1913)

After breakfast, we took our last ride (thank goodness) on the Metropolitana. We had L5000 and, of course, the machine only took L2000 and L10000 and the attendant had no change, so when no one was looking, we jumped the turnstile. We arrived at Termini and had no idea what to do next. There were no signs in any language - even Italian. We queued to purchase seat reservations - mandatory on the Pendolino trains, which is all that run between Rome and Florence, and were helped out by some nice English-speaking people in line. We then found the EURAIL office to get our Europass validated - there is a hefty fine on the train if this is not done beforehand - and finally boarded our ETR 500 fast-and-fancy Eurostar to Florence.

This train was luxurious! Our Europass, sold only in the US, only comes in first class for those over age 26, so we traveled in style! The trip was short - one and one-half hours - and we were in Florence in the blink of an eye. Our hotel was right around the corner from the Santa Maria Novella train station, so we just walked over. Albergo Sempione was spotlessly clean with furniture that looked brand new, wood floors and a bed that was almost American king size. We had a bath that was designed for the handicapped, so the bathroom was huge, looked freshly tiled and painted and was so clean, it sparkled. We highly recommend this hotel.

We dropped our bags and set out for the Duomo. Florence's historic center is very small, and it is an easy walk from one place to another. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, more familiarly known as the Duomo, is a very impressive, very large white structure decorated in pink and green Tuscan marble with the Campanile (bell tower) along one side. The highlight of the Duomo is Filippo Brunelleschio's red dome, the world's largest dome built without scaffolding, and a symbol of Florence in the same way that the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris. In fact, the Florentine phrase for "homesick" is nostalgia del cupolone (homesick for the dome).

The Duomo is much more impressive from the outside, although the ceiling frescoe of the Last Judgment inside the dome is beautiful. The climb to the top (463 steps) was very taxing, but the view from the top was by far the most rewarding we had seen. Florence looked like a sea of red roofs from atop the city. We stayed atop the dome for more than an hour. Italy was playing a World Cup game while we were at the top of the Duomo, and the whole city must have been watching. We heard loud roars from the street whenever a goal was scored.

After the Duomo, we visited the Baptistery and its magnificent bronze Renaissance doors. We settled in for dinner at Buca dell'Orafo, one of the best Florentine buca, meaning "hole-in-the-wall", restaurants set in the cellar of a former goldsmith's shop near the Ponte Vecchio. We feasted on fettucine with salmon and asparagus, insalata mista, breast of chicken in a white wine truffle sauce and spinach. We stopped for gelato on the way home and discovered that Florentine gelato is more like a creamy mousse than ice cream. We enjoyed Rome's gelato more.

Ponte Vecchio (Vecchio bridge), Florence

The Duomo, Florence

View of Florence from the top of the Duomo

Bronze Renaissance doors of the Baptistery, Florence