The Florence story is in this post at the bottom, but I had some time so I added bonus stories.
The Cruise Ship
I haven’t touched on this too much, as I have made somewhat of a gross assumption that a lot of people have been on cruises (they are very popular). This is my second cruise. My first was to Alaska a few years go. So what is the ship like? Well, my immediate phrase for anyone who asks is: a giant hotel floating on the ocean. That’s literally what it is. Of course, it’s a ship with limited resources, so think of everything you’d see in a resort hotel or casino, and miniaturize it. The rooms are fully functional hotel rooms, just really compact. Don’t believe the fish-eye lens pictures you see on the sites. The rooms have enough space between the furniture and beds/couches to walk, and that’s it. The toilets make me think of airline bathrooms, but with more flair. You get a teeny shower cubicle. The sink is very similar to an airline sink. The “queen” size bed is two very short twins mashed together. I am 5’1” – if I lay out on the bed my feet reach the end (sorry tall people, this is a midget ship!).
In this case, I have a balcony room. My previous cruise I had a mini-suite. Both were very small. This one is just smaller. But once you get used to the size of the room, it’s just fine. They always give you tons of cabinets and drawers to stash stuff, so when you unpack your room isn’t a total chaotic mess.
The other nice thing is that you get a room steward assigned to you for the duration of the trip. In this case, my guy is Aurelio, from the Philippines. I am pretty sure it’s part of their job training, but they always know my name when I arrive, and greet me by my name when they see me. They come in the morning to do housekeeping duty, and again in the evening to turn down the bed and do a cleanup sweep. Aurelio has been very nice – he asks about my day, what I did, etc. You also see the same people all the time. The same lady greets you at dinner. The same guy is on shift when you go to the bar for a drink. In my case, they recognize me – probably due to the hair, but it’s a nice consistency.
Overall, the only time you really need to worry about ship accommodations is if you are on a long trip (in my case, I prefer 7-10 days), and your first day on the trip (that is always the “at sea” day, where the ship is powering to the first destination). Maybe another “at sea” day if you are on a long one. Beyond that, if you schedule things right you won’t be around too much to worry. The important part is having a tidy comfortable place to come back to after you’ve spent the day on your feet (or on a bike). Me personally, I have this thing with seasickness sometimes, so having a balcony that I can orient myself on when we hit turbulent waters helps a ton.
The AKA Thing
And for those who are wondering: what the heck is with all the AKA business? Well, everything in Italy has the actual Italian name and the English version. I’ve been listing both because after my last trip to Italy I learned that little factoid, and I want to try and remember what the cities were actually called. For example, yesterday I visited St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, but here squares are called Piazzas. So St. Peter’s Square is actually Piazza San Pietro. Another example is the cathedrals (with the grand domes on them). In Florence, the big one is called Il Duomo di Firenze (aka the the Florence Cathedral). After spending a week in Italy last year, I learned the English translations of these things did squat for finding my way around, so I got used to the Italian versions. Another example is the street naming: Via dei Pandolfini versus Pandolfini street. Trust me, it works better. It’s also interesting that when I Facebooked things last year in Italy, they came up with the Italian names, but when I got back to the states everything was neatly translated.
I really do love Italy. After hitting up the rest of the country (mostly), I still think Tuscany is my favorite. I don’t know exactly what it is. I mean, most things are a disorganized mess, the drivers are scary, but the people themselves just have style. Now that it’s my second time around, I can actually spot the Italians vs the tourists. Everything about them, from their dress to their architecture (newer architecture, anyway) is all very neat lines and boxy shapes. Despite the general chaos of their land, it’s like little pockets of self-organization. Naples and Rome were less like this, but the Tuscan region is definitely like this.
Florence (aka Firenze)
This was our third day in Italy. To be clear, the country itself is more like a set of federated states. Each has their own customs, food, styles, and even ways of talking. Old grudges extending back to the renaissance still exist, but are more friendly jokes than anything.
Today was Florence. Last year I spent a couple of days in Florence with Toccata, so I was pretty familiar with the layout. The tour I took today was far more relaxed than the one I did yesterday. We were coach bussed in to the leather district of downtown Florence, given a brief overview, handed a map with the pickup location, and sent off into wonderland.
You’d think after my previous experience I’d be a total pro, but I’ll fess up: I GOT LOST. I crossed the Florence version of the railroad lines and somehow wound up on the wrong side of the tracks. So much for my unerring sense of direction. When I go traveling on foot like that, I tend to pick a street as my cutoff and decide left or right. I did pick that street this time, but I somehow missed the plaque listing it. Another odd thing about downtown Florence – there are NO street signs. there are plaques on the side of buildings with the street names.
Sample of plaque
So yeah. Missed my street plaque. Wound up a few blocks into a fairly scary part of Florence. Was accosted by a gypsy lady and some other random beggars. Once I realized it, I turned around and hauled ass back to the tourist area.
Fortunately that little detour didn’t cost me much time. While out on my jaunt I bumped into the church we played at last year, and the Uffizi.
We played here last year!
Didn’t run into the Duomo – purposely avoided that area because it’s mostly shops you can find in the US (coach, H&M, Marc Jacobs, etc). I mostly stuck to random alleys and side streets and picked shops you’d only find there.
After my near panic of being lost, I settled down and had a pizza for lunch, then decided to do some Serious Shopping. There were certain things I knew I could only get in Florence, so I think I broke my credit card purchasing everything.
Met up with my tour group for our wine tasting trip at the Castello del Trebbio around 1PM. For those who don’t know, the castle was the home of the Pazzo family, who were the main antagonists of the Medici (who were bankers and pretty much owned everything back in the day). The Pazzo family attempted to assassinate the Medici family with backup from the Pope, but failed and were ultimately killed off by the surviving Medici brother. Pazzi is also a word for crazy. So let it be known: if you decide to murder another family in a blood feud you better finish off the job right or everybody will remember you as crazy.
The castle has been renovated by a family that bought it in the 1960s and turned it into a winery. The wine is actually kept in the dungeon. We got a tour of that, then went upstairs for a wine tasting and snack. Then I bought a bunch of wine to ship home. #priorities
I stormed the castle
Then we climbed back on our bus and went back to the ship. Overall, I liked this trip far better because I had TONS of free time to (ahem) get lost in the city and just do what I wanted to.
Tomorrow I will be meeting France for the first time. Wish me luck!