Italy: Trip of a Lifetime. Part 6

The famous Ponte Vechio, seen from just outside the hotel

A series of posts, accompanied by photographs, recording our recent stay in Italy. Having thoroughly enjoyed it, we wish to share our experience. You’ll get the almost full story of our travels, activities, and experiences; warts and all, in instalments.

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.  Part 5

Our bedroom in Hotel Balistri, Florence.

23rd September, Sunday

Pick-up was timed for 09:30, so we had time for breakfast before checking out of Hotel Forum. Our smart driver took us to the main railway station, Roma Termini, less than a kilometre from the hotel, through streets gradually filling with tourists.

The hotel.

We entered the station with just a touch of trepidation, uncertain what would face us. However, we needn’t have worried. We were early and soon discovered what the various boards meant and where we needed to be for our train; all the details present on the itinerary provided by Citalia.

Like Rome, Florence is full of narrow streets lined with tall, elegant buildings.

We wandered down the platform to the point designated for our coach to stop and took a seat until the train pulled in.

The River Arno and the Ponte Vechio from Ponte S. Trinita

Italian trains come in various types, but the agent had booked us into the best and we soon found our seats, opposite each other with a small table between and sited as single seats with the aisle separating them from the paired seats the other side.

Across the river, the sunshine gave the buildings more colour and reflection in the water.

A younger passenger helped me place the suitcases in the luggage rack and we sat watching the screens providing us with information about our ride.

The Ponte S. Trinita seen from Ponte Alla Carraia.

The train moved off and trundled through the city and we passed the usual graffiti, and the industrial and commercial properties so common to railways everywhere. Once in the countryside, the steward appeared with his trolley and gave us complementary drinks and snacks.

In front of Ponte A. Vespucci is a concrete weir, providing a still reservoir before the river continues on its way

The train was quiet and spacious; a small group of Italian businessmen held a casual meeting just across the aisle as we sat watching the landscape change as we approached Florence. The journey was swift and comfortable, and gave us views of Italy we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

The water was so still at times, it acted as a mirror.

In Florence we were eventually greeted by our transfer driver, who arrived late and rescued us from a pretty chaotic crowd of people all awaiting their various lifts. He proceeded to chatter at high speed for the entire ride to the hotel, covering personal grievances, domestic disagreements and protests against the authorities. Thankfully, the distance was short, as he literally never stopped talking.

Trinkets are on sale in most cities, it seems.

The Hotel Balistri is sited on the road that runs beside the River Arno, only a few hundred metres from the Ponte Vechio and close to the Uffizi Gallery.

Tourists in the narrow streets.

Hotel staff greeted us and checked us in, but our room wasn’t quite ready. They stored our luggage and suggested we find somewhere for lunch.

The ubiquitous motor scooters; more practical than cars in this old city.

Walking streets buzzing with tourists, we found what looked like a reasonably priced small café offering simple food and the drinks we both craved.

Such skill, and so ephemeral: artists are condemned to express themselves always.

Il Duca was staffed by a lone woman who did everything. She warned us we were seated close to the air conditioning unit, but we were initially glad of that after the heat in the street. I was presented with a plate of dryish spaghetti Bolognese and a reasonable local draught beer, Valerie had a Coke Zero and had to remind the woman about her food. A plate of pasta with vegetables arrived.

That’s a copy of Michaelangelo’s David: queues were too long for the original, which is, in any case, hardly any different from this copy.

The bill was a little pricier than we’d expected from the advert outside, but we were too keen to get back to the hotel to make a fuss and left a little disappointed with our first experience of the city.

Some of the impressive sculpture on display outside the Uffizi.

Our room was ready and the porter brought up our bags and left without waiting for a tip. Lovely room; quite plain and modern with a big screen TV and a huge bed, quiet air conditioning and two windows, one overlooking the small piazza where the hotel entrance stood and the other overlooking the river; wonderful!

Even the bases of the lamps along the river bank are works of art!

Great views from our 2nd floor location. Lots of storage space. Guest slippers and bathrobes were supplied. The TV had the BBC World Service and Sky News in English. And a wonderful bottle of Italian fizz on ice!

The hotel greeted us with this in our room on arrival!

After unpacking what we needed for the three nights we’d spend in Florence, we took another walk and discovered where we needed to go for our visit to the Uffizi on Tuesday. I’d ordered tickets online through their own website, which also had a lengthy post about dress and behaviour for visitors.

The view from the bedroom window.

Florence on Sunday turned out to be even more crowded than Rome on Saturday! Neither of us are city people, preferring the peace and quiet of our rural village, but this visit was for a purpose and we made the best of it.

Another way of getting around.

We found a place for our evening meal, as the hotel has no restaurant. Restorante Toto was happy to reserve a table for us, and the evening meal was so good, the service friendly, we decided to eat there each night.

And the view from the other bedroom window.

Took a gentle saunter along the road by the river, avoided the Ponte Vechio, which was a mass of tourists, and wandered up to another bridge to cross the water.

A dramatic sky sets off the elegance of the buildings lining the river.

We then walked back along the other side to a further bridge.

The Ponte Alle Grazie.

Pleasant in the sunshine with lots of stunning views of the city across both sides of the river.

Looking across from the Ponte Alle Grazie.

8 thoughts on “Italy: Trip of a Lifetime. Part 6

    1. The agency, Citalia, did a splendid job for us on the hotels, Bojana. Of course, we spent much more than we normally do on a holiday, but this was a special celebration of both our marriage and the fact that tests had finally shown I didn’t have the cancer we’d both feared might be the case.
      As for the Bolognese; the only sample I had was the poor one at Il Duca, so I can’t tell you!
      Florence was a great experience, in spite of the crowds, and definitely worth the visit.
      And the Italian trains proved every bit as good as the French ones we’d used a few years earlier. Our trains in UK still have some catching up to do, but our railways system is fatally fractured and in need of serious attention, which it won’t get while it remains in private hands, unfortunately.


      1. That’s interesting what you said about English railway. Who would have thought.
        German and Spanish are very good. Trains are always a special experience for me.
        As for hotels, have you ever tried air bnb? They are pretty affordable and excellent for short stays when you often change cities.

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        1. Unfortunately, our politicians sold the family silver, privatising our once national railway system for personal gain. The resultant patchwork of companies now make the job of travelling by train something of a lottery, with literally thousands of different tickets, timetables that make no sense nationally, and varied standards of rolling stock running from the adequate to the downright poor. I last travelled on a British train over 10 years ago!
          Air bnb? Not tried that. But our trips are generally straightforward package holidays to the Greek islands. I organised a trip to France, for which I sorted everything online, but we usually go for the more relaxed type of holiday, at a small friendly hotel, if possible. And we generally dislike cities, so we go for the small towns and villages when we can.
          Our next ‘big’ holiday is likely to be to Australia and New Zealand, as our daughter lives out in Darwin, so that’ll be the next destination, hopefully next year of 2020, as we’re both finding longer flights a bit of a trial and don’t want to wait too long before we try that trip.

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            1. So, self-catering: we prefer to eat out anyway when abroad, as part of the experience of the culture, so we’d only have to worry about breakfast. I might explore Air BnB.
              As for Australia, our daughter and her fellah are coming back to UK for Xmas, so we’ll get some first hand knowledge before our proposed trip. But, as you say, we expect it will be quite an experience.

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