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It was still dark when I left my hostel in Interlaken. It was a 30-minute walk to Interlaken West Station, and I didn’t want to miss my train so I left early.
I boarded the first train, and was actually kinda annoyed that no one bothered to check my ticket from Interlaken West to Milan because it’s the most expensive train ticket (that, plus the Milan-Florence leg) I’ve purchased on this trip. haha
I grabbed a quick breakfast at Brig Station since I still had half an hour to kill. And because I still had Swiss Francs left, I lined up at the currency exchange to change it to Euros. I was third in line, but it was taking so long to serve each customer. Ten minutes before the train to Milan arrives, I left the line because I still had to haul my luggage all the way to the platform. I decided I’ll just change my Francs when I get to Milan. BIG MISTAKE!
Anyone who’s been to Italy and tried to change their money to Euros can attest how exorbitant Italy’s fees are! If only Euros were easy to acquire in The Philippines (I live outside Manila), I wouldn’t have brought US Dollars. Fortunately, half of my budget was in my savings account, so I just got money from the ATM the whole time I was in Italy.
Anyway, instead of being upset about the Euros I lost changing my Francs, I just savored my time at Italo’s lounge. I got lounge access when I booked a first class seat from Milan to Florence. Believe it or not, it was the cheapest I found at the time I made the booking! 🙂
I forgot to take pictures, but basically, you get to enjoy free access to the lounge with unlimited refreshments, free newspaper/magazine, and WiFi while waiting for your train.
And when my train to Florence finally arrived, I went to the platform, showed the ticket on my phone to the inspector who then ushered me to the 1st class cabin (Club Executive).
Imagine, eight extra wide leather armchairs each with electrical sockets, free WiFi, and dedicated catering offering hot/cold drinks and Italian sandwiches. If only I could travel like this all the time!
Two hours went by quickly, and soon, our train was already pulling up at Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station.
The hostel was just a few a bus stops away from the station, and about a 15-minute walk to the Duomo. Needless to say, my first agenda that afternoon was a stroll to the Duomo.
The Duomo was a sight to behold! The facade is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The piazza is always filled with people – buskers, tourists, vendors, and even police/military. I noticed their presence in major train stations and tourist attractions in both Florence and Rome. I’m not sure if it has always been this prevalent or because of the ISIS threat.
I bought gelato from one of the many shops there, sat on a bench, and just marveled at the Duomo’s architecture for a while.
Tired from almost a whole day of traveling, I decided to head back to the hostel, and just grabbed some pesto fusilli for dinner.
I was supposed to go to Pisa and Cinque Terre the next day, but I got into an altercation with a bus inspector earlier in the day. That was about an hour of wasted time, so it was almost noon when I got to the train station. Travel time to Pisa was also about an hour, and the tower was still a 20-minute walk from the train station.
It felt surreal standing in front of the tower. As a child, I only used to read it in books as one of the wonders of the world, and I can’t believe I’m finally staring at the actual thing. It’s so beautiful!!!
Tickets to go up the tower were already sold out when I got there. Apparently, they only sell a limited number of tickets for specific time slots. Don’t make the same mistake I did, and buy your ticket online.
The following day, I went to Cinque Terre which is about a little more than 2 hours away from Florence.
Cinque Terre is a group of 5 fishing villages (Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso) along the Italian Riviera.
I got the Cinque Terre 1-Day Pass (€16.00) which allows visitors unlimited train travel from La Spezia to Cinque Terre to Levanto as well as access to all trekking paths, and WiFi connection at each train stop. Don’t forget to write your name at the back of the card, and to validate it in La Spezia Station before jumping on the train.
Of the 5 towns, I only went to 3: Vernazza, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. I decided to go to the farthest of the 3 first – Vernazza.
The colorful buildings immediately greeted me after alighting from the train. The atmosphere was as vibrant as I expected it to be, so I was really happy.
There’s no shortage of trattoria, gelateria, and ristorante in Vernazza, but I just had to choose the one closest to the sea. Luckily, I got a seat despite the place being packed.
Ordering was a no-brainer. I got the seafood spaghetti, and it was divine! I finished the whole plate. I still dream about it, to be honest. LOL
While most people prefer to burn the calories by hiking the trail connecting Vernazza and Corniglia, I preferred to just watch the people swimming and soaking up the Italian Riviera sunshine.
Next, I took the train to Manarola which is just as colorful, but not as crowded.
The smell of calamari wafted from one of the ristorantes as I was walking towards the marina. It was very tempting, but I was still full from the meal I had in Vernazza.
There’s a nice paved walkway that goes all the way to the restaurant perched atop the cliff overlooking Manarola. Must’ve been romantic dinner spot. Alas, this girl was alone.
I mentioned I went to 3 towns. While I did go to Riomaggiore, the sight of the uphill walk before I could reach the marina turned me off. Yes, I was just too lazy.
I followed the signs pointing to Via dell’Amore, but it was closed for repairs.
Anyway, I was already happy with my excursion and decided to call it a day.
I planned to go to Venice the next day, but because I didn’t buy train tickets in advance, ticket prices at the station were already sky-high. I figured it wasn’t worth paying for just a day trip.
Left without any plans for the day, I decided to catch a bus from Firenze S.M.N. to Piazzale Michelangelo.
I’m glad I went there early in the morning. There were barely any tourists, so I got to enjoy a panoramic view of Florence in peace. :p Viewing the city from above, I noticed there aren’t any modern buildings. They must abide by a building code that’s why Florence looks timeless.
After about half an hour, I decided to go back to the city center. I could’ve waited for a bus to pass, but after walking the vicinity, I stumbled upon broad steps and saw people going up. I assumed it goes all the way back to town, and I was right.
It didn’t take long for me to find Ponte Vecchio. I wanted to check out the jewelry shops, but they were still closed. I kept walking, and passed by a tiny cafe. The pastries on display were very enticing, I just had to go in! I had cappuccino and cannoli al Siciliani al choccolato. Yum!
With restored energy, I walked again until I reached Pitti Palace. I wanted to check it out and to see the Boboli Gardens, but the line was ridiculously long – as is always the case with most Italian museums.
I went back towards Ponte Vecchio, did some window shopping, bought some truffle oil, and went to H&M because they had a sale. haha Then upon stepping out of H&M, I was surprised to find out it was just across Palazzio Vecchio and Piazza Signoria.
The piazza might not look as crowded in the picture above, but there were a ton of people outside Palazzio Vecchio either waiting to go inside the museum or just taking pictures with the statues outside.
I wanted to rest for a bit, but couldn’t find a place to sit down. I ended up dining at one of the restaurants in the piazza. The gnocchi with blue cheese and pear was nothing to write home about, and as expected, expensive.
I asked for the bill then asked the waiter where the closest bus stop is. I wanted to go back to the hostel to drop off stuff that I bought. He tried his best to give the instructions in English, but there was a language barrier so I just pretended to take note.
I exited the piazza, and soon found myself in Piazzale della Repubblica. I have to say, you just gotta love Florence’s and Rome’s urban planning because most sights are just walking distance from each other!
Having said that, it’s inevitable that I ultimately ended up at the Duomo again. Turns out I didn’t need to take a bus after all. 😀