Italy, Here I Come!!!

After several days in Paris, we were very excited to finally move on to the last leg of our journey, Italy.  Specifically, Florence whose Italian name is Firenze.  We arrived in Aeroporto di Firenze, Peretola / Florence airport, Peretola  an hour before midnight via Alitalia. I was feeling a little nervous arriving into a new country for the first time during the evening but I was reassured by our apartment host that taxis were abundant at the airport and will take us safely to our self-serviced apartment located in a non-tourist area that we have paid to stay in for several days before moving on to Rome to fly back to Manila.

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We arrived outside our self-serviced apartment address past midnight and rang the doorbell as per the instruction in the email.  We rang and rang but no one answered.  I was starting to hyperventilate. I started to wonder if the apartment was legitimate at all and if we paid for nothing.  And it did not help that our Italian taxi driver was getting restless too, so I kept telling him to not worry and to just keep the meter running.  But it turned out that he was very nice and helpful.  He asked for the phone number of our apartment host and offered to give him a call. Twice in fact, but unfortunately no one answered.  I made a last minute decision and instructed our driver to take us to the nearest hotel.  As we turned the street corner, his car phone rang and it was our absentee apartment host.  He said that he just arrived in the apartment and that he saw our car tail lights go round the corner and to please come back.  I graciously thanked our wonderful taxi driver and gave him extra euros tip for being such a good samaritan.  He was an angel when we least expected it and when we really needed help.

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Inside the apartment and away from the cold night, Andreas, the apartment host took out the lease contract for signing and gave us our receipt for the apartment lease which we had engaged for a few days.  After the signing of contract of lease, he showed us around the apartment and showed us where things were at the kitchen, where the hair dryer was, and of course the wifi password.  After everything, he gave last minute instructions that upon leaving the apartment, we should  leave the keys on the table and lock the main door upon moving out.  Apparently, this would be the first and last night someone would check up on us.  If we have more questions, he instructed to just email him.  With all those said, we all said our good nights… or good mornings and called it a night as we had a big day scheduled the next day.

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We chose a one-bedroom self-serviced apartment because we wanted to experience something different from our usual hotel arrangements.  A self-serviced apartment means you are the one who maintain and keep the apartment clean and you have the savings associated  with the convenience of cooking your own meals in the apartment. Having been traveling and living in hotels for the last two weeks, I missed being home and doing the chores that I normally do when I am home:  preparing and cooking my own breakfast; fixing and turning down my own bed; sweeping and straightening the room from my usual daily clutter; taking out and throwing the trash.  I don’t know about other people  but for me, these apartment chores give me a semblance of normalcy like being home. A home away from home.  Our apartment was a spacious, one-bedroom with the convenience of two toilet and bath; kitchen, living and dining room.

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Nearby, in that same neighbourhood just beyond a little stroll at the park was a nice grocery where we bought our food supplies for breakfast like bread for toast, butter and apricot preserve.  We also bought ham and eggs for those days when we needed some protein for breakfast.

Every morning, I would wake up very early to whip up breakfast to get us through the day’s activity.  I would set the table for two, toast some bread and serve it with butter and apricot preserve.  That first morning, I happily cooked the ham and sunny-side up eggs just as if I were home.  This early in the morning, I don’t mind preparing instant 3n1 coffee we brought with us from Manila and hot chocolate for my daughter just to save time.  I also prepared ham sandwiches in case we get hungry while on travel during a commute from Firenze to an out of town destination.

Our apartment was located in a neighborhood where locals lived far from the crazy touristy center.  There were several restaurants, bars, coffee shops as well as mom and pop stores nearby as well as the neighbourhood grocery.  And in the centre of it all was a park where mothers took their children to play late in the afternoon when the sun was starting to be shy.  In the early evenings after a delicious pasta dinner at the corner restaurant, when there was still daylight left,  this was where we would stroll around the park for several rounds to help with digestion before stopping over at a small corner bar for a glass of red before finally strolling back towards our apartment to call it a night.

During our first morning, we walked from our apartment to the city center which took us about half an hour if we hurry and about forty-five minutes by leisurely stroll.  When we arrived at the center, there were so many tourists. I thought to myself “Florence would be so romantic and gorgeous without the tourists”.  We couldn’t take a photo without strangers being included.  It was that busy.  We decided to take our time exploring Firenze/Florence that first day and what better way than to take a Hop-On, Hop-Off (Ho-Ho) Bus City Tour.  There were at least 3 route options that we could take just to get a feel of the entire city of Florence.  We opted for a HO-HO city tour with a 3-day validity so that we could get on and off using the bus to get around the city to explore the tourist sites as well as check out some restaurants and cafes.  We booked these bus city tours online while we were still in Manila but apparently we could also purchase day tickets in tabaco corner stores available in every street in Florence.

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That first day, we discovered that there was a bus stop very near our apartment where we would wait for our blue bus #13 to get to the city and back.  A much appreciated service after finding out that the walk to the city really was a long, tiring one after we spent the day walking around the city or exploring an out-of-town destination.  Everyday, we learned to navigate with confidence and again that feeling of becoming less and less a tourist and more like a local.  It was a great feeling.

The second day, we took a long trip to check out Cinque Terre.  It means “five lands” in Italian and is pronounced and sounds like “chengky-terry”. Cinque Terre are five century-old colourful coastal villages that clings to the cliffs of the Italian Riviera coastline.  This was a gorgeous trip that took the entire day but was all so worth it.  I would go back again and perhaps stay in one of the coastal villages like Manarola or Riomaggiore to really immerse myself.

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We found ourselves in Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano on our third day.  The entire day was cleverly planned to accommodate seeing these three beautiful places in one day on an air-conditioned bus.  We opted for an organized guided day tour so we did not have to worry about transportation getting from one place to the next and back to Florence.  We just had to show up on time on the designated meeting places in Florence, show our tour voucher to the organiser to show we belonged to this tour and we just sit, nap the rest of the trip until we reach our three destinations.  We could also arrange for meal inclusions should we desire it.

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I have heard so much of Chianti and its wines in Tuscany so we decided to visit this beautiful Tuscan destination for a wine tasting activity, in style.  We visited  Fattoria Castello IL PALAGIO in Chianti, a castle converted into a winery where we booked a personalised olive and wine-tasting tour. This adventure showed us how olives and wines are produced from tree/vine to bottle.

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We loved our first wine-tasting tour in Chianti that on another day, we joined another wine tasting tour, this time with a small group and headed to the two gorgeous wine destinations of Montalcino and Montepulciano. There, we were taken to wine cellars and wineries that left us a bit tipsy before the day was over.

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We made Florence our home base  where every two days we would take the day off and just explore and walk around Florence, take photos and enjoy an espresso in some corner cafe.  Soon after, we bade romantic Florence good-bye and boarded the train TrenItalia Frecciarossa from Firenze  S. M. Novella train station towards Rome.  We decided to travel via train because I’ve always found train travel to be very romantic and we could see more beautiful Italian sceneries along the way.  After an hour and a half of train travel, we arrived in Rome.

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Rome was our last destination where we explored the ruins of the old city and other city sites.  Another beautiful city but the explosion of tourists in every tourist site just made it so impersonal for me.  Another challenging city where I wondered how and where I can see this place without many photo bombers in my photos.

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Three days in touristy Rome was more than enough for me and I felt I was just about ready to head home and get back to work and regular life.  It’s always after long journeys like these that I feel nostalgic and I realize just how beautiful coming home to The Philippines is.

It was time to go Home.

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