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Report 1020: Solo Trip to Italy (May 2006)

By Monica Pileggi from Maryland, Spring 2006

Trip Description: I traveled to Italy on May 10, 2006 (through to the 25th), spending two weeks in Florence, Bologna, Parma, and Venice. I also did a few day trips from these cities, including Greve in Chianti, Arezzo, Ravenna, and the Veneto hill towns of Maristoca, Bassano del Grappa and Asolo.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Emilia-Romagna, Florence, Tuscany, Venice

Categories: Family/Friends; Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Garden Visits; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; Single Traveler

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Page 1 of 6: Florence and two side trips to Greve in Chianti and Arezzo

photo by Monica J. Pileggi

Florence Sunset

Thursday May 11th

I flew to Florence from Dulles International to Paris’ CDG airport. I ended up on the 9:55am flight to Florence since my connecting flight (7:20am) was just not possible for me to catch. Why Air France put me on that flight instead of the next one, I'll never know.

I didn't sleep a bit on the plane. Seats are too tight. Food wasn't too bad and I enjoyed a couple glasses of white wine. From now on I will book aisle seats - I love the window to look out and even lean against, but it's always difficult to get in or out with two others in the row.

Since I'll be arriving in Florence a few hours later, thereby reducing the amount of time to sightsee today, I might head to Arezzo on Saturday and skip Greve and Montefioralle. In reading my new AAA spiral book on Florence, there is much to see despite what my cousin Reenie and I saw two years ago.

I arrived in Florence about 11:30am. The flight was very smooth. I had nice views of the mountains and a peek at Florence before we landed. Not wanting to waste any more time, I took a taxi to the hotel (23 euros). I finally felt like I was starting my vacation after talking to the driver. He spoke some English and I spoke to him with the Italian I know. He sped through the city to get me to my destination, but I didn't understand why we came into the city from the south side - the airport is north of the city - did he take a longer route to charge me more or was it the quickest way in?

My hotel is located right next to Cartier's on via Tornabouni. Many stores such as Pucci, Tiffany’s, Versace, etcetera, line the street. Two floors up to the reception room, I met Lara. She has been very nice since our first correspondence. My room, #25, is located on the top floor - single room with window facing the terrace. Too bad I couldn't walk out onto the balcony: the window was about 4' above the floor. They should move the desk to where the nightstand is located and add steps to the terrace. The room next to mine is separated by a floral partition.

My room contained a single bed, small desk, TV, room safe in the closet and a mini bar, which I didn’t use. I did store my wine and water though. The bathroom was nice although pretty tiny. Lighting could have been better, but that seems typical in most European hotels. The shower was the smallest ever!

I hung up some clothes and then headed out for the rest of the afternoon. For lunch I wanted to dine at Mossacce, but there were at least 15 people waiting to get in. Just a few doors down was the Caffè Bigallo Enoteca (Via del Proconsolo, 73/75r). I enjoyed their lunch special of short pasta with zucchini, followed by eggplant parmesan (excellent flavors), a glass of wine and bottled water.

After lunch, I checked out the open market places in Florence. There are many things to purchase, such as beautiful leather purses, jackets, belts, wallets, silk scarves and ties. I looked for a purse, but wasn’t ready to buy one.

A portion of the Cathedral is under scaffolding, but that’s also typical in Europe. Something is always being restored.

I headed to the train station too and purchased via the ticket machines my train tickets for Arezzo on Sunday. The place was buzzing with people coming and going.

On the way back to hotel, I bought boxed white wine for 1.70 euros! All for one liter of wine. It's decent house wine and much better than some of the box wines back home.

I had dinner at Antico Fattore after a nice walk on the Pont Vecchio window-shopping – love all the jewelry that’s on display in the windows. Dinner was pretty good but not spectacular: crostini Toscana (liver paté nice and warm and creamy); veal scaloppini with porcini mushrooms in a gravy or sauce and fried battered zucchini flowers. I had a small bottle of white wine and bread. With my coupon from the Internet web site I received a cute ceramic plate to hang on the wall at home, which has the restaurant’s name. I was also given a small bottle of red wine. This place was evenly mixed with locals and tourists.

I had a nice leisurely walk home. Along the way, I stopped at one restaurant to make reservations based on Luciano's recommendation. The menu looked very nice. Although I had some favorites from previous trips, I wanted to try new places.

Florence Friday May 12th

I didn't really sleep last night because of the time change. I was very tired while walking back to the hotel, but once in the room and after my shower, I was wide awake. I had picked up a 5 euro calling card and talked to Tony. It was nice to be able to call him and not worry about a phone charge in the room.

The street noise lasted until at least 3am with people walking and being loud to the cars and Vespas going by - and I'm on the fifth floor! I had my window closed because of being on the terrace. It was fine until half way through the night and then it got warm. And then there was the one mosquito!

I got up at 8:30am and had breakfast, located behind the reception. Food consisted of typical hotel breakfasts: cereals, toast, croissants, a variety of cheese and meats, orange juice, fresh fruit, and a large cappuccino maker. After breakfast, I headed out for the day, first stopping at a little store where I picked up a spray for mosquitoes.

I headed over to the Oltrano area and toured the Pitti Palace and Boboli gardens. I enjoyed visiting the palace, but I’ve been to more spectacular palaces. The Boboli gardens were not in full bloom, so that was a little disappointing, with the exception to the rose garden next to the ceramic museum.

Lunch was across the street – the Pitti Café and consisted of their 15 euro special: risotto con frutta di mare; insalata caprese and 1/4 liter of white wine (4 euros). The buffalo mozzarella was huge! Served with ripe tomatoes and lettuce with basil leaves. Nice balsamic and olive oil. 19 euros total. Two women sat down next to me, Ann and her niece Morgan. We had a nice talk about our travels.

I didn't get inside the two churches on the Oltrano that I wanted to visit, as I didn't take into consideration the siesta hours where things shut down at midday.

I headed back to my hotel after walking around the Oltrano, stopping by at the Antica Torre di Via Tornabuoni Hotel to meet Cristina. We had corresponded prior to my trip. I had asked for room prices, but knew it would be out of my price range. Sure enough, it was; however, Cristina was wonderful. She emailed me three other hotels in the same area and offered an invitation to meet her and see the hotel. She wasn’t there when I arrived but Sandra took me to the roof terrace to see the city. Apparently Cristina told Sandra about me and was expecting me.

After a quick stop at my hotel, I headed over to the Piazza di S. Croce, stopping along the way for some gelato. Delicious! I had wandered around much too long so that I missed going inside the S. Croce, as it was just after 5pm. This place is where Michelangelo is buried. There was some sort of event going on in the city - something to do with Dante, but I'll have to get the flyer I took and translate it. In the area are lots of leather shops and jewelry shops. I looked but nothing caught my eye.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the Ponte Vecchio and priced a couple of rings. I was hesitant to purchase knowing I still have time in my trip to compare prices, plus the prices at the Ponte Vecchio are much higher than other places.

After a drink in the room and typing up some of my journal, I headed to dinner. Located just down two blocks from my hotel was Ristorante La Martinicca recommended by the gentleman at the hotel desk. I arrived promptly at 7:30pm, where several people were already having their meal. I ordered 1/4 liter of red wine, ravioli tartufo with asparagus in a cream sauce, steak Florentine (approximately 27 oz); Vin Santo, a sweet dessert wine, with biscotti and water. 40.50 euros. This was an excellent meal! After the place filled up, the service slowed down. Between two rooms filled with people, only two waiters took care of the guests. I walked for a short while after dinner, heading towards the Ponte Vecchio. The moon was out but behind some clouds. I took a few night shots, which I hope will come out.

Florence to Greve, Saturday May 13

I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go to Greve in Chianti because of what I missed yesterday; however, it was one place I really wanted to visit, along with Montefioralle, just up the hill. I woke up at 6:20am and decided I would go. I was out the door by 7:15am, missing breakfast and headed to the bus station located to the left of the train station. My ticket was only 2.90 euros for the 8am bus ride. The actual bus stop was two blocks away, for which I had to ask a man in the street for directions. The ride, after about a dozen or so stops, lasted an hour. I arrived with the Saturday market in full swing.

The market was filled with vendors selling food, clothing, shoes, and leather purses (bought one for just 20 euros! – prices are much, much higher in Florence), flowers and assorted kitchen items. The shops around the market were opening up, so I had the chance to window shop. For breakfast I had fried calamari, which was sold by the weight (3.60 euros). They were delicious, but a little greasy.

I checked out the rings at a jewelry store and found a ring very similar to the ones I saw the previous day at the Ponte Vecchio. BUT, this one was larger and only 339 euros, rather than 658 (marked down to 530). Unfortunately, my credit card did not go through. It worked two days ago when I took out 500 euros from the ATM when I first arrived at the Florence airport. I didn't think to bring another credit card because I expected Greve to be just a small town with the market where cash is the only method for payments. The woman at the store even took me to her bank to see if they could put the charge through. Didn't happen. I was so angry for not bring a second card and that the card didn't work. I could have gotten a beautiful ring at such a reduced price!! She also told me that the shops on the Ponte Vecchio pay 20,000 euros a month for their rent! Amazing - no wonder why everything there is so expensive. Tomorrow I'm going to Arezzo with two cards and my fingers crossed that I can find a ring at the lower price.

After my frustrating morning at the jewelers, I stopped to pick up my bus return ticket for Florence at a little café. I took a walk, or I should say hike, up to Montefioralle. It was a steep, 20-minute walk, which I stopped along the way to take in the countryside scenery. It was a beautiful day for the walk. Just at the edge of town I found the Ristorante La Castellana with its outdoor tables facing the valley. The menu had a nice variety of dishes. Lunch was excellent. I ordered just a primi: Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (wide pasta with wild boar meat), water, and a glass of red wine; cantucci and vin santo for dessert - all for 20 euros. The pappardelle was fabulous, which is one of my favorite pastas.

After lunch and a walk around Montefioralle, which is a lovely, quiet small town, I headed down the hill and to the center of town. I had a little time before heading to the bus stop. It was interesting to see the piazza completely empty of the market vendors and their goods. Trash was everywhere with several people cleaning the piazza.

While at the bus stop, I ran into the young woman, Tiffany, that was on the same bus as me to Greve, and who I ran into while heading to Montefioralle. She was traveling alone from Australia. We chatted for a bit. About ten minutes before the bus arrived, a group of five Americans asked me if they needed to purchase a bus ticket. I told them yes, gave one young man my document with the ticket information and told him he really needed to hustle in order to catch this bus. Bus service is very limited on the weekends and the next one would be two hours later, which was also the last one of the day. They made it on board literally at the last second.

Back in my room, I rested for a while after the long walk from the bus station. My evening plans were to meet June and Jill for dinner at 6:30pm with drinks first at their hotel. I headed to June's hotel, which was just down the street on the Arno River. While walking into the building I met the manager. I ended up tripping on the small step while talking to him - I didn't even see it. He escorted me to June's hotel room. It felt a little strange, but in a good way, that here we were both in Italy at the same time and together for the evening! June and Jill had gone food shopping for their train ride to Venice for Monday (same train as me!) and brought out some fresh Pecorino cheese and red wine. They had a nice private terrace with views of the Arno River. While June poured our wine, Jill cut herself with the knife. Although she bled for a while, she didn't cut too deep.

We took a taxi to our restaurant - Ristorante Le Fonticine on Via Nazionale. This is June's favorite restaurant and she made reservations a few weeks before arriving. She specifically asked to sit in the back - a must do! In order to get to the back room, you have to pass the open kitchen and antipasti bar. Such fabulous aromas. The walls of the room are covered in many paintings the owner has collected over the years. We all enjoyed our dinner. I ordered the antipasti misti, which included marinated artichoke, stuffed tomato, marinated mushrooms, salami, olives, a quiche, marinated onions and eggplant. For my entree I had the osso buco, which was excellent (both totaling 24 euros). June bought a wonderful bottle of red wine for the three of us.

We took a taxi back to our hotels and I took a walk for a short while since I didn't want to go to the room just yet. I could have walked from the restaurant. While waiting for our taxi, a woman from Ireland came up to us telling us she was surprised that she had to go outside to smoke her cigarette. It was obvious she had a little too much to drink. She even stated the food was, "Just okay, I've had better." We just thought she was a little crazy with that comment.

Florence to Arezzo, Sunday May 14th

I woke up at 7:30am so I could catch the 9.08 train to Arezzo. It was a one hour ride. It was an overcast day so I took my umbrella and black sweater. I was glad I did, as it was cooler than the other days. I had a nice walk around the town first heading to the Cathedral, which was beginning their Sunday service. For some reason, there was a camera crew inside along with large floodlights. Also, a choir sang beautifully. I videoed for a few seconds hoping to catch the singing. I'm always impressed with the cathedrals - their size and structure.

Out in the piazza of the Cathedral were performers in costume and flags of various prints, which reminded me of the Contrade in Siena. I asked at the tourist office if it was a festival but he just stated it was Mass.

I had the opportunity to tour a museum next to the Cathedral, which had exhibits of Leonardo's works. I could even play with them.

For lunch I dined at Buca di San Francesco and enjoyed the riboletto and lomba with Tuscan beans and polenta. For dessert, I had the Vin Santo (menu) but they also gave me a lemon-type cake, which was drizzled with chocolate. I couldn't eat all of it, although it was quite delicious. The place filled up quickly with locals who came from church.

I took the train back to Florence so I could visit the Santa Croce church. I stopped at the hotel first to drop off the sweater and umbrella, as it turned into a sunny day. I also tried to use my ATM again and was able to get 100 euros with my BA card, but not my credit union card. I was still worried I wouldn't be able to get enough money out to pay the hotel in cash, which would be an 80 euros savings. I didn't want this money issue to spoil my afternoon, so I headed to the S. Croce and had a nice tour there. Michelangelo, Dante, and Galileo are buried there. I visited the leather school, although no one was working on any products. Although very expensive, the work is wonderful.

I found an Internet cafe and emailed Tony telling him to contact the bank and fix my credit card ATM problem.

Before dinner I had a drink at a café on the Oltrano. I saw another café that was almost empty but with better drink prices. I had picked a place right off the main street, so my one glass of wine was the same price of a 1/4-liter at the other place. Live and learn.

Dinner at Osteria Cinghiale Bianco was excellent! I dined there two years ago with my cousin Reenie. I ordered the mixed meat dish, which included wild boar, salami and other types of meats, cheese, and some delicious marinated eggplant, which was infused with garlic and hot pepper flakes. It was almost a meal in itself. For my entree I had the pappardelle with wild boar and a 1/2 liter of red wine (I asked for 1/4).

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