Hi all, here is the latest update to the blog, covering my time in Milan and Florence.
Getting from Avignon to Milan proved a little troublesome. Once again, (like my journey from Paris to San Sebastian) the French rail system tried to stop me, but I wasn’t about to be foiled a second time and I emerged victorious in the end. My journey to Milan was composed of four trains; three regional French trains and then an Italian train to Milan. The first train got me to Marseilles without any trouble, but the second train from Marseilles to Nice just decided to come to a stop for some reason and sat mid-route on the rails for about 20 minutes. Because of this, I arrived late into Nice and missed the third train to Ventimiglia, a coastal Italian town near the border. But, I was able to get my schedule reworked and got on the next train there. I had two hours in Ventimiglia before the final train to Milan, so I walked down to the beach (actually I wouldn’t call it a beach as it’s mostly rocks) and sat around down there. My train to Milan brought me into the city at 11:00pm, so I had to find my way to my hostel at night, but I managed to get there ok.
I only had one full day in Milan, so I didn’t see too much. Also, it started raining again, with a vengeance. The perpetual rain storm that had followed me from London all the way to Madrid for a month was throwing me a reunion party. In spite of this, I walked around town a bit and saw some of the main sights of Milan. The first big thing I came to was the town’s duomo (cathedral). Milan has the second largest cathedral in the world, and it’s quite impressive. I went up to the roof, which appears to have been designed from the start for people to go up there. Many other cathedrals and buildings have scaffolding you go on when you go up to the roof, but at the Milan duomo you are walking on the actual rooftop of the cathedral. The view up there is good, but because of the rain I couldn’t see too far. After the duomo I paid a visit to a large shopping mall that was next to the duomo. Apparently this is the first large shopping mall that was ever built, and it resembles more a train station than a traditional mall with high vaulted roofs made of glass and steel. I even found the bull mosaic on the floor of the mall. You’re supposed to do a little spin on the bull’s testicles to give yourself good luck and there were a number of people doing just that. I however, was not content to just do a little pivot turn on the bull, and instead jumped and stomped on the testicles before doing a Michael Jackson spin. By my logic this act will give me an exponentially greater amount of luck than those other people got. Moving on, I walked over to Milan’s old castello (fort) though there isn’t too much there. The castello is free and open to the public, though most locals seem to just pass through it to reach the park on the other side of it. After looking around the castello a little I went over to that park and walked to the opposite side before returning back. When I got back to the castello I came across what I thought was a group of people doing some sort of traditional song performance, but it turned out to really be a group of Catholics who were singing some Italian hymns. I spoke with them briefly and learned that they do these public songs regularly as their way to speak to people in the community about their church. Once we parted ways I went back to my hostel, and that was more or less the end of Milan.
The next day I arrived in Florence (called Firenze in Italian) and the rainstorm followed me in for the first day I was there. My first day in Florence I didn’t see too much as I only had a few hours after arriving from Milan. I spent the remainder of that day walking the south side of the Arno River and saw a few things like the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge (I think that’s what it’s called; it’s the one that’s covered in jewelry shops). I also climbed up a hillside to Piazza Michelangelo and got some good views of the city. The next day I saw most of Florence and it thankfully stopped raining. I visited a number of churches, piazzas and other buildings, including the unfinished Basilica di San Lorenzo. The church is actually effectively complete, but it has no facade because the pope pulled the plug on funding before it was finished. I then moved down to Florence’s duomo, with its famous red dome. The exterior is a colorful mix of white, green and pink marble, which not everyone likes but I think works well. The inside is actually kind of plain for a cathedral of its size, but the entrance is free so I’m not complaining. I considered climbing the dome, but the line was really long and not moving much, so instead I did a close substitute and climbed the duomo’s bell tower, which had no line and is nearly as tall as the dome. With the clouds gone, I got some good views of Florence up there. When I came down I walked south and tried out a local gellato shop called Grom that a lot of people are saying is really good. Kind of like the sandwich in Barcelona, I thought Grom’s gellato was very good, but I wasn’t floored by it (maybe I set my expectations too high from the hype). I then took a quick look at the outside of the Medici Palace and the Uffizi Gallery (which I would visit the next day) before going north to the Accademia. The Accademia holds Michelangelo’s famous David statue, and normally has a long line to get in, but I had made a reservation a few days earlier so I got to skip the line. David really is the main attraction of the Accademia, and the museum isn’t very large so most people are finished there in about half an hour. I made sure to see everything in detail, but even that only took me about 45 minutes. The Accademia visit concluded day one in Florence.
Since I had seen most of Florence on day one, on day two I did a short trip over to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is the only thing Pisa has going for it, and I didn’t notice anything that looked all that interesting during my walk from the train station to the tower. I spent some time checking out the tower, along with the cathedral and baptistery that are in the same area, but despite my best efforts I could only get an hour and a half out of that place before leaving. You can pay to go up the tower, but in my mind that made no sense since the tower is the only thing worth seeing, and when you’re in the tower you can’t see the tower, just the rest of boring Pisa. Arriving back in Florence, I walked around town for 45 minutes until it was time for my reserved slot at the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi is much bigger than the Accademia and is mostly made up of art that the Medici family gathered during their time as the rulers of Florence. After I finished at the Uffizi, I went back to my hostel and spent some time booking my next few accommodations. To finish the day I did a night stroll through Florence, and I got to see the sights all lit up. While I was out I also tried out another gellato shop on the south side of the Arno, next to one of the bridges, that I actually liked a lot. With that, Florence was finished.
I am typing this update from Rome, which I have just finished. Tomorrow I leave for Venice, where I will try to type up a Rome recap for all of you.