After my week in Rome, my next destination was Florence, a city that for my money begins and ends with A Room With A View, my favorite movie of all time. (And a pretty good book, too, though the book is a bit more darkly sarcastic than its film version.)
Aside from its general merits (the movie’s wiki page has a fairly large list of awards), and some fairly specific scenes that I’m particularly fond of, the movie is probably my favorite because it so much resembles much of my upbringing. My mother’s family was essentially the Honeychurch’s — a bunch of nice people sitting about in pleasant surroundings having nice conversation with really very little drama. Our budget was significantly lower, of course. Our family estate was not nearly so park-like, we were exceedingly short-staffed in the servant department, and I’m told that some members of our family even worked, if you can imagine such a thing. But, despite all of that, I think it can be fairly said that an aimless state of general well-being is a shared characteristic between our two families, and it has certainly described my life as a whole. Even more so, now that I’ve retired to a modest life of travel. (Sadly, I don’t think I have a good matching character; I sit somewhere between Freddie Honeychurch and Cecil Vyse. Or I’d like to.)
With that said, the entire point of my post-Roman time in Italy was to see the half of the movie that I’d had no familiarity with, Florence, and to visit the places that I knew so well from my many viewings of the movie. I spent rather a bit of time online looking for references for what real-world places corresponded to movie scenes, and eventually found this, Movie Tourist: A Room With A View, that described nearly all of them in detail. An invaluable resource.
But first, I have to get there.
Monday, February 8th
Rome is around the middle of Italy, and Florence is about 90 minutes north by train.
There are faster trains and slower ones, and I’d have been Ok with the slower one, but the faster one wasn’t any more expensive and, leaving at 11:00am, it got me there when it was convenient for my host Alvarez to meet me (after a 25 minute walk to her place from the station).
So, Max gave me a ride to the Circus Maximus subway station, on his way to work (after we took a brief detour to the nearer subway station that I’d planned on walking to, only to find it closed ?!?!?!), a ride during which I learned various things like Max was considering retiring from his tour coordinator job and just running an Airbnb hostel for income. Given the rates of Airbnb places in Rome, I believe that’s possible. The subway was crowded, but I got to the train station in plenty of time, had a bit of coffee and chocolate croissant while waiting, and caught the pleasantly well appointed train for Florence on time at 11.
My train arrived on schedule at about 12:22, and Google Maps guided me towards the Arno river and across it to my Airbnb, passing any number of shops, the American Consulate, and this:
Speaking of Argentina, my host Alvarez came from there. (Still does, I expect.) Apparently, her family was quite international, and her mother’s family comes from Italy, so she was staying there on a relative visa, working as a graphic designer. Her Airbnb listing has a picture of her and of the room I was staying in. (One day, these websites and listings I link to are going to start vanishing, and I’ll regret not having my own records and my own pictures of that-place-I-stayed-in-for-2-weeks-that-one-time. But I live in the now, and right now I’m too lazy to make them.) Alvarez was delightful, spoke very good English, was very pleasant to talk to. Her fridge had a tendency smell a little too strongly of decaying vegetables, but the internet was generally excellent, and I like her neighbors:
There was another young lady staying in the other guest room. I’m not sure where she was from (some latinate country); we exchanged a few friendly words, but that was about it. She may or may not have had a friend staying with her, possibly a “friend”. I never saw the friend, but I’d hear two women’s voices coming from her room sometimes.
This place was a bit of a mixed bag. It was a nice enough place, on its own. I should, of course, note that I had no view. Other than the front of the building across the street. But it was positioned maybe 3 doors away from an intensely busy roundabout (which you can see on the map above), and the traffic noise *never* stopped. Well, I guess that’s not fair. Between about 6:30am and 11pm it never stopped. By around 11, it dropped to nothing, and I found that if I turned on my ambient noise app on a 2 hour timer when I went to sleep, that would get me through the initial night noise and everything would be quiet if I woke up during the night. But all day long you’d hear traffic, slightly muffled by the windows. I did get in a bit of time playing Fallout while I was there, and my earphones blocked it out well enough while playing, but it was really pushing my comfort zone during my stay. I tried to lighten how I described it in my Airbnb review, but I just had a reread of that review and I notice that there have been no more reviews posted on the place since I stayed there. I really do hope I’m not scaring people off. Proooobably not… it’s not like the previous reviews were back to back either. Hrrm. Curiously, she only has one listing up now; I guess she got a permanent roommate for the other room.
Well, anyway, moving on. By the time I’d met Alvarez and gotten settled in, it was around 2-ish. I walked around a tiny bit locally, picked up groceries at the grocery store, and just settled in for the evening.
The next 2 weeks
I’m going to compress everything into general description. I do have daily notes, but I’m not sure there’s any real need for the breakdown. Florence was being chilly and windy and rainy most of the time I was there, and as much as I *love* weather, that’s exactly the sort of weather that makes you happy to stay indoors and appreciate it while you’re dry. So my time in Florence broke down mostly into 3 categories:
- Walk around and see A Room With A View Locations — and sometimes places that weren’t in A Room With A View. (Pointless, I know, but I was there with time to kill, I had to do something.)
- Internet or read or play Fallout in my Room Without A View.
- Have lunch.
In reverse order:
There are typically 3 things tourists do when they travel: see sights, eat local food, and shop. Shopping is largely out, for me, what with having no place for anything I buy, or any use for it on the road. And, as for eating local food, I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to keep the budget down so restaurant dining is something that I don’t do a lot of — any more than you would in your regular life. Two week tourist trip? You eat out every meal. Daily life? Maybe twice a week.
So that’s pretty much how I’m treating all of these places. So, I’m eating fruit and crackers and tea for breakfast in Italy (hard to find oatmeal in Italy, for some reason), maybe a sandwich for lunch, or sardines, and generally a salad for dinner. But I would occasionally have some very yummy local foods: there were a couple of deli-type places near me, that had pizza and pastries and sandwiches and some really great meat or veggie lasagnas, so I did have those. My first day wandering around, I ended up near the Ponte Vecchio (more on that later) and had a great pizza and coffee at a local restaurant for €11.19 (about $12.62), and then stopped at a nearby gelato place only to be stunned by the €10 price tag. Mind you, it was great gelato (2 scoops, coffee and walnut, in a large waffle cone, super yummy), but I’d never have sprung for it if I’d known it was just under the cost of my whole lunch. But I made a tactical error buying from a shop right at the base of the Ponte Vecchio, a major tourist site. Of course it was more expensive than the average neighborhood shop. (I went to another shop several days later which also had *great* gelato, for maybe €3.50. Much better.)
My second or third day, I was wandering around trying to find an Irish/British pub — and the one I found didn’t serve food, just drinks, which I found very disorienting. Really? People come here in the middle of the day and *just* drink? I’d say it must be nice, but I’m not really sure that it is.
I think it was the day after that, that I found The Lion’s Fountain Irish Pub (circled towards the right of the map above), and that place was great.I went here maybe 5 times during my stay; I think I alternated between fish and chips and burgers, and Irish coffee and/or Guinness. They had an outdoor seating area with an awning, and sitting under it, listening to the rain, reading, and watching the passersby, was great.
I did keep trying to go to a place that served boar, which I really wanted to try, but it was never open when I was passing.
I also found a Lindt chocolate shop — that’s a brand that I had seen in Asia, and it had become my go-to brand there. But it originates in Europe and has been pretty common here. They have some very dark chocolate bars — I even tried one that was 99% chocolate. The package warned that you would need a discerning taste to appreciate it — I suppose much as you would to appreciate the taste of charcoal, rust, or gunpowder. Alas, I fear that my palate is not that refined, and I couldn’t really get past a couple of pieces before giving up on it. But they had a brandy-filled milk chocolate bar that was OMG insanely good. I visited that shop several times.
And that was pretty much it. Grocery shopping yielded some amazing cheeses (Italy has really ruled in the cheese department, so far), some good vegetables (I vaguely remember produce being labeled something like “level 1” and “level 2”, and level 2 being pricier, so I gullibly tried to stick to level 2. Was it organic? Who could know?), and beer of no particular virtue. There was probably better beer somewhere. I just didn’t see it. With one exception:
Internet or read or play Fallout in my Room Without A View
There was rather a lot of this, and it requires little elaboration. As I say, it was often windy and chilly and rainy, and it made it easy to stay indoors. No small number of hours were devoted to figuring out how to get to Split, Croatia, in any kind of optimal and inexpensive manner. Eventually I settled on a couple of trains to get to Ancona on the coast, via Bologna, and an overnight ferry from Ancona to get to Split, but it meant arriving a day later than expected. All these little European countries are so small and close together by the standards of the American west, that I just tend to assume you hop on a train and 5 hours later you’re there. 10 hours, if it’s on the other side of Europe. Turns out? Not quite so close as all that. And going up the Italian peninsula and down the Balkan one, through 3 countries, takes a while and a bunch of train changes. And this was the off season so most of the ferries weren’t running, just Jadrolinija. Well, I figured it all out eventually.
I did get a book read during the down time, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, in my room and down at the pub.
As the cover implies, this is a collection of Neil’s short stories, and they tend to revolve around the unexpected. I expect a few of them would be scary to some people — I mostly just found them to be interesting and enjoyable reads. Although Click-Clack the Rattlebag is perhaps a bit scarier than the others and worth listening to the audio version of, on a dark, wintry night. (I was reading the Kindle version, but I’d downloaded the audio for that story when it was free at Halloween a couple of years ago.) But other stories are completely innocuous, and if you’re disinclined to read horror books, you need have no fear of this one. If I remember his forward correctly, the “Trigger Warning” title more relates to the value of reading things that you aren’t prepared for, not that anything in the stories themselves are likely to be traumatic triggers. Though your mileage may vary on that one — which is rather the point.
By the way, how rainy was it really? There’s a spot in the Arno where the the river flows over a ledge — you may perhaps recall Miss Honeychurch’s blood-stained photographs being sent washing down it in the movie. The day after I arrived, I walked towards the city center and followed a riverside path for much of the way:
Here is that peaceful little ledge 6 days later:
It turns out that the Arno is rather unpredictable, and Florence periodically floods. There was a whole exhibit in the Santa Croce cathedral complex about the massive flood in 1966 that rose up over the river walls and flooded the city, reaching over 22 feet high in the Santa Croce area (where much of ARWAV was shot). It was the worst flood since 1557 (and possibly the first not blamed on the Jews).
Got to say, it’s a bit nervous making, hanging out in a city known for massive floods, and watching the river rise day after day. Thankfully, I’m a nomad, so if the worst tragedy struck the city, I’d be free to just leave. Wait, that came out wrong. Anyway, the rain let up a bit, and the river started to drop, and all was well again. Getting used to that sort of thing is probably good practice for me, since where I plan to finally retire is super likely to get seriously wrecked in my lifetime.
Out of the Room, Viewing
So, as I mentioned earlier, I found this website a great help in planning my ARWAV sight seeing list. (Though I think the original phrase is “sight seeing”, that must be rather hard on the blind. I’ve also seen “site seeing” used, which seems more appropriate as one could then be equally engaged in “site hearing” and “site smelling” — a thing that actually does feature in ARWAV. Still, I am not blind, and all of my sites were also sights, and you should generally assume that I applied most of my senses in appreciating them, to greater or lesser extents.)
I had thought I might have to slowly step through the movie, capturing specific screen shots to compare with reality, but the chap who made that website already copied screen shots from the movie so I shall just recycle his. It’s not like the pics I’d pull are any different.
For overview, here’s the map I constructed in my CityWalks app (a great little tool for walking tours and information about what you’re seeing):
The Pensione Bertolini (Pin 2)
This is actually two places, because the interior location, and the “bad” view at the beginning, are taken from a hotel on the east side of the river, while the “good” view comes from a private residence on the west side on the river, looking across the Arno towards the east. I considered staying at the hotel, but it was *really* not cheap. It has long since changed ownership and been renovated, after being bombed in ’93 (for reasons I’m sure were unrelated to the quality of the view), and there’s little to really distinguish it at this point. Still…
Since the good view comes from a private residence, there’s no good way to capture that:
But in my second week there, I ended up at the Piazzale Michelangelo, at the lower right of my map above, and got this shot, which I’m going to call good enough.
It should be noted that right next to the Pensione is the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge over the Arno that still has shops along it, as was once common.
You can see the interior of the bridge, with the shops, through the courtesy of Google Images. And Google Images has some nice shots of the place, exceedingly well lit and color adjusted, that make it look quite pretty. So, there’s that.
On the other side of the Ponte Vecchio (the west side), I wandered the alleyways a bit and stumbled across a nice little corner church.
It was just after this that I found the lunch place I mentioned earlier, where I had a very nice pizza and coffee and read for a bit, before going on to overpay for gelato.
Piazza della Santissima Annunziata (Pin 7)
Following the movie (roughly), there are scenes of walking about Florence, and one of the first sites is the Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.
Basilica di Santa Croce (pin 6)
The major cathedral in the movie is Santa Croce, and there are several little vignettes shot in it.
You’ll see that the suggested visiting time is 30-40 minutes. I scoff at their suggestions, and was here for 2 hours.
Here’s a pano from the entrance, which in the picture above is down the hall on the left side:
This cathedral has 3 main attributes: (1) it’s big and pretty, (2) it has some apparently famous wall paintings by Giotto (and others) in its 16 chapels (what you or I would call “alcoves”, or perhaps “walk in closets where I store all my catholic iconography”), and (3) lots of famous dead people are buried here. You can see a bunch of their tombs here, but here are a few I liked:
Of course, there are other things besides tombs, here:
I did recognize some of the chapel names from the intrusive tour guide’s dialog, like the “Cappella Bardi” above. So that was cool.
Not to be self-aggrandizing or anything, but looking at this did remind me of another picture:
(When St Peter kicks me back down to hell, pretty sure he’s going to point to that last comment. But only ’cause it’ll be an easy example.)
Well it appears that I was hopelessly naive in assuming that I could fit my 2 weeks in Florence into a single post. I mean, maybe I could keep going, but I’m up to 4500 words already and I’ve still got at least 2 major movie locations to capture and even a few non-movie-related things. Plus, this has been a slow one to write and my circulation is not being well served by all the sitting time. And my butt hurts. So, the rest will have to be saved for next time.
As I write this, it’s the morning of Saturday, May 21st. Monday, at around noon, I fly to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I will be for 8 days, and then I head to southern Ireland on the 31st for my nearly 3 months there. I can’t promise to get the next update out before Ireland — I have every hope that I’ll be busy for most of my Edinburgh week. But it will be as soon as I can manage.
And, as a parting gift, I will leave you with two things. First, this note:
We’ll see more of this in the Medici museum, next post.
And, finally, this video, which is wonderful and amazing.
Until next time.