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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

" A Different view of Florence { Day 1 : San Lorenzo Market, Dante Aligheri's alley and The Duomo } "



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It's a cliché to say I fell in love with Florence.
Because the moment I step out of the train that fateful morning,
I have nothing but good memories about it.
You know how some cities leave a mark and seem inseparable that
you're hoping to visit it again ?
Well, Florence is one of them for sure.
Even if it's only such a small city and less grandeur -esque than Rome.
I love how things seems to be right in the heart of everything.
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With a handy Trip Advisor app, a few inspired florence-based instagrammers,
plus my reliable Cadogan travel book I bought from a 2nd hand bookstore.
I can say that planning the trip was easy peasy. ^0^

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Day one started slow even if we have arrived earlier than usual.
We left our luggages at the hotel, which was located along the side streets of San Lorenzo Market.
A few walks from the train station to the market.
*I will post that Hotel review in a bit... *


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We meandered through one of the busiest market in Florence.
* Think Mongkok Night market in Hongkong. *
I like this neighborhood despite a few setbacks.
The place is filled with people, there are more food choices here,
apart from your typical Italian cuisine,
there's chinese, indian, turkish, thai and more.
You never ran out of mini-groceries because every nook and cranny has one!
We even spotted one and only one Filipino mini-mart here. * ^0^ *
San Lorenzo market is a haven for shopping addicts especially those in love with
anything leather, but I still find them expensive considering its tawdry quality.

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If there was one thing I was unhappy about Florence, it was our accommodation.
I was hoping we'd get back to the hotel and freshen up first before heading out again.
Sadly, that didn't happen...
So, with my greasy disheveled hair and recycled outfit from the other day,
we were off to see more sights even if I wasn't too keen about it.

Little did we know that it only took us about 3-4 blocks before we saw the Duomo right before our eyes.
It was like a mirage really, we were coming out of an alley, unsure where it's headed.
Normally, we have our handy map to guide us, but instinct led us to this church.

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What a feast !
Despite the misty weather that day,
It was such a stunner that left us dumbfounded for a few minutes.
* note: it was during 9-ish in the morning, so the place wasn't crowded. *


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Note to self: Take as much pictures as you can, every angle counts, can't miss one single corner.
DO : take close up shots of each detail.
MUST : see this during the night. The story is different.

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The Duomo surely made my day ! ^0^

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It was only natural to proceed to Piazza della Signoria.
One of the biggest and beautiful plaza in Florence.
You can say Hi ! to David's replica and the impressive Fountain of Neptune by Ammannati.
Right in front of the plaza is the monumental Palazzo Vecchio.
Entrance to the palace comes with a fee but you can take photos inside, However, the courtyard entrance is Free.

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While a bunch of tourists rounded up the Plaza, it's hard not to capture one's protruding head or flashy colorful coat.
A handful of Gypsy women began lurking the area as well. * begging for money aka pickpocket ALERT*
But that didn't distract us making our way to Ponte Vecchio - Arno River.

very cute Carabinieri uniforms
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Before we got to that area though,
I was busy chatting away with Pepperoni *my travel buddy*,
this time with a map on hand, considering which pathway sounds better.

I was speaking in my mother tongue, so I assumed no one would understand what we're babbling about.
When an old #notmynonni = Nonni * Old lady * came to our rescue.
I think she thought we were lost and wanted to help us.
She said something like: La Ponte Vecchio ? - But it's near here. I'll show you...
I wanted to say: No thanks! We know which way to go, But I don't want to refuse the kindness of a stranger.
So I asked her in broken italian: Dove ? as in *where* - the only Italian phrase I'm familiar with.
Then, she pointed the street at the end.
She began waving her hands, gesturing turn right on the first, then left on the second, straight ahead...
Yes, Italians are a bit crazy when it comes to directions ! ^-^
In Rome, we got lost twice, thanks to their very trusted Carabinieris and our last B&B owner.

When she saw the big question mark on our face,
She said: Here! why don't I just show you instead.

Along the way, she recommended that we should see Dante Aligheri's house first.
Like ducks, we followed her not knowing where she would lead us, until we ended up in a cul-de-sac.
Somewhat worried, crazy scenarios ran my through my head like, maybe this is a set up where a mob of thieves would rob us
and this is their modus operandi.
I watch too many detective series apparently. ^0^
Thankfully, that wasn't the case,
she did take us into Dante Aligheri's Casa and even told us that there's a small oratory nearby
if we like to take a visit.

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I'm not sure if this is the one , but I think I got it wrong.
This murky slate was supposed to represent Dante's silhouette.


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= THE ORATORY =
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= ONE OF THE MANY ALLEYWAYS =
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not sure how it's called. Marble-etched Map I guess
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To strike up an awkward conversation,
I asked if she was staying in this area.

{She said: Yes, every morning, she needs to stop by this local grocery to buy her dairy.

By the way, she said: you two looked very Asian, * hello! if those two chinky eyes aren't that obvious enough! *
Are you Japanese or Chinese ?

How can I say I'm Filipino but also Chinese in a matter of seconds and in Italian ? ... I can't.

So I just said: yes, Chinese.
The Nonni nodded as if confirming and gave us a smile.

She said: Nowadays, a lot of Chinese immigrants are staying and working in this city.
Florence is bombarded with them and as if we're already in China. She meant it as a joke btw.

I couldn't share my sentiments, but instead gave my usual "har-har" small laugh and
said something like: No, Florence is still very much in Italy. ^0^ }

We thanked her for helping us, it isn't everyday you stumbled into a stranger, who is kind enough to show you around.
I found her walking back the alley and into the grocery where the shop owner welcomed her like they haven't seen in ages.
A pity that I haven't got a picture of her, it would have been a good remembrance.

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to be continued...
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Monday, August 11, 2014

{ How to catch a train ride from Vienna to Florence } , { Aboard the City Night Line and what it looks inside } , { Getting to Firenze Santa Maria Novella station }


After staying for a few days in Vienna, We were off to our next destination.
But this time, it was quite the exact opposite to this grand and opulent city.

We're headed along the Central borders of Italy... that is Florence.
Where every nook and cranny, even some unappealing graffiti can all be eye-catching and historically beautiful.

But wait!
Before I share with you the magnificent Duomo and the glimmering Arno river.
*hah! the suspense*
First, let's take a train trip from Westbahnhof station (Vienna),
all the way to Firenze SMN (Florence) station.

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Like my previous post on * Munich to Vienna train ride. *
This was also our first time to try the (Deutsche Bahn) DB Bahn's City Night Line.
and although, I hardly slept and felt tired than ever, the experience was truly unforgettable.

: Here's a rundown of how it went :

We booked:
2 Overnight SLEEPER tickets.
Economy sleeper with washbasin .
I think it was between 100- 129 euros each, either from DB BAHN OR OEBB website.
You can book 90 days in advance,
but since we're heading during peak *winter* season,
we had to patiently (re-visit) the website everyday, until it finally posted its availability.
(that took us 60 days in advance )

The tickets maybe a tad too expensive,
But it's not everyday that I travel to Europe or take a train ride for that matter.
I read that in certain seasons, the Sleeper rooms are always the first ones to be full and
I wasn't looking forward to reclining my seat for the rest of the 7 hour trip.
It will be like a grueling plane ride all over again. ^-^
* Yes, I do complain a lot. *

If the Sleeper isn't available,
The second option will be the COUCHETTES .
They are also compartment type with beds.
They are comfortable and inexpensive,
but you need to share it with a bunch of either 4 or 6 bed compartments
and If you end up on the upper bunks, with a large, heavy suitcase and a backpack.
well! good luck with that, I don't think we can pull that off !!
I can just imagine the look on both of our faces. ^0^

The last choice are the SEATER types.
Now, these are your typical, ordinary seats,
depending on which route you're off too, some seats can be reclined.
But it is NOT recommended for long, overnight trips unless you have no choice !

So, with a few tweaks and decisions,
we took:
The Double Compartment with Wash Basin room ( sans Toilet ) / Economy sleeper with washbasin + Breakfast Included.

We initially wanted OEBB Railjet.
* well, It was actually me who wanted it, because I find their trains to be more pristine.*
Unfortunately though, there seems to be No Direct routes to Munich.
The only choice was to switch from one train to another.

That is : From: Oebb ( Vienna to Innsbruck ) and then
To : City Night Line ( Innsbruck to Florence ).

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If you booked online, you will be given a COLLECTION TICKET NUMBER.
You won't be able to get your tickets printed yet.
You need to find Ticket Machines like this, or better, if you could locate the Info Centre and
have them PRINT your TRAIN TICKETS.

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INFORMATION CENTRE

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We were at Westbahnhof Station an hour before our schedule and had a quick bite to eat and strolled for a bit.

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Waited for a few more minutes.
The Railjet arrived early and this time, we were not in a hurry
and made sure that we alighted at the right carriage. ^-^

18:30 PM = RJ 762 carriage #36

BUT :
the Screen chart suddenly changed to = RJ 68, confused,
we inquired at the info centre and confirmed us that
Both are just one and the same.

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We need to change trains from :
* Vienna to Innsbruck * (which covers all the way to Zurich)
Waiting time: almost 4 hours ++
The Important thing to always make sure to read the TIME and DESTINATION

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This time there were no pleasant views and it wasn't crowded inside.
It would've been nice to see a bit of the alps, but it was during the night.
I think we were less than 20 passengers.
* almost empty seats *

We were beside a mother + daughter bourgeois.
At first, they were very quiet, the teenage girl was nice,
but the mother was just restless,
she would flip a few pages of the book, buy chips from the bistro-cart, take a nap, listen to some music.
then, the rest of the trip... can't stop yapping with her daughter.

The worst though were a couple of teenage hoodie guys,
who thankfully alighted at St. Polten station, the next station after Westbahnhof.
They miserably chose to sit at the back of our seats, they kept pushing the chair back and forth,
then, flipping the tray tables as if they were some flying saucers.
Ugh!* to make matters worse, they blasted their bombastic tunes, purposely talked so loud, sounded like turkish accent *not sure.*
As if they're the only ones in that carriage and clearly have no respect for others.
I think one of them was purposely flirting with the girl beside us, trying to get her attention,
maybe hoping she'd talk to him or some sort.

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anyways, finally arrived at Innsbruck about Midnight.
We then switched trains,
literally just on the opposite side of the rail.

That was the sign we need to look for:
MUNCHEN - ROMA

* the 2nd to the last stop was FLORENCE *

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The quite dingy CNL City Night Line's exterior.
* Pls clean me! *

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As soon as we said Hi! to the attendant,
She took our passport and checked our train tickets for verification.
Do not be worried,
She will hold on to it and gave it back at the end of your destination.

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WE were assigned to ROOM number 61.
It took me awhile to understand how the card key works.
But the very patient on-duty attendant showed us how.
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The room is quite small but adequate.
Very clean and no weird musky smell.
They even provided us with clean towels and drinks.

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SHARED AREA:
The Restroom *complete with shower*

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Our first train stop was = BRENNER, BRENNERO .
and the snowy view from our window was just dreamy.
who wouldn't want to take a foto ?! #nofilter

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and then, an hour before we reached Florence,
the attendant personally knocked on our door *wake up alarm* and brought us this nice and healthy breakfast.
I couldn't take it all in... only had bread and coffee, that's it, not really a morning person,
but can't say no to coffee, especially when it's freshly brewed and smells so good.

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I thought Firenze station would look shabby and chaotic,
in fact, there were lots of warnings to be wary of pickpockets.
On the contrary, It wasn't quite as I had imagined.
It was clean, systematic and small, at least, not too confusing.
You only have One entry and exit.
Since we were there early,
we almost had the place to ourselves!
6-ish in the morning,
Not a lot of tourists yet, a few workers and commuters.
Tabac on the corner was just about to open, while the Newspaper stand was busy piling up the magazines and new editions.


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We even got to try this Ticket Machines and found them to be very accessible and helpful.
You can book your tickets here.

{ TICKET MACHINES }


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I´m not sure if this an old train or not, but it looks interesting.

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This is the New Trenitalia train.
*NOTE TO SELF = I will make sure to try this one the next time I visit Italy.*

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and one of the cheapest trains, cheaper than Railjet actually called WESTBAHN.

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I couldn't resist and immediately bought some local comics and magazines,
even when I can't read Italian. ^-^

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Christmas wishing tree.
*cute*

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Funny thing was, when I took this foto, the phrase I will never say never... sounded too familiar as if I've already heard this line before.
It was only when I was about to add captions here that it dawned on me... 'twas The freakin Justin Bieber's lyrics.
Yikes, and I don't even like this song. ^0^

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It was foggy and misty when we got out of the station.
7 am already, but the sky was still blue.
The Hotel we stayed was a few walks and minutes away.
It was a bit of a struggle to lug your carriage along those cobbled stone streets.
But I think all those just faded away once you've seen the city during its quiet hours.
Here's a partial view of Santa Maria Novella Church and the Hotel we were staying.

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Here's me and my not-so-cool brushed up hair.

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