I was up at 7:30 AM with plans to catch the complimentary hotel shuttle into town at 8:30. I made it down for the complimentary continental breakfast figuring I would gulp down some carbs & protein to power my morning sightseeing. I headed to the front lot to catch the shuttle (which was there when I went to breakfast) only to find it had disappeared. Crap!
As it turns out, one must get a ticket from the front desk 10 minutes before departure. The 8:30 shuttle had checked-in full so it departed early. The next shuttle was at 9:30. I used the time to review my itinerary and triple-check the rough vicinity of the laundromat I planned to visit to do a load of clothes. Microsoft’s Local Live map service is decent for getting a lay of the land here in Florence but its ability to pinpoint actual street addresses outside the U.S. leaves a lot to be desired. At 9:10 I went back to the lobby. At 9:20 I had my ticket. The shuttle left at exactly 9:30. I love punctuality.
The 9:30 shuttle wasn’t full but a group of Australian chatterboxes sure made if feel that way. There were 3 couples all late-50s/early-60s going on and on and on. They are all from Melbourne, they hate British Airways (apparently one couple lost a bag) and they love Qantas (surprise!). One guy needs a hip replacement and two of the couples openly despise the 3rd because the 3rd apparently is well off and can afford to fly business class. The 3rd couple didn’t seem to care as they kept making a point about how comfortable their seats were and how they love that most long distance business class flights have seats that lie flat. That got the wife-of-the-guy-with-bum-hip’s goat, eliciting the classic “must be nice” response. I would paraphrase the 3rd couple’s response as follows: “Feel free to hate on us. You aren’t the first and you surely won’t be the last. We will be ok. We hope to have at least two more couples hating on us by summer’s end.” That’s what I’m talking about.
The shuttle makes 3 stops. We arrived at the first, Ponte Vecchio, at 10. We arrived at the 2nd, Duomo, at 10:05. We arrived at the last, Stazione Di Santa Maria Novella, at 10:15. I got off at Santa Maria station (the main train depot in Florence) since one of the seven Wash & Dry lavanderias (laundromats) in Florence was supposedly only a few blocks away on via della Scala. After leaving the shuttle I went into the train station to explore because I am planning to hop a train to Milan on Monday. It was a zoo. I stood in one of the long lines a couple minutes figuring I would go ahead and get my ticket. After the line didn’t move I gave up and left.
I took a right on via Luigi Alamanni then a left on via J. da Diacceto. I hit viale Fratelli Rosselli and realized I had gone too far north. So I took two rights and ended up back on Alamanni. I stopped, checked my map then continued down Alamanni until I got to via degli Orti Oricellari, turned right onto Oricellari, and a block later I reached della Scala. The Wash & Dry address was 52-54 and I saw those numbers shortly after turning right on della Scala. I continued walking and realized there was no Wash & Dry in sight. I turned around to walk in the opposite direction. A few doors after crossing Oricellari the Wash & Dry was on the left. I arrived at 10:40.
The Wash & Dry coin-op laundromat is €7/$9 per load at €3.50 each for washer & dryer. The shop has a token machine that takes €1, €5 and €10 bills but doesn’t return any change. My smallest bill was €10 and I had no coins so I ended up buying 2 tokens (€3.50 x 2), 3 detergents (€0.80 x 3) and 1 fabric softener (€0.60) to use my entire €10. I bought the extra soap in case I wanted to wash my things in Milan. Both the wash & dry cycles are 30 minutes per token and I recommend setting the water & heat temperature on cold and medium, respectively. The “warm” settings are way too hot.
When I arrived there was a young man & woman doing laundry, a vagrant taking a load off and a guy doing laundry by himself. About 10 minutes into my wash cycle they had all finished and left. About 2 minutes later another guy walked in with a big plastic bag full of clothes. He began scrutinizing the signs and machines as I had done earlier. He then looked around and made a beeline directly toward me speaking Italian. I politely interrupted with, “English?” and he stopped long enough to formulate his thoughts. He spoke very rough English that was still much better than my Italian.
In a weird twist of irony, this Italian man (early 40s) wanted my help working the machines as, in his words, “My first-a time-a.” I was no pro having not yet completed my load but I figured it was time to pay the karma tab I ran up with Swedish Bus Chick.
I proceeded to walk him through the entire process beginning with the token and detergent machine. I warned him about the “no change” policy (speaking English but pointing to the Italian words). He decided to leave his things with me and go off to find change. He came back about 5 minutes later and, using a €5 bill and two €1 coins, he purchased tokens for one wash and one dry. I gave him one of my spare boxes of detergent. We got him up-and-running without incident. Grateful, he gave me his name, “John-a Giovanni in-a English,” and shook my hand. I doubt he has a blog but perhaps he will relay his side to his family and friends. A story about an American helping an Italian navigate a lavanderia in Florence is sure to provide several minutes of comedy.
I finished folding my things and planned my trip to Duomo and Piazza della Repubblica. I left the Wash & Dry at 11:50.
I made it to Piazza della Repubblica and was underwhelmed. I spent 15 or so minutes taking pictures. The carnival tent and carousel seemed to make such a historic site lose lots of its luster. A bizarre combination of anachronisms. I continued down via Roma to Duomo and was blown away by what I saw as I rounded the corner.
First, the structures are gigantic. They looked fake against the bright morning sky because I was standing so close (the roadways are really narrow) and they were so big. It was one of those Grand Canyon moments. Second, there were thousands of people crammed into those narrow roadways. I did not realize Florence (Italy?) is such a popular vacation destination for Japanese tourists. They were there in droves. Third, despite is architectural brilliance and historical context, Duomo is a street hustler’s paradise. There were Nigerians selling knock-off Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, etc. handbags. There were Italians selling artwork and trinkets and then there were those damn begging Gypsy women and their grimy children.
Normally I wouldn’t be so harsh on the poor and dispossessed but these women were the most persistent, aggravating buggers (I got that from those chatty Australians). They would come up to me, shove their little jars of coins in my face and begin shaking them as if I were slow and had no clue what they wanted. I would just look past them and wait them out because they would not take, “No, thanks,” “Sorry,” “Scram,” “Get a trade,” “Go sell purses,” or “I hate you” for an answer. Each and every time (they had a crew working that massive crowd) it was a game of me and the Gypsy (woman or child) pretending we didn’t understand what the other was saying. It took minimally 30 agonizing, excruciating seconds of my life each of the ten or so times I became a mark. I finished the I Don’t Understand You Stop Begging (IDUYSB) tournament at 10-0. I am the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. of IDUYSB. Maybe I need to get one of those championship belts so those Gypsies will recognize my rank. I spent about 90 minutes at Duomo taking pictures and people watching. It was time to get something to eat and make my way back.
On my way back to the train station (the only pickup location for the shuttle) I took a wrong turn and wound up on the bank of the Arno river. Making the most of the mistake, I took a couple pictures then reviewed my map. For lunch I wanted to dine the Italian way, alfresco. I walked keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable establishment and happened upon Ristorante Baccus at borgo Ognissanti 11. For my antipasti I had oven grilled swordfish prepared with capers & sage. The dish was excellent with fresh herbs and plump capers and excellent olive oil. For the main course I had grilled cod prepared the Florentine way. As the waiter so aptly put it: “You can get spaghetti anywhere in the world but this cod is truly unique to Florence.” There is not a shred of hyperbole in his statement. It was the best cod dish I have had. The tomato base was rich with fresh herbs that tantalized my nostrils and taste buds. The fish was cooked to perfection and served at peak temperature. The roasted potatoes had a creamy texture and earthiness I have never experienced. The beautiful meal combined with a beautiful sunny day to make for a fantastic dining experience.
At that particular moment I missed my wife the most. TB is my travel partner and best friend. She’s usually there seated across the table so I would have normally shoved a fork of that cod in her face and forced her to try it. Now, we have to come back so she can try it herself. The next time you’re in Florence, stop by Ristorante Baccus for lunch and try the cod. It is an amazing dish for €13/$17. I left the restaurant at 2:30 and headed to the train station to buy a ticket and catch the 4:30 shuttle back to the hotel.
At the train station I located a self-help machine and navigated about two dozen screens (in English) to purchase a standard, 1st-class, one-way ticket to Milan departing Monday at 10:14 AM and arriving at Milano Centrale and 1 PM. The total price of the ticket was €47/$63.
I spent the remainder of the wait taking pictures and sitting in a nearby food court reviewing the day’s activities and pictures. My back and legs were stiff from standing, walking and squatting in the sun for 4+ hours and the air conditioning was a welcome respite from the 85° day.
The shuttle arrived and departed on time and the trip back to the hotel was uneventful. I covered half of Florence, from Duomo to just west of Santa Maria Novella station. I still have half the city and a couple museums to see on Sunday.