Taking the train from Florence to Milan

NH Grand Hotel Verdi (Milan, Italy) room keyI made it to Milan just after 1PM as scheduled. I am staying at NH Grand Hotel Verdi which is a €5 taxi from Milano Centrale train station. The hotel rooms are modern but the lobby, lifts and hallways are rather dated. Here I was thinking the Sheraton Firenze Hotel has olskool keys. Check out the behemoth to the right. That round thing is a solid brass disc about 1/2″ thick. The entire key chain easily weighs a pound. Yikes!

Anyway, the train was easy. The only blemish was the Italian woman seated directly across from me who insisted on using up all her anytime, free & clear, whenever minutes calling up her fifty-five faves during the 3 hour ride. I understand why the FAA doesn’t want to allow cell phones during flights. Thankfully I had the aural serenity provided by my Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator Earphones and Zune playing Salif Keita’s M’Bemba.

Alas, I’m here for work and only for a short time so I won’t have nearly as much time or things to blog.

The Internet access in Italy is horrible. Not only are hotels charging through the nose (€17-€22 or $23-$29 per day!) but the speeds and reliability are abysmal. Downloads don’t complete or take forever. Many sites are either blocked or cannot be found. It is extremely frustrating.

Touring Florence, Italy: Day 2

As I mentioned in my May 25 post rain has been expected in Florence all week. Well, it finally came today…in force. I woke up at 7:30 again but was piddling around editing photos and planning for today’s trip. I messed around and missed the last morning shuttle which meant I had to wait for the afternoon rotation to begin at 3:30.

The lightning storm started around noon and the rain was coming down in buckets. I was so happy I had missed the morning shuttle as I could just imagine me crouched somewhere in the city waiting out the rain with a couple hundred of my fellow tourists. I had lunch at the hotel (the food here is excellent, by the way) which consisted of broiled sole with buffalo mozzarella to start and gnocchi with scampi and wild mushrooms as the main. It wasn’t as good as lunch yesterday but it was a good dining experience nonetheless.

The rain finally died down around 2:30 so I caught the 3:30 shuttle. This time I got off at the first stop, Ponte Vecchio. As you may recall, today was the day to tour the eastern half of the city and Ponte Vecchio was the nearest to city center the shuttle stopped. Because the sky was dull and gray, and the ground was still wet, the picture taking wasn’t stellar. I considered throwing in the towel and doing the museum circuit (my rainy day backup) but almost every other tourist must have had the same game plan as every museum I passed had a line that wrapped around the front and one side. The outdoors would have to do.

Below is the map chronologically listing each of my major stops during my tours yesterday and today. Numbers 1-7 are from Day 1. Letters A-K are from today, Day 2. The sights aren’t listed on the map unfortunately so I have provided a list of today’s stops below. I already fully documented yesterday’s journey which calls out each stop 1-7 by name.

Map of Keith's Tour of Florence, Italy

A. Pointe Vecchio
B. Galleria degli Uffizi
C. Piazza della Signoria
D. Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze
E. Sinagoga (a synagogue)
F. Piazza M. D’azeglio
G. Istituto degli Innocenti
H. Piazza S. S. Annunziata
I. Piazza San Marco
J. San Lorenzo
K. Stazione Santa Maria Novella

The picture I’m proudest of from today is the panorama at Santa Croce (stop ‘D’) below.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze Panorama

This composite image was created from 7 individual portrait shots stitched together. The resolution of the final image is 7097×3624 before leveling and cropping! Of course I downconverted it for my blog considering I doubt any of you have a monitor that can display a picture 7000 pixels wide.

My trusty tripod came in handy for this shot. I will do a more detailed write-up of the steps involved in capturing panoramas later on. I think my Internet connection just expired and I was hoping to get this post out before I leave for Milan tomorrow morning. 🙁

Spending a Day Touring Florence, Italy

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.

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Arriving in Florence

I arrived in Florence around 11PM yesterday (Thursday). Lufthansa only allowed a single carry-on per passenger due to the small airplane we traveled on from Frankfurt to Florence. I had to check my duffle at the gate which meant I had to go to baggage claim in Florence. We got off the plane, walked through a door and the baggage claim carousel was immediately to the right. There was no customs procedure and the airport was fairly vacant and every shop was closed.

I walked outside after gathering my belongings and was greeted by the humid Florence night air. It was 77 F at 11 PM! I had to find an ATM eurosbecause the currency exchange was closed and my residual krons would do me no good in Italy. I needed some euros and I needed them fast. It is very embarrassing to take a taxi and not be able to pay because the driver won’t take credit cards and you don’t have the correct currency. This is doubly embarrassing in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language. I found an ATM just outside the airport exit. I selected the English option and inserted my card. I was prompted to scan a barcode to continue. I had no barcodes to scan so I canceled the transaction and went back inside.

After another minute of searching I found a Banco Tuscano ATM and was able to get some money from my checking account. There were no ATM fees but the current exchange rate is about 1.33:1 USD to EUR ($133 will net roughly €100). With cash in pocket, I proceeded to the taxi line up. I was 4th in line and it seemed taxis were arriving every 2-3 minutes by the time I was next.

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Sweden and Italy, Work and Play

For the first time since Spain in November 2006, I am going on a trip that will help me add to the list of countries I have traveled to for work or pleasure.

Flag of Sweden I am flying out first thing tomorrow for Stockholm, Sweden to keynote a conference and to hang out in our Swedish offices to meet my colleagues and get a better understanding of their market. It will be my first trip to Sweden or any of the Nordic countries for that matter. I don’t eat beef so I can’t say I am looking forward to sampling authentic Swedish meatballs, but we did get “smorgasbord” from the Swedes and plättar sounds interesting. Aside from just walking around what is said to be a beautiful city with beautiful waterways, I also plan to get my sip on at the famous Stockholm Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea Hotel. The entire bar, including its furniture, is made of ice and kept at a balmy 23° F.

I will be in Sweden for 4 days before heading to Florence, Italy for a little down time to tour the famous Tuscan city. There are just too many things to see and do in Florence. I will barely scratch the surface during my time there.

After a few days in Florence, I am hopping the train to Milan to keynote a similar conference there. The sites I want to see in Milan are Il Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) and Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

Flag of Italy I then plan to take the train from Milan to Venice to see just how accurate The Venetian in Las Vegas is. I have stayed at The Venetian four times so it’s about time I see the real thing. Arguably, no city is known more for its waterways than Venice. Apparently, the land-lover thing to do is visit Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and feed the pigeons. I wonder if they have Wi-Fi on those gondolas. Hmm…

Unfortunately, TB will not be joining me for this latest romp ’round Europe. The trip came about at the last minute and she just couldn’t juggle things around at work to meet me in Italy. I will go scout 3 of the most popular cities in Northern Italy and we will go back some day to see Rome among other parts of Italy. (The Vatican is a sovereign nation so we can get a +1 on the countries list at that time too.)