Sadly, our time came to leave Vernazza. Sniff, sniff. I must post one more picture of my view of Vernazza here. We boarded the local train to La Spezia, hauling our heavy luggage down the stairs, then up the stairs, then down again, to the platform. There we found: a lift! After that, we sought elevators wherever we could. In La Spezia, we boarded a Eurostar train to Florence. We found the train system in Italy to be generally good: they are usually punctual, relatively clean and comfortable. Naturally, a first class cabin in the Eurostar is steps above the local trains, which only offer second class cabins and are not always air conditioned, which can be critical in the summer.
Each Italian city or town I visited seemed to have an entirely different "flavor." It was a little bit like gelato: Vernazza was the most delicious flavor of local lemon - it was small, cozy, tart and deliciously home made. Florence is a huge tourist town, so you probably won't find organic gelato here and the concoctions will appeal to tourists: banana or chocolate with vanilla swirl; Venice is exotic, so one can expect the most expensive, most unusual and dramatic flavors here - cherries steeped in liqueurs, drizzled in chocolate and topped with creams and strange nuts; Tuscany offers organic, wholesome, fresh, local: the melons, the licorice, the pure vanillas. So, when I travel, I try not to have rigid expectations and just think "un assaggio, per favore?" (A taste, please....)
Also, whenever and wherever I travel, I indubitably stumble upon "international" personalities. In Florence, I ran into Snookie, JWow and crew (why the heck are they considered personalities...ugh). In California, I ate in a restaurant and saw Julia Roberts, and in Las Vegas, Little Richard was getting into his car. Go figure.
As for Florence, it's a big city, it's rich, it has lots of gold in the museums and churches, it has a multitude of expensive shops and more well heeled shoppers than I have seen in a while AND it reminds me of NYC. If you get off the tourist trails, you'll make better deals in the shops, and get more of the feeling of .... well, just a darn big city with regular people. Bargain in the shops; it's expected. My favorite thing to do in Florence is SHOP and my favorite sights in Florence are the Accademia, where I could stand in front of Michaelangelo's "David" statue forever AND the lesser known Museum of San Marco, which is the monastery where Fra Angelico lived and served as one of the world's lesser known interior decorators, since he painted frescoes on the walls of each and every monk's cubicle, along with the ceilings.
While in Florence, I met up with some of my students and we enjoyed several meals together. On Saturday, we gathered at the train station, boarded a special bus and drove off to the sun kissed mountain tops of San Fedele in Tuscany, Italy. The trip took about 1 1/2 hours and rolled through "S" curves of breathtaking scenery. Tuscany looks like it does in the movies: it's a star. It's filled with antique stone walled houses and villages, curvy roads without railguards, those beautiful, pointy cypress trees, field after field of patchwork color, poppies, wild flowers, and row after row after row and mountain after mountain of GRAPE VINES.....