Unfortunately our trouble with Italian trains did not end with the Cinque Terre. We knew we had to get to Florence, but there was no direct train from Le Spezia (the big train station near the Cinque Terre) to our destination. So we got a ticket with a whole bunch of possible connections and hopped on the next train that seemed promising.
The way Italian trains seem to work is they give you a really tight connection time and assume you will miss it and take the next train. Every train we took ran at least 5 minutes late and connections were often around the same amount of time, so you arrive at the station after your connection has left!
Fortunately trains run quite often and there are a myriad of different ways to get to every location. Unfortunately we didn't know any of them.
So there we were, at a train station with no idea which train to get on. We knew Pisa had a connection to Florence, and we saw on the schedule a train that said Pisa in the small print, so we headed to that track hoping it would work out.
As the train was rolling into the station, my mom asked the guy standing next to her if the train went to Pisa. It didn't. We were about to jump on a train going to Milan. Milan is not at all close to Florence.
He told us his name was Rino, he was going to Florence too and he would show us how to get there.
We followed him to random little towns, ran after him during 2 minute connections and listened to him talk about the language of architecture. Rino had spent years reading the Bible and piecing together what Jerusalem might have looked like based on descriptions. He works in city planning, and he explained how the way a city is laid out affects the emotions of it's inhabitants. He assured us that Florence is a happy place.
We miraculously made it to the Florence station and followed our directions to our hotel, built into a palace in the heart of Florence.
It must have been a really crappy palace. The windows were falling out, the elevator was terrifying, the beds were hard as rocks and there was no bathroom in the room. I felt like Cinderella BEFORE she married the Prince, with only mosquitoes and centipedes for friends.
What our hotel lacked in beauty, It made up for in location. We were a 2 minute walk from the Duomo and exploring the macaron, pastry and artisan craft shops was a thrill I enjoyed immensely (although my wallet didn't enjoy it as much.)
We spent an entire day on guided tours, seeing the statues and paintings that adorn Florence everywhere. Florence seems to have been pretty much built by the Medici, a family of bankers who got rich off giving loans with ridiculously high interest rates and bought their way out of guilt (and theoretically into heaven) by using their vast fortune to build churches and fund the arts in general. The guild of sheep herders also built their fair share of churches and you can see their sheep crest on buildings everywhere.
Women in medieval times appear to have had a strange idea of beauty, at least according to their portraits and our tour guides. They would pluck out their eyebrows and the hair above their forehead in order to have perfectly round faces. They wanted to be pale so they would cake on lead based makeup. They believed being blond like the angels was perfection so they dyed their hair with horse urine and used manure as conditioning masks. They also believed bathing was unhealthy. I can't imagine they smelled very beautiful.
We saw the Uffici, climbed up to the Piazza de Michelangelo, crossed the Ponte Vecchio and admired David in all his giant nude marble splendor.
While we were walking around near the Ponte Vecchio, we passed by a weird looking spa with fish in the foot baths! I'd heard of spas using fish to clean people's feet so my mom and I checked it out. For 15 euros we were in! The fish felt like little bubbles tickling my toes. It felt so nice after all the days on our feet!
My favorite part of Florence was the atmosphere. Everyone was calm and reverent of the history and art surrounding them. I met artists on every street corner and ended every day with inspiration (as well as some purchased art and artisan products, much to the chagrin of my poor wallet.) We walked past traditional paper makers, furniture carvers and marble stone workshops that have been there for centuries. Roman towers peak out from between creperies and jewelry stores and the whole city feels both old and beautiful.
I was sad to leave, but I'm excited to someday go back.