The ferry from Patras put me in Ancona, Italy and there isn’t too much to say about that town. It is a small seaport with and 2 other ferries tied up at the docks. The ferries are quite large but they do not take on pilots when entering or leaving port, nor do they have tugs to assist them berth. In fact the captain just swung around in Ancona and reversed the vessel up to the seawall, since all loading and unloading is done from the stern. It’s like a big garbage truck, you almost expect to hear the “beep-beep” when it backs up.
I stayed in a run down place across from the train station called the Hotel Fortuna. My room was monastic, with a single twin bed and bare walls. I found a place to do laundry and slept. The hotel manager recommended Ristorante Gino’s which was a few doors down so I went there, in part because it was raining. Terrible food, and the owner, even though the place was empty, seated a woman with a hacking cough and sinus trouble right next to me. In the middle of my meal, the hotel manager came in and accepted a bottle of wine from Gino and left after waving sheepishly to me.
The next day I had time for a trip through Ancona on the municipal bus before my train to Bologna Centrale Railway Station, where I transferred for the short rail journey to Florence. Part of the challenge of the trip has been constantly learning new systems on the fly. It takes time to figure out that to take a city bus you must buy a ticket from a newsstand and then, when you get on the bus, punch the ticket yourself on a time clock on the bus. The driver doesn’t check if you have a ticket, enforcement is done by another fellow. My lack of Italian meant I didn’t recognize the words on the train ticket for car number or seat and ended up fumbling up and down the aisle with my bag looking for mine when in fact I was in the wrong car. The Laundromat in Ancona has a system for turning the machines on that is far from obvious. Just when you figure these little systems out, it is time to move on.
I heard the word treno before I saw it in writing and was shy about using it because it sounded to my ear like pidgin Italian – “train-o.”
Of course the taxi driver who took me from the Florence train station to the hotel was a petty cheat. The road from the station to my hotel is direct and I now recognize that he took me on the rube route to run up the meter. The hotel is the Villa Carlotta and it is terrific, my favorite of the trip so far. It is south of the Arno just off Viale Niccolo Machiavelli, in what seems to be a residential neighborhood. My room is done in orange and has a chandelier, bitches. It is also quiet and the neighborhood is full of songbirds. Although the hotel is a bit off the beaten path the staff educated me about the simple bus routes and sold the tickets as well. Boboli Gardens is nearby and, on the day I arrived, was offering free admission. The hotel has solid (and free) wi-fi that allowed me to watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs dissect the higher-seeded St. John’s team in the first round of the NCAA tournament on my computer in the middle of the night.
Florence has to be one of the most photographed cities on the planet and for good reason. It makes even the most amateur shutterbug look good, since it would be hard to take a bad picture here. I saw the sights on day two, the Duomo, the Convent of San Marco, and others. I had lunch at Trattoria Mario’s on the Piazza d. Mercato Centrale on the vigorous recommendation of friends and was very pleased with both the food and the atmosphere. It was packed and I shared a table with a couple from Puerto Rico who were world-class eaters and fun to talk to although I internally rejected all their advice about what to do and see. I have no interest, for example, in having dinner at any place with “Teatro” in its name. I bought a scarf from a Brazilian street vendor, made train reservations for Paris, accidently attended mass, and ate dinner at a place I happened across called Trattoria Marione on Via della Spada that had casually-dressed Florentines queuing up outside before its 7 pm opening. Nobody eats before 7 in Italy. It was very good simple food at a reasonable price.