On Monday, the family split along gender lines, with the boys taking a day trip to Siena and the girls staying in Florence to shop. We slept in a bit and had breakfast at Hotel Roma, then Sam and I walked to the train station to buy tickets to Siena. We took a stubby regional train that had only four cars and moved as fast as the steam engine from Petticoat Junction, stopping in about six towns along the way. The slow speed wasn't necessarily a problem, as it allowed for good views of the Tuscan hillside.
Upon arriving in Siena around 12:30, Sam and I took a series of escalators from the train terminal up the steep hill, arriving at a shopping mall. Sam was hungry, so he had a quick slice of wood-fired pizza in the fast food court. The closest thing resembling American pepperoni pizza here is one with some type of salami. He can't wait to get back home to get some authentic Jack's frozen. We then walked a bit, first through the gates of the medieval wall and then directly to the town's main square, or campo. Rick Steves says this is the best piazza in Italy. It slopes gently from back to front in amphitheater-like fashion, with the tower and city hall acting as impressive backdrops for what would be center stage.
Our mantra for the day was to relax. We didn't want to get caught up in any line-waiting, so we decided to skip the bell tower climb and opted instead to find a seat in the shade on the campo. We did some people and dog-watching, spotting a cute little pup near us napping at his owner's feet. One of the running family jokes on this trip is that we comment how every dog we see looks like our dog Wally. In that regard, Wally has been likened to pomeranians, german shepherds and pit bulls. In this case, though, the furry little beast actually did look a lot like ours and had us beginning to think more of home. After resting on the campo, we walked to Siena's famous cathedral. Now with the benefit of hindsight, I commented to Sam how I wished we had gone to the cathedral first to visit its interior and climb its facciatone to get panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. By this time, though, the lines were long and we were getting antsy to get back to Florence. We took a few photos and then started heading back downhill toward the train station -- or so we thought. Instead, we ended up at the city's main parking area, needing to return back up the hill, surviving out-of-order escalators to do so and then retraced our steps back to the train terminal. Our late afternoon train put us back in Florence around 6PM.
Back at Hotel Roma, Sam and I rested while waiting for Kristin and Sydney to return from their day on the town. They arrived about 45 minutes later, having done more window-shopping than actual shopping. Monday night was the only night of this trip that Kristin and I took the opportunity to dine sans kids. Syd and Sam were comfortable with the idea of staying in for the night, chowing down paninis in our hotel room and watching the Italian version of MTV, which actually shows music videos ... unlike its American counterpart. Kristin and I ate at Toro Alla Brace.
Tuesday was our last day in Florence. We didn't have a set itinerary, so purposely let the day develop based on our moods and energy levels. After hotel breakfast, we walked the short distance to Mercato Centrale, Florence's large indoor/outdoor market where leather goods can be found outside and a variety of food items and sundries inside. I'm not a huge leather guy, nor do I resemble Tom Cruise, but that didn't stop one of the hawkers from telling me how good I'd look in one of the Mission Impossible jackets. On the second level, they have several casual restaurants in a large open and airy space. Here, we sampled granite, which is a slushy-like shaved iced from Sicily in fruity flavors. Tangerine was the best. Heading back south, I spotted an OVS department store. We had to check it out and see how this Italian-based chain compares to Macy's. With the assistance of a store clerk, Kristin had some fun using Google glass here, where discounts were calculated by simply looking at items' bar codes. A jacket and scarf and only 47 Euros later, we were out of there.
After a short stop back at the hotel, we decided to take in one last museum, the Bargello, primarily to see a little more Michelangelo. On our way there, we grabbed sandwiches on the street and ate them on the shady steps of a church. The Bargello wasn't crowded whatsoever and offered up close views of Donatello's David and side-by-side comparisons of Gibherti's and Brunelleschi's bronze sculpture submissions in the contest for Santa Maria del Fiore's baptistery doors.
We returned to Hotel Roma mid-afternoon for a short siesta. I realize it sounds like we rested a lot on this trip, but trust me, all the walking we were doing was taking a toll on our legs and feet. Nonetheless, I wasn't going to let a little plantar fasciitis prevent me from achieving the next goal -- climbing the steps of Giotto's bell tower. While the kids continued to lounge at the hotel, Kristin and I headed back to the duomo area and paid our 10 Euros for the opportunity to scale 414 stairs. True to the guide books, the stairwell space is a little claustrophobic the higher you go, but once at the top you have a bird's eye view of Brunelleschi's dome right next door and the rest of Florence. Hey, you could see our hotel from here! Back at ground level, we came upon the ironic scene of Hare Krishnas dancing in the street near the Roman Catholic landmark. Kristin was taken aback by the direct request for a donation by one of their "monks" without the courtesy to first make even a mild attempt at conversion.
Back at the hotel, we showered and then dined at Ristorante Lorenzo del Medici, a place that had recent favorable reviews on Trip Advisor. The food was ok, not great, but the staff was very friendly, which counts for a lot. For the most part, hotel and restaurant staffers have been quite nice in Italy. But oftentimes, we've found the cashiers of the small stores to be somewhat unfriendly -- perhaps it's just us. And don't ask them to make change from a larger denomination bill! We finished our day with a stroll back to the hotel, stopping for Sam's gelato and Sydney's keepsake Italian perfume on the way. We listened to live music in Piazza della Repubblica and watched kids ride the merry-go-round there. All of us really enjoyed Florence and its slower pace relative to Rome.