Europe Trip – Leaving the big cities for northern Italy

After the night train experience, the group arrived in Florence a bit cranky from the lack of sleep on the train and the last night in Paris. After breakfast we began a walking tour of the city, which is much smaller than the two we had seen already, with an urban population of about 200,000. The smaller size of the city seemed to appeal to most of the travelers, ending most of the grouchiness, and the fact that the city center is easy to walk through with almost no traffic also helped. Every so often, a car would drive down a road that my American experience told me no car should drive down, but for the most part the streets were clear.

We saw the Duomo from the outside, but the cathedral did not open to the public until 1:30 because of Sunday Mass services, and no cathedral in the world is worth enduring a Catholic mass.

After a watching a leather making demonstration, we had free time to eat, shop, and see the sights.

The Duomo – viewed safely after mass.

One highlight was that a student found the flip calendar below.
Yes, this was a school trip. Since I teach about the Renaissance, I am well aware that teenagers are fascinated with David’s genitalia, but I had no idea that the fascination extended to the public at large. Based on the number of calendars, lighters, and magnets that we saw that focused on artistic genitalia, it does.

Watch out for the dangerous sparkling water fountain.

The Italian cities that we visited has water fountains in public squares that provide fresh drinking water. Florence, though, had an especially great water fountain that provided sparkling water. There was a danger with the sparkling water – driving to a higher altitude made it explode out of Mr. Waddell’s water bottle like a volcano. You have been warned.

The Italian restaurants were a new experience for us. Italian restaurants charge patrons for the use of a seat, and we learned to check on the table charge before choosing a restaurant, after experiencing some table charge mishaps. Some of our students were even charged for the use of the table when they didn’t order anything. In addition, gelato shops were everywhere, and some of the students began to subsist on gelato as much as they possibly could. Also, Italian restaurants take orders and serve food at a very leisurely pace. As an American, I found myself wondering sometimes if our waiter had simply abandoned us. In the states, we have a name for a restaurant where the waiter serves the entree and then disappears – IHOP. The leisurely serving pace would have been fine, though, had we not been on a race to see all of Europe in a week.

In the afternoon we drove to San Gimignano, a small village with a preserved medieval section. The bus ride gave our travelers a chance to recharge.

Like Florence, the town was small with a laid-back atmosphere, which most students seemed to like.

Even better, the town was known for it’s world champion gelato, which was excellent.

After eating our gelato, Laura and I climbed the tower at the heart of the town.


At the top of the tower, we had a great view of Tuscany.


Somewhere down there, lurking in the shadows,

The main downside of the town was that the only public toilets cost €.50 to use. A charge for the use of public toilets was not that unusual in Europe, but this restroom stood out because it was guarded by a toilet nazi who demanded exact change to use one of the two toilets. The only exception was for two people paying together with a full euro, but the toilet nazi demanded that the two people go through the turnstile together to enter the bathroom area.

And half a euro does not even get you a toilet seat.

There was a torture museum in the town. The kids stayed away because of the entry charge, but the teachers went in to improve their torturing techniques for the upcoming school year.

We returned to the hotel for a late dinner, and some of the travelers went to explore the town. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out because it was Sunday night. No one seemed bothered, though, because the hotel had functioning free wifi.

Early the following morning, we left the Florence region for Assisi, which was about three hours to the south. After watching a ceramics demonstration, we were able to sample some of the foods and wine. Since the wine was portioned in small cups, we allowed the kids to taste a bit, and they all chose to taste a horrible strawberry flavored wine.

It burns! IT BURNS!

Similar to Florence and San Gimignano, in Assisi we experienced a beautiful, small, medieval town with plenty of shops and restaurants. And gelato.


That afternoon, we toured the Basilica of St. Francis, which was a very cool tour, in part because our guide, one of the friars at the basilica, was a great storyteller who, as it happened, was from New York. The frescos in the Basilica tell the story of Francis’ formation of his order and other stories; unfortunately, one of the artists experimented with a lead-based paint and his frescos are deteriorating. While not as impressive as the Notre Dame cathedral, the basilica was still great to see.

Then it was off to Rome and more sleep.

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