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On Site: Rail Europe Trip— Day Two, FlorenceJuly 21, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox
Riding the Frecciaross line
The (relatively) new high-speed train system in Italy means that it's possible to get from Milan to Florence in less than two hours, including a brief stop in Bologna. The Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) line links Milan, Florence and Naples, and the Frecciaargento line covers several other major cities. The trains offer numerous advantages over commuting by car or plane.
First and foremost, the train stations are right in the cities rather than on the outskirts, cutting commuting time in half, and often eliminating the need for parking. The trains can reach speeds of 186 miles per hour—much faster than any car can go, obviously. And since passengers don't need to clear security before boarding, they can arrive at the station minutes before departure rather than hours. If one considers the time it takes to get to an airport, clear security, wait for boarding, fly, taxi the plane, disembark, get luggage (if any has been checked), and get from the airport to the arrival city…taking a high-speed train just makes much more sense.
The first-class cars on the Frecciarossa line are spacious, quiet (several seats are divided by glass partitions for some measure of privacy) and quite comfortable (the seats recline to a very nice pitch). The ticket includes food and beverage service, though this is both a good and bad thing. It's nice to have the service, of course, but when a cup of coffee is just a shot (and not of espresso--just coffee) and breakfast is a cookie, one feels a little cheated. Fortunately, there is a bar car available with more substantial fare, and my cappuccino was quite tasty.
Boutiques and shops line a street in Florence
We arrived in Florence and immediately headed for Michaelangelo’s David…along with just about everybody in Italy, it would seem. If your clients headed to Florence have any plans to see the statue, book reservations in advance. They’ll still have to wait in line, but it will be less of a line than the non-reserved people would have. Sadly, we didn’t have reservations, but we did see David mini-statues, t-shirts, coffee mugs and bookends at every gift shop in town, so that was some small consolation.
See more of what you can tour in Italy in the video below
The city’s Duomo is also magnificent—we didn’t get to go inside, but the exterior is a beautiful and surprisingly colorful masterpiece of medieval architecture.
An exterior shot of the Duomo in Florence
We wandered through the ancient, narrow streets, stopping by the house where Dante Alighieri lived, and passing plenty of little boutiques and trendy name-brand stores alike (Hugo Boss, Prada, etc.).
The streets in Florence are surprisingly narrow, but still allow car traffic. (Granted, there seemed to be more motorbikes than cars, but there were still plenty of tight fits when a Fiat drove by.) Walking is still the best way to get around, but remind your clients to pay attention for cars and bikes that might speed by.
For lunch, we went to Cibreo Ristorante ([email protected]), an exclusive and very intimate little family-run restaurant that’s part of a larger network, though not a chain. (For example, across the street is their café, and a trattoria is nearby. Each restaurant is different, but part of the same group.) The menu was not printed for us—instead, our waiter sat down at our table and described each dish in detail so we knew what to order (many of the dishes were fish-based). And from the appetizers to the desserts (with first and second courses in between—so much food!), everything was phenomenal. The veal meatballs were tender, the cod soufflé was decadent and delicate at the same time, the spicy fish soup was very spicy and the desserts offered more flavors than just sweetness. (That is, the orange marmalade cheesecake tasted of oranges and cheese, not just sugar.)
Stuffed to the gills, we walked back through the narrow streets to the train station and returned to Milan completely exhausted, but exhilarated at the amazing day we’d spent. Next time, I’m spending at least a week in Florence. Seven hours was nowhere near enough.