Sunday, December 29, 2013

Arriving in Florence

A glimpse of the Duomo
Arrived in Florence without much ado and grabbed a cab to commence our windey way to the apartment. The Florentine system of narrow, one way streets, meant our progress was interesting but slow. As we drove, we caught glimpses of the Duomo and other famous sites. I called our landlady (Padrona) to let her know we were on our way. Half way through our conversation in the cab, the phone cut out.

I called her again and she advised that she could not meet us for about 90 minutes. She said there were plenty of bars and cafes to bide our time. In what seemed no time at all, the cab dropped us off at the apartment and while Su minded the bags, I went out on a scouting trip to find a place to wait.

Found a little bar around the corner, so we dragged our cases off to the bar for a drink. Lucky for us, the very friendly proprietor did not mind large bags blocking his narrow bar for an hour or so. There was no phone coverage in the bar, so I had to keep ducking out into the street to check the phone to see if the Padrona had called.

Yes! She had called, but we had missed the call. Leaving Su to mind the bags, I went back to the apartment. Having to go back to work, La Padrona quickly took me through the apartment, showing me the layout and together we read the meters for water, gas and electricity. At the end of our stay, we will read them again and determine what costs we have incurred for utilities.

We agreed all the paperwork, signed the lease agreement, and I paid the month's rent.

Outside in the courtyard, La Padrona's telephone rang. "Its the best place for telephone reception" she said. Anxious to get back to the bar and bring Su back, the full import of this escaped me.

Su and I dragged the cases back to the apartment and began settling in.

It's a lovely apartment, small but well laid out, with a tiny outside courtyard (3mx3m). It has hot water radiators to keep the place warm (and to hang out our washing). Full details of the apartment can be seen at: 

More on the apartment later.

The SIM saga....

I'm not sure when we first realised that there was no phone reception anywhere in the apartment.... that you had to go outside into the freezing courtyard, find the one spot in the far corner by the wall, about half a metre up from the ground, then you had to bend down double, put the phone vertically between your legs, twist your head to the right, and then, you could get 1 small bar of reception. And of course, YOU MUST NOT MOVE WHEN YOU TALKED!!

This was a disaster; our plan for connection to the internet was to use “phone tethering”. Without phone reception, we had no internet. No blog, no maps, no email, no train or bus timetables, no nothing! Un disastro!

When we lived in Italy in the eighties, there were no cell phones. So, before we left, I did a lot of research into Italian SIM cards and internet reception and the general opinion was to buy your SIM card from a local network operator and not to use your Australian SIM card. The three recommended Operators were “Wind”, Vodafone and TIM. According to the internet forums, Wind seemed to have the edge. We bought a Wind SIM for each of our phones. They worked well in Rome. I could now say to Su with a straight face, “I think I've got Wind!”

However, coverage varies by location. Having realised that the Wind SIM was not going to work very well in Florence (apart from wide open spaces like parks), I reluctantly bought a Vodafone SIM to try. This was just as bad as Wind.

Typical traditional Tuscan breakfast.... 
Finally I bought a TIM Sim (sounds like a Chinese take-away). A great improvement on the other two - we had two bars in the courtyard, and very spotty coverage inside the apartment - but - you have to be near an external window and it is very variable.

We had noticed in the streets, that people were standing at open windows using their mobile phones, or standing out in the streets talking... now we know why.

More to come.....

Those new phone numbers again:

Rod +39 331 762 6037

Su   +39 366 362 1649

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Su writing:

Saturday 14-12-2013 - Rome

It was hard to believe we were finally in Italy! The hotel in Rome was very new modern, attractive aesthetically like a nightclub and 15 mins walk to the Colosseum. We did a couple of hours wandering buying an umbrella getting wet and not caring. 

Found a fantastic little place for dinner (Ristorante Da Dino) which had Pasta Fagioli (one of my all time favourites spicy beans and pasta in a thick soup) absolutely the best ever. A cheeky Prosecco to drink.

Monday 16-12-2013 - Florence

Off early trundling our cases to the main railway station Termini. After a short delay all settled and travelling on the Red Arrow at 245 kms an hour. Only an hour and a half later, we were in Florence.

After hanging out in a small bar drinking Campari (me) and a Moretti beer for Rod the landlady arrived and we finally got our cases home. 

Rod takes his exams at the bar
Not so easy over cobbled roadway and extremely narrow footpaths. 

Went shopping for basics and after a meal of fresh bread with wonderfully flavoursome tomatoes, prosciutto and Prosecco, it was very early to bed. Awake at 4.30 am.

What to do in Florence?

We decided to spend a few days in normal activities. Both fairly weary from a hectic few weeks. Need to get past 4 am rising.
We're almost locals at the Conad supermarket, the local accordion buskers corner, the magnificent Duomo (only 10 mins walk), 3 other basiIicas in beautiful green and white designs.  
Ponte Vecchio, everyone's favourite statue of David and much more, are part of our daily walk. 

Everywhere there are buildings of massive stone blocks and beautifully carved doorways four metres high. We average at least three hours a day walking, getting to know our area.

It's a luxury not having to rush from place to place. We've found some older, less splendid churches in little market squares where the tourists don't go and the coffee is cheaper - and people are very helpful and patient.
Rod lights a candle to internet connectivity 

We have been barely connected to anything, until today when Rod bought his 3rd SIM card so we can tether our phones to the laptops/tablets and see some Facebook and emails. So frustrating being forced to go outside and walk down the road to send a text or talk and not being able to update our news.

It's been  minus 3° the last few mornings a bit misty but a little sunshine in the afternoons. 

Had a scrumptious dinner at a ristorante three doors down. (see photo). Fancy Menus on iPad tablets with demos of how each dish is prepared  Again no trouble to accommodate me with  delicious vegan stuff!

Everyone is so elegant, no sneakers or tracksuits or football beanies to keep out the cold. Even the gypsy beggars are fairly well dressed. A lot of people begging even away from tourist areas.

Little dogs on leads everywhere! In bars and shops.

More strolling looking for wool (me) and winter is just beginning!
Writing postcards, finding stamps, shrieking on learning that it costs nearly $4 each to send them!
Another delicious meal about 150 metres around the corner from our apartment. A dog in attendance at the next table only slightly  embarrassing it's owners by leaving a mess on the floor. The waitress didn't falter. 

This time a respectable bedtime after 10 pm.  I'm awake again at 4 .

Our mobile numbers have CHANGED AGAIN!!! Explanation from Rod a bit later.

They are:

Rod +39 331 762 6037
Su   +39 366 362 1649

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday December 15th 2013

First day in Rome....

Flew into Rome yesterday after some 27 hours of travel. A horrible trip at it's best, but more about that later. We are still recovering from the time difference...

Etihad Airlines was a disappointing letdown, but again, more about that later.

We are in a good hotel- Hotel Royal Santina - near the rail Terminal for easy access to tomorrow's train to Florence.

We managed to get our new SIM cards sorted and our new numbers are:

Su     +39 366 362 1649   (edited 14/1/14)
Rod   +39 331 762 6037   (edited 14/1/14)

The old numbers, which have been retained for when we return to Australia, will be virtually shelved for the time being.

That's all for now, will talk to you all soon.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday 12th December 2013

Last day in Melbourne before flying out.

We're both exhausted, but spirits are pretty good.

As usual, with all the lifting boxes, carting stuff, bending over, etc etc, my back has joined the disabled brigade and I am spending more and more time on the floor doing exercises to try and recover some movement.

Had a great time in Kalgoorlie, seeing everyone, the Grandkinder are doing well, growing up, expanding their horizons.... Stew and Christina are doing a great job.

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, last Tuesday evening, we have moved to a small apartment in Exhibition St.

Activities these last two days have included sorting out superannuation stuff with lawyers and accountants, getting the last of the medical approvals sorted out, getting enough medication together to last us 6 months, and finally today, the tossing out of surplus stuff from our overloaded suitcases and dragging it back to the Fort Knox Lockup.

We have some terrific support from friendly service people everywhere:

Robert and Michael - building managers at Regency Towers. What a great couple of managers these guys are! They fully epitomise the old saying that "Rules are for the guidance of the wise and the blind obedience by the fools".

They have brought wise guidance and flexible thinking to situations where lesser managers would buckle and submit to the tyranny of "No, it's the rule!" Thanks guys!

Izzie and Ryan of Little Red Trucks who moved our stuff out of the Exhibition St apartment and into the Fort Knox lockup. These two guys have outstanding spatial relationship skills that resulted in a three dimensional tetrus-like pack of stuff crammed into a 3x2m lockup. Death to stuff!!

Megan from Fort Knox - friendly and understanding service with a big smile.

Donna and Sarah at Woolworths in QV Shopping centre - beaming smiles and always helpful

Robin at the money changers in Elizabeth street next to Medibank, who saved me 1% on forex, and a lovely guy to boot!

The bright and smiling (and extremely competent) girls at the Brunswick family dental surgery...

The understanding and good humour of Maria, Angela and Tony at Moreland Medical

Marlene at Melbourne Pathology - a jolly soul of wisdom, light and humour. And Barney Google!

Sesuana at the chemist on Exhibition St who patched up my bleeding arm - a Florence Nightingale, readying me for a gale of nights in Florence (almost a word-based palindrome!)

The lovely girls at Back in Motion in Brunswick... Not to mention Marcus! Thanks Marcus.

One last hiccup has been trying to get an internet dongle working so I can download stuff to Google drive. Luke from the Telstra shop on the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition streets, is a paragon of focus and attention to customer service. Goodonya Luke! You are re-making Telstra in it's proper image!

And last but not least, Stephano and the wonderful staff at Pomodoro Sardo at Lonsdale St. What a lovely welcome/farewell.

And to all our other friends, too numerous to mention in this short missive, and who have given such enthusiasm to our crazy idea of hitting Europe, a huge hug and thank you for all your support.

Off to bed now... the new adventure starts tomorrow.

Rod and Su