There’s a certain simplicity to things in Europe. Train stations, for example, are very simple: walk in the front, pass by the tabachi (magazine stand) and walk out on the platforms. No airport-style waiting rooms, no security checks, no shopping mall. So it was easy for me to find my Eurostar train this morning and be on my way to Florence. Oddly enough, there are also no conductors checking your ticket as you board and you could be halfway to somewhere else before discovering you’re on the wrong train. Generally, a lot of things in Europe operate on this kind of semi-honor system – you’re expected to have your ticket but there are no ticket takers checking each person. There are instead occasional rail car sweeps in which tickets are demanded for inspection with very stiff fines if you don’t have one. This is true on trains, buses, boats and probably lots of other places as well. It cuts down on staff requirements and thus costs and speeds up the process of going anywhere. A great system but it would never work in the U.S. because someone would claim that their rights were being violated, of course.
The Eurostar train was clean, comfortable (in 1st Class) and fast and the 3-hour trip to Florence was just 38€ or about $42; a bargain by most standards. A quick taxi ride (oy, what a plunge back into the car culture) to my hotel and voila! I was ready to go exploring in Florence. Most of the city’s tourist attractions are grouped around the old town core and a "pedestrian-friendly" zone that keeps private cars out of the area. There are still plenty of taxis, delivery trucks, bicycles, scooters, and other 3- and 4-wheel vehicles to keep you on your toes when crossing streets, however.
Large areas in this zone are set aside for outdoor market stalls and leather goods seem to be a big sales item here. This is densely commercial tourism and quite unlike Venice. I prowled around and got my bearings, sized up some of tomorrow’s destinations, and then went back to the hotel for an hour of rest until dinner time.
I had dinner tonight at Osteria di Pecorino and it was a very nice meal. I started with a salad of feta cheese and melon pieces with basi, moved on to gnocchi with tomato sauce and mozzarella, and then the main event: shredded chicken with crispy-fried baby artichoke hearts. Finished up up with creme brule and accompanied it all with the fine house red wine. There is a certain rhythm to Italian meals and you are expected to linger. There is none of this "turn over the table" pressure you find in the U.S.; I was at mine for 2.5 hours and during that time no other table in the place had changed diners either. A different dining attitude is required because the staff is very fast at taking orders and getting food and drink out but they slow down quite a bit when it comes to dessert, coffee, and the bill. You will do no one any good by being antsy. I enjoyed every bite and waddled over here to the Internet cafe with a smile on my face and my wallet 52€ lighter (which was quite reasonable).
Tomorrow: the Uffizi Gallery and my absolute favorite Botticelli painting.