Florence - Portovenere, Italy
Wednesday, August 18th
Our train arrived in La Spezia, where we caught a
bus to La Grazie.  We didn’t know how to use the
bus system, and had some trouble finding the
where we were supposed to go and where to wait
to go the right direction.  But it turns out the bus
system runs in a big circle around the towns of
the harbor.  
We listened to sirens wailing and babies crying and trash trucks moving and chairs scraping at the
outdoor restaurant right outside our hotel window all night long.  Not a terrifically restful night.  We’re
beginning to wonder about the Super-Saver websites from Orbitz now.  But the room itself was nice.  
With full bath and A/C…so who can complain?  Besides we’re in ITALY!  We weren’t due to leave
Florence just yet.  So we walked over the Arno River and arrived at the Pitti Palace, which is so huge
it has 5 complete museums inside.  And on to the Boboli Gardens.  We walked and walked around the
gardens and then went to get a mozzarella/tomato sandwich.  After lunch, we crossed the Arno River
back to the heart of Florence.  
We crossed on a bridge called Ponte Vecchio.  This was the only bridge to survive the Nazis.  Kesserling, a Nazi who also happened to be an art lover,
decided to destroy the surrounding town rather than destroy this bridge because he thought it was so beautiful.  
Then off to the Uffizi museum for hours and hours.  If you ever get to go, its mandatory to make a reservation.  Once again, we made reservations about 4
hours before we arrived, and once again we were whisked to the front of the line without having to stand and wait for 2-4 hours.  Absolutely fascinating.  It
holds the greatest (and surely the most) collection of Italian paintings anywhere.  We saw the Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.  Beautiful.  And so unusual for the
times. I especially liked it because the paintings are in chronological order from the 13th-17th centuries.  Even though the lines were long to the octagonal
classical sculpture room, it was well worth it.  It is completely covered in red velvet and opal pearl shells.
Then we RAN back to the hotel, ran to the train
and then rested.  

Next stop, “Cinque Terre”…the Italian Riviera.
For some reason, I decided to look at the signs to make sure we were going the right way.  And that is how we found the way to our hotel.  We thought our
hotel was in Portovenere, but it was in a town about a 10 minute bus ride from Portovenere, called La Grazie.  After getting off of the bus, we walked about
3 more blocks to find the hotel
(Hotel bella Baia).  There were people who walked in right in front of us and had lost their key.  So while we waited for them,
we rested with backpacks in tow, on their front lawn.  A beautiful view at the very least.  It was finally our turn to check in, only to find out that our
reservation was mixed up and we had to beg to stay 2 nights, instead of 1.  But we finally got it all worked out and went to our very pleasant room.

The room was very nice, A/C thanks to Mark again!  But as soon as we left the room and took our key, the lights and A/C were turned off.  So it would take
awhile to get the room cooled back down once we returned.  We went to find dinner, but nothing was open quite yet.  It was about 7:30 and nothing
opened until 8:00 or later.  Just about the time we were at our wits end, we finally found a very nice restaurant at the Hotel La Grazie.  We had the best
pesto pasta and salmon pasta and vino.  The people were incredibly friendly and helpful.  The hostess and waitress were truly marvelous and taught us
more Italian.  “Un bottiglia di questo molto buono vino da asporto, per favore”…a bottle of this very good wine to go, please!