The last time I took the train from Rome to Florence I seem to recall it took forever but now there's a high-speed train that takes under an hour and a half.
Unlike that time, the carriage is clean and comfortable and not subdivided into little wooden compartments with two heat settings only: boiling and frigid.
On the train we decided to go to Pisa since we were so close and the family hadn't seen the leaning tower. The town of Pisa turned out to be pretty much a highlight.
I loved the very old little church which was first mentioned in 1061 - who knows how much longer it had been around before that.
We happened upon an exquisite little gothic church on the river and the nearby bridge yielded charming views of the town.
The buildings are all colours!
We had a really good lunch and walked to the tower which I had somehow forgotten was next to a really gorgeous church.
We decided not to climb the tower as it was almost three times as expensive as it had been to climb the dome of St Peters and we didn't really think it would afford three times the value.
Besides, the church was absolutely stunning.
We made it to Florence but had later dinner reservations and my hotel room was boiling so I took a walk before eating.
The Duomo at night was well worth the chill. Alone with my thoughts I could immerse myself in its appreciation: the colour of the marble (white, green and pink), the intricate detailing of the carvings, the mosaics over the entryways - transcendent.
The next day was drizzly which would have been fine (since I had an umbrella) if my shoes hadn't delighted in letting in as much cold water as possible.
The Duomo was very lovely by day too but the inside couldn't even begin to compare to the outside although the octagonal dome was pretty.
Not that we had any (and why not???) but the gelatos were so very deliciously displayed.
We took a walk to the Ponte Vecchio via the Uffizi which we didn't actually visit.
We went to the Mercado Centrale where I had Trippa Fiorentina for lunch. I mean, I think I had to (not that I'm complaining).
All this was just preparation for the main event.
The first time I saw him in 1979 he brought tears to my eyes; the day was bright and the light shining on him through the dome above him seemed to illuminate him from the inside so that he glowed almost as if alive.
I didn't think I'd feel the same way this many decades later.
The family then insisted on doing one of these room escape things which I didn't refuse to join but kinda sorta wanted to.
Turns out it was decently fun and I'm not as bad as I thought I'd be at deciphering the clues. Without me no one would have solved the three equations that opened the door to the room with the bomb deactivation device.
Supposedly we we did better than most people who found The Bunker "impossible".
We all turned in early when we got back to Rome.
On my last full day my brother and sister-in-law were all Panic Stations about their impending move: after six months in Rome they're returning to Sydney so the boys can finish school but all the housewares and linens they bought in Rome are going to their new apartment in Lisbon (yeah that's another story) so there was packing and organizing to be done, leaving me on my own for the afternoon.
Lunch was at a very lovely restaurant where we were seated in the wine cellar which is much nicer than up on the main floor, and then I made my way to the Coliseum via I dunno, various ruins.
I made it in by fifteen minutes and they didn't start kicking people out until about an hour after closing time so I could amble around at my own pace.
I was very taken with the spots in which the bones of the place are exposed like the huge stones at the top which were covered in bricks.
What can I say? I love ruins.
One of my best vacations ever was three weeks driving around Greece and stopping at every ruin we could find, from the ancient to the merely pretty old.
Sadly I couldn't get into the Forum or Palatine Hill although there were still plenty of ruins to see.
I lay in bed on my last night in Rome, planning the next couple of trips...