Riding trains has officially become my favorite mode of transportation. The trains in Italy are usually comfortable, although you will find some regional trains that are hot, dirty, and crowded.
Nevertheless, for the most part, it’s great.
There are two train systems in Italy, the Trenitalia and Italo. Trenitalia runs national, international, and regional trains, and Italo runs fast trains between major Italian cities. Some very small cities have their own systems, and I can’t speak to those. But recently we took a small train through the Serchio Valley from Lucca to Bagni di Lucca and the scenery was stunning and the small train, very nice.
The trains in Italy can get you almost anywhere. Some tiny towns require a train trip and a bus. The stations are always exciting, especially the larger ones.
My favorite part of train travel is looking out the window at the stunning scenery that passes by. I try to take photos, but usually it is not so successful. I try to read, as I usually do on airplanes, but the countryside pulls me in. In the distance, you can see walled hilltop towns, castles, animals, fields of poppies or sunflowers, or the sea.
I used trains in the States sometimes to go between Washington D.C. and New York or Boston and New York and enjoyed it there, but the expense and lack of availability doesn’t make it a viable transportation option very often.
When you’re visiting Italy, instead of renting a car, which I strongly advise against, take a train or two. It’s part of the experience and I think you’ll love it!
Italians take their holidays in August before school starts. Mostly they head to the seashore, and all that is left in Florence according to the Florentines are “I Francese ei cani”. (The French and the dogs). As I walk through the streets I can’t help but thinking they are right as I hear so many people speaking French and leading their dogs around.
Sales start at the beginning of August, so if you visit here then you will find that a nice surprise. Many restaurants, shops, cafes, and stores close for a week or two, or sometimes for the entire month.
You really can’t count on anything being opened in August. That is not to say that everything is closed, and as a tourist, it might not interfere with your visit at all since there are plenty of places to chose from, but as a local, I can’t always go to my local bakery, butcher shop, or favorite restaurant assuming it is going to be open.
August 15th is a National Holiday called, Ferragosto. On this day, most everything is closed, although there are festivities in the cities and villages to celebrate this day.
Other cities in Italy are even more “closed” than Florence. Because of the tourist industry in Florence, there is more opened than most places. When traveling to some small places, beware that you might find it a ghost town!
Certaldo is a medieval town in Tuscany, which you can reach in about 50 minutes by train from Florence. It is not one of the top tourist destinations and that makes it even better in my book! Certaldo is well known for its famous son, Giovanni Boccaccio, poet and great Italian writer of The Decameron. Boccaccio was born in Certaldo and was buried here.
When you arrive in Certaldo, the train station is in Certaldo Basso, which is the “new” part of Certaldo. A short walk directly down the street in front of the train station will take you to a funicular. The cost of the funicular for a roundtrip is 1,50. It’s a short ride to the top where Certaldo Alto lies, and you enter its medieval walls.
Certaldo is very small, so in about 4 hours, you can walk every square inch of it, visit the Palazzo Pretoria museum, the house of Boccaccio, and the church where he is buried. You can also have a nice lunch and one of the quaint places on the main street and visit the shops there.
We ate at a small place with tables on the shady side of the street called, A Casa Tua. For 17 euro each we shared a plate of coccole and pecorino with honey, a half liter of wine, a skillet of the house spaghetti which was pici with anchovies, capers, garlic, breadcrumbs, and crushed red peppers, and grilled sausages served on a bed of cannellini beans in tomato sauce. Scrumptious!
The breezes high atop the hill are a welcome relief to the summer heat, and the calm, empty streets a real treat after the crowds in Florence. Certaldo is just around the corner, but seems a world away.